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

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

...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

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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: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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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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Format: Paperback
**Review originally posted at https://midnighttosix.wordpress.com

Detroit’s hardcore scene doesn’t have a reputation that screams “someone should make a book about this”. The city’s best known bands (The Necros, The Meatmen, and Negative Approach) are arguably not even among the top 20 most important, or most interesting, that American hardcore produced. Yet somehow I hold in my hands Tony Rettman’s book, which tells the story of the scene that time forgot via Please Kill Me-style quotes from participants and witnesses, along with Rettman’s own commentary. The book has some major problems. First, it ends rather abruptly (like hardcore music itself) in 1985, after just 160 photo-heavy pages. Second, Rettman’s commentary can be lunk-headed, and his dismissals of Patti Smith as “that hairy-lipped lady poet from New York City”, and The Stranglers as “those limey louts” doesn’t help his cause (even if they’re kind of funny). Finally – and this is really the main problem – is that the story of Detroit hardcore isn’t all that interesting. Detroit didn’t have a defined local sound (like straightedge in DC, or the street-savvy sound of New York hardcore) or a cast of characters as interesting as an Ian MacKaye, HR, Jello Biafra or Henry Rollins; and without those crucial elements, there no real reason to keep turning the pages. If you live and die by Detroit hardcore, then this is absolutely the book for you. Otherwise, the ten pages dedicated to Detroit in Steven Blush’s American Hardcore (a much better book) can tell you all you’ll need to know.
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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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