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Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 Hardcover – July 31, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nirvana's mega-bestselling Nevermind was credited with dramatically altering the American pop-musical landscape. Azerrad ably demonstrates that the "new" sound actually sprang from almost 15 years of innovation by hundreds of bands who remained "[b]elow the radar of the corporate behemoths." Linked under the loose rubric "indie rock," bands like Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Minor Threat and the Replacements languished in the musical minor leagues because they were too experimental for commercial radio, made unfortunate career decisions or eschewed mainstream success. Yet these bands formed the nucleus of a new youth movement. Youths who defined themselves in opposition to middle-American values found an aesthetic and a community through the music. Given the fervor for indie progeny like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the indie scene's impact was not insignificant and rock journalist Azerrad (Come as You Are) partly aims to trace that larger cultural legacy. But this thick slice of nostalgia, replete with colorful anecdotes that demystify even deliberately mystifying artists, primarily targets die-hard supporters of seminal 1980s indie bands, underground-club scenesters and 1980s college radio buffs. Though day-in-the-life bios predominate over extensive musical or cultural analysis, this is an astute insider's account of the collective accomplishment of these various bands: strong musical and political statements by people with little clout and even less financial support that reverberated throughout youth culture. A devotee himself, Azerrad is occasionally belligerent in his support of his subjects' art and attitudes, but he also deftly captures the thrill of being young, antiestablishment and impassioned the inspiring ingredients of all these bands. Photos. (July 31) Forecast: Indie culture has lost little mystique for insiders or outsiders, and with national TV and radio interviews, this tribute may draw the MTV crowd.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Music journalist Azerrad (Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana) makes it clear through his tales of 13 highly influential punk and indie rock bands from Black Flag to Beat Happening that his subjects could have easily been any misshapen, angst-filled, morbidly creative teens on the planet. In painting the portrait of the volatile 1980s underground music scene, he reveals the importance of subversive-minded musicians in an industry controlled by hit-hungry executives. Azerrad, however, is careful not to glorify this era: sprinkled throughout his inspiring pictures of musical revolt are details of the poverty and drug-induced dilemmas each band faced on its path to cult icon status. Featuring original interviews with the scene's leading lights (e.g., Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth), this collective biography is written in a cultured voice that even low-brow, in-the-know fanzine readers will appreciate. For all public libraries. Robert Morast, "Argus Leader Daily," Sioux Falls, SD
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; First Edition edition (July 31, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316063797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316063791
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 88 people found the following review helpful By daibhidh on September 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I like this book a great deal; Azerrad writes well, for the most part, and neatly (perhaps too neatly) encapsulates some of the most important bands of the last 20 years, from Black Flag to (*gak*) Beat Happening. The book is loaded with interesting tidbits, stories, vignettes, and so forth. There are some great lines throughout, and it seems nearly every chapter has somebody offended by Public Image Ltd., in one way or another, which'll probably have John Lydon coughing up his tea and biscuits if he bothers to read it.
I am unsure whether Azerrad's doing indie rock revisionism in this work, however. The stories fall within the same narrative confines -- quirky, disenfranchised would-be rockers XYZ run into each other in an amusing fashion; decide to form a band; against all odds, they produce considerable sonic (and, of course, punk rock) excellence until they either implode or join a major label. They all seem to follow this basic arc, which seems a trifle tidy to me.
I came in on the earlier, punkier side of things (Black Flag, the Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Minor Threat), and I feel like Azerrad is weaving a tapestry linking those important bands to grunge and "alternative," creating a seamless web of musical innovation and negation culminating in Cobain's primal sonic scream. Not like the later bands aren't important, of course, but I think they were very different from each other, while Azerrad tries to paint them all with the same punk rock paintbrush -- it comes out more in the later chapters, where his comments are the equivalent of "how punk rock is THAT?" or "You can't get much more punk rock than that." Sure you can, Michael.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The 1980s are being turned to chum, diced into simple nostalgia bites, so that the decade is best remembered now for a few MTV synth pop hits, maybe a Springsteen/Cougar Americana song, hair metal and the Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels" tour. What is always lost in the VH-1 retrospectives is the remarkable American indie underground movement that began in roughly 1979 (the first Black Flag EP), peaked in the mid 1980s and had its last gasp in 1991 (when Nevermind, a record that could not have existed without the indie movement, hit #1).
So it is a blessing that we have at last a fine, relatively unbiased and intelligent history of Husker Du, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, the Buttholes, Dino Jr. -- bands that were the equivalent to the Beatles and Stones to me, and whose influence inspired whatever life there was to be found in 1990s pop music.
It's not a perfect book. For one, everyone will have gripes about which bands did and didn't deserve chapter-length studies (the most obvious oversight -- the Meat Puppets, and I'd go to bat for Camper Van Beethoven as well), and did we really need two separate chapters on Ian MacKaye's bands? Once a band signs to a major label its story effectively ends for Azerrad, which is fine when you're covering Dinosaur Jr., for example, but which also means that the Replacements' Tim -- one of their finest records -- isn't even mentioned. An influence of MacKaye's rather hysterical obsession with "purity", perhaps.
Azerrad's writing on the whole is fine, though he occasionally litters his prose with a gruesome slang phrase, like "all about" (viz.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By deesonic on May 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
I imagine writing this book was sort of like being on the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee. If you are not too familiar with college basketball, sorry about the analogy. First, you've got the no-brainer choices for the book who are like champions from the big conferences: Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Husker Du. They got the "automatic bids" if you will. Then there's the mid-majors who certainly deserve to be here like the Minutemen, Mudhoney, Butthole Surfers, and the Replacements. Then there's the ones you are not so sure about like Beat Happening. I don't mean to pick on them really. I guess I can appreciate Beat Happening, I'm a little baffled by their inclusion into this exclusive indie club.

Finally, there's the "snubs" or the bands that were left out for whatever reason:

Meat Puppets-I guess having a 3rd SST band would have been too much Greg Ginn worship.

Misfits-Penalized for having 'Walk Among Us' on Ruby Records (distributed by a major) maybe?

Dead Kennedys-The Bay Area punk scene in general was pretty much overlooked by Azerrad.

Pylon-I just figure the legendary Athens GA music scene should have been represented and REM and B52s are way too major for this book. Anyway, I would have picked Pylon before Beat Happening.

But anyway, it was a great book to read and I always find it amazing when someone takes the time to write a whole book on something like 80s indie music. I must admit, growing up mostly in Alabama during the 80s, I didn't hear about a lot of these bands until after they were long gone or had gone major. To hear the stories of their formative years is fun and endearing. I commend Azerrad for his reverence for the underground movement and for not turning this book into an encyclopedia.
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