Monday, May 31, 2010

Punk Rock Saved My Ass interview: Ryan Cooper

Today's Punk Rock Saved My Ass interview is with writer Ryan Cooper. Ryan  is a music journalist who has been covering and commenting on the punk scene in one medium or another since 1989. You can read more of Ryan's writing in his column at About:Punk and read Ryan's essay, This is not a manifesto, and you're not punk rock in the anthology, Punk Rock Saved My Ass, available now from Medusa's Muse Press.


How do you personally define punk? 
First of all, you break all the rules. How’s that for a canned response?
Seriously though, punk is such a personal definition, that my definition will match very few. Punk is about unity for people who don’t fit in elsewhere. It’s about providing a haven and creating an “Island of Misfit Toys.” Punk is about establishing a safe place for self-expression, and creating a scene where music, art, creativity and free thought can thrive. 

What is NOT punk?
The things that aren’t punk are the things you say aren’t punk. And conversely, the most unpunk thing out there is to say that something isn’t punk.

Too many people get wrapped up in telling others they’re not punk. The old crusties who only listen to hardcore or crust are no more punk than the 12-year-olds who are just now really getting into Blink-182 or Fall Out Boy. In fact, they become less so by deciding someone else isn’t punk, and by placing that derision on anyone else pushes them away, and makes them reject the scene and creates a situation where everyone loses. We were all new to the scene at one time, and we all have our own identities and what we’re looking for out of life. When I got into punk rock, I had the benefit of being part of a very small scene that had no room for alienation by age or interest. As such, I had a lot of older folks who introduced me to great music and drove me to clubs and shows. 

That guy who lives in a squat with no TV and makes his own t-shirts and puts on shows is no more punk than the stay-at-home mom with a house in the suburbs who cleans her house with the Ramones cranked while wearing her old Descendents shirt, and the dude with the Mohawk and all the metal in his face at the hardcore show is no more punk than the guy standing next to him with the crewcut and the office job. We’re all here for the music, no matter our daily situation. 

What punk song/band changed your life, and how?
There were so many bands that I was getting into when I started exploring music, ranging from classic punk like the Pistols and Ramones, to thrash metal like DRI, to “modern rock” or “alternative” (depending on the bands’ classification for that day) bands like Jane’s Addiction, the Cure or the Pixies. 

But the band that really changed the way that I looked at punk and at life was the Dead Milkmen. That may seem like an odd choice, but they presented it all in a way that said it was OK to be funny about the stuff you were pissed off about. You could be angry, but misplaced anger was so self-destructive that it was a hell of a lot more fun to joke about stuff and to have a good time, and then figure out what you could do to make things better. 

I also have to give a shout out to my mom; she took me to my first show, which was again the Dead Milkmen. She didn’t pretend to understand, but wanted to at least be aware of what I was into. She came away appreciative of me and of the music. It’s a luxury that I had that a lot people I know did not, a safe secure home with parents who cared about what my siblings and I were up to. I’m sure that environment has kept me out of a lot of trouble, and provided an influence that’s kept me from making some bad choices over the years. She has since taken my nieces to their first punk show – Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg, where she even took them to meet Claire Pproduct, so they could meet a female musician – and the cycle continues.

What has punk taught you about yourself and your life?
Punk taught me to express myself and to stand up for myself. It taught me that self-expression was OK, and that I didn’t need to be a clone. Punk also taught me to question everything, even the stuff that punk told me was so. There were so many radical ideas that the generation prior to the punks had espoused, and it wasn’t necessary to burn it all down and start over. Punk told me to seek out the writing of ‘60s radicals like Abbie Hoffman and John Sinclair, and that even if punks were against everything associated with hippies (officially anyway), punk had also co-opted many of the ideals of the ‘60s generation.

Regarding music, punk made me hungry. It made me realize that the best records didn’t always come easy. So many bands released a few hundred pressings only of a great record before fading into obscurity, and I’ve made it a personal mission to seek out those unknown bands, to listen and to wrap my brain around the fact that amazing bands never got the chance to be heard everywhere.  

What surprised you about the punk scene?
That it’s not all-inclusive. Operation Ivy preached a message of unity within the scene, but the scene is not united. There are so many internal divisions and class warfare that it’s hard to truly embrace the scene as a whole, without being placed into a little box.

The apathy also surprised me. If you go to a truly political punk show, you’ll hear all these bands spreading these great messages, and you’ll see a crowd of people chanting along, ready to take that message to the streets, ready to make this huge difference and to right the wrongs. After the show, where do they all go? I’m not sure, but they’re not out there making a difference. The apathy has taken over before they’re even out of the parking lot, and they’ve forgotten the message by the time they’ve gotten home and flipped on the TV. Many of them don’t even vote. 

If a person is interested in learning more about punk/DIY, what would you suggest they do?
Embrace the scene! See what’s out there. Go to shows. Put on a show. Meet people. Listen to music. Start a band. Write a blog. Read other people’s blogs. Make a zine. Read other people’s zines. Get a bike. Get out there and find out what there is to find out. There are so many ways to get involved, just approach them with an open mind.

DIY is so important for us as a scene, and for making a difference in our world. A lot of time, especially for younger kids, there is this inherent feeling of helplessness that makes one feel like it’s impossible to make a difference, but it’s always possible. Getting involved in local politics and community groups makes a huge difference and can make your space a better one to be in. If I’d been told 25 years ago that today I’d be attending City Council meetings, I’d have thought you were crazy, but now I’ve done it to speak out and express support for our local human rights ordinances, which have passed.

And any time you make something instead of buying it, you may not realize it, but you’re descending into the clutches of DIY culture.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Powell's Books now carries Punk Rock Saved My Ass

Once again, the idea that Powell's books, the greatest book store on the planet, is carrying my book makes me very happy. Never mind that the website doesn't have a cover image or that one of the authors is missing (Jane Mackay is co-editor), I still love the fact that Powell's knows about my book.

doing happy dance

My classes end on Saturday, then I will be able to focus on spreading the word about Punk Rock Saved My Ass, a book I am very proud of. It turned out so good! The writing is great, the images beautiful and provoking, the design and feel of the book excellent... everything to make this publisher ecstatic. If I never publish another book I will die knowing I created something this good. 

Of course I'll publish another book; I already have a few ideas floating around in my imagination and I'm just trying to decide which one to pursue next. But don't tell Rick.

Oh, and I guess I should finish school first.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Punk Rock Saved My Ass is launched...

...and it only took three years to complete. Not bad for an anthology.

You can order a copy through or if you prefer not to shop on Amazon, do what I do and order a copy through your local, independent book store. The book is available from Ingram, the largest wholesaler of books in the USA.

And all you folks in the UK Canada and the EU, you too can order a copy through your local bookstore.

Once Powell's books carries it, I'll post a link here, and on the Facebook fan page.

As usual, I didn't plan book launch very well. Launching a new book during the last two weeks of school is crazy. No time to plan, prepare, send out press releases, set up interviews or even coordinate with Gilman Street. I'm studying for exams, finishing projects, writing papers and reading mountains of material before the last day of school on May 15th. When the book officially launched on Fri, April 30th, I was in class. Oh well. Things rarely go smoothly when you DIY publish.

Regardless of whether or not I'm too busy to celebrate, I feel accomplished and relieved, excited and scared, all at once. Will people like the book? Hate it? Will I sell enough to pay the printer, let alone all the other costs associated with selling books? What will the writers say when they get their copies? Will it meet their expectations? And what if we do sell thousands of copies? How will I manage success?

Time will tell. But today, I need to finish reading two more chapters and study O and M skills. Plus my daughter is complaining that it's too hot and she needs a drink and she doesn't want to run errands after school, even if there's ice cream at the end of the trip.

Just another day at Medusa's Muse.