Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day

Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor

I picked this up when I went to North Carolina and it was the perfect cottage cheese for the brain book for reading while traveling. Nothing puts me into a more comfortable, contented state than reading about a music scene.

The title pretty much gives you an idea of the scope of the book... which is a pretty broad history really. It is one of those oral histories that is entirley composed of quotes: no introductory statements for the individual chapters, no background information or context to place the interviewees... The author/editors keep in some conflicting statements - different memories, interpretations - but I also wondered if they basically knew the story they wanted to present and just culled the quotes they needed to do that...

I've listened to a lot of the music, saw the bands on tour and read some of the zines at the time, but a lot of the context of the scene was totally new to me... I never knew anything about The Farm, never went to the Vats, etc etc. Someone from DRI lived in a tree? My band played in the bay area a fair amount in the 90s including at Gilman a couple times but according to what I read my assumptions about the scene surrounding it were pretty far off base.

The most interesting image I was left with was that two of the big forces shaping and instigating things were older guys - much older than the teen and twenty-something punks - Lawrence Livermore of Lookout records and Tim Yohannon of Maximum Rock-n-Roll. I'd like to read some sustained reflections about that... Was this involvement of an older generation part of punk and hardcore in a lot of scenes? What does it mean when a "youth moment" is intergenerational? I wonder what some of the contributors to the bumpidee reader think about this too? When is perspective, experience etc a productive thing and when is it just the past imposing its ideas on something that's emerging according to different experiences?


Christopher Appelgren said...

I think your thoughts on the bay area punk scene as told by "Gimme Something Better" are very interesting. As someone connected to some of the stories in the book, I find your perspective refreshing.

Regarding the contradictory reports about the same thing from different people - to me it's completely appropriate as there was always so much talk about anything that went on. And the talk often spun away from whatever might have been actually true. There seem to be so many perspectives on various bay area punk story / legends - like when Jello Biafra was attacked and injured at Gilman. It feels right to not edit away the inconsistencies in favor of one version in a book like this.

The role that older punk scenesters played in the development of the bay area scene is undeniable. Tim was responsible for Gilman, Blacklist Mailorder, Epicenter the record store and, of course, Maximum Rocknroll. Lawrence, whom my own history with is a little more involved and complicated, also was a tremendous force in the SF and East Bay scene. It's important to note that people like Tim and Larry helped create frameworks for the scene of bands, writers, zine publishers and artists but it was the community of young people that really defined the culture of the bay area's underground. There are many questions that come up around this idea for me but I distinctly remember how empowering it was to talk to someone like Lawrence - who had been at Woodstock, been a White Panther in Michigan, been a part of the original hippie movement in San Francisco etc - and get the feeling that our little scene somehow was connected to a larger heritage of vital and important underground culture. You posed the question about when perspective and experience are productive and when it's an imposition. In this case, I think both are true and personally I don't know if it can ever be 100% one or the other. Further I feel like maybe every scene has its shepherds and not surprisingly, it is usually the older generation that plays that role.

Tobi Vail said...

i am waiting for some more bay area punx to post! chris, thanks for your two cents, it's always great to hear what the people involved are your review is cool and makes me realize there's a lot i probably will learn from reading this one as they talk about the dicks at all? did you mention them? i have a bunch of other stuff piling up but hope to get to this after the holidays xo tobi