Tony Rettman

Straight Edge: A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History

Published by Bazillion Points

Jan 30, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


From its roots in a song by D.C.'s Minor Threat through to becoming a worldwide outsider scene, Tony Rettman presents the history of the curious and contentious movement known as "straight edge." Letting the main players - Minor Threat, Youth of Today, SS Decontrol, DYS, Uniform Choice, and so many others, with even a Foreword by Civ of Gorilla Biscuits - tell the story anecdotally, this book offers a wide array of views on the subject, while moving concisely from band to band, city to city, scene to scene, and aspect to aspect of the lifestyle.

Chapter One presents different thoughts as to what hardcore is, where it came from, what it meant to each individual, and what it was opposed to. DYS' Dave Smalley points out that "drinking and drugs was such an established part of rock'n'roll, and punk was really no different." Nearly everyone involved in the burgeoning hardcore movement wanted something else from their lives, something with a positive perspective. This first chapter is a bit too all over the place, without any real form, but once the story gets going with the D.C. scene in Chapter Two, Rettman does a great job of presenting a narrative. A difficult task too, with so many different pockets of straight edge scenes all over the world, and so many bands to chose from, Rettman manages to cover all the major players whilst including other relevant characters who help to highlight how the movement grew, stuck together, and drifted apart.

Going to hardcore shows in the pre-Internet days, the story was always that straight edge started in Washington D.C. But this book shows that it's not as simple as that. Minor Threat's West Coast gigs would have a major influence on the 'X'. And by the time of the New York scene's heyday a few years later, via an influential growth spurt in Boston, straight edge would be something far removed from its D.C. origins, from creators who had never intended it to become a movement at all. It is very interesting to read Minor Threat's thoughts on what straight edge became.

'Straight edge' may have been the name given to the movement but another Minor Threat song, 'Out Of Step', with its verse of "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't drink, least I can fucking think" would define what 'straight edge' meant. As the years went on various people would attempt to add more rules - vegetarianism, veganism, even anti-abortion. The hardline stance of those pushing their beliefs down throats caused problems within the scene, while at the same time another problem with conformity, that of fashion, was also on the rise. Rettman allowing the players on every side to have their say works particularly well here, as it does when it comes to the rivalries and other schisms, some petty, which are thankfully over now. Such ideologies present an interesting problem discussed within - "so what if you don't drink or do drugs if your behavior is appalling?"

Featured most prominently are Youth Of Today's (and many other bands) Ray Cappo and John Porcelly, and rightfully so. It was this duo who were there for so much of it and their fervor, indeed their passionate desire to "create a revolution" (Porcelly), really brought the message to the world at large. Reading them talk about their tours, their "mission" as Youth Of Today's drummer Sammy Siegler puts it, and their sheer belief in what they were doing whilst still thankfully keeping it fun (focusing on skateboarding and hanging out) and about their own personal journeys provide the best sections of the book.

On a personal note, having been involved in the Connecticut hardcore scene between 1993-1995, it was great to read the chapter dedicated to the Anthrax club that was based in Stamford then Norwalk, CT. Connecticut isn't recognized for much musically but nearly every hardcore band that passed through there, and nearly every hardcore band did, acknowledges the Anthrax as a vital outlet for hardcore. And speaking as a fan, this book provides a great history that will add to what you think you know and fill in gaps for eras and scenes you're not familiar with. There's even a five-page essential listening index.

Hardcore is more about energy than it is about music per se, and youth with all its energy can have a tendency towards idealism. In straight edge those two concepts meet. Being a completely uncommercial D.I.Y. movement, it's an engaging story, especially as told by those who were there. Its benefits and dangers, what it added to their lives, the opportunities it brought them, and how it changed them and their friends over the years. (www.bazillionpoints.com)

Author rating: 6.5/10

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