Punk culture is the antithesis of the American dream. It voices the ever-present rage of teenage years, the soundtrack to anarchy and sociopolitcal unrest. In times such as these, punk dusts off its leather jacket and emerges from the shadows, as relevant as ever. That's why we love punk. Even in our golden years, once we've settled and put aside our oft unpleasant pasts, punk still speaks to a time when things weren't so simple, and we hungered for more. You may find you still do. For that raging fire, I suggest a minor collection of books by people that were present, participating, and monumental in punk's making.
Misfit's Manifesto by Donna Gaines
This particular book is a personal favorite for me. I read this book when I was interning for the library in 2014, and found myself often on the cusp of inability to pay bills. Coming from a "middle-class-but-closer-to-poor" (said my mom) family, I often felt like a misfit among my Williamson county peers. This book really spoke to me. What really makes this work is the element of religion; it's something you don't often get in the world of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. It's a candid read, as well as one that's a lot of fun. Donna Gaines has written for SPIN and Rolling Stone, making her a certified rock and roller.
Lidia Yuknavitch's TED Talk and resulting book on misfits is worth noting, as well, due to its praise of misfts all over the world, pursuing any passion. It's good life advice for those that feel stuck in their surroundings. The defining quote: "Misfit people, we don't always know how to hope, or say yes, or choose the big thing even when it's right in front of us. It's a shame we carry. It's the shame of wanting something good." She also adds, "Misfit is a person who missed fitting in, a person who fits in badly, or this: a person who is poorly adapted to new situations and environments. It's a shameful word, a word no one typically tries to own. Until now."
Slash by Slash
[[nid:3827]]Slash, mononymous guitar player for rock band Guns N' Roses, has written an incredible autobiography that's not for the faint of heart. Detailing years of bad choices and good times, Slash recounts his time spent with Axl Rose, his regrets, and his triumphs. In many ways, his parents' divorce served as the catalyst to the Slash we know, love, and admire today. In losing his familiar footing, Slash tried many things to pass the time, eventually finding his way to guitar playing. My personal favorite story is about Slash's first guitar, a one-stringed flamenco guitar that had long been forgotten. His single-string perspective allowed him to take a different approach to guitar, separating his technique and sound from many others who came before and after him. Slash is, without a doubt, my first rockstar idol. Reading this book as a teen made me feel like I really knew what it was like to grow up on the tough streets of the sunset strip.
Tranny by Laura Jane Grace
[[nid:3831]]A newer book with punk heart, Tranny (full title: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout) covers the life of Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace, who recently came out as transgender in 2012. Dropping her dead name (the name given prior to transition) and picking up the pieces as Laura Jane Grace, she's continued to live in true punk rock style. Burning her birth certificate in 2016 to protest the White House's "bathroom bill" which stated that transgender individuals must use bathrooms matching the sex on their birth certificate? Punk. The book serves as somewhat of a journal entry, somewhat of a discussion with a friend regarding a lifelong quest for authenticity. What makes this book, for me, is watching the blossoming of Laura's belief in herself. Like any of us, she had her doubts as to whether she was making the best choices for herself and her career; from pre- to post-transition, there is a clear shift in tone. This is one punk story with a happier ending.
Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil
[[nid:3832]]Keep in mind this is an uncensored history. Covering the Ramones, the Clash, Lou Reed, corporate rock, sell-outs and then some, this no-holds-barred take on punk is one of the most definitive pieces of punk rock history. The beginning of the book gets right to it; language, drug mentions, slurs, all the above, right from the mouth of Lou Reed (Velvet Underground). The book is done in an interview style, tales of rock history straight from the bird's mouth. This makes it a little harder to follow, but each section has a grouping of years so you know where you're at. It's a true nonfiction piece: you get all the grit of punk rock in print form. A favorite line of mine: "Everybody was in love with everybody...".
This one was the hardest read for me. It proved to be a little bit of a downer, a little tougher than most nonfiction pieces I'm used to reading. While I have delicate sensibilities, it may work for those who want an uncut version of the truth.
Commando by Johnny Ramone
[[nid:3830]]Johnny Ramone (born John William Cummings), guitarist and songwriter for legendary band the Ramones, was a force to be reckoned with. A brand all on his own, his autobiography gives a surprisingly vulnerable look at the man behind the music. In his youth, Johnny describes himself as "difficult". He gravitated toward rock music, originally, to merely disrupt his household. As his interest in outside hobbies dwindled, his interest in rock music became the forefront of his life. He talks in the earlier chapters about how he had no desire to be in a band. After his self-described "bad phase" he simply worked construction for 5 years, and focused on maintaining normalcy. Thank goodness he had a change of heart.
Commando was my favorite read; I grew up listening to classics like the Ramones and wondering what made them so great. In reading these books, I learned a little more about what makes punk great. My number one takeaway was self-awareness. These are people who, despite experiencing some of the most terrible times of their lives, at their core, know somewhat who they are, what they want, and set out to get it. My second takeaway is ambition. Whether or not you've played guitar, led a riot, had an experience as a producer, you don't need it. Head up, shoulders tall, things will find their way to you when you pursue them.