I read a ton of books about music. Biographies, band histories, stuff about collecting, stuff about specific genres… in the last three years or so, I’ve probably amassed around four shelves worth, not including the stuff on my Kindle. I don’t usually do book reviews, though. Not because I don’t like books – I obviously do. And as an author myself, I certainly know how great it feels to receive a positive review. I just try to limit myself to just the books that are particularly special. Sometimes it’s because of the subject matter, others because of the passion shown by the author(s).
I suspected I’d be writing a review of The Truth of Revolution, Brother right from the first time I learned about it, which was via the Facebook page of Icelandic musician Einar Örn Benediktsson, whose work with Purrkur Pillnikk and Ghostigital I admire very much (oh yeah, and he was in the Sugarcubes too… I guess they were decent…). The authors of the project (Lisa Sofianos, Robin Ryde, and Charlie Waterhouse) had a Kickstarter campaign going to help fund the book, which would allow them to make the book they wanted to make, not something that some editor at some publisher told them they had to make if they wanted to ever see it in print. I’d never been involved in a Kickstarter before, but I loved their passion, the subject matter, plus the fact that the book was going to feature not just one but two Icelanders, so I made my pledge. I love the idea of supporting someone’s passion project. Besides, it’s pure DIY, and that’s one of the cornerstones of punk.
My copy arrived in the mail the other day, and I actually put aside the book I was reading so that I could start The Truth of Revolution, Brother right away. This isn’t a book about punk rock in the traditional sense – in fact the music itself is more or less an afterthought. Yes, bands have their parts in the narrative, particularly Crass. But the music isn’t at the core. It’s about the philosophy:
But this project, and this book, is not about what happened then. It’s not about the past. It is not really about the music or the art. It is about the ideas and the lived experience of punk as they relate to today.
If punk was an explosion, then this is about what’s happened after the dust settled. (p. viii)
Thirty different “punks” were interviewed and/or wrote essays, and it’s their recollections and ideas that form the structure of the book. Highly recognizable names like Ian MacKaye, Steve Albini, and Jello Biafra appear alongside some less well-known, but still very influential, old school punks like Tony Drayton, Dominic Thackray, and the former mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, Jón Gnarr. Interspersed throughout are also a series of essays devoted to punk themes – Disruption, Creation, Construction… plus some color art plates.
The interviews are intriguing as each person talks about how they “discovered” punk and the influence it had on their lives. Certainly much of the influence was musical – early punk made people feel that they could go out and start their own bands, and many of them did. But the real impact was deeper than that. It wasn’t just that you could form a band; it’s that you could go out into the world and try to do what you wanted to do, and to do it your way. It was about finding ways to operate outside of the mainstream, outside of corporate culture with it’s rules and profit motivations. It was about living the kind of life you wanted to live, about being informed and making the right decisions for your life. It was about accepting other like-minded people, even if they were different than you. Often punk is defined as being against things – anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-establishment. But that can just as easily be turned around 180 degrees. Punk is for equality; for DIY (do-it-yourself); for making informed decisions about how you want to live your life. And that’s what Sofianos, Ryde, and Waterhouse, along with their interview subjects, are presenting to us.
One of the common threads flowing through these interviews was the life-changing nature of punk’s revelations. But not everyone went off to live in a squat and become a vegetarian and try to operate outside the mainstream. In fact, some decided to actually operate within the mainstream, the so-called “sleeper agents;” those who perhaps work for the man, but use their positions to spread punk ideals through their actions, influence, or even their money. Steve Albini is a well-respected music producer/recording engineer. He could spend all his time getting paid lots of money for high profile projects. And sometimes he’ll take a job if he’s offered a ridiculous sum. But he’s even more likely to provide his services at a very discounted rate if he’s into your project and sees your passion. That’s punk.
The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a philosophy book, not a music book. The accounts of independently lived lives is inspiring and invigorating. It’s not about tying yourself to some specific dogma, even if that dogma is “punk” itself. It’s about living a good life, a positive life, a life of your choosing and one worth living. It’s a great reminder for those of us who constantly have to fight getting caught up in our own stuff, our jobs, our possessions. It’s a reminder of what’s real and what’s important. And our role in deciding for ourselves how those things are defined.