Steven Blush – American Hardcore: A Tribal History

American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush

American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush

It’s difficult to approach this book, originally released in 2001, without bringing a certain amount of baggage with you. It’s probably among the most well-known collected histories of the early American hardcore punk movement, particularly after it was adapted into the notorious film of the same name. It’s widely regarded as an essential resource in tracing the bands, people, geographical and musical trends of the time; a book almost anthropological in its attempt to thoroughly document a long-dead scene (no no no hardcore is not dead, nor is punk, but in this exact form it’s gone). It’s almost as widely castigated for attempts to assert itself as ‘the’ undeniable true history of American hardcore, 1980-1986, for maintaining a pretence at objectivity even as it recounts personal recollection as fact and presents stories that are sometimes one-sided and often poorly recollected by those quoted.

I’ve got a good amount of distance from the book, being an English bloke who was only born a year before Minor Threat split up. Whilst I can’t and won’t attempt to dispute any of what the book claims as fact, I can observe that where a particularly controversial subject arises (such as the infamous dispute between the Bad Brains and the gay Texan band Big Boys over the former’s homophobic attitudes and generally shitty behaviour) a variety of participants and observers are given space to speak their piece. The difficulty in retrospectively covering something that was erratically documented at the time speaks for itself, especially bearing in mind that a lot of early participants were young and prone to extensive indulgence in alcohol, drugs and extreme violence; the sort of thing that, over time, can fuck with your head pretty thoroughly. And that’s not even to mention the amount of difference time can make to memories: over time people’s minds will inevitably distort details to fit their opinions.

Where it’s more difficult to excuse the book is in it’s lack of footnotes and sources; clearly a lot of the material it’s composed of is drawn from other material: interviews, old fanzines and recordings, etcetera. For other punk historians such a catalogue would have been of immeasurable value; for more casual readers its presence would have been a comfort, knowing that they could check up on anything they found problematic. Its absence undermines the authenticity of the book. I suppose that any bibliography would have run to dozens of pages and been difficult for the author to assemble and verify, but that’s a pretty poor excuse.

Regardless, as a latecomer to the bands covered herein I’ve found it an incredibly valuable resource. If you acknowledge the inherently problematic nature of its source material, even had those sources been catalogued, you’ll easily slip into the mindset of taking it all with a pinch of salt. And for gaining a feel for what the scene was like for those involved, as well as grasping the uncontroversial aspects of its history (when bands existed, who their members were and what else they did, the trends in various cities and regions throughout the US, etcetera) I’ve certainly not read anything this extensive or thorough. So, with its flaws firmly in mind, I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants to consolidate their familiarity with the history of hardcore punk, a history that is integral to virtually all contemporary rock music – underground or mainstream, hardcore has resonated through every musical generation that has followed.

Steven Blush | Feral House

3 Responses to “Steven Blush – American Hardcore: A Tribal History”
  1. Tim says:

    Who is the guy on the cover?

  2. Shaun CG says:

    It’s Danny Spira from Wasted Youth :)

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