INTERVIEW: Earles & (Revisionist) American Hardcore (Pt 2 of 3)

What was initially going to be a brief interview has blossomed into a 6,000 word behemoth which I didn’t dare edit by even one word. Andy is just always such a treat to read. So here, dear reader, is part two (read part one over yonder).

Andy Earles’ book, Hüsker Dü: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock, is now for sale.

You delve into correcting several books about hardcore (generally) and HD (specifically).  Most importantly, you heavily criticize "American Hardcore". Was it merely your opinion that Blush’s book was off base or was this an overall sentiment that was shared by folks you interviewed?
I wouldn’t say “opinion” had much to do with it, nor did anyone else’s commentary about Blush’s book because I rarely brought it up to my sources, if at all. Sadly, the second edition of American Hardcore hit shelves between the time that I made the last changes to my book and its publication, which makes me look like an asshole because I don’t specify that I’m referring to the first edition of his book because a second one didn’t exist when I was writing that. Blush added almost 90 pages of content to the second edition, and removed several passages that I would hope any reasonable person would take issue with. To avoid this answer growing to novella-length, I will point out three examples which will more than sufficiently prove my point. And let it be known that I extended an invitation to Blush – to have himself heard in defense several passages I’d be taking to task in the Hüsker book – and never heard back.

The ‘IQ 32 (MIDWEST FUCK YOU)’ chapter itself is seven pages longer in the second edition than it is in the first. About halfway through the Hüsker Dü section, there appears this sentence at the beginning of a paragraph:

“The trio were all gay men hung out with outcast teenage boys.”

Aside from the fact that Greg Norton is not a homosexual and the third grade-level grammatical error (the exclusion of ‘who’ between ‘men’ and ‘hung’), I don’t think I need to elaborate on what is fundamentally wrong with this sentence.

The sentence was entirely removed from the 2nd edition, but the rest of the paragraph remained largely unchanged and reads as follows:

“All who knew the Dü say their gay predations with all these alienated young boys were discreet – and they basically were. But a creepy memory persists of a barefoot, drugged-out Grant Hart, on the prowl for young meat after a show.”

Really? Did Grant say, “Now let me state the age requirements for tonight’s drugged-out trolling session…” So, he’s a gay man looking for some company after a show. This is probably what Blush witnessed, if he witnessed anything at all. What’s that got to do with hardcore’s important stamp on culture? Why am I pointing out what’s wrong with this passage? It’s obvious. Other hardcore homosexuals like Gary Floyd, the late Biscuit Turner, and MDC’s Dave Dictor are not shown such disrespect.

The book is full of loaded speculation, like stating that Gibby Haynes became such a notorious crack smoker in the late-80’s and early-90’s that Mexican drug dealers called their extra large baggies of crack “gibbies.” And the definitive nature of so many claims; it seems like he credits each hardcore scene as rising in opposition to one regional entity, such as Austin hardcore happened in opposition to the cosmic cowboy, Jerry Jeff Walker hangover suffered by the town. No, Austin hardcore happened because hardcore was HAPPENING EVERYWHERE.

H?D? live in ’81 – Photo by Greg Helgeson

In the 2001 introduction, Blush claims that during the five years that went into “writing” American Hardcore, he has had to…..

“…distinguish fact from opinion, forcing myself to rethink preconceptions. I’ve tried to purge myself of all of the punditry, stereotyping, sloganeering, gut feelings, and knee-jerk reaction developed over the years, and I’ve quit trying to defend my personal tastes. Plenty of petty attitude persists among Hardcore participants to this day, but I strived to avoid adopting the bad vibe.”

Really? Because I know of no officially-published (not iPublishing) book so saturated with everything listed above.

In the 2010 introduction, Blush wastes no words before diving headfirst into the nonsense. This is the first sentence:

“Here’s the Second Edition of American Hardcore, the book that set the record straight on American Hardcore Punk music.”

Did the record need to be “set straight” or did the scene simply need to be documented? He goes on to describe the “five-year pre-internet research” he conducted for the original book, a book that was published in 2001. Did he finish his research in 1997, do something else for four years, then say, “oh shit, I’ve got this book I need to try and get published….” No, because in the intro to the American Hardcore discography section, he states that…

“Every piece of information I’ve seen posted on the Internet regarding American Hardcore is wrong, so I’ve chosen to totally ignore it.”

That statement was written in 2001. And if it wasn’t ridiculous enough, check out this follow-up in the same section of the 2010 edition:

“In the first edition I wrote… ‘most piece of information I’ve seen posted on the Internet regarding American Hardcore is wrong, so I’ve chosen to ignore it’ A decade later – due to this book’s influence – the Hardcore info posted online is far more complete.”

Wow.  Hopefully readers noticed that Blush changed “Every” to “most” and removed the “totally” in the process of QUOTING HIMSELF, if they were not blinded by the absurdity of this claim. 

I do regret that I allowed myself to come across as a hothead gunning for Our Band Could Be Your Life and tried to dial down some of the more ham-fisted quips in my final edit, but I had a short amount of time to comb through the entire draft. Along with Paul Hilcoff’s exhaustive Hüsker Dü database, the band’s chapter in Our Band… was an obvious cross-referencing point for chronological conundrums, of which there seemed to be an unending barrage. When I pointed out discrepancies or claims that differed from what my sources were telling me, I wasn’t in the mindset I’m in presently. Now I have a book out, and my book contains some honest mistakes. Look, Our Band… was the first time most of that subject matter had been discussed in such an official and widely-read forum, not to mention the fact that the book was the seed that grew into the one and only true miracle within the history of seminal band reformation: Mission of Burma.

Bob Mould will undoubtedly read your book. In a perfect world, what would you like to happen?
Why does it have to be a perfect world? That suggest that he will automatically hate my book if we’re speaking in terms of the world we’re living in. I wanted Bob to be a part of this book. Bad. I took the proper channels and invited him, and he respectfully declined. The book didn’t magically transform into an anti-Bob venture at that point, which really seems to blow some minds. There was a lead review of my book in the Star Tribune, and the writer got in touch with Bob and interviewed him about my book. I don’t want to assume anything about this writer’s motives, but this move suggests that I purposely excluded Bob, like this writer purposely excluded me from an interview about my book. Or perhaps it’s saying, “Look how easy it is to get an interview with Bob” ….for a book review. I think that people are assuming I didn’t even ask Bob to participate. Our culture is so irreparably fucked in that it’s geared towards the negative these days, but that’s a can of worms for another time. My editor put this gem in my head: “On the internet, it’s either shit or sunshine.” I couldn’t agree more, but I’d expand that sentiment to include every other format. I feel like people think the moment after I got the news of Bob declining, I exclaimed, "Who the fuck does he think he is?!? I’m gonna lay waste to his entire career!!! [Sound of me dialing phone] Grant? Commence with Operation Bury Bob!" I was attempting to be facetious just now, in case some dipshit takes that seriously. I was writing a biography about a band that practically built my record collection, indirectly, so to speak. 

A recent photo of the author

You’re very cautious in that you refrain from talking about business dealings between HD and SST in the book. You talked to Joe Carducci (long time SST employee) at length, but couldn’t get Greg Ginn on the horn (not a surprise). If you could look into a crystal ball, what do you envision will happen to the SST-era HD recordings?

Exactly what should happen to them, it’s just going to be a bumpier road than, say, what it took to rope in the Sonic Youth albums on SST. One thing complicating matters, besides inter-band relations/communication, is that the SST albums, barring some represses on colored vinyl that appeared in the late-80’s and early-90’s, have remained in print on vinyl and CD, just like the Black Flag and Minutemen titles have remained in print, more or less. Now, a warning to any individual record buyers that take this as an invitation to personally order from the SST superstore, the second edition of my book will probably be published before you receive your order in the mail. But any store or distro that orders weight will get their factory-sealed copies of Zen Arcade or Flip Your Wig the next week. Go any deeper than this, and it gets confusing. How does one explain the sudden appearance of long out-of-print Saint Vitus LP’s earlier this year? I bought a couple, then did some research on eBay as to what differentiated my factory-sealed copies from original presses, and found that it had to do with the inserts found inside. I opened both of my records and it turned out that I had one original press and one “repress”. I’d always wanted these records, but they were fetching serious coin online. But on the subject at hand…I will say that talks are currently happening for the best of this cause, and a label is involved in these talks. Terry Katzman has been working on some archival releases for several years, too, for he has a great deal of the live recordings and demo recordings. He was the band’s real-time archivist, and a better, more stand-up guy doesn’t exist. I feel like I owe Terry Katzman my firstborn, and probably do.

You know that Warner’s did a toe-dip into reissuing Hüsker product at the beginning of 2009, when all of the sudden Candy Apple Grey appeared as a 180-gram Rhino reissue (vinyl only). Now, that’s a record that did go out of print on vinyl, technically, though it was never hard to find or expensive. This reissue hit stores in March of 2009. There was no fanfare, no announcements, nothing in the way of promotion. It was just in the bins one day. Now, the Warner’s royalty situations are supposedly on the up-and-up, and I heard nothing to speak to the contrary. But something did happen, or didn’t happen, relating to this reissue that I found immensely depressing. Six months after its release date, in August of 2009, I was on the phone with Grant, and this is when I was trying to sort out the Hüsker + major label situation and present it in a readable manner. This was the hardest part of the book to write, by the way, but that’s for another time. Anyway, I casually mentioned the Rhino reissue for whatever reason, and Grant had no idea what I was talking about. I mentioned it with the impression that he knew about it and had copies, mainly because I had left him a phone message back in March when I saw the thing in the bins. He doesn’t check his phone messages. “What reissue?” I explained what I was referring to, my voice losing more and more life as my short description of the reissue reached silence. He responded, “Let me call you back in ten minutes.” This was the one time in which I got a little critical over Grant’s insistence on living a computer-free life, which he was doing until very recently. Grant was never preachy or critical of my use of a computer, so why should I weigh in on his abstinence from it? Because it was costing him money and it was costing him show patrons when he started touring his most recent record.

(End of part 2. Part 3 discusses Andy’s comedy pursuits, even more about SST and Bob Mould and how Earles & Jensen are now Matador Records "alumni".)