Eric Grubbs – Post: A Look at the Influences of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007

Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 cover

Books on music can be a funny thing. The old saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture holds as true with the long form as it ever does (by which I mean, shut up, I will write about music as much as I like). This leaves authors a few options: to focus on the autobiographical aspect of their subjects, to focus on their cultural impact, or to adopt a more historical fact-checking technique. The latter is probably the method I struggle with the most as it demands an already somewhat encyclopaedic knowledge of its subject from the reader; this is a problem I had with the one book of Ian Glasper’s I’ve read. To be fair, such books are intended as more of a resource to be dipped into than something to be read cover-to-cover.

Examining the cultural impact of various bands or a scene can be equally tricky; manage it just right and you have something like Our Band Could Be Your Life, a book so successful and widely-read that it re-introduced many of the classic 80s bands it championed to a generation growing up with bands several generations down the line. You can also end up wallowing in cliche, romanticising history and aggrandising it to an almost embarrassing point – such as any number of books about punk written by people who lost interest after ’79. (You can usually find these books in shops specialising in unsold trade paperbacks and hardbacks; they can usually bought quite cheaply. Ha!)

Then there is the autobiographical approach. This has the inherent strength that most people, being people, tend to find reading about other people interesting. It also has the risk that, well, most people lead quite boring lives, even those in famous bands. And I don’t just mean clean-living; after you’ve read a few coke or booze or glue-sniffing stories, you’ve pretty much read 99% of them.

So, then, to Post: A Look at the Influences of Post-Hardcore 1984-2007. Author Eric Grubbs (an ex-Punk Planet writer) opts for the autobiographical approach, as you’ve probably gathered from my lengthy pre-amble. His time-frame is lengthy and crosses multiple generations of independent music, which is potentially problematic, but fortunately he opts to select ten bands (in one case, a label) who in his view represent a chain of post-hardcore from its early days to, at the time of his writing, the present. It’s an interesting technique and certainly stops things from getting dull through contextual repetition: the environment in which Dischord was birthed is very different to that which spawned At The Drive-In.

The 1980s is only briefly touched upon, with a chapter about formative DC hardcore label Dischord. It’s comparatively short at about 35 pages, and most of it will be familiar to anyone who has read Our Band Could Be Your Life or American Hardcore. If it’s less comprehensive than the former, and more autobiographical than the latter, it still offers up a few tidbits to the discerning reader, albeit mostly fairly trivial (did you know that the first song Brian Baker, Minor Threat bassist, learned to play was ‘Yellow Submarine’?). But Grubbs is highly readable, and it was a pleasure to retread such familiar ground. Besides, aren’t minute and insignificant facts almost entirely irrelevant to the overwhelming mass of humanity what being a serious music fan is all about?

The ’90s is the most well-covered decade, with Grubbs turning his attention to Jawbox, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, Braid, The Promise Ring, and Hot Water Music. The latter is the most exciting for me: they’re a band I love, but I came to them late and I only really know their albums and subsequent projects. It was a pleasure to learn more about their history and motivations, and genuinely emotional to learn that – on the basis of all available evidence – they are every bit as genuine, passionate and honest as their music indicates (“live your heart and never follow”). It was equally great to read about every other band I just mentioned: of them, I only know Jawbreaker particularly well, having heard just scattered songs by the others. Previously my grasp of early-90s post-hardcore bands mostly covered various obscure emo and screamo bands so I enjoyed learning more about another aspect I’d previously overlooked. I intend to seek out the back catalogues of all these bands: having read up on them, it seems almost criminal that I’ve overlooked such formative bands in my endless hunt for more great music.

A quick aside before I move on to the last few bands covered in the book: it is, of course, open to debate just how influential these bands are. There are more opinions on the subject than there are punks, no doubt. But the book’s title is a little misleading; rather than being a comprehensive examination of the influences of post-hardcore, this is an attempt to trace one path that has been taken – a path with many branches, but a common thread leading the reader along it. With such an extensive period to cover it’s unavoidable that personal preferences will come to the fore, and as the cover clearly indicates exactly who Grubbs has chosen to write about I have no problem with this.

The last bands covered are The Get-Up Kids, At the Drive-In and Jimmy Eat World (I hesitate to describe these as “the 00s bands” as they all began before that point, but they span the two decades and perhaps gained the most notoriety post-2000). It’s at this point that my own awareness of punk rock and hardcore music dovetails with the stories being told: probably the first definably post-hardcore band I ever heard was El Paso’s ATDI in 2000.

Each chapter is, as with the chapter on Dischord, written in a familiar and autobiographical style, with quotes drawn from interviews seamlessly integrated into the text. The stories of the bands are told well and consistently, and most of these bands have received less written coverage – in long form – than Dischord, so being able to read these histories collected into a single location is a pleasant experience.

My only real criticism of this book is, if I’m honest, the sloppy editing. The early chapters are mostly free of typos, but as the book wears on they become more and more common until – by the last few chapters – several are easily spotted every few pages. The book is self-published via iUniverse, likely a necessity given its limited potential audience but also an obvious explanation as to the lack of professional line-editing. These errors are distracting and occasionally disruptive to the otherwise flowing narratives, but are also, on the whole, forgiveable.

Post is not a book that will shake the foundations of music journalism, and nor is it a revelatory book. It does not make any great arguments, and nor does it attempt to. It’s a simple thing, really: a down-to-Earth, honest and upfront collection of autobiographical stories of disparate but linked bands and artists. It’s generally written neutrally, erring on the side of the positive, and the author’s love of and appreciation for the subject matter shines through. For an outsider wanting to understand post-hardcore, or a fan looking for the definitive text on the same, I would not recommend this book. For someone who wishes to learn more about the bands covered, and to gain a general impression of the scenes surrounding them, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Eric Grubbs blogspot | MySpace | iUniverse | Amazon UK |

Comments are closed.