Belt is sponsoring Jon Fine at the Happy Dog on Wednesday, Sept 30 at 7:00 pm.
By Martha Bayne
Jon Fine is a longtime business writer currently serving as executive editor of Inc. magazine, a James Beard-award winning food and wine writer, and the former guitarist for such barely known bands as Bitch Magnet, Vineland, and Coptic Light. The author of a new memoir, Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear), Fine ….
Oh for crying out loud. Jon Fine is all those things. But he was also my college boyfriend. Your Band Sucks, out this month from Penguin/Random House, chronicles his years in the postpunk trenches of the 80s and early 90s, including our years as students at Oberlin College, birthplace of the epically misnamed Bitch Magnet and home to, back then, a preposterously fertile music scene that produced musicians including Fine and bandmates Sooyoung Park (Seam) and Orestes Morfin (Walt Mink) as well Liz Phair, Chris Brokaw (Come), Steve Immerwahr (Codeine), John McEntire (Tortoise), and many others. Bitch Magnet released three records before flaming out without ceremony in 1990. The band probably would have lurked forever in a decrepit corner of math-rock obscurity had they not been invited to reunite to play at the UK’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2011, a singularly unlikely event that led to an even more unlikely reunion tour in 2012 and, indirectly, to the book deal for Your Band Sucks.
Fine’s memoir of his years in bands that were “at no time ever threatened, even distantly, with actual fame,” is as ferociously idiosyncratic as the dorky kid with thick glasses and unmanageable hair I met in 1986. Both an overarching look at one of the last moments, pre-internet, when communities were built through desperate cross-country searches for like-minded freaks, and a personal history of one guy’s obsession with playing really weird music, really really loudly, it is, I can say with all considerable bias, an excellent read.
Jon and I spoke about the challenges of memoir, about Oberlin politics and Midwestern landscapes, and about long-lost loves for long-lost bands for several hours last month over two days. The resulting, heavily edited interview, bristling with conflicts of interest, follows.
MARTHA: So of course when I read the book I immediately went and looked for myself first, before I read anything else, and then once I got that out of the way, I was able to go back and read the rest of it. And I liked it a lot.
JON: Don’t fucking give me that … just have at me for Christ’s sake.
JON: Thank you.
MARTHA: … that very few people give a flying fuck about, but that you and I shared along with our friends. And a lot of it has to do with that post-industrial Midwestern landscape. I was just at Oberlin last month — and it is exactly the same and yet completely different at the same time. It’s so much more affluent now, and there’s yoga and coffee shops and things for students to do. If I had to guess, I would say that Oberlin students are under less of a burden to make their own entertainment. It feels like this town is more designed to entertain them and give them options.
But I was also in Cleveland and, frankly, it looks exactly the same. And it brought back these memories of just sort of driving around the Midwest in the middle of winter trying to go to a show in a crappy car with a bunch of people. So I’m just wondering, what it is about that kind of period that you felt was really deserving of memorializing? Of that whole experience of being in tiny Pennsylvania towns or driving from Oberlin to play a show in Youngstown in the middle of nowhere that eight people will come to?
JON: On a weeknight. In winter. Which, by the way, I remember that well, and it was awesome and I would basically do it again. What was it about that time? This whole sort of post-hardcore, post-punk thing really happened at this time. The people that had fought the early battles, like Black Flag, were gone. There was a circuit in place, college radio was a thing, you had independent labels and you had sort of the second generation of these bands like Sonic Youth. I mean I could go on and on and on. I’m not a huge Replacements fan, but you could put them in there too. You had a network, a very kind of cobbled-together network, of clubs, college radio stations, fanzines, record stores. And so people start finding each other.
[blocktext align=”left”]We were all the weirdos in our hometowns and in our high school, and somehow you get out and you find this thing, and you just gradually get this sense of community.[/blocktext]And speaking as someone who grew up really fucking outcast in an otherwise nice stretch of suburban New Jersey, to be able to find all these people was just such a … I didn’t know they existed. I guess it was different for you because you grew up in Seattle, and there were people like this, but I didn’t know that these people were there. I didn’t know that there were any other people like me. And as I talked to the 75 people or so that I interviewed for this book, that was a fairly common thing. We were all the weirdos in our hometowns and in our high school, and somehow you get out and you find this thing, and you just gradually get this sense of community. But, this was also a really important period for American music. I mean, it is not a question to me that this is some of the most important music of the past 50 years. If you were there you believed in it.
MARTHA: How do you think this is different for people, like you said, growing up in small towns in Pennsylvania or Ohio, as opposed to, say, me? I mean, Seattle in the 80s was certainly not a powerhouse, it wasn’t like I lived in LA, but I did grow up in a community where when I was 15 and I saw people with funny hair, I could be like, “I want to hang out with you.” So, how did the landscape of the Midwest affect the growth of the indie rock underground? And specifically Oberlin. I mean, Oberlin was a weird nexus between Cleveland and Chicago and Louisville and a lot of stuff happened there.
JON: I’m going to get the exact quote wrong, but in, I believe it was Please Kill Me, the oral history of early punk rock by Legs McNeil, they were interviewing Iggy Pop and talking about the earliest days of The Stooges, which is a fabulous read. But he had this great little line about “the dreamers of my dusty Midwest.” I should have checked the quote. But I just read that and I was like yeah, as soon as he said that, I could see it, I could feel it. There’s really something haunting and really evocative about those landscapes. Some of my favorite memories, we’re driving through Indiana for the first time, and just grooving on the absolute flatness and stillness of the landscape. There’s something about distances and there’s something about the way that there was some isolation from other people.
I guess if I think really specifically about Oberlin, it was the feeling that yes, we were privileged kids at this nice campus, but we were just kind of left to our own devices with no adult supervision. And no outside, no sort of urban hustle right around us that we could get sucked up in. It wasn’t like we were going to, I don’t know…
JON: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t like we were going to Vassar and we could go to New York City every weekend and we could get lost in this weird idea of New York City. We were there. And, honestly, there wasn’t a great deal going on in Cleveland at the time. It was hard. It also wasn’t that easy to get to.
Coptic Light – Tokyo 2006
MARTHA: I remember going to Cleveland always being this epic adventure. And really it’s half an hour away. I don’t know. You had to find the one person with a car.
JON: Yeah, you had to find someone with a car, which wasn’t easy. So yeah — all those things. It had to do with isolation, it had to do with space, it had to do with the landscape and the trees and just having to create your thing, having to create your entertainment. Every other person had a guitar. A couple people had four-track tape recorders. We were all there together and we had to make something of it. And that’s super evocative to me.
MARTHA: I think that what’s interesting about the idea of open space and the possibility of it in the Midwest is that it’s not even dramatic open space. It’s not the desert, or anything, it’s just kind of quotidian.
JON: I remember driving out with my roommate at the time, Suzannah. I was having a really bad day and she just drove me out into the middle of a cornfield at night. And we just sat there for a half an hour listening to the night noises. And that shit is super evocative and super interesting to me. And I don’t know how you get from that to these bands I’m talking about, which were all really sonically dense, aggressive in one form or another, somewhat off-center. You know, Laughing Hyenas, Husker Du was way more pop than this, Steve Albini’s bands, Naked Raygun in Chicago. But then really different stuff. Death of Samantha in Cleveland, Bastro in Louisville.
There’s kind of the southern tier of the Midwest, as it were. All of the Louisville bands: Bastro, Slint, Rodan, Crain. All of these bands kind of came together in less obvious urban settings. But, you know, there were 20 weird kids in Pittsburgh, mostly guys, and that became a real thing. There were several bands that came out of that, most notably Don Caballero, and Pittsburgh became a stop that you’d play at and people would show up. And then they would move to Chicago to become a bigger band. But there’s this whole kind of mythology….
MARTHA: I feel like it’s analogous to the mythology that goes on around Aberdeen now, in the story of the growth of the music scene in the Pacific Northwest, it’s like Aberdeen: Post-industrial, depressed military town.
JON: But it’s also a function of time and space. And we were a Midwestern band. We formed in the Midwest. And you know, some of it is to do with real estate. There’s cheap housing. All those houses have basements. That makes it easier in some ways than being in a big, expensive city.
MARTHA: That’s all the things that people are saying about Detroit and Cleveland and Buffalo right now.
JON: And I can only speak for New York, and the economics here are obviously brutal for anyone coming out of school. They were bad when I came out of school, and now I just can’t imagine how much worse they are. But there are still a million bands here. So it’s always abetted by geography to a degree. But the Midwestern bands were really important to me. A lot of Chicago bands. Urge Overkill became kind of a joke, no one remembers this, but they were amazing. They were really weird and amazing. And then the Laughing Hyenas in Detroit and Ann Arbor, as colorful as the stories were about them, they were an amazing band.
And, like, I can’t imagine a person like Mark Edwards of My Dad Is Dead coming from anywhere but Cleveland. He seems so part of the kind of terroir, if I can use a wine term on you, of Cleveland. He’s some weird lonely dude with some weird lonely history and…
JON: Making weird lonely records in the weird lonely recording studio that he built in his basement with the money he saved from doing whatever horribly boring straight job he was doing. Yeah. That was really important.
MARTHA: Let’s talk about Oberlin — specifically the climate at Oberlin in the 80s, and what it was like to be in a band called Bitch Magnet. I, as an Oberlin woman who lived in an all-women’s housing co-op, was constantly having to defend and explain the fact that my boyfriend was in a band called Bitch Magnet. Can you talk about Bitch Magnet and the very small Oberlin music scene, in the context of a campus that was very wrapped up in the identity politics of the time?
JON: Well, obviously we were trying to poke the beast a little bit if we’re calling the band Bitch Magnet at Oberlin.
JON: But in real terms, the battle that we were fighting wasn’t with the people there. Honestly, I’m speaking for myself here, I don’t know if Sooyoung and Orestes had the same sense of opposition, but to me, the band came from a very deep sense of “We are right and they are wrong.” And “they” being mainstream culture, mainstream music, all the people at high school who were mean to me. All that bullshit. But at the same time, what was going on at Oberlin just routinely crossed the line into self-parody. You had to start a band with a name like Bitch Magnet because it was just so fucking ridiculous.
Oberlin was terribly PC. You know, the right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin went there. And honestly, I’ve got to tell you, if there’s one thing that’s going to turn you into this frothing at the mouth Tea Party person it’s hearing that goddamn, ultimately ineffectual, super-annoying, super-humorless, leftist identity critique on everything. It’s just kind of soul-crushing. I don’t think it makes for good art.
So, it was a name that got us noticed. It was also, as I saw in reviews of more than…we had re-issues come out in 2011, and there was one more than one review where the reviewer basically said something like, “I don’t think these guys ever got recognized the way they should have.” Thank you, that’s very kind. But then the review is like, “Probably because they chose a really fucking stupid name.”
MARTHA: Do you think it’s possible at a place like Oberlin to have a counterculture? Or an underground? I mean, there’s no underground at Oberlin, there’s 2,000 people there. Everything is the underground.
JON: I came to Oberlin as a 17-year-old with my head way up my ass, totally social inept, but there were a ton of bands. And they were writing their own music. And it was like “Wow, you can do that.” And that was incredibly powerful. And I think there’s been a long lineage of that, but Pay the Man [seminal Oberlin band featuring guitarist Chris Brokaw, who went on to a long musical career, and Orestes Dellatorre, later the drummer for Bitch Magnet] was incredibly important. They were one of the most important bands in the world to me because they let me and everyone else around me, and that extends to a degree to Sooyoung, like maybe even Liz Phair, say “You can do this. It’s happening right in front of you. You don’t have to drive to the city, you don’t have to go to the fucking rock stadium. It can happen in your town at your college in a dorm room, anywhere.”
MARTHA: Lets segue into this process of actually going back and researching and writing the book. I know you did a lot of interviews. How else did you go about structuring your research? Were you trying to jog your own memory? Just talk about it as a writer.
JON: Sure. So there’s a couple things. Generally when Bitch Magnet or any of my bands toured, I did some kind of tour diary. And there was a lot of contemporaneous documentation, which I saved, because I’m a pack rat — old flyers and tour itineraries. So I could look at a tour itinerary for the Bitch Magnet tour of Europe in 1990 and I could be like, “Oh my God, Innsbruck, that was the place where we played the lot that was unheated and there was dog shit all over the floor and when they turned the heat on the dog shit unfroze and it mixed with the snow and there was liquefied dog shit everywhere.” It was the grossest place we ever played. So that jogged the memory a lot. And for basically the entire experience of the reunion, once it really got started in April of 2011, I was taking pretty voracious notes. In part because the book project came up almost at the same time, but also because I just kind of wanted to. I knew it was important and there’s this incredible density of event when you go on tour. A day is really long and a lot of things happen.
Rock memorists like Bob Mould of Husker Du, Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500, Julianna Hatfield — these are people with some fairly significant public profiles that have had some flirtation with mainstream success, that have crossed over in a way. “Celebrity” is not a good word to use, but in certain circles, they’re famous. As I make eminently clear in the book, I am not. My bands were not. Not at all, not a tiny bit.
But the experiences of one guy doing this are somewhat solipsistic — so I wanted to hear other voices. I wanted to get a sense of how common these experiences were or not. And I basically drew up kind of a hit list of maybe 100 people to ask things like, “What was it like being in this kind of band?” What was it like being one of the first American bands to be a very serious band and doing serious band things of putting out records and touring and playing concerts everywhere? And doing a sort of weird kind of music that was not going to work for the vast majority of music listeners. And to be doing that at a time when there is no means of communication for this.
Those are incredible informative interviews. And then it’s like OK, what was this like in San Francisco for this kind of band? And OK, the Melvins were there for a while, and I loved the Melvins, but they got really big. What was it like for the Thinking Fellers? And more importantly, what was it like for Anne Eickelberg, who was a really important part of that band and who has written about this stuff online. What were the choices they had to make? She was an amazing interview. What was it like for Rose Marshack in Poster Children, who also did a real-time documentation of this, who was coming at it from a different time and a different place? What was it like for a band that came out of this scene, looked like they were going to make it big, and failed really big, like Urge Overkill?
I didn’t want to talk to the big names from the scene. Thurston Moore had kind of told his story. I was aware of the fact that Kim Gordon was telling her story. Someone like Steve Albini has been interviewed a lot. He says really smart things, but we kind of know what he’s going to say, he’s said it already. So what was it like for the people in the D.C. hardcore band Void? I want to hear David Yow’s story. No one’s done the Jesus Lizard book, that I know of. [Ed: actually, someone has.]
I want to know what the experience now versus then and what it’s like to be doing it in the van now, when back when you were 22 and drunk the entire fucking time. And I wanted to hear from people that, like me, had an adult reckoning, where I realized that this is not enough to support me. I don’t mean, it’s not enough to support me and I’m not going to buy fancy car, I mean it’s not enough for me to pay the rent.
Anne Eickelberg of the Thinking Fellers, I had an amazing conversation with her. She was basically like, look, we were in our mid-30s in San Francisco. We were getting paid 700 bucks a month. We made a bunch of records, we had toured America and Europe a bunch of times, I felt that at a certain point I had to get off the train so I could get a job and learn how to live. She didn’t want to buy a big fancy house, she wanted health insurance. Really basic shit. People like her, people like Scott DeSimon, from Pitchblende, had really smart things to say about how when you knew it was time, you had to kind of put it on the shelf.
MARTHA: When you had this moment of reckoning, did you go through a period of disavowal, where you were like, “All right, I’m going to get a real job and I’m not going to play music and I’m just going to go have this other life now?” Or did you still keep your hand in it in terms of playing music and having a musical identity? Even a very low-profile one.
JON: There are a couple of answers to that. Number one, I got my first real job in a very long time when I was 32. I was not in a band. I had vague musical ambitions, but they were going nowhere. I was freelance writing, not particularly effectively. There was more than one month where the rent would be due on the first and I couldn’t pay it. I had a, I had a five-figure credit card debt at a really high interest rate, I had debt to the IRS and my girlfriend at the time, we kind of had a blow-up over this, and she sat me down one day and made me write down all my debts and she was like “You have to get a fucking job or I’m out of here.”
So I mean, there was a gun to my head. And I didn’t want to do it. But I kind of didn’t have a choice. And I thank her for pointing out that I didn’t have a choice, because I didn’t want to make that choice. So yeah, I ended up getting a job and then kind of started a career in journalism as we have them these days.
MARTHA: Such as they are, yes.
JON: But I got that job in June of 2000 and four months later I started another band [Coptic Light] that put out records and did some touring. And it could be done, it was just done in a slightly different context. I wasn’t doing month-long tours that spanned from Boston to Kansas City.
So yeah, I did keep a hand in. But after that, after a second tour of Japan, for a bunch of internal reasons, I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” We had a five-year run with the same lineup, which is a record for me. And I just felt that we’d done our thing. I really adored that band. But I also just felt a little tapped out. And I honestly didn’t have the time to really put into it to be the main creative force. I just didn’t feel like I could do a good job at that point.
MARTHA: Did your perception of yourself change between then and when the Bitch Magnet reunion happened? Obviously a lot of other stuff happened, your career really took off, you got married, etc., etc.. But did you tell people you had been in a band?
Bitch Magnet, live in NYC, 10/25/12
JON: Well, into the first decade of the century you could kind of mention it without going into detail and it would be harder to find. A lot more information is online now, but the first things that go online aren’t histories of obscure indie rock bands. I think that some people at BusinessWeek, where I was a columnist, were aware of it, including the editor in chief. But I didn’t talk about it that much. It felt like a part of me in a very big way still, even while I wasn’t actively doing it, having done it, and having been through it, and indeed having most of my close friends come from that time, who were still really important to me and my identity, I missed it. I missed performing really badly. I missed playing music really badly. But also, this is kind of a horrible admission to make to yourself, but I just needed it less. I was happily married. I had a job that I liked, that took a fair amount of energy but there were dividends. There were performative aspects of it. I got a contract as an on-air commentator with CNBC. And doing live TV you have the buildup and the light goes on and you got to do it. And I just love, I just love show time, I just love “Go.” But at the same time, it wasn’t it. There is a unique agglomeration of physical sensations that come with being on stage, in a dark club, with a humid atmosphere because it’s kind of packed, hopefully. Hopefully.
JON: And your body is being shaken by this volume that you and the people you are on stage with are producing, which is your art at 120 decibels. And while you can’t really see the audience, you can see them reacting to it. It’s super fucking seductive. It’s super powerful. And even, I’ve said this many times in the book, but it’s like I totally understand why people ruin their lives for that. I’m stealing from something that Clay Tarver, the musician from the band Chavez and Bullet Lavolta who’s now a writer and producer on the HBO show Silicon Valley, and he said something like, “Going on tour is so much fun it makes you crazy.” And I was like I know, dude, exactly. You’re in this completely artificial atmosphere, and the stakes that we were dealing with were small. This wasn’t Keith Richards flying in a fucking private jet and someone showing up with a kilo of heroin at every show. I mean, we were getting a case of beer every night. But it was so powerful, it was so seductive. The permeability of the membrane between fan and performer and being around them and they were your friends and you wanted to know the fans. They were the friends you hadn’t met yet. And if you were someone that came out of a high school where you didn’t feel like you had any friends, and you wanted friends, that was great. But combined with that and just the sheer physical aspects of it.
This is probably the hardest thing I have, trying to convey this to otherwise well-meaning middle-aged people who hear you were in a band, they immediately are like “Oh, so you did it for the chicks?” And it’s like, “Actually, no actually.” First of all, very few women actually liked my band and we were called Bitch Magnet. But more importantly, I just liked the fix and rush of performing.
[blocktext align=”right”]There is a unique agglomeration of physical sensations that come with being on stage, in a dark club, with a humid atmosphere because it’s kind of packed, hopefully. Hopefully.[/blocktext]MARTHA: I have to say, that that, for me, is the best part of the book. As a non-musician, but someone who grew up in the music scene, and spent a lot of time in that environment, I think you did a really good job of articulating the rush and the physical pleasure that you can get out of playing music. Which is something that I think when I was young, I felt maybe super defensive about, so I didn’t want to understand it and I just kind of brushed it aside as a guy thing, or I don’t know what. I got my physical gratification doing other things, but reading the book that was actually the part where I was like “Ohhh.” I had a very visceral sense memory of what it was like for me to listen to a band, and all of a sudden I could put myself on the other side — I could almost imagine what it was like for you to be 20 years old and playing in a house party in Oberlin, better than I could when I was 20.
JON: Well, thank you.
MARTHA: The other thing I was going to say was I think that that mid-life moment of reckoning is very real and very, very common. But there are also many people who never got famous but who still keep on keepin’ on.
JON: I want to be clear about two things, but you bring up a really important point. And I hope I made this point clear enough in the book, when I had this reckoning, it was kind of a twin reckoning. One of it was like I’m fucked and I have to do something, but the other reckoning, which actually was the really painful one, was that there are people who, there in my position, will double down on music and they’ll keep doing it. And you know what? I’m not them. They are much braver and stronger than I am. I am giving up. This is not heroic, this is not cool. The other people are much stronger and much more courageous. I’m chickening out.
Some people don’t have an option. And some people choose to keep at it and tend bar well past my age. It turns out, I thought I needed this thing more than anything, I thought I was going to do it till I died, but it turned out that when push came to shove, I kind of could walk away. Maybe not forever, but yeah. I’m not really proud of that. I hope that comes through in the book.
MARTHA: I think it does, but I don’t think you should be ashamed of it. But you also have a great deal of resources at your fingertips. You live in New York, you have a good education, you have money.
JON: My dad is a doctor. I grew up in a nice, suburban house, I went to a good school. I didn’t work at it very hard, but I did go to a good school. And there are a lot of other people out there who are in the scene that really didn’t have those options. And I know how fucking lucky I am.
MARTHA: I want to circle back to the question of self-representation, about how in memoir you get a chance to shape yourself as a character, and obviously you kind of, as you said, you position yourself as the asshole in your own story. How did you go about doing that? How do you go about doing that?
JON: Well, there’s more nuance to that. But, I just feel like the indie rock thing is to just be like, “Oh, I suck, blah blah blah blah blah. My band sucks, we’re never going to do anything.” And I have very little tolerance for that after a while. I feel that with a memoir, you can’t be unduly self-aggrandizing, and if you do it, you have to do it in a very careful way. Anthony Bourdain did it really beautifully in his book. Where he said basically I’m not a nice person, I’m not an honorable person. I was a junkie, I stole from people, I had a coke problem, and by the way, I’m not a particularly good chef. But I do know how to do this, and this is what I know. And he turned out to be a great tour guide. But he also led a way more macho life than I did. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t portray myself any other way. This is kind of what happened. And yeah, I mean, as you pointed out [ed: incidents that remain off the record], I forgot certain things that might have cast me in an even shittier light.
But if you’re going to do it, you kind of got to do it. And if you’re going to commit to writing a memoir and you want to write the story, you have to, I’m really wincing to say this, you have to understand that you are a deeply flawed character, and you have to try to be as honest about those flaws as possible. Amazon has a program where if you’re a power reviewer you get an early version of a book, and so there’s some reviews up of the book already. And one guy in his review said, “I imagine in a small van, Jon Fine is very hard to take.” And I thought about that and I thought “Dude, high five.”
[blocktext align=”right”]If you’re going to commit to writing a memoir and you want to write the story, you have to, I’m really wincing to say this, you have to understand that you are a deeply flawed character, and you have to try to be as honest about those flaws as possible.[/blocktext]MARTHA: That’s an awesome pull quote.
JON: In my defense, I’m sure I wasn’t always a picnic to be around, but I wanted this to happen really badly. And if there was going to be someone in my fucking bands that was going to be on the phone, getting shows, talking to labels, making sure shit gets done, making sure that the recording session is booked, making sure that we can pay for the recording session, making sure that the record company is actually going to pay us, making sure that the club owner pays us, and has to have the fucking difficult conversation every night where they’re trying to stiff you and you’re like, “No. You said $200, you are paying me $200, I’m not leaving here until you give me $200 because I’ve got three fucking people out there that are not going to eat tomorrow unless you pay me $200.” I mean yes, I did that.
I’m proud of being that guy. And if that made me a little hard to be around, sorry. But I feel that my bands, we maximized what we could in a lot of ways, because I was determined that…I was not going to let us get pushed around. And that got hard at times, because we’re dealing with people that don’t have any money and they owe us money and it’s weird, but I did the best I could. That probably didn’t answer your question.
MARTHA: No, that’s fine — that was awesome actually.
The last thing I would say is, obviously for me your book is fascinating as a historical document both of people I know and was intimately involved with and also of a time and place in the culture that I was intimately involved with. How and why do you think it might be interesting from somebody who has no connection to that?
JON: There’s two answers. One is that, to me, this is one of the great undertold American stories of the past 25 – 30 years. Not my life, please — it’s definitely not my life. It’s the coming together and the flowering and the ultimate vapor trail effects of a very particular form of the music underground. Which, by the way, ended up giving the world a lot of incredibly, if I have to put it in these terms, famous celebrities, it’s music you hear on FM radio every day and whose names aren’t just Kurt Cobain. But if you have any interest in any kind of non-mainstream music that is performed in some kind of rock context, which as you know is a very malleable context, chances are, the bands you’re listening to owe a great debt to some band that was a key part of this scene or was mentioned in this book. There are still bands that sound like Mission of Burma.
MARTHA: There’s still Mission of Burma.
JON: There are still people getting Black Flag tattoos. This music turned out to be incredibly durable. On a personal level, I placed insanely high hopes on it that were not realistic or sustainable. I believed that this would somehow replace the existing music industry, and I was heartbroken and quite upset when that didn’t happen. But what it did do was that it formalized, nurtured, and maintained an alternate circuit that bands still play on. Kind of a…template is a bad word, but just it carved a path.
MARTHA: It created an infrastructure that endures still.
JON: We weren’t the generation that started it, but we are the generation that formalized it and this is where it blossomed, you know. And our hearts sure would have blossomed and our hearts were fucking broken when it fell apart. But that it endures is incredibly heartening.
Jon Fine talks with Rose Marshack (Poster Children) at 4 pm Saturday, June 6, at Chicago’s Reckless Records, 1379 N. Milwaukee. A book release party with JOA99, Hydrofoil, and Reckless Records DJs follows at 9 pm at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, Chicago ($5; 21+). For complete book tour details, see http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/312480/your-band-sucks-by-jon-fine/ .
Martha Bayne is editor-in-chief of Belt.
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