Our Band Could Be Your Life
This is the never-before-told story of the musical revolution that happened right under the nose of the Reagan Eighties--when a small but sprawling network of bands, labels, fanzines, radio stations, and other subversives reenergized American rock with punk rock's do-it-yourself credo and created music that was deeply personal, often brilliant, always challenging, and immensely influential. This sweeping chronicle of music, politics, drugs, fear, loathing, and faith has been recognized as an indie rock classic in its own right. Among the bands profiled: Mission of Burma, Butthole Surfers, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Big Black, Hüsker Dü, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Mudhoney, The Replacements, Beat Happening, and Dinosaur Jr.

Our Band Could Be Your Life Details

TitleOur Band Could Be Your Life
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 2nd, 2002
PublisherBack Bay Books
ISBN-139780316787536
Rating
GenreMusic, Nonfiction, History, Biography, Punk

Our Band Could Be Your Life Review

  • brian
    January 1, 1970
    as a kid i assumed punk & hardcore was right-wing music; from the safe confines of long island it seemed the nose-ringed & mohawked or shirtless & skinheaded were all about death and destruction and i naturally figured they'd be so inclined to support the party which always seemed to advocate dropping bombs and throwing some 'fuck you' to the poor -- yeah, dead wrong about the punks and a bit of a caricature regarding the grand ol' party. must admit i was kinda disappointed when i di as a kid i assumed punk & hardcore was right-wing music; from the safe confines of long island it seemed the nose-ringed & mohawked or shirtless & skinheaded were all about death and destruction and i naturally figured they'd be so inclined to support the party which always seemed to advocate dropping bombs and throwing some 'fuck you' to the poor -- yeah, dead wrong about the punks and a bit of a caricature regarding the grand ol' party. must admit i was kinda disappointed when i discovered most punks were practically socialists. it all felt a bit wimpy and let's-get-alongsy for such an aggressive music. the thing i hate about punk and hardcore, ironically, is that it all just smacks of such good taste. and i hate good taste. everyone into 'good' music digs black flag & the clash, etc. and they're great, yeah, but so is steely dan. but, ya throw on pretzel logic and you're a goddamn pariah to music people. well, duchamp is an old master and the fauvists ended up in the museums. that's just how it goes. it's as stupid to deliberately swim against stream as it is to deliberately swim with the stream (but, it is more fun). and, of course, rock&pop is all about the theatrics: goth, punk, glam, country, psychedelia, etc, all have their aesthetic, and it enriches the experience -- if one has a problem with the 'cool' aspect of rock&pop, one basically has a problem with all of rock&pop. but i'm a born contrarian. and punk now reminds me of seeing the kinks and watching thousands of people singing along with the band as they repeat the chorus, 'I'm not like everybody else!' -- ray davies had to've appreciated the irony. this book is pretty great, by the way. highly recommended. whether or not you're familiar with the bands discussed, azerrad sucks you right into the life of the music. here's who the book's about:black flagthe minutemenmission of burmaminor threathüsker dü replacementssonic youthbutthole surfersbig black dinosaur jr. fugazi mudhoneybeat happeningsome random stuff: i kinda loathe henry rollins, all macho and spoken-wordish and always very very very good tastish - he ain't half the man that morrissey is (even though 'tv party' makes me happy every single time i hear it). i was never into buttonhole surfers (my spellcheck changed the name of the band. made me smile, so i'm gonna leave it) but have gotten into them since reading this book - they're great! i just can't get past ian mckaye's voice. i've never heard a single song by mission to burma or beat happening. my 10 favorite punk albums (pretty specific taste here): 1. ramones - ramones 2. ramones - rocket to russia3. stooges - fun house4. buzzcocks - singles going steady5. bad brains - bad brains6. dead kennedys - fresh fruit for rotting vegetables7. stooges - raw power8. ramones - leave home9. ramones - road to ruin10. OFF! - first four EPs
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    This one took me a while to get through and occasionally led to existential crises in the nature of, "WHY AM I READING A 50 PAGE CHAPTER ABOUT THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS WHEN THERE ARE PEOPLE FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST?"There are certainly places where this book delves into "More information than I could possibly need about people I really don't care about." But overall, this is a fascinating reading experience, and I think just about any level of information a reader goes in with (as l This one took me a while to get through and occasionally led to existential crises in the nature of, "WHY AM I READING A 50 PAGE CHAPTER ABOUT THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS WHEN THERE ARE PEOPLE FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST?"There are certainly places where this book delves into "More information than I could possibly need about people I really don't care about." But overall, this is a fascinating reading experience, and I think just about any level of information a reader goes in with (as long as they have some interest) they will find some new information and insight.I found the structure of the book particularly effective, because it's divided into chapters that cover the story arcs of the individual bands. While there are certainly common themes in the story of any band, particularly within the fairly narrow slice of genre that Azerrad is covering here, he manages to find an interesting angle for just about every chapter. The bands that were made up of lifelong friends versus the ones that couldn't stand each other (or the ones that started as the first and ended up as the second), the bands that were dedicated to promoting a way of life or a political movement versus the ones that wanted to get rich versus the ones that just cared about making music, the artists who viewed what they did as a job versus the ones who were determined to sabotage their own success. Every story feels a little different, and it's the insight into the individual personalities and group dynamics that made me keep reading.A real bonus to this book is the rise of YouTube and Netflix Instant, which means a lot of opportunity to find footage of just about everything Azerrad is describing, plus (since this book was published 10 years ago) the mandatory 'whatever happened to that guy?' googling.Recommended, basically, if you like stories about bands and/or you're a rock music nerd who'd like to be a bigger one. NOT particularly recommended if an excess of white boy pain is going to bring your enjoyment to a halt. At the very least be prepared to roll your eyes at some of these people's behavior, but overall I think the author puts it in a fair perspective.
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  • Eddie Watkins
    January 1, 1970
    I missed the entire “Indie Revolution” as I spent the late 80’s – early 90’s first as a psychically fragile (nearly suicidal) drifter-type (though I worked sporadically) living in Baltimore without a music collection, then as a wash-up living back in my parents’ basement in small town Delaware, and finally as a practitioner of Zen and social isolate living in Denver who listened to little more than classical music. This book helped me immeasurably in catching up with the past I missed while it w I missed the entire “Indie Revolution” as I spent the late 80’s – early 90’s first as a psychically fragile (nearly suicidal) drifter-type (though I worked sporadically) living in Baltimore without a music collection, then as a wash-up living back in my parents’ basement in small town Delaware, and finally as a practitioner of Zen and social isolate living in Denver who listened to little more than classical music. This book helped me immeasurably in catching up with the past I missed while it was happening. I don’t care finding out what was uber-hip 20 years ago via a book published 10 years ago. I don’t care not being as cool as everyone thinks I am. This was one of the best books on music I have ever read.A list of my experiences with every band featured in the book:Black Flag – The only band in the book I was aware of and listened to (however involuntarily) as their music was coming out and happening. I like Black Flag but I had to endure far too many fraternity parties while hearing it, and as it was “my” fraternity and I lived in the fraternity house I had nowhere to escape. Much of my college career was spent feeling this beer and punk induced claustrophobia. A guy I knew from the fraternity listened to Black Flag exclusively. He had large dark eyebrows and was quite imposing. Sometimes I would ride with him places and he would blast Black Flag and drink beer from cans while driving. On a simple half hour excursion he could consume almost a six pack. I remember looking through the tape collection in his car – nothing but Black Flag and Mozart. It was his dad’s car. His dad listened to nothing but Mozart. I don't really care to hear much Black Flag again, and I can't stand Henry Rollins these days.The Minutemen – I was introduced to them through a local station here in Philly – WKDU out of Drexel University – about ten years ago, which was the beginning of my punk rebirth, when I began listening to it as actual music, rather than just a party and/or anger catalyst. I was immediately smitten and sensed an immediate kinship, largely through a connection made between their music and the classic rock I listened to almost exclusively growing up. They remain a favorite. Mission of Burma – I had heard of them before reading this book but had never listened to them. I picked up Vs. before finishing the chapter on them. Excellent album. Powerful.Minor Threat – I’m sure I heard them during my claustrophobic frat party years, but I have no memory, even after listening to a few of their tunes while reading their chapter. Good stuff, but probably not something that will mean all that much to me now; though Ian MacKaye’s approach to conducting his life is inspiring and jives with some of my own philosophies, though I’m far from straight-edged.Husker Du – I picked up New Day Rising a few years ago and it quickly became a favorite. The combination of raw power and intelligence immediately appealed to me. A very large enveloping sound. I’ll more than likely check out more of their albums.The Replacements – Another band that has far too many associations with my claustrophobic frat party years. Even more so than Black Flag. I have Let It Be and think it’s good, but I still have a hard time hearing it with fresh non-beer-soaked ears and socially paranoid mind. I doubt I’ll explore them beyond the one album in my possession.Sonic Youth – For some reason I always got them confused with Soft Machine and so thought they had been around since at least the early ‘70’s. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I listened to them with any kind of rounded awareness, when I picked up Daydream Nation, and proceeded to listen to it nonstop for a month or more. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it. It is easily a favorite album of mine, but I still have not listened to any of their other albums, though I did see Lee Renaldo live once improvising to a Stan Brakhage film (a film which Brakhage by the way intentionally made as a silent film).Butthole Surfers – I somehow got turned on to them in the late ‘80’s and they immediately struck a chord. They were probably my favorite band for a year or so while I was living a down-and-out existence after graduating from college. At the time I thought it was possible to live completely from one’s primal body. I saw no barriers between my digestive system and the world at large. The Buttholes fit perfectly into this intuitive approach to a rather dangerous and fraught way of living. I still like them and think Gibby Haynes can be hilarious.Big Black – I probably heard them also during my claustrophobic frat party years but I have no tangible recollection, and I have not even been able to sample them on Spotify as they do not appear to be participating in it. From the descriptions in the book I think I would like them, though I probably wouldn’t listen to them that often. Steve Albini reminds me of Robert Crumb in the level of his intelligent disgust with almost all things.Dinosaur Jr. – Didn’t listen to them until I put my wife’s two albums of theirs she had on our iPod. My only thought was that Pavement got a lot from them, but I didn’t think much more about them. After reading this I am intrigued by J Mascis, though I’m not sure I want to put much effort into getting inside his head. I will probably pick up You’re Living All Over Me, which I think I’ll like.Fugazi – I don’t recall ever hearing a Fugazi tune, though I’m sure I have on WKDU. They interest me much more than Minor Threat. I plan on picking up one of their albums after reading this book. Sounds like they could offer the kind of thorny jumpy intelligence I often crave.Mudhoney – I had never previously listened to them, but I checked out a few of their songs while reading their chapter. I like their raw rock out approach, but I’m not too intrigued and doubt I’ll explore them further than an occasional listen on Spotify or Youtube.Beat Happening – Being a long-time Jonathan Richman fan I immediately linked the two when I started reading their chapter. A few pages in Richman was mentioned as an inspiration for Calvin Johnson, so I thought maybe I have always been cooler than I thought. I will definitely be listening to a lot of Beat Happening in the near future.
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  • Pamela
    January 1, 1970
    This is such a GUY book. The band histories are filled with the drama and backbiting you would expect from teenage girls, but are posited as Very Important Cultural Happenings. I guess that is the book's strength, and its entire reason for existing: documenting a whole bunch of assholes and taking them seriously, even at their most hapless and idiotic. I mean, he manages to write a deathly serious chapter on Black Flag, whereas I just giggle at the thought of Henry Rollins circa '81, standing on This is such a GUY book. The band histories are filled with the drama and backbiting you would expect from teenage girls, but are posited as Very Important Cultural Happenings. I guess that is the book's strength, and its entire reason for existing: documenting a whole bunch of assholes and taking them seriously, even at their most hapless and idiotic. I mean, he manages to write a deathly serious chapter on Black Flag, whereas I just giggle at the thought of Henry Rollins circa '81, standing on stage in his teeny little black shorts and screaming at people. Let's see - it's all very journalistic. The writer isn't a character and he doesn't talk about his own memories or involvement. So, it's interesting that he's trying to do something a bit more documentary-like rather than a personal history. And he keeps pretty neutral for most of it, but then squanders whatever currency he has built up as an objective observer on weird little jabs at specific bands (you don't like The Cure or Ministry, I GET IT.) There are points when the fanboyism is a little too obvious. Explaining away Ian Mackaye's and Henry Rollins early, weird race things as "misunderstandings" wastes a good chance to actually talk about what they meant. And he gives way too much slack to Steve Albini. Hmmm. I guess this book is good at being the book that it is, and most of my annoyance and disappointment that it is not the book that it is not.
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  • Dave
    January 1, 1970
    Wow, what a read. The big plus for this tome is that Azerrad spills as much ink on some bands who were slipping off the radar - notably Mission of Burma (at least at the time the hardcover was published, pre-reunion) - and on how he's able to let the story of one band from this geographic region lead into this band from that region... so at the end the reader has an idea of how 6,7,8 different little underground scenes birthed a nationwide network that is still around and supporting interesting Wow, what a read. The big plus for this tome is that Azerrad spills as much ink on some bands who were slipping off the radar - notably Mission of Burma (at least at the time the hardcover was published, pre-reunion) - and on how he's able to let the story of one band from this geographic region lead into this band from that region... so at the end the reader has an idea of how 6,7,8 different little underground scenes birthed a nationwide network that is still around and supporting interesting artists today.I'd give it a higher rating if there was more new material contained within but most of the quotes are from already published interviews. Still, it is quite a feat to compile such an engaging and spirited survey of one of the few truly American arts. Highly, highly recommended.
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  • Meagan
    January 1, 1970
    This is right up there with "Please Kill Me" and "The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones" as one of those foundational rocknroll books with a "You Are There" feeling throughout. Basically, if you were under the impression that punk died when Mick Jones got kicked out of The Clash and wasn't revived until Nirvana released Nevermind, do yourself a favor and read this book. Yes, there are a few omissions (okay, just one that kind of sticks out in my mind. Meat Puppets. They're mentioned several This is right up there with "Please Kill Me" and "The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones" as one of those foundational rocknroll books with a "You Are There" feeling throughout. Basically, if you were under the impression that punk died when Mick Jones got kicked out of The Clash and wasn't revived until Nirvana released Nevermind, do yourself a favor and read this book. Yes, there are a few omissions (okay, just one that kind of sticks out in my mind. Meat Puppets. They're mentioned several times, but don't merit their own chapter) but overall this is a great way to learn about a lot of bands you don't know, or learn more about bands you thought you knew all about. The way the book is constructed forms a roughly chronological timeline, with bands and labels dovetailing neatly into each others' stories. I like Azerrad's decision to omit some of the bigger bands, like REM and The Pixies, and to end each chapter when the band either broke up or signed to a major label. Also, it's really inspiring, even to an old fogey like me. If I had read this book when I was 18, I probably would have started my own record label. But, thankfully, I read it as a nearing-middle-ager who already tried that whole "get in the van!" thing, so I just came home from work and put on some Dinosaur Jr and Minutemen albums instead. But if I knew an 18-year-old who had aspirations of being in a band, or starting their own label, or what have you, this is the book I'd put in their clammy little hands. Go forth, youngsters, and scream your little hearts out!
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  • Elizabeth
    January 1, 1970
    I have read the chapters on Black Flag and The Minutemen and am loving this book. It revived so many old feelings and memories, and I didn't know it was possible to love Mike Watt any more than I already did, but I find myself even more enamored of The Minutemen. Next I think I'll skip to the Husker Du chapter--should be interesting in light of Bob Mould's recent 'coming-out' memoir.I just finished the book and absolutely adored it. I think Azerrad does a brilliant job of tracing the geography o I have read the chapters on Black Flag and The Minutemen and am loving this book. It revived so many old feelings and memories, and I didn't know it was possible to love Mike Watt any more than I already did, but I find myself even more enamored of The Minutemen. Next I think I'll skip to the Husker Du chapter--should be interesting in light of Bob Mould's recent 'coming-out' memoir.I just finished the book and absolutely adored it. I think Azerrad does a brilliant job of tracing the geography of local cultural movements--in this case specifically a type of music loosely called 'punk'. I really enjoyed the sense of *place* embedded in each chapter. I also found an eerie parallel to my own life's arc during the late '80s through the early '90s--the book starts with Black Flag, a decidedly Southern California band, and ends in Seattle with the explosion and implosion of SubPop and its bands. As a kid growing up in Southern California I was very aware of Black Flag's influence and I loved the Minutemen and later fIREHOSE. As the music industry shifted its attention to the growing scene in the Pacific Northwest, traced nicely in this book, I found myself in Seattle in the early '90s, a sort-of ground-zero of the co-opting of the 'punk' and 'alternative' music scene. Great read, I highly recommend it!
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  • Kerry
    January 1, 1970
    I'm going to be candid here...wait, when am I not? This book is really only for the hard-core music fans. The ones that want to know everything about it. From the formation and inspiration of the music to the gritty work ethics so many musicians and bands take to make it. What I love best about this one this is that this book is purely about true indie bands. These were the bands that didn't want to sign with major-labels bc they felt it would sacrifice their integrity and the integrity of the m I'm going to be candid here...wait, when am I not? This book is really only for the hard-core music fans. The ones that want to know everything about it. From the formation and inspiration of the music to the gritty work ethics so many musicians and bands take to make it. What I love best about this one this is that this book is purely about true indie bands. These were the bands that didn't want to sign with major-labels bc they felt it would sacrifice their integrity and the integrity of the music. Now, for MOST people I know... they aren't fans of Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, etc. Most find these bands to just be making some sort of racket. But I can guarantee you with the way Azerrad writes the personal history of these bands, you're going to at least want to hear the music afterward. Why? Bc you can practically see and feel the blood, sweat, tears and feces that these bands put up with to hold on to everything they believed in for the music that meant so much to them and the world that they came from.And you better believe I just used the word feces in a review. That... just... HAPPENED.But, I digress... most won't be able to make it through the book so easily. It's not a fast-paced thriller hearing about having no food and living in a smelly, sweaty van with the only thing pushing you forward are the handful of loyal fans waiting for you at the next VFW hall. Only the very dedicated appreciate such stories, bc at one point they were one of those handful of dedicated fans. Long story short? I'm freaking amazing. OR, the bands who gave it all to keep every last bit of control over what they loved the most without sacrificing it for easy $$ and fame are. To you it may be noise, to someone else it may be their reason to get up in the morning.
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  • Sebastian
    January 1, 1970
    Our Band Could Be Your Life is the most absorbing book about music I have ever read. While it's not perfect, it's essential reading for anyone interested in independent music, be it of the era covered by this book (1981-1991) or today. Composed of about a dozen profiles of bands from across the country, it's long-form journalism at its best. Interesting tid bits (and occasionally scandalous details) abound, but more importantly the larger portraits of each of these bands feel close to definitive Our Band Could Be Your Life is the most absorbing book about music I have ever read. While it's not perfect, it's essential reading for anyone interested in independent music, be it of the era covered by this book (1981-1991) or today. Composed of about a dozen profiles of bands from across the country, it's long-form journalism at its best. Interesting tid bits (and occasionally scandalous details) abound, but more importantly the larger portraits of each of these bands feel close to definitive. Although all of the chapters are strong, I enjoyed the chapters on Black Flag, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, The Replacements (although the omission of even a reference to Tim, a very close second to that group's best record, independent or not, was curious), Big Black, and Beat Happening the most. Reading this book, I was struck on just how much the internet changed everything, a fact that is only briefly alluded to in the epilogue. The difficulty of learning about bands, let alone distributing music and planning tours was so much more complicated twenty five years ago, and it's hard not to have a vast amount of respect of the bands who blazed those trails. Indeed, this is a major theme of many of the profiles in the book -- the hard work and determination of these bands, often in the face of indifference. I think anyone who is or was remotely interested in aggressive independent music (be it punk rock, hardcore, metal, etc) will be instantly transported back in time when the doctrinal approach of Black Flag or Minor Threat is discussed. I personally found the regimentation, the rules, and the (self-)righteousness of those groups vaguely embarrassing and foreign some 25 years later, but I can remember as a pointlessly (and hopefully mostly formerly) "angry" young male their undeniable appeal. There's something undeniably romantic and appealing about that the idea of the outsiders forming their own community against the repressiveness of corporate America and faceless corporate rock. All the same, some of the more cult of personality aspects of the leaders of some of these bands was as off-putting as it was intriguing. That era wasn't perfect, but it was much more interesting than what had come before it. Where the reader falls on the spectrum of approval of how these bands approached major labels and the prospects of lucrative financial scenarios will doubtlessly influence greatly their feelings on the various bands, but what's most important to note is the very opportunity to consider such prospects (and then embrace them or pointedly raise a middle finger) was a product of the movement these groups started. That's another major theme here: the very idea of Nirvana was impossible without a bands like Black Flag, The Minutemen or Minor Threat. Socially inept, unyielding personalities make up many of these groups, and even as the reader enjoys learning about their exploits some quarter century later, I for one am very happy to have not been stuck in a lemon of a van with no heat driving around the country while mind games and passive aggressiveness filled the hours between shows. One doesn't need to be a star on the level of Jim Morrison, it turns out, to be a major a-hole and prima donna. That quality, at least, transcends arena rock and crappy basement shows with a dozen people in attendance. This is a fascinating read, a quick 500 pages, and an invaluable history lesson for people (like me) who take the availability of independent music and opportunities for independent bands for granted. Recommended.
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  • A.J. Howard
    January 1, 1970
    This is the story of how a bunch of kids who appreciated the Beatles, the Stones, and the Stooges, but came of age after they left the scene. These kids became alienated with new mainstream bands like Aerosmith, the Eagles, and Genesis but then the Ramones put out a record and these kids found solace and a sense of identity in the music of the Clash, Television, and Talking Heads. They took these new ideas and formed great bands like the Minutemen, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, the Meat This is the story of how a bunch of kids who appreciated the Beatles, the Stones, and the Stooges, but came of age after they left the scene. These kids became alienated with new mainstream bands like Aerosmith, the Eagles, and Genesis but then the Ramones put out a record and these kids found solace and a sense of identity in the music of the Clash, Television, and Talking Heads. They took these new ideas and formed great bands like the Minutemen, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, the Meat Puppets, Husker Dü. These bands would in turn inspire younger bands like Pavement, Sleater-Kinney, Superchunk, and Neutral Milk Hotel who would dominate college radio for much of the '90s. They also inspired this kinda white-trashy kid from Aberdeen, WA who borrowed their ideas and mixed it with a dose of late '70s cock-rock and an instinctive knack for pop song-craft and eventually put together an album that presented the previous decade's underground ideas in an accessible but not too dumbed-down manner, sold a bajillion copies, and made it briefly appear that the underground could make the mainstream adopt to their culture. 1964 -> 1977 -> 1991. Of course that kid from Aberdeen decided it was better to burn out three years later, and his main musical legacy appears to be with bands that never grasped the underground structure underlying those songs, and thought they could get by with growling vocals over power riffs. The legacy of punk's first "break" in 1977 dominated a significant facet of the musical culture for the next two decades and the aftershocks are still being felt. The legacy of 1991 were some of the worst rock bands of all time - Nickleback, 3 Doors Down, Limp Bizcuit. Once you're gone you can never go back. Now even bad traditional rock music is almost completely absent from the Top 40 scene. Even on the indie scene, whatever that means, traditional guitars and percussion rock seems to play an increasing smaller, less-relevant and fragmented part. The Beatles -> Big Star -> The Replacements -> Pixies - > Nirvana -> Creed -> crickets and I'm not talking about Buddy Holley. So it goes. We'll always have Let It Be though (both of 'em). Same goes with Daydream Nation. And Double Nickels on the Dime, Zen Arcade, Signals, Calls and Marches, Repeater, You're Living All Over Me, Songs About Fucking, and quite a few others. Azerrad's book enhanced my appreciation for quite a few of these. It gave me an excuse to listen to others of them again, which is a service in itself. It didn't get me to start liking Black Flag, but it made me glad they existed. Who knows? Maybe this very night there's some perpetually pissed off and sex-deprived teenaged kid living in the middle of nowhere who's about to stumble onto "I Wanna Be Your Dog" on Spotify for the first time, launching an inevitable chain of events leading to the next new thing. The king's long gone, but he's still not forgotten. Hey, hey, my, my...
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  • Elizabeth
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book. Azerad profiles bands like Black Flag, Minutemen, Mission of BUrma, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Big BLack, Minor Threat, The Replacements, Fugazi, BEat Happening, Mudhoney, and Dinosaur Jr. It's the royaly of 80s underground music in America. There are bands that could have been incouded, namely the Pixies, but Azerad wanted to focus on bands that made a big splash in America. And while the Pixies were an American band, they were on 4AD, an English label. They began to hit I loved this book. Azerad profiles bands like Black Flag, Minutemen, Mission of BUrma, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Big BLack, Minor Threat, The Replacements, Fugazi, BEat Happening, Mudhoney, and Dinosaur Jr. It's the royaly of 80s underground music in America. There are bands that could have been incouded, namely the Pixies, but Azerad wanted to focus on bands that made a big splash in America. And while the Pixies were an American band, they were on 4AD, an English label. They began to hit big in the US in the early 90s, about when this book was winding down. Readers may wonder why he ignored the southern US scene, primarily the Athens, GA scene. REM signed with Warner Brothers earlier in their career--and Azerad follows each band until they signed with a major label. Same goes for The B52s. But other bands, primarily Pylon, may not have achieved the same notoriety as their Athens counterparts, but they are just as important to the overall music scene. Azerad focuses on the band and their scenes. He starts the book with bands and at a time when British/LA/New York punk was dying down and the US hardcore/DIY scene was beginning to develop. Profiling bands like Black Flag and The Minutement, Minor Threat, the authors shows the development of an underground national network--a network that was developed by the people in the bands and their fans. With each band profile, Azerad deonstrates how the network grew and what each band and their followers did to contriute.In some cases, like Mudhoney, he focuses more on SubPop than he does on the band. And some bands, like Dinosaur Jr, may have some people scratching their heads trying to figure out whay they are included. Overall, the book is a non-nostalgic look (although some readers may get nostalgic after reading it) at what was happeneing below the surface of American music.
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  • Mack Hayden
    January 1, 1970
    I would've been totally shocked if I didn't love this book. With that said, I wound up enjoying it even more than I anticipated. The bands, record labels, and general era in the history of music described here are all favorites of mine. It's so cool seeing all these great college rock bands crossing paths, witnessing their internal drama, and seeing indie rock as we know it ascend to a place of prominence. It really conveys the vitality and joy of its title: as a proud fan of all these bands, I I would've been totally shocked if I didn't love this book. With that said, I wound up enjoying it even more than I anticipated. The bands, record labels, and general era in the history of music described here are all favorites of mine. It's so cool seeing all these great college rock bands crossing paths, witnessing their internal drama, and seeing indie rock as we know it ascend to a place of prominence. It really conveys the vitality and joy of its title: as a proud fan of all these bands, I can attest they can be your life and your life will be all the better for it. One of the best books on music I've ever read and I'd recommend it to anyone who's ever enjoyed music on the left side of the dial.
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  • Joshua Buhs
    January 1, 1970
    Alternate title: 13 arguments that music in the 1980s wasn't all a vast wasteland.This is a journalistic recounting of independent music during the 1980s (well, late 1970s to early 1990s) told as the story of thirteen different bands. It is really good, at times brilliant, though there are structural issues--tough ones, not ones I could even imagine solving--that ultimately keep the book from being as transcendent as the bands it chronicles.In the late 1970s, American music companies were focuse Alternate title: 13 arguments that music in the 1980s wasn't all a vast wasteland.This is a journalistic recounting of independent music during the 1980s (well, late 1970s to early 1990s) told as the story of thirteen different bands. It is really good, at times brilliant, though there are structural issues--tough ones, not ones I could even imagine solving--that ultimately keep the book from being as transcendent as the bands it chronicles.In the late 1970s, American music companies were focused on popular hits and old dinosaurs, reluctant to plunge into new music, especially the developing hardcore (read: punk) scene. Azerrad doesn't really explain why, though there are hints that the companies were having financial troubles of some sorts. And so a bunch of do-it-yourself musicians filled the lacuna, making their own labels, writing zines, creating a concert circus. It reminded me of the way sclerotic movie studios were outmaneuvered by four-wallers in the 1970s. For the most part--there are major exceptions such as REM and U2--the mainstream labels ignored alternative music throughout the 1980s and continued to put out lots of crap (Billy Ocean, anyone?), until the early 1990s. In short, the story can also been seen as explaining how the more adventurous music of the 1970s gave birth to the 1990s alternative music scene, even though the bridge between the eras was mostly invisible during the intervening years.The first couple of chapters, on Black Flag, The Minutemen, Mission of Burma, and Minor Threat, detail the struggles the bands had in creating their alternative music scene. At the time, these bands were strongly influenced by English punk and were part of the hardcore movement, Despite the frenzied exploits on stage--check out the picture of Black Flag in action on page 30--and even the sometimes copious amounts of alcohol and drugs--the bands were very professional. They practiced--in Black Flag's case, eight hours a day, six days a week--were parsimonious about he money they spent on tours, carefully produced their own records. There was a real diligence. And in the case of Black Flag and the Minutemen--both southern California bands, that musical scene being more elastic than others at the time--they built a widespread following. Others, like Boston's Mission of Burma, found local support--there was a lot of college radio in the town--but could not translate that to national acclaim becuase of the weak system--a system that Flag and Minutemen were creating, along with the record label with which they were associated, SST.The book then starts to look at the way the hardcore scene reinvented many of the earlier musical tropes, bringing back in elements of 1960s and 1970s music, especially in the form of Husker Dü and the Replacements. As well, some elements of the scene developed a consciously arty aesthetic, as in the case of Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, and Big Black. The chapter on the Butthole Surfers is especially scarring, seeing just how hard the Texas band worked, just how poor they were (making dinners out of garbage while they were on tour) and just how badly drugs could effect the music-making. By this time, hardcore had diverged and become intertwined with college radio and was identified more generally as indie.A third group of chapters finishes the dialectic, tracing how hardcore influenced those bands that would give birth to the 1990s alternative scene, Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, and Mudhoney. Although some of these bands officially called themselves punk, they had expanded greatly from the initial hardcore movement, and were bringing back in elements of classic rock, which the original hardcore movement had reacted against. As well, there was often less animosity toward the major labels--as in the case of Pearl Jam. (The chapter on Mudhoney is more of a chapter on Seattle's grunge movement).A final band-based chapter, on Beat Happening, points toward the conclusion. Beat Happening was one of the few bands to include a female member prominently. (Sonic Youth was obviously another.) And they influenced later nerd rock and twee rock, etc., etc. Their sound was poppy and fey--but that was punk rock in a scene that had itself become sclerotic, and narrow, based around male violence, male yelling, and male angst. Much of alternative rock of the 1990s, Azerrad acknowledges became white and heavily masculine, even as its 1970s's roots offered a more varied set of traditions upon which to draw.For the most part, the book avoids the "Behind the Music" clichés. There are a few bands who went through the usual rise and fall, the fall attributable to too much success and too many drugs. But in other cases drugs worked through the bands differently, or they fell due to personality splits or even the scene's own limitations. This is excellent journalism. I was on the edge of some of this--although I resisted the whole Sub Pop thing, even as I lived in the Pacific Northwest in 1991. But I knew Hüsker Dü and The Replacements and Dinosaur Jr and liked them, and Azarrad does a good job of connecting my outsider perspective--and experience with the cruddy music of the 1980s--the the development of the music scene.The only real quibble is structural. Azarrad does well at layering the various themes and developing his arguments, even as he focuses on individual bands--indeed, in retrospect, its masterful. But it also makes it hard to understand the era as a whole. There are too many repetitions, too many slidings back and forth in time, too many stray observations that would do better if the story were presented simply chronologically. At the same time, chronological arrangement would sacrifice the depth and intimacy Azarrad gives to each of the individual bands.
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  • Ari Eris
    January 1, 1970
    I've always thought music writing was pretentious, boring, and not very good, but Our Band Could Be Your Life has proven me wrong. I may have missed this pivotal era in music history (boo!) but Michael Azerrad brings the scene and the music to life in a way that stirred up feelings in me as if I had really been there. I've always been a big fan of Black Flag, Minor Threat and Fugazi, but after reading this book I think I might actually be in love. Before I dismissed the Butthole Surfers; now I'm I've always thought music writing was pretentious, boring, and not very good, but Our Band Could Be Your Life has proven me wrong. I may have missed this pivotal era in music history (boo!) but Michael Azerrad brings the scene and the music to life in a way that stirred up feelings in me as if I had really been there. I've always been a big fan of Black Flag, Minor Threat and Fugazi, but after reading this book I think I might actually be in love. Before I dismissed the Butthole Surfers; now I'm weirdly fascinated with them and can't get enough of their fucked-up sound. And reading about the fate of members of the Minutemen and the Replacements actually made me tear up a bit. Each band profiled in this book has such a different story to tell - from minor but fulfilling failures to bright but fast-burning successes and everything in between - that it doesn't feel to far-fetched to say that this history of the indie scene from 1981 to 1991 reads like a deconstruction of the American dream. Whoa, now it's getting heavy; damn, this book is good! Oh, and how delightful that Azerrad actually knows how to write! Here we have a book on the history of "popular music" that deserves to sit next to the best history books on your shelf. More than once I was swept up in Azerrad's descriptions of a band's sound before I even heard the music and my first thought would be, "I have to stop what I'm doing RIGHT NOW and get a hold of some of this!". Make sure you read this book sometime before you die. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
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  • Julien
    January 1, 1970
    How much you like this book will depend on how much you like the bands. I liked the chapters on Black Flag, The Minutemen, and the Butthole Surfers the best, but was a bit bored with those on Husker Du and The Replacements because I was never terribly interested in their music. But aside from a few embarrassing descriptions of music (which I almost always dislike, no matter what), there's a lot of good information and stories about a group of influential bands, though I might have collapsed the How much you like this book will depend on how much you like the bands. I liked the chapters on Black Flag, The Minutemen, and the Butthole Surfers the best, but was a bit bored with those on Husker Du and The Replacements because I was never terribly interested in their music. But aside from a few embarrassing descriptions of music (which I almost always dislike, no matter what), there's a lot of good information and stories about a group of influential bands, though I might have collapsed the Minor Threat and Fugazi chapters into one and added Bikini Kill if I were writing it. (There were a few mistakes, too, like referring to the Jesus & Mary Chain as English, that should have been caught before it went to press, but that's a quibble.) In some ways, it's most interesting as a picture of music scenes that don't exist anymore, and couldn't really exist in the same way now because of the massive changes brought about by digital downloading and distribution.
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  • Ralph
    January 1, 1970
    Surprisingly disappointing collection of stories about bands I suddenly remembered I didn't care all that much about in the first place. I had read about all my favorites -- the Replacements, Husker Du, Minutemen -- while standing in the aisles of Barnes and Noble, so I had already hit the high points. After a couple of chapters, the stories kinda meld into one -- two weirdos meet in high school and start playing songs, then meet another goofball and go on tour; they aren't very good and the aud Surprisingly disappointing collection of stories about bands I suddenly remembered I didn't care all that much about in the first place. I had read about all my favorites -- the Replacements, Husker Du, Minutemen -- while standing in the aisles of Barnes and Noble, so I had already hit the high points. After a couple of chapters, the stories kinda meld into one -- two weirdos meet in high school and start playing songs, then meet another goofball and go on tour; they aren't very good and the audience either reacts with complete apathy or violent disdain; then they sign with SST, but they don't sell a lot of records, they become hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol, and break up to the distress of no one; but their influence far outstrips their commercial success and they are legendary in retrospect. Repeat.
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  • Joe Cross
    January 1, 1970
    For anyone even remotely interested in indie rock, I'd call this an essential read, and throughout I kept wishing that Michael Azerrad would do similar profiles of '90s bands like Modest Mouse and Yo La Tengo. So why 4 stars instead of 4.5 or 5? Well, at 501 pages, it's, for lack of a better word, long, and some chapters are repetitive or unnecessary (see: the Big Black chapter, which did nothing but reaffirm my dislike of Steve Albini, or the Sonic Youth chapter, which, despite them being my fa For anyone even remotely interested in indie rock, I'd call this an essential read, and throughout I kept wishing that Michael Azerrad would do similar profiles of '90s bands like Modest Mouse and Yo La Tengo. So why 4 stars instead of 4.5 or 5? Well, at 501 pages, it's, for lack of a better word, long, and some chapters are repetitive or unnecessary (see: the Big Black chapter, which did nothing but reaffirm my dislike of Steve Albini, or the Sonic Youth chapter, which, despite them being my favorite band in this book, just wasn't that interesting.) But the rest is well worth your time. The Beat Happening chapter is both inspiring and really adorable, while the Butthole Surfers chapter is downright hilarious, and the Minutemen and Mission of Burma ones are all somewhat heartbreaking in the way Azerrad displays the gradual decline of those bands through forces outside of their control. Even if you don't like the music here (and I hate some of it), the stories regarding the different bands are excellent and are masterfully structured to where those without any knowledge of indie rock could read and enjoy this book. Plus, it introduced me to "Academy Fight Song," which has since become one of my favorite songs of all time.
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  • Serdar
    January 1, 1970
    This book has immense personal significance for a reason I'll get to in a moment.The book itself is a grand overview of, as the title notes, the indie underground music scene in the U.S. throughout the '80s. Anyone remotely curious about the times, the manners, and the tunes should pick this up. You'll not only get a hint of how the crews in question got going, but perhaps learn about a band or two that you didn't know about.The other thing that struck me about the book was the way it portrayed This book has immense personal significance for a reason I'll get to in a moment.The book itself is a grand overview of, as the title notes, the indie underground music scene in the U.S. throughout the '80s. Anyone remotely curious about the times, the manners, and the tunes should pick this up. You'll not only get a hint of how the crews in question got going, but perhaps learn about a band or two that you didn't know about.The other thing that struck me about the book was the way it portrayed the indie/punk work ethic as being a model for anyone to follow, whatever their creative channel. Don't wait for someone to give you permission to matter. Save your lunch money and print flyers yourself. Book your own gigs. Be your own agent. D.I.Y. You may never get rich, famous, or laid, but you'll be all the world to that handful of few that really matter.
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  • Ron
    January 1, 1970
    Azerrad writes brilliantly, which is not the contradiction of punk terms that it would seem, tracing the history of the underground from its secondary movement to the birth of Nirvana and the eventual (inevitable?) sell out to the mainstream. The punk ethos was ever about thinking for one's self and expressing individuality, but the original movement had few bands of any lasting merit--Ramones, Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads--and while the latter three of those and some others (Elvis Costello) ma Azerrad writes brilliantly, which is not the contradiction of punk terms that it would seem, tracing the history of the underground from its secondary movement to the birth of Nirvana and the eventual (inevitable?) sell out to the mainstream. The punk ethos was ever about thinking for one's self and expressing individuality, but the original movement had few bands of any lasting merit--Ramones, Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads--and while the latter three of those and some others (Elvis Costello) made transitions to new wave without losing any integrity, the movement as a whole had become a sonic cliche (the vast majority was nothing more than rockabilly played louder and faster, with lyrics intended to provoke). The post punk movement seemed poised to inject new life--and a spirit of art, intelligence, and political acumen--into punk, but the audience for bands like Wire, Gang of Four, and Joy Division was small. The book picks up with what could be called the third wave: hardcore. Black Flag provided the blueprint and kicks off the book with the longest chapter. Sadly, Greg Ginn was one of the worst guitar players in the history of rock, the band was absolutely terrible, and Henry Rollins was an upper class poser with little intelligence and a propensity for thuggish violence (who later became a cartoon figure and showed less talent and acumen). Even worse, they begat a slew of equally bad bands, the most notable being Minor Threat, fronted by Ian MacKaye, who brought a peculiar brand of irrational fascism to his notion of various forms of abstinence (in truth, he was very repressed and could not see that the milk and soda his ilk preferred was as or more harmful than the drugs, alcohol and sex they eschewed; he was, in short, as poor a thinker as he was a musician and also a thug who seemed to get off on the violence nearly as much as his childhood pal Rollins). His drugs showed he wasn't a puritan who was in control, and very much a conformist. The one great joy I took from reading about the early years was to find that the worst band of them all, the Sex Pistols, had been fronted by an even bigger asshole than these two in John Lydon (who railed against all of these bands or was aloof as they opened for him). I did discover that I'd wrongly dismissed bands like the Minutemen, Big Black, and Meat Puppets (mentioned often but not featured), true originals who were wrongly lumped under the 'hardcore' rubric initially. My love of bands like Mission of Burma and Sonic Youth was affirmed, their skewed, melodic and arty take on punk among life's joys (despite a bitter Bob Bert claiming that Sonic Youth jumped on bandwagons). My sense that the Replacements and Husker Du were never really hardcore, but pop bands that wanted to make it big (sort of) was also deeply affirmed. Butthole Surfer records were the worst, and I'm sort of glad that I never saw one of their 'events' that would inspire equally bad bands like GWAR. I was as surprised to find that J Mascis came from an upper middle class, educated background, as I was that so many others who greatly influenced the scene were. Mascis was as bad as Rollins, another egomaniac who made music derivative of the execrably stupid Neil Young, and I felt some true sympathy for the more sensitive Lou Barlow. In the end, Ian MacKaye gets the most ink, as Fugazi is also featured. It is a tale of transformation, as MacKaye brings a new ethos to the scene, becoming a vegetarian, eschewing materialism, continuing to make shows accessible to all ages, and contributing to various local and regional charities while creating a vital new music. He creates a true sense of community and evolves as a human being, Azerrad mentioning him with a few others in the conclusion as torch bearers of a new ethics (while not mentioning Rollins, ever the meathead, or Ginn, and slamming SST for what they later became). The chapter on Mudhoney serves to prove that the entire grunge movement was a reactionary bore but for Nirvana, and Beat Happening brings things full circle in a strange way--they offended by embracing melody, simplicity, and poor musicianship with a rough sound--by bringing punk back to its anti-establishment roots. It all fell apart in the 90s. I spent the decade managing a used record store and listening to the classic punk from my 70s childhood, the bands that many of these guys my age loved and grew up listening to, while hating how the indie scene was co-opted by posers, the 'jocks and cheerleaders' that Azerrad and MacKaye derided (I too felt the latter's sense of feeling an instant connection to people who proved to be utter frauds on a daily basis). Even the most critically lauded bands of that period have proven to have little credibility or lasting power, and it has now all fragmented into chaotic little sub-genres with little of interest (while the corporate conglomerates have regained control and spew out crap far worse than 70s pop).A truly brilliant and original book that says much more about our culture than mere rock history.
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  • Nicholas Moryl
    January 1, 1970
    This book mimics a common complaint you'll find in record reviews: the first half is interesting, but the second half just drags. At 500 pages, that's an awful lot of dragging.The book stumbles as soon as it starts. In the brief introduction, Azerrad characterizes the struggle indie music faced as against the system, opposing the status quo, tearing down the regime--all well and good when you're talking about the Reagan era--but the problem is that it's none of that. Were indie bands against the This book mimics a common complaint you'll find in record reviews: the first half is interesting, but the second half just drags. At 500 pages, that's an awful lot of dragging.The book stumbles as soon as it starts. In the brief introduction, Azerrad characterizes the struggle indie music faced as against the system, opposing the status quo, tearing down the regime--all well and good when you're talking about the Reagan era--but the problem is that it's none of that. Were indie bands against the major label system? Sure, some were. But they're just replicating the same system: they want to be the culture machine; they want to make a living off their music. Indie bands are like startups: some survive, some don't. Even the bad ones contain nuggets of interesting truths. And the good ones go on to change the world. The only difference between indie rock and the status quo is that the former wasn't yet in vogue in the early 80s. But by the late 80s, indie rock was the status quo--it had become what it supposedly hated. So couching this struggle in terms of "tearing down the major label system" is disingenuous at best.Azerrad covers interesting bands of varying degrees of success and notoriety. Unfortunately, his writing is clunky throughout. He tends to repeat descriptions of bands even within the same paragraph. (Look at how many times he says "fey" in the "Beat Happening" chapter. Apparently all Henry Rollins does is "bark" and Ian MacKaye "roars".) It smacks of lazy writing, and it's one of the thing most authors are taught to avoid in high school. It doesn't help that some of the bands he covers overlap in the musical spectrum (e.g. both Black Flag and Minor Threat are angry, privileged, white male punk) so having meaningfully different descriptions of their music is a challenge. That said, his descriptions of the environments from which each band hailed were probably the most interesting and illuminating parts of the book.As others have noted, a lot of the profiles follow formulas: kids who are outsiders/weirdos get interested in music and play in a couple bands that don't take off. They then meet their musical soul mate, write a few songs, and tour without any support to a half dozen people a night who are indifferent or worse to their music. Finally, through sheer force of will and constant touring/exposure someone notices them and facilitates them making a record. They gain a minor following, and then either (a) break up because they realize everyone in the band is an asshole, (b) start ingesting lots of substances because they're adults who can't handle basic responsibilities like not throwing up every night, which compromises their potential for success, or (c) go on to a reasonable amount of fame. (Beat Happening may not fall into this pattern, but they're also the least well-known of all the bands covered, so they can be labeled the outlier.) The first time Azerrad explores each template it's interesting; by the 10th or 11th time it's just dull.In summary: I can't, in good conscience, recommend this book to friends unless they're specifically huge fans of these particular bands. Azerrad chooses to make a relatively weak cultural argument (paraphrasing, "indie rock was built in opposition to the system of corporate rock"), than a more persuasive technological/economic/business argument (which would go along the lines of: lower barriers to entry--production costs in cassette, photocopying, etc.--facilitated more bands trying to build their own careers, which created a network that acted as a springboard for even more bands to do so and created and alternative path to success in the music industry). The writing is clunky and large swaths are forgettable if only because the bands themselves aren't all that different from each other in a lot of respects. That doesn't have to be a shortcoming, but because Azerrad focuses on the bands themselves rather than the themes that they represented that sameness in some ways mimics the "wall of noise" approach that so many of the bands themselves took. (Maybe there's a meta-point in there?)
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  • Adam Dupaski
    January 1, 1970
    This was super enjoyable almost all the way through, and the chapters on bands I love more than compensated for those on bands I never really got into. Here's my ranking of the chapters based on insight, appreciation, and entertainment:-1st: The Minutemen (sets the tone for ideals tracked throughout the book as well as the SST label model)-2nd: Black Flag (dark dank Rollins + Ginn + SST + Pettibon power)-3rd: Fugazi (great exploration of early connections to Rites of Spring, breakdown of influen This was super enjoyable almost all the way through, and the chapters on bands I love more than compensated for those on bands I never really got into. Here's my ranking of the chapters based on insight, appreciation, and entertainment:-1st: The Minutemen (sets the tone for ideals tracked throughout the book as well as the SST label model)-2nd: Black Flag (dark dank Rollins + Ginn + SST + Pettibon power)-3rd: Fugazi (great exploration of early connections to Rites of Spring, breakdown of influences, and [unavoidable] discussion of ideals and networking)-4th: Sonic Youth (again, discussion of influences and networking here is fascinating)-5th: Minor Threat (despite this being one of my all-time favorite bands, I didn't fully grasp the scale of the violence they were immersed in until reading this)-6th: Butthole Sufers (probably the most entertaining and craziest chapter)-7th: Beat Happening (I never enjoyed listening to this band but their inclusion is interesting here as it highlights reactions to hardcore and punk that were extended well through the 90s)-8th: Big Black (another band I never really got into but reading about Steve Albini is always entertaining and worthwhile)-9th: Mudhoney (the story of Sub Pop factors strongly here and there's a great overview of the early Seattle scene building towards 1991)-10th: Dinosaur Jr (yet another band I've never been into but I've always liked Sebadoh, so it was useful reading how Lou Barlow's project rose from the torture of his Dinosaur Jr experience)-11-12th: Husker Du + The Replacements (both of these chapters were fairly entertaining, but it makes me question whether two Minneapolis bands were really necessary inclusions)-13th: Mission of Burma (the most boring chapter without inspiring descriptions of the band's music and importance)Like a lot of readers, I wondered about Azerrad's band choices and omissions, and, for me, the most questionable omission by far is The Dead Kennedys. Jello Biafra turns up a number of times in the narratives, but an entire chapter devoted to his politics (e.g. his campaign for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 and his views on corporate and Reagan America), the band’s background, and the story of Alternative Tentacles would’ve added some great California weight to the book. Taste and experience with these bands is majorly at stake in your appreciation of Our Band Could Be Your Life, of course, but if you're into any one (or two or six) of these bands, than Azerrad's discussion of regional contexts, tour networks, tape exchanges, live spectacles, label battles, corporate debacles, band-member narratives, musical comparisons, and various strains of punk ethos makes for an exciting read. The book didn't remind me of why I love a lot of these bands as much as strengthen why they're still important to me and I still listen to them. Now to put on Double Nickels on the Dime!
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  • Timothy Hallinan
    January 1, 1970
    This is rock writing that's as good as rock itself. Michael Azzerad traces the rise and--well, endurance--of American indie rock through astute (and often very funny) profiles of many of the bands that paved the way for Nirvana, Pearl Jam, et. al. These pioneers, some forgotten except for a few aging thrashers and some still either going strong or head-banging in people's memories, include The Minutemen, Mission of Burma, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. Butthole Surfers, Hüsker Dü, F This is rock writing that's as good as rock itself. Michael Azzerad traces the rise and--well, endurance--of American indie rock through astute (and often very funny) profiles of many of the bands that paved the way for Nirvana, Pearl Jam, et. al. These pioneers, some forgotten except for a few aging thrashers and some still either going strong or head-banging in people's memories, include The Minutemen, Mission of Burma, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. Butthole Surfers, Hüsker Dü, Fugazi,and Black Flag.The book opens with a history of Black Flag, a band that went through three lead singers (and God knows how many bassists) before putting Henry Rollins up front. Given that the band, except for Greg Ginn, was pretty much a revolving door, it would have been easy for Azzerad to have turned out an unreadable recitation of names, most now obscure, but instead he goes inside a very standoffish band and lets us feel how the changes affected the dynamic and even the creative imaginations of the group. At the end, when Ginn finally quits his own band in part because he's had enough of Rollins, you've been through a saga of self-destructive, occasionally masochistic insanity in the name of art -- which the band succeeded in creating.Black Flag's tireless pioneering -- they more or less invented the indie performance circuit, discovering venues that were willing to host them -- was an odyssey of cramped vans, smelly clothes, empty halls, fights with the audience (and each other). And it set the template for much that that characterized the careers of the bands that followed; and when Ginn finally draws a line through the band's name, it's pretty melancholy. I felt that something had been lost that hadn't been fully realized. And almost all the profiles in the book are this good.I bought the book because I'm thinking about writing something set in that world, but I read it for the sheer joy of seeing a writer come fully to grips with his material and make the reader understand what great, vital material it is. One of my favorite books of the year. On the whole, an obsessive-compulsive's delight.
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  • Jeff
    January 1, 1970
    Overall a pretty great book, especially (and obviously) if you are a fan of 80s "underground" rock. Azerrad does a great job relating the histories of both seminal 80s bands as well as the labels themselves. Just how SST, Sub Pop, K Records etc started, evolved, and ran their businesses is fascinating stuff given the humongous obstacles in the way at the time. Azerrad also does a nice job with profiles of some of the big figures in the movement, and I learned a ton about guys I didn't know much Overall a pretty great book, especially (and obviously) if you are a fan of 80s "underground" rock. Azerrad does a great job relating the histories of both seminal 80s bands as well as the labels themselves. Just how SST, Sub Pop, K Records etc started, evolved, and ran their businesses is fascinating stuff given the humongous obstacles in the way at the time. Azerrad also does a nice job with profiles of some of the big figures in the movement, and I learned a ton about guys I didn't know much about, like Ian MacKaye and Calvin Johnson.Where the book falls down a little bit, for me, is with Azerrad's attempts at musical analysis, which gets pretty cringey at times. Here's what he says at one point about Fugazi: "If Walden author Henry David Thoreau were to have managed a rock band, it probably would have been run a lot like Fugazi."Err, okay dude. I also go frequently annoyed at the straw man arguments/putdowns of other kinds of music/bands at the time (it's really okay to like Queen and punk rock, I promise), and the righteous justification of some often shitty behavior of the musicians at the time. In other words, it just gets a bit too-hero worshippy for me. Oh, and Steve Albini still comes across as a total asshole.Still, I consider this a "must read" for those who either lived through this or are interested in this period, as it really is a bygone era now. It is highly informative, and actually got me to sample bands I previously had really not paid much attention to (like Minor Threat and Beat Happening.) And I guess a lot of these bands DO deserve some hero worshipping, given just how hard they had to work to be heard at that (pre Internet) time.So I dock it one star for a bit of silliness in his writing, but do recommend it for music geeks like me.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    Really cool book, especially if you were born ten to fifteen years before I was. Aside from Sonic Youth and the Replacements, I knew next to nothing about these bands, and most I had never heard before -- one (Beat Happening) I'd never even heard of. (Embarrassing to admit as a Washingtonian). Still, the collection was well written and interesting. Every single piece of music writing I've ever read always falls into that ridiculous and annoying hyperbolic bullshit of like "X's bass notes and Y's Really cool book, especially if you were born ten to fifteen years before I was. Aside from Sonic Youth and the Replacements, I knew next to nothing about these bands, and most I had never heard before -- one (Beat Happening) I'd never even heard of. (Embarrassing to admit as a Washingtonian). Still, the collection was well written and interesting. Every single piece of music writing I've ever read always falls into that ridiculous and annoying hyperbolic bullshit of like "X's bass notes and Y's pummeling drum attack both thunder like a million Brontosauruses on acid, while Z's gravelly yelp is reminiscent of a bestial and barbaric war cry circa 231 BC." Every single piece. (Except, of course, for Fool the World, the oral biography of the Pixies which skirts this by being composed solely of first-hand accounts and no authorial voice -- excellent.) Our Band is no exception, and this annoyed me. Why can no one write about music the way people write about literature or fine art. I got to thinking that a book like this -- fairly exhaustive and well-researched -- has to be a labor of love; its author must necessarily just ache for these bands, or else the book would never be written. Thus the hyperbole. Still. Anyway, interestingly, the exaggerated descriptions mostly disappeared half-way through. Our Band is a really long book, and I would have enjoyed it more had I been a fan of Black Flag, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, etc. It opened my eyes to a bunch of new music, most of which I probably won't like. It was also interesting that it all sort of culminated in Seattle, since I live in Seattle. Whoop. Recommended reading for anyone who likes good music.
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  • Amber
    January 1, 1970
    In high school, I subscribed to Spin magazine like it was my job (I was heartbroken when the changed the paper and made it smaller and took out "Genius Lessons"! END OF AN ERA, PEOPLE). It pretty much was my job, I guess, as an angsty-youth with the eyeliner and ridiculous clothes, and it recommended this to me. Despite the fact that I am sure I would have been really into them at the time, I asked for (and received) this book for Christmas my Junior year (and didn't read it until, like, 6 years In high school, I subscribed to Spin magazine like it was my job (I was heartbroken when the changed the paper and made it smaller and took out "Genius Lessons"! END OF AN ERA, PEOPLE). It pretty much was my job, I guess, as an angsty-youth with the eyeliner and ridiculous clothes, and it recommended this to me. Despite the fact that I am sure I would have been really into them at the time, I asked for (and received) this book for Christmas my Junior year (and didn't read it until, like, 6 years later) when I didn't really listen to any of these bands. I knew some Sonic Youth, I had seen Fugazi play, I knew a Beat Happening song that Hole covered and a few soundtrack/random radio hits by the Replacements and the Butthole Surfers. And honestly, that is still where I stand, except that I am married to this dude who really likes Dinosaur Jr and so I now listen to them and own one of their t-shirts. This is just another super example of me reading about stuff that was written for fans but I'm just reading it as a history of a scene (see: We Got The Neutron Bomb, another Spin recommendation). It's really enjoyable to read a fan/experts take on the Indie scene. It's also really fun to appropriate the opinions of this book and argue with my husband about the merit of the Replacements as an Indie rock band and influence.
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  • Lee Fritz
    January 1, 1970
    "Our Band Could Be Your Life" is about USA underground rock from '81 to '91, and so many of the bands and stories reminded me about our experiences with Roy G. Biv from about '98 to '04. Among the topics discussed:- Punk as an attitude rather than a style of music. check. (not conforming to the Blink 182 pervasive riffs of VP "pop punk")- Bands like Black Flag and Minutemen establishing the series of small clubs across the country and then Husker Du and Big Black taking mini Midwest tours to Mad "Our Band Could Be Your Life" is about USA underground rock from '81 to '91, and so many of the bands and stories reminded me about our experiences with Roy G. Biv from about '98 to '04. Among the topics discussed:- Punk as an attitude rather than a style of music. check. (not conforming to the Blink 182 pervasive riffs of VP "pop punk")- Bands like Black Flag and Minutemen establishing the series of small clubs across the country and then Husker Du and Big Black taking mini Midwest tours to Madison, Illinois college towns, etc. check. (didn't take the leap to tour for extended time, but covered the local circuit including playing to only a handful a few times, getting a great reception in others including a series at Millikin in Decatur)- Music scenes as connections between bands with similar philosophies. check (exchanging shows with Pilots Provided and Driftless Pony Club, sleeping on eachother's floors when in town)I'm sure there are more similarities, but since they're likely interesting only to me I'll cut this short. If you agree, have similar stories about your experiences, or have read the book I'd be interested to hear what you think.
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  • AJ
    January 1, 1970
    What a great book. I found it a bit slow at first while it went over some bands that I wasn't terribly familiar with, but it's such an informative and interesting history of indie rock in the 80s and 90s. It covers the bands and indie labels that evolved into some of my favorite music of all time.The author has a chapter on each band covered in the book, from Black Flag to Beat Happening and everyone in between. My favorite chapters were on Mudhoney (an excellent history of the Seattle scene and What a great book. I found it a bit slow at first while it went over some bands that I wasn't terribly familiar with, but it's such an informative and interesting history of indie rock in the 80s and 90s. It covers the bands and indie labels that evolved into some of my favorite music of all time.The author has a chapter on each band covered in the book, from Black Flag to Beat Happening and everyone in between. My favorite chapters were on Mudhoney (an excellent history of the Seattle scene and Sub Pop's rise and fall) and Dinosaur Jr. It was also great to read about labels like Sub Pop, SST, K, Homestead, Dischord and Touch & Go (among others) and how they really made a huge impact on the indie scene. Although most of them are gone or bought out, their legacies cannot be denied.The best thing about this book is that it focuses entirely on indie bands while they were indie. This means that the book isn't dominated by the bands I already know so much about, like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and their major label peers.This book is recommended for anybody who has a passion for music, especially the sounds from the 80s and 90s.
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  • Richie
    January 1, 1970
    This was an interesting book, but not for the reason I had expected. I initially bought the book because I was listening to some of the 1980s underground bands that were featured in it, like Husker Du, Black Flag, and The Replacements, and wanted to learn more about them. Instead, I found that the stories about how the indie underground was founded to be more interesting. Learning more about the economics of the industry (of the lack thereof), and what it was exactly like to play music in those This was an interesting book, but not for the reason I had expected. I initially bought the book because I was listening to some of the 1980s underground bands that were featured in it, like Husker Du, Black Flag, and The Replacements, and wanted to learn more about them. Instead, I found that the stories about how the indie underground was founded to be more interesting. Learning more about the economics of the industry (of the lack thereof), and what it was exactly like to play music in those days. How bands like Sub Pop and SST and Dischord got their starts. Information on the bands themselves was useful, but more of a backup role. The choice of bands was well chosen, but the one band that I felt should have been written up was R.E.M. It was the band that many indie rock bands were chasing in the 1980s, with the rare combination of critical acclaim and mainstream success. I'd recommend reading if you want to learn more about the 1980s bands that don't suck from that time.
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  • Michael Logan
    January 1, 1970
    Wheeeeee!!!!!!!!!! This book was, as I expected it to be, so far up my scuzzy alley that it ran the risk of being mugged.Yes, it is at times a little repetitive - but how could it not be, when it is the account of 13 bands full of, for the most part, principled young musicians making music and going DIY with the recording, distribution, etc. But the overarching message of making music for the love of it, instead of going for the money, resonates throughout. In virtually every case, all of the jo Wheeeeee!!!!!!!!!! This book was, as I expected it to be, so far up my scuzzy alley that it ran the risk of being mugged.Yes, it is at times a little repetitive - but how could it not be, when it is the account of 13 bands full of, for the most part, principled young musicians making music and going DIY with the recording, distribution, etc. But the overarching message of making music for the love of it, instead of going for the money, resonates throughout. In virtually every case, all of the joy and passion these artists felt came in the early days, when there was no hope of ever making it. It's a message that I also feel a lot of authors and other artists would do well to pay attention to.Anyhoo, Azerrad goes into painstaking detail, with gazillions of interviews and facts from the tightly knit indie community throughout the 1980s. He writes with flair, although sometimes the music descriptions are a touch gaudy and far-fetched. I romped through this.
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  • Nate
    January 1, 1970
    As I read this I felt like the stories of the bands themselves were more important to the book than the actual music. While being a horrible record geek allows me to enjoy all the music talk I can read I didn't miss any in-depth analysis because the stories were so compelling. The chapter on the Butthole Surfers left me in awe and of course the Minutemen chapter is pretty moving. Bands like Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth and Minutemen were all sacred daily listening for myself and my friends so I was pr As I read this I felt like the stories of the bands themselves were more important to the book than the actual music. While being a horrible record geek allows me to enjoy all the music talk I can read I didn't miss any in-depth analysis because the stories were so compelling. The chapter on the Butthole Surfers left me in awe and of course the Minutemen chapter is pretty moving. Bands like Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth and Minutemen were all sacred daily listening for myself and my friends so I was pretty fascinated by all of the stories held within. Looking back on the different bands featured in this book I can't find one that didn't have at least one truly classic record (although Beat Happening continues to annoy the piss out of me), so I can't really find fault with the choices Azerrad made.
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