Review: Jim Ruland’s “Corporate Rock Sucks” on SST Information

The June 29, 1980, version of this paper spoiled Angelenos’ Sunday morning by dropping a dire warning on their doorsteps: The punks experienced arrived, and they ended up murderous.

Audiences at punk exhibits “mug every single other,” Patrick Goldstein described. “Accounts of reckless violence, vandalism and even mutilation at some location rock clubs study like reports from a war zone.”

At the centre of this alleged chaos was the band Black Flag, whose displays experienced turn into a magnet for police crackdowns considering the fact that its formation in Hermosa Beach front in 1979. They brought some of that scrutiny on to by themselves: Founder and guitarist Greg Ginn finagled a slot at a relatives-friendly competition at Manhattan Beach by saying they ended up a Fleetwood Mac include band, then sent a generally loud, profane set. But the media’s pearl-clutching was disproportionate to the hazard. Ginn was not striving to sow anarchy, just identify the spaces that would not reject punk outright.

In “What I See,” his lively, lavishly assembled assortment of Black Flag photos, Glen E. Friedman recalls the violence as wholly on the police facet of the ledger. Promoters termed in the LAPD, worried by “overwhelming crowds that ended up showing up that often looked threatening to them.” The band goaded the cops with songs this sort of as “Law enforcement Story,” and its fury is palpable through the ebook — even rehearsals glimpse like barnburners. But the reaction — SWAT teams, billy clubs, helicopters — was absurdly disproportionate.

Blag Flag guitarist Greg Ginn

Ginn shreds at Pax rehearsal space. From “What I See: The Black Flag Pictures of Glen E. Friedman.”

(Glen E. Friedman)

Company Rock Sucks,” Jim Ruland’s effectively investigated heritage of Ginn and the label he started, SST Data, places some context all-around the absurdity. And it is a thrilling story in the early going, the tale of a culture becoming stubbornly manufactured from the ground up. In its 1980s heyday, SST introduced at least a dozen canonical rock albums that have been notable for their rejection of convention. Black Flag’s piercing hardcore and Sabbathy sludge shared small with the Minutemen’s springy, spiky punk-jazz fusion, the Meat Puppets’ Lifeless-like excursions or Hüsker Dü’s mix of pop savvy and stun guitar. But together, they created SST the decade’s preeminent indie label. As Ruland writes: “Ginn was fascinated in punk rock as a concept — a resourceful get in touch with to arms — not as a specific design of audio.”

In that regard, it is a little disappointing that Ruland — a fiction author who’s also co-authored two earlier books on Southern California punk — usually sticks to label record and doesn’t make a much better argument on his subject’s behalf. SST’s accomplishment was not just signing a host of enduring bands it turned the wellspring and key mover for a great deal of Gen X society and the indie rock that adopted. Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins exemplified a generation’s sour, antiestablishment, heavily ironic posture. The next side of its 1984 album, “My War,” was a grunge touchstone. Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth gave the ‘90s alt-rock explosion its melodic textbook. Negativland set a template for anticorporate pranking and society jamming. The touring paths that indie bands throughout the place took — and however acquire — had been largely developed at SST’s Torrance workplaces. Its adverts and assessment copies fueled a era of zines and their writers.

A portrait of author Jim Ruland.

Jim Ruland’s hottest e book is “Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Tumble of SST Records”

(Clair McAllister)

So a great deal of this sprang from Ginn — or far more specifically, from his resentment of authority and establishments. Outside of the law enforcement bullying and hyperbolic media notice, Black Flag’s recording profession was stalled by an prolonged lawful squabble with MCA Information just after an exec dubbed 1981’s “Damaged” an “antiparent document.” (The band made that into a literal badge of honor, slapping stickers with the estimate on copies of the LP.) Ruland’s chapter titles are framed as confrontations led by the label — “SST vs. the Media,” “SST vs. Hardcore” — but the battles ended up generally Ginn’s.

Even now, Ginn was not anybody’s idea of the leader of a cultural motion. He grew up obsessed with ham radio and other engineering-geek phenomena. (SST was originally a tiny electronics outfit, brief for “solid-state transmitters.”) He spoke small as a musician or label chief — and not at all to Ruland, who was told, “I retired from interviews a lengthy time in the past.” In “What I See,” Ginn is normally dressed as if he’d just come off a shift assistant managing a Kroger’s.

Henry Rollins with Black Flag at Vex

Rollins with Black Flag at Vex, Boyle Heights, 1983. From “Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Drop of SST Data.”

(©Wild Don Lewis)

What made Ginn, Black Flag and SST so distressing to outsiders was partly a issue of aesthetics. Deal with art and present flyers developed by Ginn’s brother, Raymond Pettibon, featured feverish, provocative imagery obsessed with intercourse and death. It was also a issue of timing. The soporific Reagan period made the tunes and lyrics SST trafficked in appear an active danger. The notorious 1982 punk-rock episode of “Quincy, M.E.,” plainly impressed by information protection of Black Flag from The Times and in other places, was so decided to depict the scene as violent and nihilistic that Jack Klugman’s no-nonsense Quincy took the extraordinary action of defending the ‘60s counterculture to make punk seem all the even worse.

SST’s contempt for legislation-and-buy conservatism did not specifically make them what we’d think about progressive these days. Women of all ages and men and women of coloration were scarce Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler curtailed her restoration from a hand injuries for panic of becoming booted from the band, main to everlasting problems. Music like Black Flag’s “Slip It In” had been overtly misogynistic. Address art and SST letterhead flirted with Nazi rhetoric. Negative Brains frontman H.R. was regarded for homophobic outbursts. The label came grotesquely close to releasing a Charles Manson album.

Ruland ably catalogs these ups and downs — and justifies substantially credit for preserving the narrative afloat via the ‘90s and early aughts, perfectly right after the label experienced fatigued whatever authority the zeitgeist experienced conferred on it. He does think a readership that is familiar with the bands properly, which tends to make for limp new music criticism at times. (A person Black Flag album “suffers from an overall lack of good quality.”) But he also provides a potent cautionary tale about small business beliefs absent bitter. Following bands both broke up (Black Flag), achieved tragic demises (Minutemen) or jumped to majors (Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth), Ginn struggled. He held bands to onerous contracts and turned unreliable about royalty payments. He bought into an extended legal squabble with Negativland that only designed him search petty and hypocritical. He handed on Nirvana but signed scads of mediocre functions that diluted the brand.

Book jacket from What I See: The Black Flag Photographs of Glen E. Friedman."

All of which would make Ruland’s title double-edged: Company rock sucks, as SST’s slogan put it, because it’s litigious and exploits an overall economy of scale that mistreats particular person artists. By the early ‘90s, nonetheless, you had to squint to see what distinguished Ginn from the suits SST railed versus.

“Everything about Greg is unfathomable,” the late Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan instructed Ruland. “He is a huge enigma.”

The remaining pages of the reserve are predominantly dedicated to expressions of disappointment in Ginn, who now utilizes SST virtually solely as a vehicle for his have assignments. He’s out of contact with Pettibon, continues to be standoffish with artists and resists releasing masters that could gas reissues for center-aged Gen Xers keen to devote in their nostalgia. (Ruland speculates many tapes are misplaced or irreparably broken.)

In fact, it may well be that the planet SST developed doesn’t indicate a lot outside of Gen X nostalgia now. An formidable artist no longer needs a report label, nevertheless defiantly anticorporate, to get attention providing out, the moment a stigma, is now an ambition. But ahead of SST — and Ginn — strayed from their founding beliefs, they served as proof that a community didn’t have to promote tribalism or meet up with purity exams — and that anyone needs to thumb their nose at conservative pieties. All those ideas are enduring.

Athitakis is a author in Phoenix and writer of “The New Midwest.”