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Dead Kennedys on Razorcake

By Jimmy Alvarado
Razorcake
November 24th, 2014

If nothing else, author Alex Ogg should receive some sorta award for managing to circumnavigate assorted landmines and turn in a book that incorporates all Dead Kennedys members pertinent to the story. The vitriol that peppers the relationships between various members—especially that between Biafra and East Bay Ray—can occasionally be felt bubbling just under the surface and Ogg doesn’t shy away from presenting their often contradictory accounts of the band’s history up to their titular album. Starting pre-punk and working its way forward, the book is chock full of interesting tidbits about past lives (the revelation that Klaus Fluoride once played in a band with Billy Squier was particularly savory), song origins, and the band’s placement within the greater history of San Francisco’s punk underground.

While this writer found the occasional self-referential interjections that pepper the book a bit distracting, and the appendix filled with kudos for the band from “famous” people they’d apparently influenced wholly unnecessary and almost willfully obtuse to punk’s whole point, the bulk of the tale itself was engaging, well organized and, most important of all, clearly written by someone with a working knowledge of his subject and the world in which they moved. The brilliant decision to include choice visuals courtesy of photographer Ruby Ray and frequent DK collaborator/collagist Winston Smith makes this all the more crucial. Ogg is also savvy enough to know it’s best to leave his readers wanting more, abruptly stopping after Fresh Fruit’s release, deftly closing the first chapter of Dead Kennedys history while leaving a door open for subsequent volumes, should enough interest warrant such a thing.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




This is Not a Photo Opportunity on the New York Journal

By Rhonda Sturtz
New York Journal
December 2014

"If you are a Banksy fan or at least interested in seeing a collection of his work. This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of Banksy will be a fun read."


Martin Bull is described as a photographer, author, and street walker who is sharing his graffiti knowledge in a new book named after Banksy’s most infamous soundbite, This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of Banksy. Author Bull describes this work:

“. . . an all you can eat buffet where no one is watching how much you indulge your appetite , and feel free to let out an enormous burp after devouring your way through over 150 color photos, split into ten themed sections.”

For Banksy fans in the know this compact pictorial journey is distinctly delicious, a banquet of roaring images that span the early freehand technique of the 1990s to the more current stencils. These works scream clever, artistic, humorous, ironic, and socially relevant.

Given Banksy’s broad geographic canvas the opportunity to view the spectrum of his work is almost impossible. His works are not only far flung around the world, they also appear in unexpected places. There is no map for finding Banksy’s works. The adoring public can now turn to Martin Bull’s book, which provides an opportunity to view a portfolio of Banksy’s work.

Bull’s categories include the following: early freehand, the ubiquitous Rat stencils, slogans revealing Banksy’s innate promotional sensibilities, modern life, play, societal commentary, and what are you looking at?

One wonders whether this attempt to categorize and define flies in the face of the artist’s modus operandi which is free, covert, and unexpected. Could this expanding popular interest in all things Banksy actually diminish the subversivity that has long surrounded his art? Is Banksy’s growing success making it impossible for him to remain rooted in the subculture from which he emerged?

There is no debate about Banksy’s contributions to the aesthetic landscape. He is the Zorro of the art world. Many are obsessed about discovering the artist’s identity. But, even behind the mask, or maybe because of it, Banksy’s approach advocates a direct connection between an artist and his constituency.

Banksy is a media phenomenon. A combination of graffiti artist, painter, acitivist, filmmaker, and provocateur, he was selected in 2010 as one of TIME’s 100 most influential people.  
If you are a Banksy fan or at least interested in seeing a collection of his work,This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of Banksy will be a fun read.

- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/not-photo-opportunity#sthash.wuIJMkhq.dpuf


Buy This is Not a Photo Opportunity now | Buy This is Not a Photo Opportunity e-Book now | Back to Banksy's Page | Back to Martin Bull's Author Page




World War 3 - It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine

By Ben Marks
BoingBoing
December 11th, 2014


Since 1979, World War 3 Illustrated has been a forum for those who chafed at the treacly bromides of Ronald Reagan, who heaved on the endless hypocrisy of religion, who were seriously cheesed at the presumption of male politicians to deny woman their reproductive rights, and who had nothing but contempt for the fearmongering that followed the tragedy of 9/11.

But in the hands of founders Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper, along with an ever-changing roster of new and returning artists—from Eric Drooker, Sabrina Jones, and the late Spain Rodriguez, to Sue Coe, Art Spiegelman, Chuck Sperry, and Tom Tomorrow — World War 3 has been more than a vehicle for artists to vent their anger, although many of them have done that exceedingly well. More importantly, World War 3 has been a place to build a counter narrative to the pablum ladled into the trough we know as the mainstream media, a place where the most unflinching and searing critiques can bud and flower before blasting the corpulent ruling classes to smithereens.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page




Stealing All Transmissions on CounterFire

by Mark Perryman
CounterFire
December 12, 2014

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his top ten books to buy to make somebody’s Christmas

Russell is a kind of punk politician, for those of us of a certain age the antecedents are there to be seen and celebrated. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions in that regard couldn’t be more timely. Instead of yet another biography of The Clash, Randal gets to grips with their cultural and political legacy via a decent dose of Gramsci. This is a cultural politics of dissent for the 21st century, mixing interpretation and insurrection. More of that please in 2015.

Regular readers of my reviews round-ups won’t be surprised that I've included a sports, cookery and children's’ title in my seasonal top ten. Because all three are vital to any remaking of the narrow, inward-looking space the ‘political’ too often threatens to become.

For more recommendations- click HERE

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page




Pirate satellite of love: Stealing All Transmissions on Record Collector

by Kris Needs
Record Collector
December 2014

Pirate satellite of love

That legendary roadie Barry ‘The Baker’ Auguste has given this latest book on his old bosses the seal of approval in an eloquent, 10-page foreword should be enough to tell anyone who thought the band’s story had been milked dry that this is a tome worth peeking into. It’s a rewarding bonus that the book is richly written from the fresh vantage point of being the first US history of the band, living up to The Baker’s declaration that it’s “unlike anything else you’ve read about The Clash”.

Though the seeds had been planted in both Strummer and Jones way before the band even existed, the US inexorably and beautifully shaped what The Clash became, showing them a world beyond the straitjackets foisted upon them at home. After Doane relates the story of New York punk, he excels on his detailed examinations of US radio and rock writing, exploring Pennie Smith’s immortal Paul Simonon bass-execution photo and getting the inside music biz angle on what was, in retrospect, a remarkable offensive.

Above all, the book helps explain factors crucial to any fan’s understanding and appreciation of this often most misrepresented of groups.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page




The Best “Little” Music Books of 2014 in LA Mag: Stealing All Transmissions & Dead Kennedys

by Matthew Duersten
LA Magazine
December 16, 2014


2014 was the year of big music books: splashy, spendy doorstops on the likes of Lenny Kravitz, The Rolling Stones (13 lbs., $150), Jimmy Page, Marianne Faithfull, Leonard Cohen, and Blue Note Records. (Even experimental crank John Cage was the subject of a lavish book.) There were also handsome, high-profile new bios of Mick Fleetwood, Billy Idol, Billy Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carlos Santana, and even One Direction, not to mention more entries in the endlessly swelling Elvis, Cobain, and Beatles libraries.

But “little” music books have been hanging in by their fingernails. To clarify: “Little” doesn’t just mean physically small (although some of these you could definitely stuff in a stocking) but also overlooked, specific or esoteric topics, or published (or self-published) through a small press—labors of love from (and for) the Little Guy. These “little” offerings still pack a big punch:

FOR THE CONSPIRACY THEORIST


If you saw Room 237, the documentary about the conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, these books might remind you that rock music has its own subtexts. In Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (Tarcher, $27.95), BoingBoing and Believer scribe Peter Berbegal recounts being hooked into sometimes “explicit, sometimes hidden occult language of rock” through the ’70s albums of his older brother, who inscribed a quote from Satanist Aleister Crowley (“Do what thou wilt”) in the vinyl grooves of Led Zeppelin III. Despite covering approximately 2,000 years of human history, the book is a compact 288 pages. Harvard Divinity School grad Bebergal (whose own last name sounds like a conjured demonic force) connects the imagery of the Egyptians, Southern Voodoo, European Christianity, Paganism, and Burning Man with the music and aesthetic visions of bands like Hawkwind, The Rolling Stones, Blue Oyster Cult, Throbbing Gristle, and David Bowie. (Fun fact: Daryl Hall put his ka-ching pop career in jeopardy—as well as his partnership with John Oates—when he recorded Sacred Songs, a solo album based on the writings of Aleister Crowley. No joke, folks.)

The occult also plays a part in Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon: Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops & the Dark Heart of the Hippie Dream (Headpress, $24.95), David McGowan’s whackadoo rendering of L.A.’s countercultural Olympus through the lens of a conspiracy junkie who doesn’t get out much. Should you or should you not buy McGowan’s main thesis—that the hippie enclave just above the Sunset Strip was a toxic labyrinth of underground tunnels, covert military installations, and criminally compromised countercultural icons—part of the fun of this book is McGowan’s autodidact defensiveness (“I have no desire to serve as a publicist for the estates of Jim Morrison, John Phillips, or Frank Zappa…”) and his snarky sense of humor that occasionally veers into bitterness. It’s an entertaining read halfway between William Goldman’s fevered biographical dissections and the jump-cut paranoia of golden-age Oliver Stone.

FOR THE ENTERPRISING PUNK


The scrappy, Bay Area-based PM Press might win the “Little Book” award for 2014. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash (PM, $15.95), which began as an article he pitched to The New Yorker, clocks in at around 130 pages, and Alex Ogg’s Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: The Early Years (PM, $17.95), originally composed as liner notes, is only 200 pages. Both are similar tales of scruffy underdogs attempting to cross the moat of the Big Time Music Industry. Where they diverge is how their subjects went about doing it. Doane’s account burns through a three-year period (’79-’81) when a group of U.S. promoters, retailers, rock writers, fans, and radio DJs endeavored to break The Clash in America. This culminated in the band, who had been suffering from a nasty press backlash in their home country, being signed to CBS and recording their artistic triumph London Calling.

Ogg’s book about the making of the notorious hardcore foursome Dead Kennedys’ first album covers almost the same time period from opposite circumstances. The Dead Kennedys couldn’t get arrested (creatively speaking) in America and turned toward British indie label Cherry Red to release Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, which, in the author’s words, “outclasses London Calling, or the Sex Pistols’ and the Ramones’ debut albums.” Lead singer and agitator Jello Biafra (né Eric Boucher from Boulder, Colorado) gave punk purist Ian McKaye a Left Coast run for his money, being rabidly anti-corporate—Biafra vociferously opposed the band signing to Polydor Records—and anti-U.S. foreign policy during the earliest days of Reagan’s presidency. There’s even a life-lesson in how the most populist creative visions can end with all the band members suing each other.

FOR THE ARMCHAIR SOCIOLOGIST


Published just three weeks before its subject passed away at the elegant age of 92, Edward Berger’s Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music (Temple UP, $35) traces the life of the jazz trumpeter from the summer of 1938, when the 16-year-old played a concert at Philadelphia’s Girard College, through his experiences as a black musician in pre-Civil Rights America. Unable to fulfill his dream of being a classical trumpeter, Wilder took an alternate route through the legendary bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, and Jimmie Lunceford. In the 1950s he became the first African American musician to break the color barrier in the Broadway pit orchestras and New York TV-studio bands. Columbia University lecturer Hisham Ali’s skillful narrative in Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (Pantheon, $16.95) begins at the epicenter of American hip-hop (The South Bronx) then follows its resonating soundwaves all over the globe from Brazil and Antwerp to Algeria and Tunis to Copenhagen, and the young transnational Muslim youth who have been energized (and not, as Aidi emphasizes, “radicalized’) by African-American culture.

FOR THE WONK


These two wide-ranging offerings are as expensive as they are arcane, but they’re perfect for the friend who friend likes curling up in a chair in the corner while the rest of the party plays Cards Against Humanity. David Grubbs’s Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording (Duke UP, $23.95) seems borne from a Ph.D. thesis, but its topic is fascinating: the uneasy history that experimental musicians of the ’60s and ’70s have with the recording process. (Hint: It’s similar to the relationship between a butterfly and a mason jar.)

Portland alt-jazz musician Andrew Durkin’s refreshingly unstodgy Decomposition: A Music Manifesto (Pantheon, $28.95) begins with a bad joke about Beethoven, illustrating the author’s purpose “to demythologize music without demeaning it.” U2, Bandcamp, Yo-Yo Ma, and Lady Gaga (among many others) all figure into the discussion as examples of what he dubs “the global music ecosystem,” an “unwieldy network” held together by emphasis on “authorship” (the notion that music “springs full-blown and ex nihilo from the minds of isolated individuals”) and “authenticity” (“a singularly true ideal experience of music that trumps all others”). The misconception of both, Durkin argues, is what helps transform music from its organic, unmediated state to a co-opted commodity. Heavy stuff but ideal for those who can handle it.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page




Stealing All Transmissions in Louder Than War

By Randal Doane
Louder Than War
December 16th, 2014

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Clash’s London Calling (December 1979, UK; January 1980, US) we present the following excerpts from Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash (2014, PM Press) by Randal Doane, which includes a song-by-song interpretation of the album Rolling Stone dubbed “the best of the 80s”. 

Randal’s book was reviewed on Louder Than War by legendary Clash roadie The Baker. You can read his thoughts here and should you wish to buy a copy, as a Xmas present for a loved one, say, go to PM Press’s website.

~

The Clash’s London Calling: “…antidote to Me Generation selfishness and self-defeatism.”

Dan Beck, US product manager at Epic Records, recounted how Kosmo Vinyl fought tooth-and-nail with tongue-in-cheek on behalf of The Clash. “When we came up with the phrase, ‘The Only Band That Matters,’ [Rhodes and Vinyl] literally came in the office and protested it,” Beck told me. “‘That’s horrible!’ they’d say, and they’d be bursting with laughter.” Their laughter arose from the gap between the fantasy of the authenticity police and the aims of The Clash, which Strummer articulated prior to their first passage across the Atlantic: “We’ve got loads of contradictions for you … we’re trying to do something new; we’re trying to be the greatest group in the world, and that also means the biggest. At the same time, we’re trying to be radical — I mean, we never want to be really respectable — and maybe the two can’t coexist, but we’ll try.”

In the ensuing years, the staff at Epic came to understand and respect The Clash’s reflexive engagement with these contradictions. As radio expanded its sonic palette, and The Clash continued to shift musical directions, the moment ripened for airwave domination. After the release of London Calling, McCarrell told Vinyl, “Look, if we do this right, we can sell millions of records here. Are you guys okay with that?” Vinyl smiled and replied, “Yes. Yes we are.”

London Calling was released in the UK in December 1979, and in the United States the following month. If Give ‘Em Enough Rope was, as Creem’s Dave DiMartino surmised, “the carefully measured, laboriously drawn-out Pearlman affair,” London Calling represented a burst of freedom from their estrangement. For the March issue of Trouser Press, Chris Salewicz penned an affirmative profile of more than three thousand words, hoping plainly that London Calling would become “the definitive ’70s rock ’n’ roll record, an ironic antidote to Me Generation selfishness and self-defeatism.” Between the bookends of the anthemic titular single, and the pop-radio-friendly “Train in Vain,” the Village Voice’s John Piccarella savored The Clash’s facility with the three “r’s”: rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and reggae, especially. Four months after the U.S. release of London Calling, Rolling Stone obliged once again. In a lengthy review essay for the April 3 issue, Tom Carson described the album as “spacious and extravagant,” relished the historical grandeur of “Spanish Bombs,” and celebrated the stubborn spirit rising in the coda of “Death or Glory.” For the Soho Weekly, Bangs offered tempered enthusiasm, professing that he missed “the edge, the snarl, the unremitting tension” of earlier LPs. Still, Bangs reckoned, “There’s an ease and a rightness about them that’s as gratifying as the Stones of Beggars Banquet, and probably a good deal more straight-on.”

All four sides of Calling resonate with ease and rightness. It’s gritty where it should be, and gorgeous everywhere else. It’s a reckoning with the world of rock ’n’ roll, a negation of the narrow codes of punk, and a tribute to what The Clash achieved in Vanilla Studios, with the help of The Baker and Johnny Green, Gallagher and the horn players — and, for a little while, minimal interference from anyone else. Jones bore responsibility for sequencing the album and did a brilliant job. If the antics of “rock’n’roll Mick” would grow tiresome, even loathsome, in the next few years, his understanding of how to sequence an album reflected his diligent study of exemplary rock LPs. He also understood the pop aesthetic of the fade-out at the cadence, which he and Price employed on thirteen of the nineteen tracks on London Calling.

In the paragraphs that follow, I imagine London Calling as a cinematic montage, and The Clash as a single, peripatetic protagonist, wandering the avenues and alleys of London and New York, picking up stories and sounds in al fresco cafes, in movies in Times Square, and behind barricades in Brixton. My aim here is not to claim London Calling as a concept album, but to take stock of the aesthetic impact of the rarest of things: a triumphant double album.

Side One

Side one commences, of course, with the opening bars of “London Calling,” which are straight-on indeed. Our protagonist stands by the river, wondering aloud, plaintively, about the fate of this great city — of all cities everywhere — should nuclear errors persist. The anthem commences with Strummer’s downstrokes and, for the moment, Headon’s kit remains deep in the mix. Simonon joins in with the haunting bass refrain, and now Headon’s drums charge to the foreground, marching the band to the opening verse. The amber waves of grain are desiccated, and meltdown awaits. The upshot? There’s no more Beatlemania in the form of The Jam — cheer up kids! Strummer sustains a hot vocal urgency from beginning to end, while the warm vocals of Jones and Simonon offer a reassuring sense of calm — a contrast reprised to great effect for the next hour. At the coda, the ease of the fade-out is betrayed by the warning transmission of Morse code, tapped out by Jones on his guitar, over Strummer’s receding confession.

Around the corner, our protagonist encounters a lovers’ quarrel. The woman sits behind the wheel of a shiny, well-chromed gas guzzler, and her ex-lover is awe-struck. But is it the presence of the Cadillac, or the loss of his woman, that he finds most vexing? Here The Clash break the rules once again, and include on track two their homage to Vince Taylor, a late-1950s rock ’n’ roller, and the subject of the imaginative bio-LP Ziggy Stardust. (After 1965, covers rarely appeared earlier than track four on canonical LPs.)

Side one closes with tales of temptation and addiction. The Baker’s glorious whistling opens “Jimmy Jazz,” and introduces the thick arm of the law to the narrative. The action begins at the outdoor seating of a café, and the police approach the owner, who turns coy trickster, within earshot of our protagonist. “Jimmy? Here? He was, but not now.” Strummer’s slurred lyrics, over musical accompaniment with R&B horns and a relaxed reggae tempo, provides a hint for American listeners, who may have relied upon monikers other than “jazz” for marijuana. “Jazz’s” moderate rhythmic complexity serves as a nice bridge to the uptempo desperation of “Hateful,” in which our protagonist wanders into Brighton’s Powis Square, and turns a keen eye on a junkie he once knew, now bereft of mates and his memory. The following morning, on London’s East End, he raises the prospects of lager as the breakfast of champions and, if there’s no work to be had on Maggie Thatcher’s Farm, the rude boys are, set to rights, doomed to fail. In its vinyl form, it’s a triumphant end to side one, with Jones and Strummer barging in on one another mid-stanza, in chorus and verse — a feature well-reprised on a handful of songs that remain, and on “Spanish Bombs” in particular.

Side Two

On side two, our protagonist finds himself in midtown Manhattan, and stops for coffee to catch up on his reading. He tarries in a bilingual daydream about anarchists’ fantasies in “Spanish Bombs.” Upon leaving the cafe, he crosses 42nd Street and spies pimps and hustlers working the beat beneath the Mayfair marquee, where the films of Montgomery Clift, the drinking-and-driving anti-hero of “The Right Profile,” once played. Our protagonist hits the shops on Broadway, but neither discotheque albums nor alcohol provides little more than fleeting satisfaction (“Lost in the Supermarket”). Back in Brixton, he encounters a band of young men who solicit his counsel. “Don’t believe!,” he shouts. “Refuse the clampdown! They’re not after your money. They’ll take much more than that!” He moves along, chin low against the wind, and notices the fraying hem in his navy pants, and the scuff atop his chestnut boots. That night, somebody’s been murdered, and now it’s rebels galore, awash in firearms, dreaming of death and glory, with fingers on the triggers of the “Guns of Brixton.”

Side Three

For side three, in Greenwich Village, our protagonist decides he needs a larger audience, and takes to a ramshackle stage at Washington Square Park. To bolster his faith in nearly clean living, he offers a rousing cover of Clive Alphonso’s “Wrong ’Em Boyo.” On vinyl, Jones and Simonon offer backing vocals at seemingly random intervals, and evoke — in its absence — the repressive order of the Rope sessions. The joy and ease of the vocal accents, along with the riff-heavy refrain of the horn section, confirms their facility with the musical codes of reggae. The urgency becomes palpable, and the stage becomes a soap box. In the rousing “Death or Glory,” the options appear to our aging protagonist as neither palatable nor possible, and our hero extends compassion to the tattooed-knuckled punk trying to get his baffled kids to understand . . . what exactly? He wishes he knew.

In “Koka Kola,” our protagonist returns to the street, checking out the billboards along Madison Avenue, wondering about the world of the ad man, and whether it’s life or death that goes better with coke. In the grooves, Headon keeps a resolute tempo, Simonon turns in some lovely bass figures, and the whole thing speeds by in under two minutes. Around the inarticulate message of “Lover’s Rock,” our protagonist returns to the Odeon in Times Square for a double feature of The Cincinnati Kid, an uber-cool card sharp played by Steve McQueen (“The Card Cheat”), and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, starring Rita-Hayworth-favorite Glenn Ford (“Four Horsemen”).

As the credits roll, he leaves inspired, cocky even, and returns to Washington Square Park. Back on the bandstand, he affirms his tenacity with the hard-charging “I’m Not Down,” and wraps things up with the more conciliatory “Revolution Rock.” His between-verse patter indicates his need to keep his sights modest, to take any gig he can get, and to play in whatever musical style the host demands. And that is nearly how the montage concludes — from nuclear meltdown to the exigencies of the market, from the band’s last gesture as a punk rock group, to their steady hands as reggae stylists, and the territory covered over the first eighteen tracks is vast and deep, black and white, and open to possibility. Our protagonist knows, though, for a kid raised in Wilmcote House, there are few options more alluring than singing for a rock’n’roll band. So he packs up his guitar, heads north on 5th Avenue, veers left onto Broadway, through Times Square, and into the Brill Building, with a one-song tape in hand, praying his efforts won’t end in vain.

~

This article first appeared on Randal Doane’s blog. You can purchase Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash here.

Randal Doane works at Oberlin College. He dispatches on punk and rock ‘n’ roll as @stealingclash on Twitter and at stealingalltransmissions.wordpress.com. His Louder Than War author’s archive is here.

- See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/the-clashs-london-calling-reaches-its-thirty-fifth-birthday-randal-doane-writes-with-selections-from-stealing-all-transmissions-a-secret-history-of-the-clash/#sthash.wV0WLccb.dpufhttp://louderthanwar.com/the-clashs-london-calling-reaches-its-thirty-fifth-birthday-randal-doane-writes-with-selections-from-stealing-all-transmissions-a-secret-history-of-the-clash/

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Clash’s London Calling (December 1979, UK; January 1980, US) we present the following excerpts from Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash (2014, PM Press) by Randal Doane, which includes a song-by-song interpretation of the album Rolling Stone dubbed “the best of the 80s”.

Randal’s book was reviewed on Louder Than War by legendary Clash roadie The Baker. You can read his thoughts here and should you wish to buy a copy, as a Xmas present for a loved one, say, go to PM Press’s website.

The Clash’s London Calling: “…antidote to Me Generation selfishness and self-defeatism.”

Dan Beck, US product manager at Epic Records, recounted how Kosmo Vinyl fought tooth-and-nail with tongue-in-cheek on behalf of The Clash. “When we came up with the phrase, ‘The Only Band That Matters,’ [Rhodes and Vinyl] literally came in the office and protested it,” Beck told me. “‘That’s horrible!’ they’d say, and they’d be bursting with laughter.” Their laughter arose from the gap between the fantasy of the authenticity police and the aims of The Clash, which Strummer articulated prior to their first passage across the Atlantic: “We’ve got loads of contradictions for you … we’re trying to do something new; we’re trying to be the greatest group in the world, and that also means the biggest. At the same time, we’re trying to be radical — I mean, we never want to be really respectable — and maybe the two can’t coexist, but we’ll try.”

In the ensuing years, the staff at Epic came to understand and respect The Clash’s reflexive engagement with these contradictions. As radio expanded its sonic palette, and The Clash continued to shift musical directions, the moment ripened for airwave domination. After the release of London Calling, McCarrell told Vinyl, “Look, if we do this right, we can sell millions of records here. Are you guys okay with that?” Vinyl smiled and replied, “Yes. Yes we are.”

London Calling was released in the UK in December 1979, and in the United States the following month. If Give ‘Em Enough Rope was, as Creem’s Dave DiMartino surmised, “the carefully measured, laboriously drawn-out Pearlman affair,” London Calling represented a burst of freedom from their estrangement. For the March issue of Trouser Press, Chris Salewicz penned an affirmative profile of more than three thousand words, hoping plainly that London Calling would become “the definitive ’70s rock ’n’ roll record, an ironic antidote to Me Generation selfishness and self-defeatism.” Between the bookends of the anthemic titular single, and the pop-radio-friendly “Train in Vain,” the Village Voice’s John Piccarella savored The Clash’s facility with the three “r’s”: rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and reggae, especially. Four months after the U.S. release of London Calling, Rolling Stone obliged once again. In a lengthy review essay for the April 3 issue, Tom Carson described the album as “spacious and extravagant,” relished the historical grandeur of “Spanish Bombs,” and celebrated the stubborn spirit rising in the coda of “Death or Glory.” For the Soho Weekly, Bangs offered tempered enthusiasm, professing that he missed “the edge, the snarl, the unremitting tension” of earlier LPs. Still, Bangs reckoned, “There’s an ease and a rightness about them that’s as gratifying as the Stones of Beggars Banquet, and probably a good deal more straight-on.”

All four sides of Calling resonate with ease and rightness. It’s gritty where it should be, and gorgeous everywhere else. It’s a reckoning with the world of rock ’n’ roll, a negation of the narrow codes of punk, and a tribute to what The Clash achieved in Vanilla Studios, with the help of The Baker and Johnny Green, Gallagher and the horn players — and, for a little while, minimal interference from anyone else. Jones bore responsibility for sequencing the album and did a brilliant job. If the antics of “rock’n’roll Mick” would grow tiresome, even loathsome, in the next few years, his understanding of how to sequence an album reflected his diligent study of exemplary rock LPs. He also understood the pop aesthetic of the fade-out at the cadence, which he and Price employed on thirteen of the nineteen tracks on London Calling.

In the paragraphs that follow, I imagine London Calling as a cinematic montage, and The Clash as a single, peripatetic protagonist, wandering the avenues and alleys of London and New York, picking up stories and sounds in al fresco cafes, in movies in Times Square, and behind barricades in Brixton. My aim here is not to claim London Calling as a concept album, but to take stock of the aesthetic impact of the rarest of things: a triumphant double album.

Side One

Side one commences, of course, with the opening bars of “London Calling,” which are straight-on indeed. Our protagonist stands by the river, wondering aloud, plaintively, about the fate of this great city — of all cities everywhere — should nuclear errors persist. The anthem commences with Strummer’s downstrokes and, for the moment, Headon’s kit remains deep in the mix. Simonon joins in with the haunting bass refrain, and now Headon’s drums charge to the foreground, marching the band to the opening verse. The amber waves of grain are desiccated, and meltdown awaits. The upshot? There’s no more Beatlemania in the form of The Jam — cheer up kids! Strummer sustains a hot vocal urgency from beginning to end, while the warm vocals of Jones and Simonon offer a reassuring sense of calm — a contrast reprised to great effect for the next hour. At the coda, the ease of the fade-out is betrayed by the warning transmission of Morse code, tapped out by Jones on his guitar, over Strummer’s receding confession.

Around the corner, our protagonist encounters a lovers’ quarrel. The woman sits behind the wheel of a shiny, well-chromed gas guzzler, and her ex-lover is awe-struck. But is it the presence of the Cadillac, or the loss of his woman, that he finds most vexing? Here The Clash break the rules once again, and include on track two their homage to Vince Taylor, a late-1950s rock ’n’ roller, and the subject of the imaginative bio-LP Ziggy Stardust. (After 1965, covers rarely appeared earlier than track four on canonical LPs.)

Side one closes with tales of temptation and addiction. The Baker’s glorious whistling opens “Jimmy Jazz,” and introduces the thick arm of the law to the narrative. The action begins at the outdoor seating of a café, and the police approach the owner, who turns coy trickster, within earshot of our protagonist. “Jimmy? Here? He was, but not now.” Strummer’s slurred lyrics, over musical accompaniment with R&B horns and a relaxed reggae tempo, provides a hint for
American listeners, who may have relied upon monikers other than “jazz” for marijuana.

“Jazz’s” moderate rhythmic complexity serves as a nice bridge to the uptempo desperation of “Hateful,” in which our protagonist wanders into Brighton’s Powis Square, and turns a keen eye on a junkie he once knew, now bereft of mates and his memory. The following morning, on London’s East End, he raises the prospects of lager as the breakfast of champions and, if there’s no work to be had on Maggie Thatcher’s Farm, the rude boys are, set to rights, doomed to fail. In its vinyl form, it’s a triumphant end to side one, with Jones and Strummer barging in on one another mid-stanza, in chorus and verse — a feature well-reprised on a handful of songs that remain, and on “Spanish Bombs” in particular.

Side Two


On side two, our protagonist finds himself in midtown Manhattan, and stops for coffee to catch up on his reading. He tarries in a bilingual daydream about anarchists’ fantasies in “Spanish Bombs.” Upon leaving the cafe, he crosses 42nd Street and spies pimps and hustlers working the beat beneath the Mayfair marquee, where the films of Montgomery Clift, the drinking-and-driving anti-hero of “The Right Profile,” once played. Our protagonist hits the shops on Broadway, but neither discotheque albums nor alcohol provides little more than fleeting satisfaction (“Lost in the Supermarket”). Back in Brixton, he encounters a band of young men who solicit his counsel. “Don’t believe!,” he shouts. “Refuse the clampdown! They’re not after your money. They’ll take much more than that!” He moves along, chin low against the wind, and notices the fraying hem in his navy pants, and the scuff atop his chestnut boots. That night, somebody’s been murdered, and now it’s rebels galore, awash in firearms, dreaming of death and glory, with fingers on the triggers of the “Guns of Brixton.”

Side Three

For side three, in Greenwich Village, our protagonist decides he needs a larger audience, and takes to a ramshackle stage at Washington Square Park. To bolster his faith in nearly clean living, he offers a rousing cover of Clive Alphonso’s “Wrong ’Em Boyo.” On vinyl, Jones and Simonon offer backing vocals at seemingly random intervals, and evoke — in its absence — the repressive order of the Rope sessions. The joy and ease of the vocal accents, along with the riff-heavy refrain of the horn section, confirms their facility with the musical codes of reggae. The urgency becomes palpable, and the stage becomes a soap box. In the rousing “Death or Glory,” the options appear to our aging protagonist as neither palatable nor possible, and our hero extends compassion to the tattooed-knuckled punk trying to get his baffled kids to understand . . . what exactly? He wishes he knew.

In “Koka Kola,” our protagonist returns to the street, checking out the billboards along Madison Avenue, wondering about the world of the ad man, and whether it’s life or death that goes better with coke. In the grooves, Headon keeps a resolute tempo, Simonon turns in some lovely bass figures, and the whole thing speeds by in under two minutes. Around the inarticulate message of “Lover’s Rock,” our protagonist returns to the Odeon in Times Square for a double feature of The Cincinnati Kid, an uber-cool card sharp played by Steve McQueen (“The Card Cheat”), and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, starring Rita-Hayworth-favorite Glenn Ford (“Four Horsemen”).

As the credits roll, he leaves inspired, cocky even, and returns to Washington Square Park. Back on the bandstand, he affirms his tenacity with the hard-charging “I’m Not Down,” and wraps things up with the more conciliatory “Revolution Rock.” His between-verse patter indicates his need to keep his sights modest, to take any gig he can get, and to play in whatever musical style the host demands. And that is nearly how the montage concludes — from nuclear meltdown to the exigencies of the market, from the band’s last gesture as a punk rock group, to their steady hands as reggae stylists, and the territory covered over the first eighteen tracks is vast and deep, black and white, and open to possibility. Our protagonist knows, though, for a kid raised in Wilmcote House, there are few options more alluring than singing for a rock’n’roll band. So he packs up his guitar, heads north on 5th Avenue, veers left onto Broadway, through Times Square, and into the Brill Building, with a one-song tape in hand, praying his efforts won’t end in vain.

~

This article first appeared on Randal Doane’s blog.

Randal Doane works at Oberlin College. He dispatches on punk and rock ‘n’ roll as @stealingclash on Twitter and at stealingalltransmissions.wordpress.com. His Louder Than War author’s archive is here.

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Stealing All Transmissions in Library Journal

Library Journal
December 1st, 2014

The Clash: The Only Band That Mattered and Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash

Here are two heady books about punk music legends the Clash, who, though beloved by fans and critics, eschewed "mainstream" success. Both authors get at the root of that independence and intentionality in slightly different ways. By providing an astute analysis of the band and the late 1970s and early 1980s British era from which it emerged, Egan's (The Mammoth Book of the Rolling Stones) title clearly shows how interrelated those musical and social contexts were: one could not have existed without the other. The Clash can be a bit academic and is even a somewhat sociological read. Still, Egan demonstrates what many other authors have failed to do: that the Clash’s intelligent, working-man's music provided an outlet for a groundswell of the punk generation's intellectual rebelliousness. Doane's (Oberlin Coll.) book is more a workmanlike rock-and-roll history, though still not the usual bio/tell-all—only a Clash book would require over 15 pages of endnotes. Thoughtful and enthusiastic, if laudatory, this work examines the Clash through the lens of 1977–83 punk rock and romanticizes the disenfranchised, alternative, DIY work ethic of the movement's leaders. When focusing on the band specifically, Doane is much less concerned with sex and drugs than politics and the battles fought with the record companies. It also features an intellectual foreword by Barry "The Baker" Augustine, the band's principal roadie.

VERDICT Both of these titles are fine purchases for large public libraries and deep music collections; for an intriguing take on punk history, try John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History (2006), or, for Clash-specific history, consider Marcus Gray's Last Gang in Town: The Story and Myth of the Clash (1995).

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Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs reviewed on Interface

By Gary Roth
Interface
Volume 6 issue 2
December 7th, 2014

 

Francis Dupuis-Déri’s defense of the Black Bloc is disarming in its subtlety. “The Black Bloc,” he tells us, “is not a treatise in political philosophy, let alone a strategy.” For Dupuis-Déri, it is simply “a tactic” (p. 3). But tactics too, as John Berger once pointed out, are often wedded to implied philosophies and unarticulated strategies.

Besides, the very purpose of Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? is to give voice to Black Bloc participants. They explain in their own terms why these “ad hoc assemblages of individuals or affinity groups that lastfor the duration of a march or rally” have been ever-present during the last few decades (p. 2). They have emerged as something of a cultural icon. Known for their characteristic use of black clothing and face masks, Black Bloc participants tend to be deeply ethical and deliberate in their decision-making, although not usually in ways appreciated by their many critics and opponents. This speaks to the huge gap that exists between the portrayal of the Black Blocs in the media and the self-consciousness of those who take part in them.

Black Blocs have influenced public discourse out of proportion to their actual size, which has ranged anywhere from a few odd individuals to several thousand people who coalesce at demonstrations seemingly from nowhere and then disappear just as anonymously. Dupuis-Déri traces their roots to West Berlin’s squatter movement of the early-and mid-1980s. He acknowledges too that they are more properly considered a form of struggle specific to this new century.

They are part of the same general trend as the “occupation of squares” that stretches from the Arab Spring to Spain’s Indignados to Zuccotti Park, the Maidan in the Ukraine, and more (Endnotes Collective 2014). Black Blocs have been a feature of the alter-(anti-)globalization protests of the last decade and a half and have now evolved into a regular component of virtually every popular movement in recent years.

The notoriety that accompanies the Black Blocs derives from their deliberate pursuit of “symbolic economic and political targets” (p. 33). Large corporate entities and government buildings are sought out almost exclusively. In the urban areas where the Black Blocs have been active, this means the chain stores, with bank facades and the window fronts of well-known retail outlets such as Starbucks and Gap receiving special attention. In some places, public buildings in central city locations have been preferred instead. In either case, the Black Blocs direct their violence towards inanimate objects, overpriced articles of consumption, and ineffective and corrupt ruling strata, where “the target is the message” (p. 43). As Dupuis-Déri explains, the Black Blocs have modernized and also revitalized the anarchist doctrine of “propaganda of the deed.” The Blocs have been rather scrupulous to avoid small businesses, community centers, homes, and libraries, a pattern that itself gives a clue as to the worldviews that form their political sensibilities. Violence against people is taboo (except when responding to police violence), whereas their critics, as Dupuis-Déri points out with numerous quotes, tend to defend people and things as if these were equivalent categories.

If property damage defines the Black Blocs in the public’s eyes, the Blocs regularly assume other functions at demonstrations. This has included the hauling of food and water to the protest sites, arranging transportation and lodging for out-of-town demonstrators, providing medical support, and serving as a protective barrier that shields non-violent protestors from the police and security forces. On some occasions, they have helped divert official attention from protest sites by creating a ruckus in another area. Because the Blocs function as affinity groups, on-the-spot coordination comes easily. The groups are anti-hierarchical, with decisions reached through consensus. They are capable of making tactical choices in conjunction with other groups, even though their ad hoc formations tend to preclude negotiations that get overly complicated.

One doesn’t wander into a Black Bloc accidently. Participants are typically veterans of previous protests and have received training in direct action tactics and ethics, legal issues, and safety measures. Many of them object to individuals (“activism tourists”) not already a member of an affinity group, since their exclusion cuts down on provocateurs and other violence-prone individuals (p.102). Black Bloc participants often come equipped with shields, helmets, gas masks, and anti-tear gas cream in order to protect themselves from police attacks, and with chains, locks, rocks, clubs, slingshots, and Molotov cocktails to counteract police aggression.

The Blocs now come in multiple colors. Besides the Black Blocs who are known primarily for their trashing of downtown areas, Red Blocs are clusters of leftists still supportive of hierarchical organizations and state-dominated social systems. White Blocs refer to the exclusive use of non-violent tactics. Pink Blocs are generally the most colorful, since they combine antics, art, and satire. A “Billionaires for Bush and Gore” contingent protested the 2004 Presidential election campaign in the United States with formal attire and fake banknotes distributed to police officers in thanks for their role in suppressing dissent. At another demonstration, protestors carried fishing poles with donuts as bait in an attempt to lure the police to them. Examples like these offer Dupuis-Déri ample opportunities to discuss the nuances of Black Bloc beliefs and practices.

Symbolism aside, the Black Blocs are demonized by police, political officials,scholars, journalists, and also other leftists, which Dupuis-Déri documents extensively despite the overall brevity of his book. The mis-characterizations projected towards the Black blocs are both crude and predictable, as: thugs, vandals, anarchists, trouble-makers, prone to violence, a mindless minority, soccer rowdies, proto-fascist paramilitaries, and more. The critics from the left are the most difficult to fathom. The Black Blocs tend towards a mixture of “Marxism, radical feminism, environmentalism, anarchism” (p. 24). Despite this, two issues come to the fore repeatedly—violence, whether directed against property or the police, and the refusal to follow the dictates that government officials and the security forces set down for protestors.

For the Black Blocs, “peaceful methods are too limited and play into the hands of the powers that be” (p.38). They are anti-establishment and reject a notion of representation which presupposes homogeneous communities. This undercuts other groups by limiting their ability to step forward as “people’s representatives” and thereby influence public policy. The Blocs, on their part, have been accused of hiding amidst non-violent demonstrators, a criticism that hit home. In recent protests, they have been overly conscientious about not letting this occur.

Opponents also accuse them of antagonizing the public, even if just the opposite seems to be true. Black Bloc activity tends to boost interest in anarchist ideas and activities. Some Black Blocs have called for a “diversity of tactics,” a matter not well received by these other groups, despite the divide between spokespeople who denounce the Blocs and everyday protestors who want something more than just a peaceful, respectful protest that is easy to ignore.

Dupuis-Déri picks apart just about every negative characterization hurled at the Black Blocs, one of the several strengths of his book. The “propagandhi” of non-violent activists is his special focus. Sometimes, though, he gets lost in arguments not quite germane to contemporary reality. He reaches back to the 1500s, for instance, to show that not just anarchists but also dissenting Christians targeted the royalty for assassinations. Since assassinations haven’t been part of the anarchist tradition for nearly a century already (despite the mythology), the entire discussion becomes a bit unreal. He also relativizes anarchist violence by pointing to the troubled and often bloodied track record of liberalism. His overly brief discussion of the two traditions glosses over significant differences in which the latter’s violence is a product of its use of the state as a means to consolidate and defend its rule, whereas anarchism has rarely ever been tested on that score.

Perhaps most disturbing is Dupuis-Déri’s discussion of the cathartic effects of violence, its psychological benefits. Reminiscent of the pseudo-scientific justifications used by fascists and devotees of brutal sports, violence becomes a form of creative expression. Dupuis-Déri speaks in terms of “restorative violence” (p. 85). These are dangerous ideas, and to say that “emotions are rooted in a social context and a political experience” is only to say the obvious(p. 90). Even overlooking the fact that emotions are also innate, what else could they be except socially-generated and constructed?

What can be said, and which Dupuis-Déri emphasizes with great effect, is that Black Bloc anarchists are much more conscientious about the use of violence than are the many and various security agencies arrayed against them. Police violence is mostly random and unprovoked, directed not only at the Black Blocs but at non-violent demonstrators and bystanders alike. Anarchists are categorized as “pre-terrorists,” subject to intense surveillance, and heavily infiltrated (p. 150). Masking both hides Black Bloc participants and also makes infiltration easy. But also, because they fight back, the police are more hesitant to abuse and brutalize protestors. The Black Blocs both draw and repel repression.

If Dupuis-Déri pushes his discussion further than necessary, it’s because he wants to dissect every possible criticism made of the Black Blocs. Some discussions might have been carried further. Gender dynamics is one such area.

Dupuis-Déri is quite conscientious in describing women’s roles within the Black Blocs. All the same, the Blocs remain overwhelmingly young and male, precisely the demographic that defines violence in society at large. He mentions that anti-fascist blocs tend to be predominately male, while anti-racist blocs attract a preponderance of females. These are the sorts of differences that he might have pursued in much greater depth.

Dupuis-Déri considers the Black Blocs to be “an image of the future” (160). It’s an image, however, that is clad in black and masked. It is an appropriate metaphor as well for Dupuis-Déri’s Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? Anarchy in Action Around the World–a view of things to come that one can’t quite discern clearly but only watch in action. Uneven in parts, it is nonetheless highly informative and provocative throughout.

References
Berger, John. (1974). The Look of Things: Essays. New York: Viking Press.

Available:
http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1968/no034/berger.htm).

Endnotes Collective.(2014).“The Holding Pattern.”
Endnotes 3. Available: http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/18).

About the reviewer
Gary Roth is the author of Marxism in a Lost Century: A Biography of Paul Mattick (Brill/Haymarket: 2014/2015) and co-author with Anne Lopes of Men’s Feminism: August Bebel and the German Socialist Movement (Humanity Books:2000).
garyrothATandromeda.rutgers.edu

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Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs reviewed by Sprout Distro

Sprout Distro
December 3rd, 2014

Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? Anarchy in Action Around the World by Francis Dupuis-Déri is an attempt to objectively explore and examine the black bloc tactic by casting aside the stereotypes and political dismissals common both in the mainstream media and amongst various radical groups. The book draws on extensive research including interviews with black bloc participants in various actions over the past 15 years (the Quebec student strike in 2012, the Toronto G20 Summit in 2010, the Évian G8 Meeting in 2003, and the Quebec City Summit of the Americas in 2001), research into publications (communiqués, zines, etc) by black bloc participants, and observations garnered from the street.

The author—Francis Dupuis-Déri—has been a close observer of black blocs and a participant in anti-capitalist politics, having been a member of the Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes (CLAC) in Montreal. The 2013 edition of this book is a completely revised English version of a book that was originally published in French in 2003. The English edition offers entirely new perspectives, taking into account recent mass protests and new uses of the black bloc—effectively showing that the tactic, while always evolving, has remained a constant feature of anarchist street protests across the world for nearly 15 years. In the end, Dupuis-Déri shows that the black bloc is a serious manifestation of anarchist beliefs and that as one of the more visible manifestation of anarchist politics, it is worthy of a nuanced exploration that moves beyond shallow analysis.

An Introduction for the Uninitiated

At its core, Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? provides an introduction to the black bloc tactic and the anarchist ideas that generally accompany it. The author gets the basics right, accurately describing the tactic, explaining its use, and making tentative statements about the politics of the black bloc. Whereas countless others over the years—from critics on the left to government agencies—have sought to portray the black bloc as a formal group, Dupuis-Déri avoids making that mistake. Instead, the author explains that black blocs differ dramatically from bloc to bloc and that they tend to be an assemblage of affinity groups or individuals, depending on the level of organizing that has been done in advance. They can range from a dozen people to hundreds, with purposes that range from defense of demonstrations to aggressive attacks against property and police.

The author traces the history of the black bloc tactic to the autonomous movement that emerged in Germany in the early 1980s (24). The autonomous movement was an anti-authoritarian movement that blended a variety of ideological influences—Marxism, radical feminism, anarchism, and environmentalism—while advocating for a politics based on individual and collective autonomy in the “here and now” (24-25). In practice, this meant rent strikes and squatting buildings which the movement used to develop a number of different hubs of activity from cafes and meeting spaces to infoshops (25). Black blocs originally grew out of street confrontations aimed at defending squats and attacking fascists, with the term being used to describe the autonomen would show up with a variety of helmets, shields, clubs, and projectiles and combat the police (25). According to Dupuis-Déri, the tactic spread to North America through “the punk and far left or ultra-left counterculture via fanzines, touring punk music groups, and personal contacts of traveling activists” (30). Early uses of the tactic took place at a protest in Washington DC in January 1991 against the Gulf War (30) and it was adopted by the militant anti-racist movement throughout the 1990s (31). Following the targeted property destruction undertaken by a black bloc at the Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in 1999, the black bloc got considerable media coverage, both in the mainstream and leftist press (33). This led to the spread of the tactic throughout the broad alter-globalization movement.

Dupuis-Déri argues that the black bloc is a manifestation of anarchist ideas, a specific and direct response to capitalism and the state. Rather than being so-called “irrational” acts of destruction, the confrontations and destruction undertaken by the black bloc are choices based on a specific worldview. Everything, from the way black blocs are organized to the choice of targets follows anarchist principles (42). Aside from demonstrating a political critique of the existing order, black blocs also are informed by emotion, with Dupuis-Déri arguing that it is joy and rage that motivate many participants (83-85). The author asserts that these “…emotions are rooted in a social context and a political experience. Direct action is a reaction to feelings of injustice and to situations of domination, inequality, and systemic violence” (90). Through black bloc actions, anarchists are able to temporarily liberate space and create experiences outside the norms set by the state and representative political organizations (99). Similarly, while black blocs are often criticized as being divisive and destructive to various “movements,” Dupuis-Déri argues that black blocs embody a critique of representation, both of the state and various “progressive” groups that routinely denounce black bloc tactics (127). The author rightfully points out that anarchists reject the politics of representation, arguing that efforts to “represent” the interests of the multitude result in oversimplification (126). Therefore, the direct action that a black bloc engages in provides both a new direction and a critique of representation.

Re-Examining Old Controversies

Seemingly no discussion of the black bloc would be complete without examining the various “controversies” that have surrounded the black bloc tactic as it has spread across the globe. Many of the common debates are taken up, including the discussion of violence in social movements, that it invites repression, whether or not the participants are just apolitical, charges of sexism, charges that black blocs alienate the working-class, and more.

For those familiar recent anarchist history, most of these conversations have been had at length, even though clear conclusions may not not have been found. As would be expected from an author sympathetic to the black bloc, Dupuis-Déri argues that the violence engaged in by the black bloc is insignificant when compared with the structural violence of the capitalism on a daily basis. It’s a relatively standard dismissal that many anarchists have already adopted, but is probably always worth pointing out. Dupuis-Déri further argues that black blocs also do not engage in violence against people, with the exception being armored police who are prepared to do great harm to demonstrators. Similarly, charges that the black bloc invites repression are easily debunked, with Dupuis-Déri providing numerous examples of authorities’ intent to repress protests regardless of their militancy. While militant threats may be used to provide an immediate pretext for repression, it is often just a way to justify police tactics that were planned well in advance. Another common charge, that black bloc participants are just mindless hooligans or young thugs, is dealt with by way of the author pointing out that most of the black bloc participants he interviewed were experienced activists or were involved in various community and political organizations (37).

In discussing the question whether or not the black bloc is alienating to the “working class” or the mainstream, Dupuis-Déri offers some interesting insights. He provides numerous examples of experiences on the streets where diverse groups of people of different backgrounds have supported black bloc tactics both in the moment (even in some cases by joining in) and afterward in expressing support (sometimes formal as was the case with Brazil’s State Union of Education Professionals [SEPE]) (124). Furthermore, there is a good discussion of the idea of “civil societies” and “public opinions” (118). Dupuis-Déri points out that rather than there being one monolithic “public” or “society” that can be alienated by black blocs, there are different segments of the population that respond differently based on their own individual feelings. As a black bloc participant points out, the assumption about a monolithic audience is usually that it is “white and middle class” (118). The author acknowledges that while violence does attract and dominate media attention, it may have a more positive effect that what is often assumed (117). Citing a study of media coverage following the Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in 1999, Dupuis-Déri explaining that it “boosted public interest in anarchism” (118) by resulting in more visits to anarchist websites and more stories about aspects of anarchism beyond black blocs including “anarchist soccer leagues, book fairs, and so on” (119). He concludes the discussion “there is no truth to claims that the operations of the Black Blocs necessarily widen the gap between anarchism and ‘ordinary’ working-class citizens” (124).

As with the discussion of whether or not the black bloc is alienating, the charge of sexism often leveled at the black bloc goes in some interesting directions in Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs. While highlighting various accounts and experiences of women and queer folks who have participated in black blocs, Dupuis-Déri acknowledges that men have often retained aspects of their male privilege, including within black blocs (107). Based on firsthand interviews, there are stories of women making banners while men practiced their slingshot skills (107), women shopping for supplies (107), women doing more preparatory work in terms of reconnaissance while men took glamorous roles in the streets (107-108), and observations of men who often function as “lone wolves” in “individualistic ways (110-111). By discussing concrete examples rather than reducing the discussion to the all-too-common and ridiculous charges that violence is masculine, Dupuis-Déri manages to give the discussion new relevancy.

While referencing more recent debates and controversies about the black bloc such as Chris Hedges “cancer of Occupy,” Dupuis-Déri doesn’t really delve into other shifts in anarchist thinking over the past ten or so years. For example, there is relatively little discussion of the role of insurrectionary anarchism, which has in some ways challenged the traditional idea of utilizing black blocs in the context of a mass street confrontation (60-61). At times, other criticisms are referenced, such as the “After We Burnt Everything…” discussion about the Strasbourg NATO Summit and discussions happening in Greece about the use of black blocs (59). A 2002 piece “Has The Black Bloc Tactic Reached The End Of Its Usefulness?” is referenced as well, but that question seems to be answered both in the book and in the streets as numerous black blocs have had varying degrees of “success” over the past decade.

In Conclusion

Ultimately for anarchists and others already familiar with the black bloc tactic and its history, Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? doesn’t cover much new ground. Aside from relaying some recent history of black bloc actions in the Montreal student strike of 2012 and providing a relatively international perspective on the tactic, there isn’t a lot of new information here. The historical background isn’t substantially different from what one could find in shorter zines such as Can’t Stop Kaos: A Brief History of the Black Bloc, nor does it provide a practical and tactical introduction to using the black bloc tactic (for that, see zines such as Blocs, Black and Otherwise and How It Is To Be Fun). At the same time, the book doesn’t really have the level of passion that would draw in people new to anarchism. It gives a fine introduction and a detailed analysis, but it lacks the punch that would make readers want to set down the book and bloc up.

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