January 14th, 2014
Compendiums of interviews, when put together by the person who conducted the interview, can often be hit or miss. Uniform questions can litter the interviews with equally uniform answers while other questions can be a bit too obsessive and frequently self-obsessive. Those who continually put out interviews that are interesting, witty, incisive and respectful are rare; thankfully David Ensminger is one such interviewer.
This book features 22 interviews with a myriad of Punk Rockers, most of which have been published elsewhere, be it in the pages of Maximum Rocknroll or Artcore, or in Ensminger’s own magazine, Left Of The Dial, that ran for eight issues between 2000 and 2005.
The interviews are split into two parts. The first, entitled ‘Tales From The Zero Hour’ look at those who championed Punk at the start, so you get the likes of an exceptionally excellent interview with Peter Case (NERVES/ PLIMSOULS) along with a funny (wot else?) Captain Sensible chat, DILS, ZEROS, Charlie Harper (OK but a bit dull compared with the rest in the book) and an insightful piece about San Francisco’s Deaf Club venue.
The second part of the book, ‘Hardcore Sound And Fury’ takes all the USHC legends and opens them up to Ensminger’s encyclopedic knowledge of Punk Rock folklore. We get Jello Biafra (not one of the better interviews but still a great read), Ian MacKaye, Vic Bondi, Dave Dictor, Gary Floyd, Shawn Stern, Jack Grisham, Keith Morris – a veritable who’s who of USHC in fact. Unexpected highlights came in the form of Lisa Fancher of Frontier Records, Mike Palm of AGENT ORANGE and U-Ron Bondage of REALLY RED that challenges the Peter Case interview as the book’s highlight. Oddly, an interview with STRIKE ANYWHERE ends the book and while it’s a fascinating read from a clever and sincere man (that’s the vocalist, Thomas Barrnett), it just seems a little bit out of step with the rest of the book.
What makes these interviews that much more entertaining is Ensminger’s questions that probe history and placement rather than recording techniques. He also has, as stated, not only a massive knowledge of Punk Rock as a movement that transcends music, but also politics and how Punk evolved within political time frames and was even possibly sub-consciously influenced by the political era. That’s not to say he doesn’t ask the direct questions – I imagine Captain Sensible was thrilled to be asked about ‘Music For Pleasure’ while Ian MacKaye might be equally tired of questions about TEEN IDLES.
Along with the text, Ensminger has culled a number of flyers and rare photos taken by himself or Houston based photographer, Ben Desoto.
Riveting, intelligent reading which has a sincerity about it many music ‘journalists’ fail to achieve as they’ve never actually lived it in the way Ensminger has. Even if some of the bands are of little interest to you, you can be guaranteed that, somehow, Ensminger will extract some unknown historical fact or a blunt, frank and damning political (or socio-political) polemic. If the mark of quality of a book of this nature is what there is to be learnt, I can honestly say I discovered something from each and every interview.