Triptych image: Megan Cotts, "ECU"
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HARDCORE would probably top most lists of popular music genres least likely to be monumentalized in a coffee table book, resting there next to tomes on the paintings of Raphael, classic Fabergé eggs, and entrancing, exploitative photographs of the Brazilian favelas. All told, We Got Power! is 300-plus semi-gloss pages of essays, photographs, and gorgeous reproductions of the six-issue punk fanzine of the same name (published from 1981 to 1983). Celebrants of the first big wave of Internet activity in the late 1990s drew a lot of inspiration from the fanzines of punks and, before them, the “mimeo revolution” of the downtown poets of 1960s New York. In their minds, this decentralized, uncensored Wild West of the Internet would create a new, robust counterculture that would fend off the anticipated encroachment of corporate interests, since who could surveil all the new sites popping up hundreds at a time? Google and Facebook have put an end to that folly, but the rise of the robots has only amplified the romance of renegade self-publishing to the point where digital archives of seemingly ancient texts like We Got Power — replete with hunt-and-peck manual typewriter fonts, hand-drawn logos, literally cut-and-pasted collages, and Never Mind the Bollocks ransom note–style headlines — are just not enough. Hence, a return to print.
Southern California punk hasn’t received the treatment British punk did in such books as Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming on the Sex Pistols or, with a dash of theory, Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces or Simon Reynolds’s excellent Rip It Up and Start Again on British and American post-punk from 1978 to 1984. Barney Hoskyns’s Waiting for the Sun: A Rock ‘n’ Roll History of Los Angeles devotes a pretty good chapter to L.A. punk, appropriately titled “Decline of the West,” but naturally Hoskyns doesn’t follow through to hardcore since, by that time, the music had moved out of the city into the burbs and, eventually, into vans to crisscross the United States. Steven Bush’s comprehensive American Hardcore: A Tribal History, which like many books about punk (Please Kill Me, We Got the Neutron Bomb) are “in their own words” style collages from bits of interviews, lingers in the Southland quite a bit, offering its fair share of wisdom-in-hindsight about some of the absurdities of the moment while keeping the flame alive for fans. Though die-hard punks would be quite happy if the urbane, overeducated music critics of the Reynolds’s variety kept their distance, Los Angeles hardcore seems to cry out for a comprehensive treatment, tracing the various elements that spawned it: the setting of lower middle-class surfing towns, the political state of Reagan-era conformity, the rapid influx of punk music in stark contrast to radio-friendly AOR, and, if Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L.’s harrowing memoir An American Demon can be believed, the widespread adolescent depravity and violence endemic to a generation of kids whose parents were too self-absorbed to talk to them.
We Got Power! operates somewhere between being comprehensive — it's a fantastic archive of photographs, the entire fanzine, and short essays by the scene’s ma...read more