Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991

This is the never-before-told story of the musical revolution that happened right under the nose of the Reagan Eighties--when a small but sprawling network of bands, labels, fanzines, radio stations, and other subversives reenergized American rock with punk rock's do-it-yourself credo and created music that was deeply personal, often brilliant, always challenging, and imme...

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Title:Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991
Author:Michael Azerrad
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Edition Language:English

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 Reviews

  • Caroline

    This one took me a while to get through and occasionally led to existential crises in the nature of, "WHY AM I READING A 50 PAGE CHAPTER ABOUT THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS WHEN THERE ARE PEOPLE FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST?"

    There are certainly places where this book delves into "More information than I could possibly need about people I really don't care about." But overall, this is a fascinating reading experience, and I think just about any level of information a reader goes in with (as l

    This one took me a while to get through and occasionally led to existential crises in the nature of, "WHY AM I READING A 50 PAGE CHAPTER ABOUT THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS WHEN THERE ARE PEOPLE FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST?"

    There are certainly places where this book delves into "More information than I could possibly need about people I really don't care about." But overall, this is a fascinating reading experience, and I think just about any level of information a reader goes in with (as long as they have some interest) they will find some new information and insight.

    I found the structure of the book particularly effective, because it's divided into chapters that cover the story arcs of the individual bands. While there are certainly common themes in the story of any band, particularly within the fairly narrow slice of genre that Azerrad is covering here, he manages to find an interesting angle for just about every chapter. The bands that were made up of lifelong friends versus the ones that couldn't stand each other (or the ones that started as the first and ended up as the second), the bands that were dedicated to promoting a way of life or a political movement versus the ones that wanted to get rich versus the ones that just cared about making music, the artists who viewed what they did as a job versus the ones who were determined to sabotage their own success. Every story feels a little different, and it's the insight into the individual personalities and group dynamics that made me keep reading.

    A real bonus to this book is the rise of YouTube and Netflix Instant, which means a lot of opportunity to find footage of just about everything Azerrad is describing, plus (since this book was published 10 years ago) the mandatory 'whatever happened to that guy?' googling.

    Recommended, basically, if you like stories about bands and/or you're a rock music nerd who'd like to be a bigger one. NOT particularly recommended if an excess of white boy pain is going to bring your enjoyment to a halt. At the very least be prepared to roll your eyes at some of these people's behavior, but overall I think the author puts it in a fair perspective.

  • Elizabeth

    I have read the chapters on Black Flag and The Minutemen and am loving this book. It revived so many old feelings and memories, and I didn't know it was possible to love Mike Watt any more than I already did, but I find myself even more enamored of The Minutemen. Next I think I'll skip to the Husker Du chapter--should be interesting in light of Bob Mould's recent 'coming-out' memoir.

    I just finished the book and absolutely adored it. I think Azerrad does a brilliant job of tracing the geography o

    I have read the chapters on Black Flag and The Minutemen and am loving this book. It revived so many old feelings and memories, and I didn't know it was possible to love Mike Watt any more than I already did, but I find myself even more enamored of The Minutemen. Next I think I'll skip to the Husker Du chapter--should be interesting in light of Bob Mould's recent 'coming-out' memoir.

    I just finished the book and absolutely adored it. I think Azerrad does a brilliant job of tracing the geography of local cultural movements--in this case specifically a type of music loosely called 'punk'. I really enjoyed the sense of *place* embedded in each chapter. I also found an eerie parallel to my own life's arc during the late '80s through the early '90s--the book starts with Black Flag, a decidedly Southern California band, and ends in Seattle with the explosion and implosion of SubPop and its bands. As a kid growing up in Southern California I was very aware of Black Flag's influence and I loved the Minutemen and later fIREHOSE. As the music industry shifted its attention to the growing scene in the Pacific Northwest, traced nicely in this book, I found myself in Seattle in the early '90s, a sort-of ground-zero of the co-opting of the 'punk' and 'alternative' music scene.

    Great read, I highly recommend it!

  • Meagan

    This is right up there with "Please Kill Me" and "The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones" as one of those foundational rocknroll books with a "You Are There" feeling throughout. Basically, if you were under the impression that punk died when Mick Jones got kicked out of The Clash and wasn't revived until Nirvana released Nevermind, do yourself a favor and read this book. Yes, there are a few omissions (okay, just one that kind of sticks out in my mind. Meat Puppets. They're mentioned several

    This is right up there with "Please Kill Me" and "The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones" as one of those foundational rocknroll books with a "You Are There" feeling throughout. Basically, if you were under the impression that punk died when Mick Jones got kicked out of The Clash and wasn't revived until Nirvana released Nevermind, do yourself a favor and read this book. Yes, there are a few omissions (okay, just one that kind of sticks out in my mind. Meat Puppets. They're mentioned several times, but don't merit their own chapter) but overall this is a great way to learn about a lot of bands you don't know, or learn more about bands you thought you knew all about. The way the book is constructed forms a roughly chronological timeline, with bands and labels dovetailing neatly into each others' stories. I like Azerrad's decision to omit some of the bigger bands, like REM and The Pixies, and to end each chapter when the band either broke up or signed to a major label. Also, it's really inspiring, even to an old fogey like me. If I had read this book when I was 18, I probably would have started my own record label. But, thankfully, I read it as a nearing-middle-ager who already tried that whole "get in the van!" thing, so I just came home from work and put on some Dinosaur Jr and Minutemen albums instead. But if I knew an 18-year-old who had aspirations of being in a band, or starting their own label, or what have you, this is the book I'd put in their clammy little hands. Go forth, youngsters, and scream your little hearts out!

  • Kerry

    I'm going to be candid here...wait, when am I not? This book is really only for the hard-core music fans. The ones that want to know everything about it. From the formation and inspiration of the music to the gritty work ethics so many musicians and bands take to make it.

    What I love best about this one this is that this book is purely about true indie bands. These were the bands that didn't want to sign with major-labels bc they felt it would sacrifice their integrity and the integrity of the m

    I'm going to be candid here...wait, when am I not? This book is really only for the hard-core music fans. The ones that want to know everything about it. From the formation and inspiration of the music to the gritty work ethics so many musicians and bands take to make it.

    What I love best about this one this is that this book is purely about true indie bands. These were the bands that didn't want to sign with major-labels bc they felt it would sacrifice their integrity and the integrity of the music.

    Now, for MOST people I know... they aren't fans of Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, etc. Most find these bands to just be making some sort of racket. But I can guarantee you with the way Azerrad writes the personal history of these bands, you're going to at least want to hear the music afterward. Why? Bc you can practically see and feel the blood, sweat, tears and feces that these bands put up with to hold on to everything they believed in for the music that meant so much to them and the world that they came from.

    And you better believe I just used the word feces in a review. That... just... HAPPENED.

    But, I digress... most won't be able to make it through the book so easily. It's not a fast-paced thriller hearing about having no food and living in a smelly, sweaty van with the only thing pushing you forward are the handful of loyal fans waiting for you at the next VFW hall. Only the very dedicated appreciate such stories, bc at one point they were one of those handful of dedicated fans.

    Long story short? I'm freaking amazing. OR, the bands who gave it all to keep every last bit of control over what they loved the most without sacrificing it for easy $$ and fame are. To you it may be noise, to someone else it may be their reason to get up in the morning.

  • Sebastian

    is the most absorbing book about music I have ever read. While it's not perfect, it's essential reading for anyone interested in independent music, be it of the era covered by this book (1981-1991) or today. Composed of about a dozen profiles of bands from across the country, it's long-form journalism at its best. Interesting tid bits (and occasionally scandalous details) abound, but more importantly the larger portraits of each of these bands feel close to definitive

    is the most absorbing book about music I have ever read. While it's not perfect, it's essential reading for anyone interested in independent music, be it of the era covered by this book (1981-1991) or today. Composed of about a dozen profiles of bands from across the country, it's long-form journalism at its best. Interesting tid bits (and occasionally scandalous details) abound, but more importantly the larger portraits of each of these bands feel close to definitive. Although all of the chapters are strong, I enjoyed the chapters on Black Flag, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, The Replacements (although the omission of even a reference to

    , a very close second to that group's best record, independent or not, was curious), Big Black, and Beat Happening the most.

    Reading this book, I was struck on just how much the internet changed everything, a fact that is only briefly alluded to in the epilogue. The difficulty of learning about bands, let alone distributing music and planning tours was so much more complicated twenty five years ago, and it's hard not to have a vast amount of respect of the bands who blazed those trails. Indeed, this is a major theme of many of the profiles in the book -- the hard work and determination of these bands, often in the face of indifference.

    I think anyone who is or was remotely interested in aggressive independent music (be it punk rock, hardcore, metal, etc) will be instantly transported back in time when the doctrinal approach of Black Flag or Minor Threat is discussed. I personally found the regimentation, the rules, and the (self-)righteousness of those groups vaguely embarrassing and foreign some 25 years later, but I can remember as a pointlessly (and hopefully mostly formerly) "angry" young male their undeniable appeal. There's something undeniably romantic and appealing about that the idea of the outsiders forming their own community against the repressiveness of corporate America and faceless corporate rock. All the same, some of the more cult of personality aspects of the leaders of some of these bands was as off-putting as it was intriguing. That era wasn't perfect, but it was much more interesting than what had come before it.

    Where the reader falls on the spectrum of approval of how these bands approached major labels and the prospects of lucrative financial scenarios will doubtlessly influence greatly their feelings on the various bands, but what's most important to note is the very opportunity to consider such prospects (and then embrace them or pointedly raise a middle finger) was a product of the movement these groups started. That's another major theme here: the very idea of Nirvana was impossible without a bands like Black Flag, The Minutemen or Minor Threat.

    Socially inept, unyielding personalities make up many of these groups, and even as the reader enjoys learning about their exploits some quarter century later, I for one am very happy to have not been stuck in a lemon of a van with no heat driving around the country while mind games and passive aggressiveness filled the hours between shows. One doesn't need to be a star on the level of Jim Morrison, it turns out, to be a major a-hole and prima donna. That quality, at least, transcends arena rock and crappy basement shows with a dozen people in attendance.

    This is a fascinating read, a quick 500 pages, and an invaluable history lesson for people (like me) who take the availability of independent music and opportunities for independent bands for granted. Recommended.

  • Eddie Watkins

    I missed the entire “Indie Revolution” as I spent the late 80’s – early 90’s first as a psychically fragile (nearly suicidal) drifter-type (though I worked sporadically) living in Baltimore without a music collection, then as a wash-up living back in my parents’ basement in small town Delaware, and finally as a practitioner of Zen and social isolate living in Denver who listened to little more than classical music. This book helped me immeasurably in catching up with the past I missed while it w

    I missed the entire “Indie Revolution” as I spent the late 80’s – early 90’s first as a psychically fragile (nearly suicidal) drifter-type (though I worked sporadically) living in Baltimore without a music collection, then as a wash-up living back in my parents’ basement in small town Delaware, and finally as a practitioner of Zen and social isolate living in Denver who listened to little more than classical music. This book helped me immeasurably in catching up with the past I missed while it was happening. I don’t care finding out what was uber-hip 20 years ago via a book published 10 years ago. I don’t care not being as cool as everyone thinks I am. This was one of the best books on music I have ever read.

    A list of my experiences with every band featured in the book:

    Black Flag – The only band in the book I was aware of and listened to (however involuntarily) as their music was coming out and happening. I like Black Flag but I had to endure far too many fraternity parties while hearing it, and as it was “my” fraternity and I lived in the fraternity house I had nowhere to escape. Much of my college career was spent feeling this beer and punk induced claustrophobia. A guy I knew from the fraternity listened to Black Flag exclusively. He had large dark eyebrows and was quite imposing. Sometimes I would ride with him places and he would blast Black Flag and drink beer from cans while driving. On a simple half hour excursion he could consume almost a six pack. I remember looking through the tape collection in his car – nothing but Black Flag and Mozart. It was his dad’s car. His dad listened to nothing but Mozart. I don't really care to hear much Black Flag again, and I can't stand Henry Rollins these days.

    The Minutemen – I was introduced to them through a local station here in Philly – WKDU out of Drexel University – about ten years ago, which was the beginning of my punk rebirth, when I began listening to it as actual music, rather than just a party and/or anger catalyst. I was immediately smitten and sensed an immediate kinship, largely through a connection made between their music and the classic rock I listened to almost exclusively growing up. They remain a favorite.

    Mission of Burma – I had heard of them before reading this book but had never listened to them. I picked up Vs. before finishing the chapter on them. Excellent album. Powerful.

    Minor Threat – I’m sure I heard them during my claustrophobic frat party years, but I have no memory, even after listening to a few of their tunes while reading their chapter. Good stuff, but probably not something that will mean all that much to me now; though Ian MacKaye’s approach to conducting his life is inspiring and jives with some of my own philosophies, though I’m far from straight-edged.

    Husker Du – I picked up New Day Rising a few years ago and it quickly became a favorite. The combination of raw power and intelligence immediately appealed to me. A very large enveloping sound. I’ll more than likely check out more of their albums.

    The Replacements – Another band that has far too many associations with my claustrophobic frat party years. Even more so than Black Flag. I have Let It Be and think it’s good, but I still have a hard time hearing it with fresh non-beer-soaked ears and socially paranoid mind. I doubt I’ll explore them beyond the one album in my possession.

    Sonic Youth – For some reason I always got them confused with Soft Machine and so thought they had been around since at least the early ‘70’s. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I listened to them with any kind of rounded awareness, when I picked up Daydream Nation, and proceeded to listen to it nonstop for a month or more. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it. It is easily a favorite album of mine, but I still have not listened to any of their other albums, though I did see Lee Renaldo live once improvising to a Stan Brakhage film (a film which Brakhage by the way intentionally made as a silent film).

    Butthole Surfers – I somehow got turned on to them in the late ‘80’s and they immediately struck a chord. They were probably my favorite band for a year or so while I was living a down-and-out existence after graduating from college. At the time I thought it was possible to live completely from one’s primal body. I saw no barriers between my digestive system and the world at large. The Buttholes fit perfectly into this intuitive approach to a rather dangerous and fraught way of living. I still like them and think Gibby Haynes can be hilarious.

    Big Black – I probably heard them also during my claustrophobic frat party years but I have no tangible recollection, and I have not even been able to sample them on Spotify as they do not appear to be participating in it. From the descriptions in the book I think I would like them, though I probably wouldn’t listen to them that often. Steve Albini reminds me of Robert Crumb in the level of his intelligent disgust with almost all things.

    Dinosaur Jr. – Didn’t listen to them until I put my wife’s two albums of theirs she had on our iPod. My only thought was that Pavement got a lot from them, but I didn’t think much more about them. After reading this I am intrigued by J Mascis, though I’m not sure I want to put much effort into getting inside his head. I will probably pick up You’re Living All Over Me, which I think I’ll like.

    Fugazi – I don’t recall ever hearing a Fugazi tune, though I’m sure I have on WKDU. They interest me much more than Minor Threat. I plan on picking up one of their albums after reading this book. Sounds like they could offer the kind of thorny jumpy intelligence I often crave.

    Mudhoney – I had never previously listened to them, but I checked out a few of their songs while reading their chapter. I like their raw rock out approach, but I’m not too intrigued and doubt I’ll explore them further than an occasional listen on Spotify or Youtube.

    Beat Happening – Being a long-time Jonathan Richman fan I immediately linked the two when I started reading their chapter. A few pages in Richman was mentioned as an inspiration for Calvin Johnson, so I thought maybe I have always been cooler than I thought. I will definitely be listening to a lot of Beat Happening in the near future.

  • brian

    as a kid i assumed punk & hardcore was right-wing music; from the safe confines of long island it seemed the nose-ringed & mohawked or shirtless & skinheaded were all about death and destruction and i naturally figured they'd be so inclined to support the party which always seemed to advocate dropping bombs and throwing some 'fuck you' to the poor -- yeah, dead wrong about the punks and a bit of a caricature regarding the grand ol' party. must admit i was kinda disappointed when i di

    as a kid i assumed punk & hardcore was right-wing music; from the safe confines of long island it seemed the nose-ringed & mohawked or shirtless & skinheaded were all about death and destruction and i naturally figured they'd be so inclined to support the party which always seemed to advocate dropping bombs and throwing some 'fuck you' to the poor -- yeah, dead wrong about the punks and a bit of a caricature regarding the grand ol' party. must admit i was kinda disappointed when i discovered most punks were practically socialists. it all felt a bit wimpy and let's-get-alongsy for such an aggressive music.

    the thing i hate about punk and hardcore, ironically, is that it all just smacks of such good taste. and i hate good taste. everyone into 'good' music digs black flag & the clash, etc. and they're great, yeah, but so is steely dan. but, ya throw on

    and you're a goddamn pariah to music people. well, duchamp is an old master and the fauvists ended up in the museums. that's just how it goes. it's as stupid to deliberately swim against stream as it is to deliberately swim with the stream (but, it is more fun). and, of course, rock&pop is all about the theatrics: goth, punk, glam, country, psychedelia, etc, all have their aesthetic, and it enriches the experience -- if one has a problem with the 'cool' aspect of rock&pop, one basically has a problem with all of rock&pop. but i'm a born contrarian. and punk now reminds me of seeing the kinks and watching thousands of people singing along with the band as they repeat the chorus, 'I'm not like everybody else!' -- ray davies had to've appreciated the irony.

    this book is pretty great, by the way. highly recommended. whether or not you're familiar with the bands discussed, azerrad sucks you right into the life of the music. here's who the book's about:

    black flag

    the minutemen

    mission of burma

    minor threat

    hüsker dü

    replacements

    sonic youth

    butthole surfers

    big black

    dinosaur jr.

    fugazi

    mudhoney

    beat happening

    some random stuff: i kinda loathe henry rollins, all macho and spoken-wordish and always very very very good tastish - he ain't half the man that morrissey is (even though 'tv party' makes me happy every single time i hear it). i was never into buttonhole surfers (my spellcheck changed the name of the band. made me smile, so i'm gonna leave it) but have gotten into them since reading this book - they're great! i just can't get past ian mckaye's voice. i've never heard a single song by mission to burma or beat happening.

    my 10 favorite punk albums (pretty specific taste here):

    1. ramones - ramones

    2. ramones - rocket to russia

    3. stooges - fun house

    4. buzzcocks - singles going steady

    5. bad brains - bad brains

    6. dead kennedys - fresh fruit for rotting vegetables

    7. stooges - raw power

    8. ramones - leave home

    9. ramones - road to ruin

    10. OFF! - first four EPs

  • Dave

    Wow, what a read. The big plus for this tome is that Azerrad spills as much ink on some bands who were slipping off the radar - notably Mission of Burma (at least at the time the hardcover was published, pre-reunion) - and on how he's able to let the story of one band from this geographic region lead into this band from that region... so at the end the reader has an idea of how 6,7,8 different little underground scenes birthed a nationwide network that is still around and supporting interesting

    Wow, what a read. The big plus for this tome is that Azerrad spills as much ink on some bands who were slipping off the radar - notably Mission of Burma (at least at the time the hardcover was published, pre-reunion) - and on how he's able to let the story of one band from this geographic region lead into this band from that region... so at the end the reader has an idea of how 6,7,8 different little underground scenes birthed a nationwide network that is still around and supporting interesting artists today.

    I'd give it a higher rating if there was more new material contained within but most of the quotes are from already published interviews. Still, it is quite a feat to compile such an engaging and spirited survey of one of the few truly American arts. Highly, highly recommended.

  • Pamela

    This is such a GUY book. The band histories are filled with the drama and backbiting you would expect from teenage girls, but are posited as Very Important Cultural Happenings. I guess that is the book's strength, and its entire reason for existing: documenting a whole bunch of assholes and taking them seriously, even at their most hapless and idiotic. I mean, he manages to write a deathly serious chapter on Black Flag, whereas I just giggle at the thought of Henry Rollins circa '81, standing on

    This is such a GUY book. The band histories are filled with the drama and backbiting you would expect from teenage girls, but are posited as Very Important Cultural Happenings. I guess that is the book's strength, and its entire reason for existing: documenting a whole bunch of assholes and taking them seriously, even at their most hapless and idiotic. I mean, he manages to write a deathly serious chapter on Black Flag, whereas I just giggle at the thought of Henry Rollins circa '81, standing on stage in his teeny little black shorts and screaming at people.

    Let's see - it's all very journalistic. The writer isn't a character and he doesn't talk about his own memories or involvement. So, it's interesting that he's trying to do something a bit more documentary-like rather than a personal history. And he keeps pretty neutral for most of it, but then squanders whatever currency he has built up as an objective observer on weird little jabs at specific bands (you don't like The Cure or Ministry, I GET IT.)

    There are points when the fanboyism is a little too obvious. Explaining away Ian Mackaye's and Henry Rollins early, weird race things as "misunderstandings" wastes a good chance to actually talk about what they meant. And he gives way too much slack to Steve Albini.

    Hmmm. I guess this book is good at being the book that it is, and most of my annoyance and disappointment that it is not the book that it is not.

  • jeremiah

    An amusing motif of this book is being excited for your band to open for Public Image Ltd and being disappointed when, in true arrogant, wannabe-rock-star fashion, PiL skip your set. For example, when Minor Threat opened for PiL at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum in 1982, Ian MacKaye took it personally when John Lydon rode into campus in a limousine after Minor Threat reportedly "rocked fucking the house." Something like this allegedly happened to approximately half of the bands di

    An amusing motif of this book is being excited for your band to open for Public Image Ltd and being disappointed when, in true arrogant, wannabe-rock-star fashion, PiL skip your set. For example, when Minor Threat opened for PiL at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum in 1982, Ian MacKaye took it personally when John Lydon rode into campus in a limousine after Minor Threat reportedly "rocked fucking the house." Something like this allegedly happened to approximately half of the bands discussed in this book.

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