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Why Be Something That You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985 Paperback – June 1, 2010

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Why Be Something That You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985 + Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine '79-'83
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 239 pages
  • Publisher: Revelation Records; n edition (June 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1889703036
  • ISBN-13: 978-1889703039
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #450,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


...Tony talks first person to the people who you idolize: this from Steve Miller of The Fix on the D.C. scene and straight edge: "all those kids in those hardcore bands were throwing out their Aerosmith and AC/DC records. It all seemed fishy to me." This, Barry Hensler, Ian Mackaye, Dave Stimpson, Tesco Vee, and John Brannon chatting like they're at a sleepover. Tony's gift as a writer is not what he knows, which borders on the obsessive, but his ear for the language and music he loves, and his gift for capturing rhetorical pratfalls. This is his head and his heart. Now will someone please pay him to write about Abba and/or Roger Nichols? --Elisa Ambrogio, Arthur Magazine

Upon a quick glance, one may wonder why there is a tome dedicated to such a finite period of time within the hardcore movement, but it does not take long to understand the significance of Detroit within the emergence of the larger American hardcore scene. Tony Rettman does a magnificent job chronicling the birth of Detroit s underground punk movement through copious interviews and poignant and occasionally hilarious anecdotes. For many music fans, Detroit punk usually connotes the MC5 and The Stooges, and when one progresses into the onset of the Reagan years, Necros and Negative Approach instantly come to mind. Both of those bands are given the celebration they deserve through the hardened tales of those who lived it. However, Rettman digs deeper to illuminate the impact of more experimental and visionary individuals such as Larissa Strickland, whose band L-Seven did not fit neatly into any particular label, local teacher Russ Gibb who actually used a new media called cable to put local bands on television, and Tesco Vee s side project Blight, whose use of a trumpet simply perplexed many punks. The book also illuminates the power of fanzines and basic letter writing which now comes across as quaint in the midst of the internet age. The images of the flyers which permeate the book will certainly take old timers back to when self-promotion was done by hand and not by websites. While bands today can earn a massive following by simply posting MP3 s, the dawn of the 80 s saw farsighted masterminds such as Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson concoct the Touch and Go fanzine to reveal the blunt force of the Midwest to the rest of the nation. Suddenly, through zines and true D.I.Y. aesthetic, shows were arraigned and bands like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, and Minor Threat crossed paths with local acts like Bored Youth, Violent Apathy, and the legendary Meatmen. Why Be Something That You re Not takes the reader into the bowels of clubs like The Freezer, Nunzio s, and Clutch Cargo s where these bands of kids came together to play for each other and for the love of truly making something unique. Rettman also reveals some of the back-biting and cliques that emerged within the movement, with a great deal of frustration vented towards The Fix, a band that toured the West coast only to return to a very different Detroit, and even Necros once they grew their hair. Within the pages are the struggles and labor of love that defined these bands and their true amazement that anyone outside of their little crew would appreciate and even be inspired by what they were doing. There are highly interesting sidebars as well, including the background of Fear s memorable performance on Saturday Night Live, and an uproarious little tale about a leather-clad Rob Halford being brought by limo to a punk club by mistake in his quest to find a gay bar. First hand accounts range from local roadies to Ian MacKaye and Steve Shelley who played drums in the always controversial Crucifucks before moving on to Sonic Youth. At roughly 160 pages the book ends abruptly, but that seems fitting, as the Detroit scene itself seemed to implode with astonishing speed as the shows became scenes of mindless violence by people who came looking for a fight and completely missed the relevance of the music. However, Rettman provides an exhaustive list of the shows, bands, and releases that helped to alert the nation that there was something special happening in Detroit. While many hardcore fans reminisce about the LA, Boston, and DC scenes, Why Be Something That You re Not will certainly educate or remind readers the impact Detroit had and should motivate people to either reconnect or discover these acts for themselves. --Rich Quinlan, Jersey Beat

A previously under documented small and insular scene's story is now legend for good reason; the music. The Necros, The Meatmen, Negative Approach... Why Be Something That You're Not unfurls in insightful and often hilarious dialog from it's participants. Consider this the mid-west 'Please Kill Me.' --Dave Markey, Director: '1991 - The Year Punk Broke'

From the Back Cover

In the early seventies, Detroit was the musical hub of America. Everything from the chart topping sounds of Motown records to the vicious proto-punk of The Stooges was being brewed out there and it seemed like there was no end in sight. But by the early eighties, the city was both a physical and cultural wasteland due to major label buyouts of the artists as well as the crippling drug habits of some of the others. Detroit's most known musical export at the time was the vapid sounds of New Wave heart-throbs The Romantics; this wasn't good. It took a gaggle of suburban skateboarders, a grade school teacher and a census bureau clerk to wake this city up from it's slumber and start one of the first hardcore punk scenes in America.

Why Be Something That You're Not chronicles the first wave of Detroit hardcore from it's origins in the late seventies to it's demise in the mid-eighties. Through a combination of oral history and extensive imagery, the book proves that even though the southern california beach towns might have created the look and style of hardcore punk, it was the Detroit scene - along with a handfull of other cities across the country - that cultivated the music's grassroots aesthetic before most cultural hot spots around the globe even knew what the music was about.

"The Michigan hardcore scene was a crazy mixture of DC-style teen-thug-purists and debauched elders with a taste for the newest in high energy freedom. Tony Rettman has done a great service to Western Culture by interviewing the prime knuckleheads involved in this scene and reporting what he finds." -Byron Coley Co-Author of No Wave: New York 1976-1980

More About the Author

Tony Rettman is a freelance music journalist whose work has appeared in The Village Voice, Vice, The Wire, Philadelphia Weekly, Cleveland Scene, Arthur, Swindle, Signal to Noise, Mean and Thrasher. He has provided liner notes for such artists as Hackamore Brick, Bored Youth, Beyond and many more. In 2010, Revelation Records Publishing released his first book, 'Why Be Something That You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985'. Rettman's second book, an oral history of the New York Hardcore Punk scene, is slated for release in Spring of 2015

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By billyIDOLESS on August 28, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading other, similar books (American Hardcore, Dance of Days, etc.), I was always a bit upset that Midwest hardcore was so little documented. This book does a great job profiling the people and places of Detroit (and outside) hardcore punk. Plenty of great info on Tesco Vee and Touch and Go, and the role the Lansing/Detroit scene had in local music evolution.

On top of focusing on the great local bands (including many lesser known and underrated acts), the book further documents Detroit as a lynchpin between west coast and DC/New York hardcore. Great pictures and a clear description of the evolution of alternative music in the mitten state. I've already begun re-reading it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By charles murphy on April 7, 2011
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if you're interested in the story of midwest hardcore, this book (along with the complete touch and go) is essential. my only real complaint is that the narrative sections were poorly written, but most of the book is an oral history.
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By Bartok Kinski on August 8, 2013
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Another document from the punk scene. It's good to collect them from all over the country to see what bands and what kids were doing what.
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By ComplaintKing on April 4, 2013
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Not being from the Mid-West, I was fascinated by the Detroit/Mid-West hardcore punk scene for quite a while. This book truly takes you into the heart and soul of this amazing and not talked about enough scene. So many cool stories, pictures, flyers and a whole lot more. Worth every penny!
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6 of 21 people found the following review helpful By HRJelley on July 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
The 60s was all about rebellion. If you weren't rebelling against something, then you weren't cool, and back then, everybody wanted to be cool, and so rebellion became a mainstream thing, rather than an underground thing. "Why Be Something That You're Not" would've been really popular in the 60s. It's the sort of book that a lot of people would've smoked a joint to and read and reread and been like, "yeah man, dig this..." There was no avant garde back then, because whatever kids found rebellious then became popular. As time wore on, rebellion became something that less and less kids were doing, thanks to all the sellouts. Nowadays it's like, why rebel when you can do nothing and still ride around in your dad's Mercedes?
"Why Be Something That You're Not" has taught me that there's still a few burnouts left, and they love what they did, and still do.
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