There’s this meme you might have seen on social media. It’s a recent picture of two punk icons: Henry Rollins of Black Flag fame, and Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi.
I had a good laughed the first time I saw it years ago, and I’ve definitely shared it a couple of times since then. It always seemed like a good way to poke a little fun at a self-series scene, while acknowledging that my punk-loving friends and I are getting older too. But lately something has changed.
Writing the Greg Salem series—about a disgraced East LA police officer by day and a punk musician by night—gave me the opportunity to fall back in love with 70s and 80s punk rock. I mean, I never really stopped listening, but long ago lost that childish fascination with the people who made the music and their lasting legacy.
Doing research for BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON has meant diving deep into the catalog of my favorite bands, but something unexpected happened along the way—my passion for punk got reignited, and now I can’t get enough of these fantastic stories.
So here’s a list of some punk books and films I’ve consumed in the last couple of years. As the Descendents would say, “Enjoy!”
- Filmage: The Story Of Descendents/ALL directed by Matt Riggle/Deedle LaCour—This one tops the list because I recently saw Descendents play in Hollywood. The show was high-energy and fast-paced, but more enjoyable after watching this documentary about the band’s colorful history. Great to see drummer/songwriter/producer Bill Stevenson get credit for being the driving force behind some of the hookiest punk songs ever.
- MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK SURVIVOR by Keith Morris/Jim Ruland—Keith Morris is a founding member of two groundbreaking SoCal bands, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks (among others). But this well-written book goes beyond those stories to show you his winding path to underground infamy. It’s been a strange trip for this soulful punk icon, and it just keeps getting more interesting.
- TROUBLE BOYS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE REPLACEMENTS by Bob Mehr—There have long been theories about why this Minneapolis punk outfit-turned-critical darlings never achieved their long-predicted commercial success. Rumors of self-doubt and self-sabotage were the stuff of legend. This well-researched book sets the record straight in a way that even the most die-hard fans will appreciate.
- Danny Says directed by Brendan Toller—What do The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, The Modern Lovers, The MC5 and Iggy & The Stooges have in common? The answer is a quirky and outspoken impresario named Danny Fields. Danny Says is less the story of the bands and more about the man that brought them into the spotlight. Music fans will love this unique peek behind the curtain.
- UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK by John Doe/Tom DeSavia—This collection of overlapping essays about the first-wave of LA punk is a fascinating look at how legendary scenes are born. It’s incredible to think that a hundred kids, one apartment building and a handful of clubs gave us decades of great music from bands like The Germs, X, The Go Gos, The Minutemen and The Blasters. It goes by fast, so read it twice.
- Every Everything: The Music, Life And Times Of Grant Hart directed by Gorman Bechard—I’ve been a Husker Du fan for as long as I can remember, but could never explain why I loved them so much. This heartbreaking documentary about the band’s drummer/singer puts a fine point on it. Hart’s personal story challenges you to consider what it really means to dedicate your life to art.
- The Decline Of Western Civilization (Part 1) by Penelope Spheeris—What can I say? My wife and kids went out of town and I was alone with the TV…so I watched it for the hundredth time. If you’ve never seen this groundbreaking documentary about the early 80s LA punk scene, or if you haven’t seen it in a while, do yourself a favor. The interviews with X, along with the Black Flag footage shot at the infamous church in Hermosa Beach, are worth the price of admission alone. And Eugene of course.
BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, was published on October 11, 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.
Good list, Steve. Another good one is American Hardcore. And some others whose names escape me and I'm too lazy to go in the other room and see what they're called. But there's a lot of good stuff out there.
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