on 25 April 2010
This book is fantastic. It's hefty 501 pages are split into sections, each one covering one of 13 important bands that had a noticeable impact on the 80's American punk/indie underground.
- Black Flag
- The Minutemen
- Mission Of Burma
- Minor Threat
- Husker Du
- The Replacements
- Sonic Youth
- Butthole Surfers
- Big Black
- Dinosaur Jr
- Beat Happening
Azerrad admits at the off-set that the stories of each band trail off or stop completely if they reach a point at which the band signed to a major lable. This can be frustrating, but is understandable as the book was written with the intention of covering independant music only. Because of this, it is primarilly concerned with how bands start up and develop a following, so don't expect a full life story.
Azerrad does a fantastic job of holding your attention and making what could be quite a dull topic into a real "page turner". The book goes into great detail throughout, not just in terms of the bands, but when covering the independant record lables they were on and what was happening in their cities and the culture surrounding them at the time. Azerrad manages to keep this interesting, without ever seeming tedious or unnecessary.
It is also refreshingly honest, which leads to quite a few of the profiles being far from flattering to the artists they cover. (It seems you can't be in a good band unless at least one of your members is staggeringly selfish with an "artistic temperament".)
I can reccomend downloading an album by each artist and listening to it while reading their chapter. It gave each story a better sense of context, as well as reminding me of music I had forgotten and introducing me to some that I had never heard before. It also made it possible to track the influence of each band on the one that followed.
The book is astonishingly well researched and was obviously written by somebody who loved the topic he was covering. However, this is the source of it's only real flaw; the author's tendancy to over-exaggurate and, on occasion, use the music journalist's habit of over-stating the importance and impact of the bands in question. It definately goes a bit "fan boy" in places and describes certain standard guitar chords by using unnecesarry hyperbole such as "transendental". (Although, I'm sure those people who's lives these bands were would find this justified.)
There is definately a very punk rock "do it yourself" sensability to this book (as well as a slight indie elitism). At times, it can feel like Azerrad is looking a bit too hard for reasons to make each band fit this mould, but it is often justified and works to tie the whole book together under a common theme. In fact, it works so well that, halfway through reading it, I joined a band! (Fact.)
If you have any interest in indie music or just what goes on "behind the scenes" then you will love this book. It covers the lives of interesting bands with interesting stories who helped to break the mould of tradition rock and pave the way for Nirvana and the alternative explosion. For me, there wasn't a single dull moment.
on 20 September 2009
Do you remember when people formed bands because they had something to say or they simply enjoyed playing music? When the music scene wasn't awash with poseurs and opportunists? When being a musician was an often thankless vocation and not a career option? If not, then this book will be something of a revelation. Azerrad documents an entire generation of artists who may now be regarded as mere footnotes in rock's history, fleeting blips on the mainstream radar, but they left a lasting legacy that countless corporate shills have subsequently turned into formulaic wallpaper. Sure, some of them were lured away into the arms of 'the majors'- mostly with catastrophic results - but bands like Fugazi and Black Flag rejected such overtures and charted their own course, creating a genuine counterculture. So, if you think Green Day are blazing a new trail, try listening to Husker Du. If you think the Chillis brought the funk to rock, try listening to The Minutemen. Nirvana were simply the culmination of a decade-long process, set in motion by the likes of Sonic Youth, to offer a genuine alternative to the bloated stadium behemoths who had drained the life from guitar music. 'Our Band Could Be Your Life' meticulously documents that process with missionary vigour. Azerrad also tries to shift the parameters of what we consider 'success'. Very few of these bands shifted many units, but their achievements are manifold - they made music that remains vibrant to this day and they helped to create a mutually sustaining scene where co-operation was valued over competition, that was remarkably free from the vitiating influence of commercial constraints and ambition. As the modern music industry flounders, we can but hope that these values will return; that playing music once again becomes its own reward; that the 'rock star' will become a thing of the past.
on 6 December 2006
Michael Azerrad's mighty tome is quite simply the definitive statement on this important era in modern music. Admittedly, it might not seem like the most important time in music, but this book rightly elevates it to the position it deserves.
Covering an era when music seemed to really MEAN something, Azerrad allows us to see the wider picture by telling the story through the eyes of the people who were there. Each chapter is devoted to a particular band, focussing on their indie years and tailing off if a major label becomes involved. All the major names contribute to this tale, and one of the key aspects of the story is the way Azerrad allows these voices to reappear in other chapters, linking the narratives and providing a sense of continuity and, more importantly, community. This was a time when the 'scene' was so loosely defined that all the key players in this story knew each other (if only by reputaion more than anything else), and everyone seems to contribute to each other's story. there is almost a sense of 'family', as one individual will pick up the themes established by another.
Much has been said about the omissions in the book, and they do deserve a closer look. Azerrad clearly defines in his introduction the criteria for inclusion in the book. This has lead to compliants of various movers and shakers being left out of the story. Firstly, in a realistic way, it would be almost impossible to comprehensively cover every single band that made some kind of contribution to the American underground scene of the 1980s (for a general over-view, readers would be encouraged to check out Simon Reynold's "Rip it up and Start Again"). And secondly, some of the bigger names are not covered because they do not fit themeatically in the book. R.E.M., for example, are not featured because they were signed to a major label. however, their presence haunts the book, as they establish themselves in a way that the featured bands could only ever dream of, moving from strength to strength, and bringing the mainstream to their doorstep on their terms. The Pixies are not mentioned because they were on a major label. But, more importantly, their impact in America was considerably less than it was in the UK. As the focus of the book is to document how the featured acts changed America, the Pixies don't really warrant a mention (ok, they inspiried Kurt Cobain, but who didn't?).
The only omission that is slightly baffling is the Meat Puppets. Like R.E.M., they seem to haunt the book, popping up in every chapter. Their contibution to the American indie scene is immense, and they really should have been covered. I can't think of one good reason to explain their absence.
Other than that, the book is faultless. Giving a biography of each band works perfectly, and the various themes of the book become immediately apparent. The links between seemingly different bands like Black Flag and Beat Happening are genuinely startling. Each band has their own feel, and the narrative develops to suit the music. The Mission of Burma chapter is intelligent, witty and well crafted, much like the music the band made, whilst the Replacements' story is told in a humorous, drunken, debauched way, but with an undercurrent of emotion that perfecly captures the essence of the band.
Another strength of the book is Azerrad's ability to pin-point what makes a band so good. A band like Mudhoney were certainly not of much interest to me before I read the book, but Azerrad's affinty for the subject caused me to seek out the music, and listen with fresh ears. Azerrad's own narrative is also compelling, with his description of Husjer Du's version of "Eight Miles High" deserving particular mention.
Without a doubt, the stories that make up this tale are enought to inspire and educate a whole new generation. One can only hope that they do not fall on deaf ears.
on 21 June 2010
Although large in size, the breakdown to 13 bands makes it a great 'easy' read you can pick up and put down. I thought I'd just read up on the bands I liked from the era, but the great, honest writing immediately pulls you in and makes you wish it had been twice the size. Never Sensationalistic or rose tinted in it's reminiscing, it captures an exciting time and gives some recognition to an extremely important period in alternative rock music.
on 23 October 2001
A fantastic look at the bands that sowed the seeds for Nirvana's rise to prominence in the early 1990s, although there is nothing on The Pixies as they were signed to a major label i the US.
The title, taken from a Minutemen song, is a mantra running through the career of each of the 13 bands detailed.
Not all of them may have changed the face of music - although several could claim to - but each are admirable in their bloody mindedness and desire to operate outside the ruling major label system.
Azerrad lets band members tell their own stories and, like all music books should do, this sends you scurrying back to the old vinyl you hadn't played in years - and makes the music sound more vital than ever.
on 31 March 2008
This book offers a snapshot of life for a struggling band in the US in the 80's. (The unwashed playing to the indifferent in the unknown)
I personally came to this book through a love of the Minutemen and enjoyed reading about the other bands I wasn't so familiar with. If I had to make any negative comments about it (and from the 4 star rating you can tell I do) they would be:
1. No Meat Puppets section in the book. I know this is personal taste, but I can't help but feel that if you're talking about this scene, Meat Puppets II is one of the truly great records from this period of time. As a band they were interesting enough to deserve a chapter.
2. Buying this book is an expensive proposition. You come across all these interesting people and Michael hints at what the 'classic' records for each band are. If you haven't heard anything by these bands, it's straight onto Amazon to get whatever the 'classic' records are, set aside £50-60 pounds of your spending money for catching up on these bands and finding out if you like them.
on 2 December 2015
I originally read a borrowed copy of this in 2006 whilst travelling coast to coast across America by train and bought it when I got home and lent it out only to never see it again. Wanted to read it again so bought this and read it over the space of about a week, every bit as enjoyable second time round, very well written, a credit to the author. Prompted me to by the Big Black album and ep which were the only two of their studio albums/ep's I didn't own on vinyl and same with two Killdozer albums
on 4 December 2006
Without doubt, the best book I have yet found on the American Independent music scene of the 1980s. A time when records labels weren't run by accountants, but by people who genuinely loved the music and wanted to share it.
Nearly all the major players are here; Black Flag, Husker Du, The Minutemen etc, but the exclusion of the Meat Puppets seems somewhat strange. I've read other reviews that suggest there were already enough SST bands in the book but, as this was the major label of the time, then why not include The Pups as well? However, I think everyone who reads this book will have their own opinions of who they'd like to see included or left out.
The write-ups on the bands are informative and interesting, but the central thread of the book remains how the network of labels, radio stations and fanzines spread the word, and chronicles the endless hard work of the bands themselves.
Above all, in an age of MP3 downloads and MTV, it's the story of a scene that we won't see again.
on 28 June 2016
Brilliant book covering the history of some of the most important bands in American sub-culture.
When you read this you will be heading back to Amazon to see if you can get some absolutely belting albums by bands like Husker Du, Black flag and The replacements.
on 19 May 2016
I haven't even finished the book yet, but it is brilliant! I normally struggle to read books like this, but I am loving it. Easy to read, very interesting, & a good blend of bands/genres to provide for everyone!