Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Review: PUNK LOVE by Susie J. Horgan

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos
Photos from Internet

"I cannot understate this: for many of us, those times, over twenty-five years ago, define who we are now."
- Henry Rollins, from the forward of Punk Love Punk Love, by Susie J. Horgan, with text by Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye and Alec MacKaye (Universe Publishing/, 2007)

It is stating the obvious that the DC scene was an important impetus to the national hardcore movement in the early 1980s, so we don't need to go there; let's move on.

Two of the prominent movers to arise (among others) out of the area were Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins. And yet, this book actually has its birth not in the clubs, but in a Haagen Dasz (screw the umlauts) ice cream shop. It was managed by Rollins and employed MacKaye, who was joined in 1980 by Georgetown student Horgan. They all became fast friends, and with the addition of Horgan's brand new 35mm, they bonded over black and white film.

As she was the only one with a camera that he knew, MacKaye asked her to take the cover shot for the picture sleeve of what would become both an iconic image and sound. It was for MacKaye's Teen Idles "Minor Disturbances" release that turned many tides (yes, I still have my copy).

Most of the shots in the book are of the mere six months that Horgan resided in the DC area, before moving on, but it was enough to capture some amazing shots of motion. Here are some thoughts of the book, and of my own personal refection...

The first part of the (mostly) photo-centric book is of Rollins & MacKaye fooling around in the ice cream store. Yeah, they are important to show the human side of the two of them, but honestly, well, I didn't care. Sure, on some historical level it is important to record this, but...well, whatever.

Horgan learned photography essentially the same way I did about three years earlier, by taking pictures of bands; for me the Ramones. Some shots of hers are amazing, and others are blurry messes, but in a good way - they show motion and passion, rather than being merely out of focus. Rollins states it correctly in the forward for both them and myself, when he says, "I see now that I was nothing but lucky. Right place, right time." I am always grateful for that.

I started taking photos as a memory trigger to remember bands I saw, as I was seeing so many; I almost always took pictures of all of the bands, not just the ones I liked. Over the years, I have noticed people taking pictures of their friends and their friends' bands, and ignoring anyone else. On some level this is true of Horgan, or it is at least in this book. Most shots are of either SOA (Rollins' group) or Minor Threat (MacKaye's). She slips in some of the other bands here an there, such as members of Government Issue, Red C, and Youth Brigade, but most are back- or frontstage, rather than performing, which I think is a loss. Happily there are some great shots of Harley Flanagan, of the Stimulators, pounding some drums. One thing that Horgan did that I certainly did not and that I regret, is take pictures of the audience. In the mid-'70s, the New York scenesters (including myself), basically either sat at tables or bounced our heads to the music, but almost never danced (we were too cool, which annoyed many a visiting group), so there wasn't much to shoot. It wasn't until the advent of hardcore that the audience really began to become more of a focal point, which Horgan does an excellent job of capturing. What is amusing is that in some shots, it just so captures that moment in time, especially the shot of the kids sitting on the steps of the Wilson Center (check the hair on the guys in front); but in other shots, especially the of the pit, it could be taken from any point in time since...though it is noteworthy that there is not one trademark or branded piece of clothing among the bunch, something that has sadly been lost.

The reason Horgan took that famous photo of the Minor Disturbances cover is because she was the only one he knew that had a camera. He automatically assumed she was a pro. Back then, if one had a camera, it was only film, and it was mostly either a professional thing or, in my case, a devoted amateur. Now, everyone has a camera and takes thousands of shots and culls the "good ones." Back then, one needed to get some skill and get it fast, because film was expensive, and developing even more so. Now, there are 50,000 photos of any band at any time; back then, it was hard to find the photos of beginning bands. Shit, I've got thousands of them. Again, right place-right time. Grateful.

In summary, though the focus of the book - pun intended - is pretty narrow on a select group of musicians in a very short period of time, but it is an important series that deserves the light of day (hey, there aren't too many pix of Rollins sans ink), and for that, I recommended this book, both for the images, and Rollins's and MacKaye's input. The most important element is that Horgan has heart because she has devotion to her subjects. And it shows in her work.

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