Twenty Flight Rock
The Summer Rock Roundup
Our Band Could Be Your LifeScenes From the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
by Michael Azerrad
Little, Brown, 528 pp., $25.95
January 12, 1991: Congress votes to approve Operation Desert Storm, and across the street from the White House at Lafayette Park, Fugazi rouses an angry, nervous crowd of 2,000 to the boiling point, freezing rain or no. It may not have stopped the war, but it was indicative of the revolutionary against-all-odds spirit of independent music in the Eighties and early Nineties. The stifling air of Republican-bred conformity inspired hordes of angry and disillusioned young people to pick up a guitar, and for the first time, an extensive underground network of non-corporate-funded rock & roll sprang into place.
Michael Azerrad, who authored the popular Nirvana biography Come as You Are, takes a look back at underground rock in the Eighties in Our Band Could Be Your Life, spotlighting 13 bands that built the pillars upon which the thriving post-Nirvana American indie scene stands today. Each band is given its own chapter, starting in 1981 with SST Records founders/hardcore pioneers Black Flag, twisting through Texas with the Butthole Surfers, and winding up in the early Nineties with Mudhoney and the Beat Happening. Each tale is insular, but the threads, characters, and relationships that run through each story tie the amazingly interconnected scene together. Many of the bands featured were on SST at one time or another, and many of them were championed by Sonic Youth (who get a chapter), who were always looking to discover and mentor the newest budding bands. Certain chapters are particularly inspired, such as the section on the idiosyncratic, populist Minutemen, whose rallying cry serves as the book's title.
More than just an invaluable source of knowledge of many of the greatest rock & roll bands of the past 20 years, Azerrad's work offers a glimpse into the angry, spirited, us-against-the-world thump of the Minor Threats and the Hüsker Düs of the land, lamenting that "the revolution had been largely successful, but ... the struggle was much more fun than the victory."