Revisiting the book that immortalized the ’80s indie punk rock scene

Revisiting the book that immortalized the ’80s indie punk rock scene

It was sometime around 1997 or 1998 when author and rock journalist Michael Azerrad was sitting at home watching a generic multi-part history on rock ’n’ roll. It was late in the evening, and the episode he caught detailed the history of punk rock—or was supposed to. But something was wrong. “It went straight from Talking Heads to Nirvana,” Azerrad recalled. “They just skipped an entire decade’s worth of great, influential bands. For a moment, I thought maybe I’d blacked out for about 10 minutes, but no, they’d just completely left out Black Flag and Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth and all the rest.” At first he felt pure indignation. “I thought to myself, ‘Someone ought to do something about this!’” which was quickly replaced by an internal call to action: “In true DIY spirit, I thought, ‘I’ll do something about this!’” Thus Our Band Could Be Your Life was born.

2016 marks the 15th year since Azerrad’s seminal anthological survey of the ’80s underground punk and rock scenes was published. Despite its subject matter detailing the histories of 13 different bands, Our Band Could Be Your Life isn’t really a book about music at all. It’s a collection of stories about people creating amazing art out of sheer compulsion and love of the process. It’s a story of doing it yourself and helping others along the way. It’s a story about communities built, whole cloth, from the ground up to express like-minded ideas and lifestyle choices. Throughout the years, the spirit of that particular period has endured as a guiding light to thousands of bands for whom there is no place in the mainstream. And on the flip side, the enthusiasm of Azerrad the historian has inspired countless writers to dig deep and tell the tales of less-heralded musicians so that their art would receive its due.

The title of the book was taken from the first line of the Minutemen song “History Lesson—Part II,” and it captures the essential reality at the core of every group that Azerrad chose to write about: You don’t need to be signed to a major label to find an audience, and you don’t need to sell millions of records to make a difference. Anyone can be a rock star if they’re passionate enough. To this day you can listen to critical works made by Black Flag, The Minutemen, Mission Of Burma, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, Mudhoney, and Beat Happening to hear the truth in Azerrad’s thesis.

We caught up with Azerrad and talked with him about the creation of Our Band Could Be Your Life and why it’s endured as a seminal work of rock ’n’ roll journalism a decade and a half later. After that, we checked in with a number of the people that Azerrad profiled—including Minutemen’s Mike Watt, Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould, Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, Minor Threat’s Brian Baker, Big Black’s Steve Albini, Mission Of Burma’s Roger Miller, and Butthole Surfers’ Paul Learyto get their thoughts about how they were portrayed, what it was like to live and create during that era, and how they feel about inspiring a new generation of artists.

Michael Azerrad

The A.V. Club: What was the criteria that you went with in picking the bands that you chose to profile?

Michael Azerrad: The idea was to tell the story of the American indie underground from 1981 to 1991. 1981 was a natural start date: It coincided with a lot of epochal releases and events in that world, not to mention the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the anti-muse of so much of that community; 1991 was, as David Markey’s essential documentary so memorably put it, “the year punk broke.”

Each band represents a critical sound, sensibility, personality, or city. For instance, Black Flag—and the label they ran, SST Records—represents Southern California hardcore of that era. There were many other great punk bands of that time and place, but I had to pick one. The Minutemen were the movement’s revolutionary theoreticians. Minor Threat was the flagship band of the D.C. hardcore scene and were the epicenter of straight edge. Big Black stands for Chicago and the Touch And Go label, as well as explaining the sort of creation myth of another great thinker and doer, Steve Albini, and so on. Each band represents some important facet of the community and its progression through the decade. There were many more bands along with them, and everyone is free to discover them too, but I just was not going to write an encyclopedia.

AVC: How long, all told, did the book take to research and write?

MA: While I was working on Our Band Could Be Your Life, I would roll out of bed and immediately start working, and keep working until it was so late at night that I couldn’t stay awake anymore. Then I’d go to sleep and wake up the next morning and do the same thing all over again. I did that every day for three years.

AVC: How did you balance trying to tell the stories of these groups and explain why they were vital and important against making the case for their music or their importance to a new audience who had never heard of them before?

MA: I’m not sure I ever try to make a case for the music. I mean, sometimes the music isn’t even that good. I just tell the band’s stories; if I describe the music, it’s to explain how it moved the overall story along. When I was just starting the book, I bumped into Legs McNeil, a very sharp person who was literally one of the first punks and is the co-author of the iconic oral history Please Kill Me, about the genesis of New York punk. Legs asked me what I was up to, and I told him I was writing a book about the American indie underground in the ’80s. A look of horror crossed his face and he said, “You’re not going to write about the music, are you?” I thought maybe he was going to pull rank, as if to say, “My punk was better than your punk.” But I just coolly replied, “Huh, what do you mean?” And he said, “Just write about the people, and the music will come out of that. You’ll notice there’s no music in Please Kill Me.” And that was the greatest music-writing advice I’ve ever gotten. It was utterly liberating. I took that to heart as much as I could with Our Band Could Be Your Life.

AVC: How personally familiar were you with each of these groups going in and were you a fan of all of them?

MA: I was a fan of virtually all of them, but the music is almost beside the point—it’s the stories.

AVC: To what degree were your subjects either cooperative or uncooperative while collecting material and researching the book?

MA: Most people were incredibly cooperative and were extremely generous with their time and their thoughts. I think they were all very grateful that someone was finally documenting this previously ignored community. Some people turned down interviews, but I had so much material that I don’t think it hurt the book at all. And there’s no law that says anybody has to do an interview.

AVC: What is the connective tissue that binds all of these bands together?

MA: The epigram for Our Band Could Be Your Life comes from William Blake: “I must create my own system, lest I be enslaved by another man’s.” All of the bands in the book were creating their own system. That’s one thing. The other is that they were part of a close-knit, interconnected, interdependent community. You’ll notice how other bands in the book pop up in every chapter, frequently. That’s no coincidence—it really was that tightly knit. People shared everything: information, equipment, their floors, whatever. There was strength in unity.

AVC: What was your most challenging chapter to write/research and what was the most surprising and/or rewarding?

MA: They were all challenging to write and research—remember, this book was written in 1998-2001, and lots of this stuff wasn’t yet on the internet so it was a lot of work. The most surprising and rewarding chapter to write was the Butthole Surfers chapter. I’d always thought of them as a bunch of drug-addled reprobates—which maybe they were—but it turned out to be more complicated than that. The more I looked into it, the more I realized how smart and creative and driven they were. They worked very hard and sacrificed a hell of a lot so they could make their completely whacked-out music. I came out of that chapter with a lot of respect for that band.

AVC: Can you talk about the way the world was in 1981 when the book begins? What kind of larger climate did these groups spring out of and in what way were they literally and intrinsically subversive?

MA: Musically, it was the age of arena rock, which some people felt was alienating, artificial, and overly commercial; a small group of musicians began making music by, for, and about the way they actually lived, as opposed to glorifying some unattainable, coke-fueled rock star fantasy. They constructed a parallel musical universe with its own freestanding infrastructure. All of this was enabled and inspired by the advent of punk rock just a few years before, not to mention the various proto-punk bands that preceded that. Politically, it was the dawn of the Reagan era. Yuppies, greed, and “morning in America” dominated the imagination of mainstream culture, including popular music; a lot of people bought into it. But the American indie underground rejected all that, and made music for like-minded people who thought for themselves. Thinking for yourself is intrinsically subversive.

AVC: Can you touch on the relative nature of regionalism that dominated underground music throughout this period? Was it label-centric?

MA: A lot of this began before MTV, not to mention the internet. People didn’t get to see how other towns interpreted the underground ethos, and so they developed their own unique versions of it. There were regional looks and sounds, and they were like tribes. Athens, Georgia is a great example. Labels certainly had a lot to do with it—each city had a defining label. Seattle had Sub Pop, Chicago had Touch And Go, Los Angeles had SST, and so on. This was nothing new, though. There was a long history of regional American indies, going back at least as far as Sun (Memphis), Hi (Memphis), Motown (Detroit), Chess (Chicago), Stax (Memphis), and, for a hot minute, Sire (New York). The Sub Pop guys—Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman—seized on that idea and made Seattle into a brand that people could use to define themselves to other people. That was genius.

AVC: The spirit of DIY was so critical to many of these group’s successes. And not just for the bands themselves, but also the zines, promoters, and record stores that made up the larger scene. Can you elaborate on the importance of that entrepreneurial spirit, for lack of a better term?

MA: The spirit of DIY wasn’t just critical to the success of that community. It was an entire way of life. You didn’t have to be a huge rock star; you just had to do well enough to continue doing what you wanted to do. It wasn’t about hitting the jackpot, it was about sustainability. That was a revolutionary, or at least heretical, idea—especially in a culture that valued getting rich even more than it already had. This idea could apply not just to music but to just about anything—that’s why the book is called Our Band Could Be Your Life.

AVC: What to your mind is the greater legacy of Our Band Could Be Your Life as its creator? Do you get more gratification from the music writers that champion and were inspired by it, or from the musicians?

MA: I’ll leave it to other people to evaluate the legacy of my book, but I’m very moved when musicians tell me that they’ve been inspired by my book. That wasn’t my original intention—I just wanted to tell the story of a bunch of musicians who had never had their story told before. There’s no preaching or theorizing in Our Band Could Be Your Life—I’m not very good at that sort of thing. But people still really seem to get a lot out of it, and I’m so glad I could help make that happen.

AVC: Before you wrote this book you worked with Nirvana on the band biography, Come As You Are, and really, the specter of that group looms large over Our Band Could Be Your Life. You can feel them coming as you flip through the pages. To your mind, was Nirvana really the culmination point of this entire decade of music, and could it have endured in the way it existed after that band exploded into the mainstream?

MA: The community profiled in Our Band Could Be Your Life was deeply established by the time Nirvana came around, and so was its ethos, which is about surviving modestly. And it not only survived Nirvana and the whole alternative rock phenom, but it’s much bigger than ever. The people who were influenced by that era are flourishing and working by the same principles that they grew up on. I’m thinking in particular of people like Gerard Cosloy from indie powerhouse Matador Records, and Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, who run Merge Records. Sub Pop is still a huge indie label, but there are countless less well-known examples. And then there are the people who took those ideas and imported them to other fields of endeavor: the “indie” architects and vegan bakers and craft brewers and filmmakers and so on. The indie ethos is now deeply embedded in our culture.

AVC: This particular movement ends as you state in the book in 1991. Do you look around the music landscape today, what general elements do you see have carried over from that period detailed in the book to today’s music atmosphere? If these 13 bands have a shared legacy that permeates to this day, what do you think that it is?

MA: Maybe the most important legacy of the bands in the book is an approach that [Minutemen’s] Mike Watt outlines in Our Band Could Be Your Life: “We just could never see mass acceptance of our music. But that didn’t make it little to us—it was still important. But if we were going to do it, we had to make sure the dream fit the tent. A massive bourgeois tent would be too much dead weight. Let’s just carry enough to get us there.” That is the crux of the book and it applies more than ever today, as making music becomes even less lucrative than it ever was.

AVC: Are there any bands or artists or even labels that you see today that embody a similar sort of ethos or DNA to the groups described here? Not to lead you on, but Philadelphia has a very interesting a fertile rock scene at the moment.

MA: Pretty much any indie band carries the DNA of the ’80s indie underground in the way they conduct their career, even if their music sounds like none of those bands. In fact, the sound of the music is irrelevant. As far as labels, Don Giovanni Records is pretty punk rock, and there are tons more. But even a label as big as Merge still uses the 50-50 profit-split method of paying their artists. The ethos lives on because it still works.

AVC: Are you surprised or impressed to any degree that bands like The Replacements say seem to be more prominent now than they ever were during their own time? It seems like you can’t read about a hopeful sounding rock band these days without the Mats getting name-checked. The same goes for Fugazi and anything with a political bent.

MA: I’m not surprised, nor am I impressed. Critics and fans use the music of their youth as reference points. For years, people seriously wondered who “the next Beatles” were going to be, and classic rock bands were the de facto yardstick for rock quality. That’s starting to seem antiquated now, but it used to be the rule. Now that the generation that grew up on ’80s indie-rock has attained influential positions in the culture, that music is the new yardstick. And that will shift yet again some day: 10, 15 years from now, the yardsticks will be TV On The Radio, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, and others of their generation.

AVC: Have you seen the Our Band Could Be Your Life playlist on Apple Music? Do you approve? Any changes?

MA: I heard there was an OBCBYL playlist but I didn’t look. It doesn’t matter what they chose—everyone has their own opinions about playlists.

Mike Watt—bassist-singer, Minutemen

AVC: Have you read the book?

Mike Watt: Yeah.

AVC: What are your impressions of it?

MW: The old punk is about people… and actually so is the new punk, and I think that’s what Michael [Azerrad] was trying to say with that title. You know there was always a confusion—especially with us Minutemen—that punk was a style of music. It’s not right, or at least it wasn’t our understanding of it. It’s a state of mind and the style of music is up to each band. I think what Michael is trying to say is that everybody has different lives so of course the bands should be different. There was a thing during those times in the ’80s where it was like Sex Pistols then Nirvana and nothing in between. I think Michael was also trying to say that there’s this other whole thing been going on. The people involved didn’t give a fuck because they were getting negative things coming at them anyway. If you were worried about validation you would of quit a long time before that. Being kind of underground, under the radar it didn’t matter to us, but other people thought that they should know about this and I think Michael was one of those cats.

AVC: How do you feel you and the Minutemen were portrayed?

MW: The one thing I can tell you personally about us, of all the bands in there [Minutemen singer] D. Boon was the only one that was killed so I felt that in a way we got the kid glove treatment. You’ll notice that with every band there’s some kind of fight, you known Bob [Mould] with Grant [Hart], J. [Mascis] and Lou [Barlow] and Greg [Ginn] and everyone [Laughs.], but we fought too! I was getting this kind of feeling that Michael, out of respect to D. Boon, that we were getting a little softer treatment. That was bullshit, so what I did was gave Michael a cassette from this guy in Minneapolis who did an interview with us that’s a whole fucking spiel of me and D. Boon arguing and debating and this guy never even gets a question in. [Laughs.] Even between ourselves we would pull over to settle an argument at a library or just pull the boat over and start punching. The Minutemen were more about putting it out there.

AVC: To your mind, what made that period in American music so vital, and why has it endured?

MW: There really wasn’t that much of a division between the audience, the gig-goers, and the guys putting on the gigs. We weren’t getting any, except for some silly sensational shit, it wasn’t really talked about in the “mersh” stuff. It was people writing their own zines and stuff that was pretty much the fabric of our movement. I think that the U.S. scene, people didn’t like it so much, but the people who did like it really went for it—even if people gave them a negative reaction, they just kept forcing it on them.

AVC: How do you feel about inspiring a generation of up-and-coming bands and writers that have discovered the book over the past 15 years?

MW: It seems kinda like all the bands in there, we lost. We failed because there wasn’t a widespread acceptance. Maybe [Azerrad] didn’t put that in there, but I get this kind of feeling like that and I kind of take issue with that because I think in some ways we were successful on other levels. Our stuff was never a bridge. It was never fucked with by middlemen or had filters. We circumvented that whole entire thing that a lot of bands had to run into later because they were signed to major labels. I think that autonomy that we gained actually was DIY. I get asked a lot by young people, “What were those days like?” “What produced this kind of thing that we all take for granted?” I think it would be me getting a little self-important for me to figure why I would mean anything in these people’s lives, but for us, why did we get into it? Why does a dog lick its balls? Because he can!

Bob Mould—lead singer-guitarist, Hüsker Dü

AVC: Have you read the book?

Bob Mould: Yes, I have read the book.

AVC: What are your impressions of it?

BM: Well, Michael Azerrad is a musician and a wonderful writer. I think his love of music comes through in the passion in which he described the 1980s independent music scene in America, especially about a lot of the SST bands, but also bands like the Butthole Surfers and Beat Happening and stuff like that. It’s a really great document.

AVC: How do you feel that you and Hüsker Dü were portrayed?

BM: I thought it was a very even representation of the band. I’ll let you in on something; I was very hesitant to speak with Michael about Hüsker Dü. You know, in the late-’90s I was 10 or 11 years removed from the end of Hüsker Dü and I still wasn’t really in the mood to talk about it. Throughout the ’90s there was a lot of sideways commentary coming at me about my role in the band from the other two guys and I just wanted to let it be dormant. But then my then-partner convinced me that I should talk to Azerrad and that it would be a good thing so I did talk to Michael and we actually had a really good conversation about my remembrances of that band and I guess more importantly of that whole movement.

AVC: To your mind, what made that period in American music so vital and why has it endured?

BM: The music was great. The music was incredible. I think that one that the book drives home and is the key to all of this—maybe more than the music, but at least equal to the music—and it is that sense that rock ’n’ roll had gotten very bloated and very unattainable. The first wave of punk did a lot to change that and I think that we all built on that, but in a very different way, a very local kind of way. You know, bands putting on shows at their houses, in their parent’s garages, and eventually VFW Halls and stripper clubs that had empty rooms with a little stage on a Monday night. All of that was borne out of necessity. None of us were going to play stadiums. A lot of us made flyers and handed them out before shows. This was before social media, this is when you had to get on the street and physically interact with people and do things. I think that’s where the endurance from the scene comes from and I loved that period of my life because it was people helping me and in turn, me helping other people. I think that the collection of scenes that Azerrad writes about in this book lives on in some way and some fashion.

AVC: How do you feel about inspiring a generation of up-and-coming bands and writers that have discovered the book over the past 15 years?

BM: Let’s move that over to Azerrad because in the ’60s and ’70s through the ’80s and into the ’90s as well, rock journalism to me was a real special thing; the longform interview, the in-depth features on artists. You get a look at their life, you get a look at the people who surround them in their lives, you look at their routines, you look at their inspirations and in this day and age where everything is very short hand and very Cliff Notes with social media, 170 characters or less, it’s somewhat of a lost art form. I think that a lot of the beauty of the book is that it shows the reader, and hopefully aspiring writers, that you have to dig a little bit deeper. It’s a little deeper than the press release. It’s a little deeper than the sound bites. It’s a little deeper than the video for the song and on and on. Music is our lives. It’s really really important and Michael Azerrad is the keeper of a lot of stories and the keeper of a lot of connections and I think that’s the beauty of Our Band.

Mark Arm—lead singer-guitarist, Mudhoney

AVC: Have you read the book?

Mark Arm: Yes, but not since it was released.

AVC: What are your impressions of it?

MA: Up until Michael wrote Our Band Could Be Your Life, the ’80s American underground had been ignored or gotten short shrift. I enjoyed the conceit that each year was represented by one band. The chapter on the Butthole Surfers remains my favorite.

AVC: How do you feel that you and Mudhoney were portrayed?

MA: If I remember correctly, our chapter was the only one that was split evenly between a band and a label. That’s cool, though. Sub Pop’s story and ours were deeply intertwined.

AVC: To your mind, what made that period in American music so vital and why has it endured?

MA: The vast majority of the people and bands involved in underground independent American music in the ’80s were stoked to be part of that culture. The idea of breaking into the mainstream was so ludicrous, they didn’t consider it. Most of the music came from a very pure place, unencumbered by commercial consideration. The fact that the Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth were two of the biggest underground bands circa 1987 is a testament to that. Despite the economic trickle down that Mudhoney received in the early ’90s, the co-optation of the underground by the mainstream still breaks my heart. The idea that one could grab the brass ring by being in a successful band took a terrible toll on the music and left us with watered down “indie” rock drek. That said, there are still pockets of great underground bands out there.

AVC: How do you feel about inspiring a generation of up-and-coming bands and writers that have discovered the book over the past 15 years?

MA: I think it would be presumptuous of me to claim that we inspired anyone.

Brian Baker—bassist-guitarist, Minor Threat

AVC: Have you read the book?

Brian Baker: Yes! I got it shortly after it came out.

AVC: What are your impressions of it?

BB: Great read. Loved the Big Black stuff.

AVC: How do you feel that you and Minor Threat were portrayed?

BB: Pretty accurately, actually.

AVC: To your mind, what made that period in American music so vital and why has it endured?

BB: The thing that makes this music so compelling is that it was generally made with no pretense of careerism or longevity. It has endured precisely because it was never intended to.

AVC: How do you feel about inspiring a generation of up-and-coming bands and writers that have discovered the book over the past 15 years?

BB: I’m flattered and grateful to still be part of the conversation.

Steve Albini—guitarist, Big Black

AVC: Have you read the book?

Steve Albini: Most of it. I may have skipped some parts.

AVC: What are your impressions of it?

SA: It’s about my immediate peer group, mostly. People with whom I am intimately familiar and events I saw first hand. It was written by a guy who wasn’t there when any of it happened. I naturally think Azerrad’s perspective is skewed by hype, publicity, and reputation, and he swallows some pretty burnished bullshit regarding motives for various embarrassing episodes. A lot of what he says sounds like mistaken critical perspective to me, but that’s inevitable given those sentences I typed right there. It’s never taken well when somebody tries to school a monkey about bananas. That said, I loved reading about the Minutemen and if you are interested in that era of music and don’t know anybody who was involved, you could do a lot worse than read it. I’m just hampered in my appreciation of it because I saw it all go down, so any little incongruity seems like an affront. I don’t even know if it could be done better and not have that effect.

AVC: How do you feel that you and Big Black were portrayed?

SA: An author or critic is welcome to his perspective and position, but if I were writing it I’d have put less emphasis on image and subject matter, and more on the culture and society of bands we were part of, which I still believe was the most important contribution of my generation of musicians. We created an environment where you could get away with anything and everybody would pitch in to make it fantastic. I don’t ever think of Big Black as an island, but as part of a community that included dozens of bands in Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Columbus, Austin, Seattle, and beyond. That circle was incredibly productive during the ’80s, and I’m certain if you spoke to other peers of the era they’d agree that none of the bands was on its own, that nothing would have been possible without everybody. The book singles out representative bands, which has the effect of reproducing in miniature the star system that the regular music business describes, and to us on the inside of it nothing could be further from the reality.

AVC: To your mind, what made that period in American music so vital and why has it endured?

SA: Unbridled invention unconstrained by reverence or reference to form or tradition. Brilliant people driven not by ambition but by wonder and excitement. The realization that indeed we didn’t need anybody’s permission to do anything, anywhere. Not a lot of drugs. Nobody expected to get famous so nobody watched his mouth. Many hands make light work.

AVC: How do you feel about inspiring a generation of up-and-coming bands and writers that have discovered the book over the past 15 years?

SA: Seems nice. They should read Please Kill Me too.

Roger Miller—guitarist, Mission Of Burma

AVC: Have you read the book?

Roger Miller: Yes. It was a very fun and funny read.

AVC: What are your impressions of it?

RM: It really captured what was going on, and each band’s peculiar take on how they dealt with it. Putting us (relative unknowns at the time) up there with those other bands really validated that whole time period for us.

AVC: How do you feel that you and Mission Of Burma were portrayed?

RM: It read accurately to me. There was nothing in there that didn’t feel like it really happened to us. And it made me laugh! Mission Of Burma had not yet reformed when the book came out. As far as we were concerned, we were just a small blot on a few astute critics’ and musicians’ radars. Influential in an almost invisible way. When the book came out we were stunned. Stunned because we were up there with bands of that era that we thought were truly great and stunned because every one of those bands sold so many more records than we did and was so much better known than we were. We always considered ourselves to be on a par with them musically, but we never thought that anyone else would think so! Michael was certainly looking behind the curtain to include us. It was one of the inspirations for us to reform in 2002.

AVC: To your mind, what made that period in American music so vital and why has it endured?

RM: Most of the bands in that book had only one idea: to do what they saw as correct and to make the music they wanted to hear. If others like that too, great! If not, well, that’s just too bad. None of those bands made music to become superstars, they made music because they had a deep-down burning idea. If they achieved renown and financial reward it was due to their initial vision, not to any pre-planned career goal. We did what we felt was right, and fuck everyone else! Basically that was it.

AVC: How do you feel about inspiring a generation of up-and-coming bands and writers that have discovered the book over the past 15 years?

RM: It’s an honor. Who would’ve guessed? We thought we were doing important work while we were around 1979 to 1983, but our odd early demise made it pretty clear that hardly anyone else would. Sometimes things do come around, and I’m sure I speak for everyone in the band in saying that we are amazed and honored if someone gets inspiration from our work. We were another link in the chain of rock that got from there to here. And one of main reasons we are is that Michael brought us up out of the dirt, applied his iron cleanser and told our odd story. I can still recall the talking sessions, amazed that he was interviewing us for the book. Thanks Michael!

Paul Leary—guitarist, Butthole Surfers

AVC: Have you read the book?

Paul Leary: I read much of the chapter on my band. I like working on music more than reading and when I do read, I prefer reading about the moon being a spaceship.

AVC: What are your impressions of it?

PL: What I read seemed to capture the essence of what it was like back in the day.

AVC: How do you feel that you and Butthole Surfers were portrayed?

PL: It seemed pretty accurate. Kramer’s stories seem to recall some things a bit different than I remember, but overall it seemed to tell the story well. It got harder for me to read as I got deeper into the chapter, as the memories started to get painful. It reminded me of how much I wanted out of that life.

AVC: To your mind, what made that period in American music so vital and why has it endured?

PL: It was that special era when you could make an album and sell it on the road. The internet kind of put an end to a lot of that.

AVC: How do you feel about inspiring a generation of up-and-coming bands and writers that have discovered the book over the past 15 years?

PL: I was shocked to realize that the book has been out for 15 years. In my mind, it has been out for just a couple of years… where does time go? As far as inspiring anyone, I’m not really into that. I feel like I was one of the lucky ones that went on to have a somewhat normal life. Hopefully it inspired young musicians too look into other career options.