These books could be our life
July 6, 2016 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Fellow 40/50-something aging punks, indie rockers, etc.: what books do you think best capture the feel of the 80s / early 90s, pre-internet underground(s)? Fiction + non-fiction - novels, forgotten but still vital journalism of the era, music biographies, etc. - are both of interest.
posted by ryanshepard to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Judging by the title of your post, you already know my suggestion.

I've read good reviews of Your Band Sucks by Jon Fine and Trouble Boys (the newish Replacements bio), but I haven't actually read either.

Pretty much anything Steve Albini has written should fit the bill.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:24 PM on July 6, 2016

Anything by RE/Search Publications.
posted by nanook at 6:44 PM on July 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

posted by stefanie at 6:47 PM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Banned in DC.

Any number of RE/Search books.

Classic Phrack/2600/Cult of the Dead Cow writings.

Mondo 2000.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy

The Manual

The Cacophony Society

Old archived versions of Book Your Own Fucking Life and other zines.

Old copies of Adbusters and Stayfree! (if you can find them). Old copies of the CMJ New Music Monthly. Answer Me! magazine. Factsheet Five.

Genesis P-Orridge's 80s/early 90s books/writings.

Fair Use : The Story of the Letter U & the Numeral 2.

Various Riot Grrrl zines. The Punk Singer documentary. Gone Home.

Sub Pop USA, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, Girl in a Band, Born in the Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip Hop.
posted by Candleman at 6:54 PM on July 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

Ghost World, by Dan Clowes. It's not about it, per se, but something about it captures that time for me.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:56 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno
High Weirdness by Mail
The Book of the SubGenius
posted by carrienation at 7:12 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love Flyboy Action Figure Comes with Gas Mask by Jim Munroe for this. Not quite for the punk stuff as much as for the alterna-culture stuff. I joke that I could hand this book to my children and say, "Except that in my version of this story, everyone was a lesbian, this is what it was like when I was young, circa 1990." Also, in real life nobody had super powers. Still. This book absolutely captures it for me.
posted by not that girl at 7:14 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sarah Schulman's eighties and nineties novels - People In Trouble in particular.

Old Love and Rockets - The Death of Speedy especially, but all of them.

I hate to say it because lo, the compiler did me wrong, but Wipe Away My Eyes is excellent.

Early Cometbus - the first big Cometbus anthology.

Everyone was always reading Lipstick Traces and England's Dreaming.

Bamboo Girl zine, Holy Titclamps, Hungry Grrrl, Hit It Or Quit It.

Seth Tobocman's War In The Neighborhood

That zine Larry Livermore did before he got famous - man, I loved that zine, but the name escapes me at the moment.

Old issues of the Baffler - the Baffler used to be so good, you would not believe! You can get old compilations used. The Baffler is so nineties, you guys. We used to pass around new issues - I really used to look forward to them.

Ben is Dead zine. Lisa Suckdog's zine. Nomi Lam's zine. Fat Girl fanzine.

The Match, which I also used to adore until it got all Islamophobic. The Match's Who The Police Beat column was fundamental in making me understand how the world works.

God, the nineties. What have I become?
posted by Frowner at 7:22 PM on July 6, 2016 [11 favorites]

Dykes To Watch Out For - absolutely spot on so much of the time.

Twisted Sisters comics anthology. Bitchy Bitch comics by Roberta Gregory.

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers came out around 1991 and was a big deal. Susie Bright's books. Re/Search Angry Women was giant.
posted by Frowner at 7:25 PM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Matter, a zine that came of came out of Chicago in the 1980s is worth a look. Steve Albini used to write for them, but for me the thrill was that women my age were writing for zines. The Bob, a music zine out of Philadelphia championed indie bands throughout the 80s before folding in the early 90s. Sometimes issues of The Bob came with a flexidisc; R.E.M. released a cover a the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" as a Bob flexi to accompany a cover story.
posted by BicycleFace at 7:25 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

(forgot to include)

Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (the UK published version - the US one leaves out some material).

Survival Research Labs.

Microserfs and Generation X by Coupland.

Pagan Kennedy's writings.

Slacker by Richard Linklater.

I didn't like the book "Ready, OK" by Adam Cadre, but it did remind me of that era.
posted by Candleman at 7:28 PM on July 6, 2016

Circulation Zero has complete archives of Slash and No Mag (LA) and Damage (SF)

I thought Flipside was archived online but I couldn't find anything.

Seconding SRL and Re/Search
posted by Room 641-A at 7:48 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and check your memail.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:49 PM on July 6, 2016

Get In the Van by Henry Rollins. We Jam Econo. Some of 24 Hour Party People. Athens, GA: Inside/Out.
posted by Candleman at 8:06 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I thought SLC Punk! did a really good job of portraying being a kid wanting to be punk but constrained by the suburbs into doing what you knew was a shitty approximation of it because it was the best you could do.

I also think Repo Man and After Hours are pretty seminal for getting the zeitgeist of the era.

Seconding Coupland's Generation X and Microserfs
posted by Mchelly at 8:14 PM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nthing Mondo 2000

Nthing RE/Search

Sabotage in the American Workplace by Martin Sprouse (can't link right now, sorry)

Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson
posted by holborne at 8:24 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Vancouver Public Library actually has a circulating collection of zines. Most of them are about 20 years old, based on a random sampling. Maybe your local library has the same thing.

As for books, I first thought about Daniel Richler's Kicking Tomorrow, but it's actually set in the late 70s' punk era, a totally different animal. Still a good book.
posted by morspin at 8:43 PM on July 6, 2016

That zine Larry Livermore did before he got famous ...

Lookout! Magazine?
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:07 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution
posted by Automocar at 9:15 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Generation X.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:20 PM on July 6, 2016

Dean Wareham's Black Postcards
Semiotext[e] SF
RAW Commix
posted by gyusan at 10:15 PM on July 6, 2016

Girl by Blake Nelson: the Northwest punk scene of the very early '90s as seen from the (incredibly well portrayed) perspective of a suburban high school girl in Portland, OR getting into riotgrrl, going to shows, and just hanging out downtown a lot. Contains a thinly-veiled pre-fame Kurt Cobain, at the very moment before that whole scene was about to blow out big.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:38 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

misanthropic social-crit 'zine Answer Me! was in all the alt/punk record stores i hung out at.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:05 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Martin Millar: Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation (1987), Lux the Poet (1988), Ruby & The Stone Age Diet (1989) and Dreams of Sex and Stage Diving (1994).
posted by zadcat at 11:47 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

This might be too late for you (but still feels pre-internet) Kill Your Friends by John Niven- written by an ex A&R guy that skewers the Brit-Pop indie scene in the UK. Darkly hilarious book, I've not seen the film.
posted by Gratishades at 3:52 AM on July 7, 2016

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991 by Michael Azerrad

Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies by Josh Frank and Caryn Ganz

Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll by James Greer
posted by limeonaire at 6:01 AM on July 7, 2016

nthing MRR.

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Neuromancer, because it gets the oppressive feel of the time more than anything else.

East Village Inky back issues.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:16 AM on July 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Julie Doucet's comic, Dirty Plotte.
posted by nanook at 7:53 AM on July 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Peter Bagge's Hate comics.
posted by Chenko at 7:55 AM on July 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've heard good things about Viv Albertine's Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lipstick Traces (mentioned above) was interesting as a sort-of introduction to cultural theory for people interested in alternative music.

Have Not Been the Same is a doorstop-sized 2001 book about Canadian music scenes in the 80's - 90's. It's groovy if you like this kinda thing.
posted by ovvl at 9:05 AM on July 7, 2016

On the music side the Merge Records history book OurNoise: The Story of Merge Records is a good companion to the book your title alludes to.
posted by sauril at 10:39 AM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's been a somewhat discernible turn to punk/indie music in recent U.S. fiction from precisely this sort of nostalgic perspective. A few titles:

Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia (even Thurston Moore endorsed it! Her earlier novel, Eat The Document is also fantastic, though much more invested in the music of the 1960s counterculture)
Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad
Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude (also his 33 1/3 series book on the Talking Heads' Fear of Music)
Garth Risk Hallberg's recent City on Fire focuses a great deal on the burgeoning NYC punk scene, but I admittedly couldn't get through this one
posted by ritual system at 11:21 AM on July 7, 2016

Also really fucking punk, but set in the present day: Michael Muhammad Knight's The Taqwacores. This novel lent a name to an entire subculture of Islamic punk.
posted by ritual system at 11:50 AM on July 7, 2016

Slug and Lettuce was my go-to for early-mid 1990s NYC feminist crust punk
posted by medeine at 12:50 PM on July 7, 2016

Bust and Bitch, when they were still zines (as current magazines, still pretty good). Dishwasher zine. Spy magazine.
posted by danabanana at 1:13 PM on July 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, boing boing when it was a zone and also when it was a collection of hypercards.
posted by danabanana at 1:16 PM on July 7, 2016

Youth in Revolt

Lynda Barry's novel Cruddy didn't come out til 99, but it falls along similar lines.

You already know about all my other suggestions.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:45 PM on July 7, 2016

Forced Exposure
posted by Gotanda at 4:11 AM on July 8, 2016

Written earlier but Black Lizard republished The Killer Inside Me and other Jim Thompson novels. They were in the apartments of all my alt/art/punk friends (and mine) at that time.
posted by Gotanda at 4:27 AM on July 8, 2016

Anything by Kathy Acker, but escpecially Blood and Guts in High School or Kathy Goes to Haiti.
posted by aperture_priority at 12:42 PM on July 8, 2016

Douglas Coupland's Microserfs.
posted by cicadagirl at 6:11 PM on July 8, 2016

Tapping The Source
posted by Rash at 10:34 PM on July 8, 2016

I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned cyberpunk. Although it had roots in science fiction and film noir, the word 'cyberpunk' was coined in 1980, and there was a huge explosion of work from William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Bruce Bethke, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley and Philip K. Dick during the '80s and '90s.

Also, anything by Douglas Adams had an intelligent, subversive edge to it.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:01 PM on July 21, 2016

(Those were heady times.)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:17 AM on July 22, 2016

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