Friday, December 11, 2020

"All Ages - The Rise and Fall of Portland Punk Rock 1977-1981" by Mark Stern


(Reptilicus Press, 2015) This hefty volume tells a history of punk rock in the Pacific Northwest that is, in some sense, broad and comprehensive, but is actually ultra specific. The three best known acts of the region are represented, yet remain kind of remote -- Fred Cole's  pre-Dead Moon bands help birth the movement (Stern is in King Bee with Cole), are constantly playing, and Cole's music shop and gear are integral to scene developing, but he manages to live in his own world despite being a key scene builder; the Poison Idea boys are just coming into their own when this book wraps its story; and Greg Sage, of the Wipers, was so serious about his art that he was above the nuts and bolts (and pettiness) of the punk production and politics this book is really about. What gets covered in this exhaustive document (culled partly from latter day interviews but largely from memory and meticulous archived clippings, meeting minutes, accounting ledgers, calendars, and studio notes) is exactly how much work goes into putting on shows, creating space for underground music to develop, and producing a scene-documenting a compilation. There is some genuine ridiculousness (a committee deciding which bands qualify as punk), some brutal slaps of reality (the treachery of partnering with legit venues vs. the chaos of creating a functional punk space), and, most vividly, some Real Housewives-type drama that resonates and defines the development of Portland punk (including a guestlist snub that splits the scene). The book does a good job demonstrating the way self-destructive individuals can't help but spread havoc (yet still get welcomed back...there's only so many people to play the music) and the way outcasts and weirdos and genuine artists (Smegma is well represented) need to come together, however precariously, proving that the "Y" is always a lie in D.I.Y.. 

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