Perhaps the best rock book in 10 years (even though the Motley Crue book is still funnier), “Our Band Could be Your Life” IS my life. Published in 2001 and then quickly out in paperback, “Our Band…” tells the story of the second punk rock revolution and how it was subsequently won (by Nirvana in 1991). The tale is told in thirteen chapters using the device of the biographer, one band per chapter.
And so we begin our sweat-stained journey in California with Black Flag in 1979 or so and then look in on Mission of Burma in Boston and then the Minutemen and then on to Minneapolis for chapters on Husker Du and the Replacements (perhaps the best chapter in the book).
The overall effect of Azerrad’s meticulous attention to detail is to thoroughly document the slow, painful creation of what was once a thriving counter-cultural underground music “scene” (although I hate that word “scene” I find there is no other). This is the club circuit that sprang up in the wake of the original mid-70’s punks; a loose affiliation of gay clubs, biker bars, youth centers, art galleries, coffee shops and roadhouses that opened their doors to the likes of Sonic Youth, Big Black, Die Kruezen, Squirrel Bait, Yo La Tengo, Fugazi, Uncle Tupelo and many others. Anyone who did anything musically speaking on the road during the ‘80’s or ‘90’s owes a huge debt to everyone in this book. Indeed, plenty of readers will find many of their friends’ name prominently mentioned.
I can only add that tears came streaming from my eyes as I read reminiscences of fabled venues - venues within which my own tender feet did once tread - as the No Bar and Grill in Muncie, IN and the Metro in Chicago and the Pyramid in New York and the Middle East in Boston.
Azerrad ends his book just shy of Nirvana (about whom he has already written a book) with two chapters on Pacific-Northwest bands, Mudhoney and Beat Happening. This seems an attempt, not entirely unsuccessful, to portray Seattle’s brand of punk (“grunge”) as the death knell of “true” punk. Although I’m not sure I agree with this view, I must admit that the epilogue is a powerful summation and one which makes important points. Something did change in the music after 1991.
Alternative music was henceforth no longer grown locally, it was now a globally disseminated corporate product, and this change was apparently irrevocable. Today’s results are easy to see: cookie-cutter metal-rock-rap hybrids with no brains and no soul. Another in an endless series of triumphs of style over substance. Then again, Paul Westerberg is on tour and the Flaming Lips have a new concept album about defeating the goals of evil technology. Arthur Lee is out of jail and doing what are apparently some incredible live shows. “Our Band Could be Your Life” testifies to the existence of an era when things were very, very different from the way they are now, but that difference does not necessarily have to prevail.
Note: this piece was written in 2002 - ed.