Today on Uprising, we talk with Jon Fine, Executive Editor of INC magazine and author of “Your Band Sucks,” about his group Bitch Magnet, the punk music movement of the 1980s and the current music scene. We also talk about how 20-somethings can change the world. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
Today on Uprising, we talk with Jon Fine, Executive Editor of INC magazine and author of “Your Band Sucks,” about his group Bitch Magnet, the punk music movement of the 1980s and the current music scene. We also talk about how 20-somethings can change the world. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! On Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! A reveiew on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Scott: In the book Your Band Sucks, Jon Fine takes us along for his eighties punk group’s life, death and everything in between. Today on Uprising—
Jon: –including the reunion. Sorry. Spoilers.
Scott: That’s totally good, that’s good. So today on Uprising—you got a bonus there—we’re gonna talk about music, we’re gonna get into the new music scene, reminisce about what happened in the 1980s. But we’re also gonna talk about something equally interesting, especially when it comes to movements, and mainly teenage men and 20-something men on a mission to change the world. So I have Jon Fine with me today; author, executive editor-in-chief of INC magazine, guitarist, cultural commentator, impresario. Welcome to Uprising. Welcome to the show, Jon.
Jon: Great to be here, Scott. Thanks so much.
Scott: You’re welcome. So, are you done playing music? Is it over?
Jon: God, I don’t know. I mean, I keep thinking I am but it keeps sort of sucking me back in. I mean, I wanna be clear about this. I’m not in an active band right now, and I have enough friends who are active musicians, doing real things. Like, I know that what I do while I’m sort of sitting around on the couch and occasionally recording on my iPhone doesn’t count as doing music. But having said that, I keep thinking I’m done but I’ve just sort of developed this newfound interest in guitar again. And I have this old broken down route seventies guitar that I finally had fixed up, and I’m just really enthralled with it. Like, I’m gonna bring it to my office at work so I have it at work while I have the other ones at home. And I seem to find a way to play at least a half an hour a day now which is the first time I can say that in a long time. So, who knows?
Scott: So when you look at what’s going on in music today, what do you, sort of, see? What’s out there? What’s the challenges, what are the problems?
Jon: Well, you know it’s funny, I’ve done a lot of readings and events around my book. And inevitably at every one of them, someone asks some version of, “Is the Internet ruining music? Is it making it impossible to be a band?” And imbedded in that question—‘cause these are generally people around my age and I’m in my forties—is the assumption that there was this golden time. There was a golden time of record stores. And college radio stations. And bookstores. And, you know, little places where we gathered to be ourselves. Be a part of this weird indie rock/punk rock underground of the eighties and nineties. And that world is gone in a lot of ways in the visible sense of it. Record stores are gone. Two of my favorite record stores in America, in fact, closed in the last month. Other Music in New York City? Fabulous store. And Aquarius Records in San Francisco, which may have been the longest-running independent record store going. It was going since 1970 and they finally couldn’t do it anymore. So, I mean, I feel the loss of all that stuff, and while it’s different and perhaps harder to do “band things” like find an audience—and it’s definitely impossible to make money off recorded music—there are just different ways of getting the word out. There’s obviously been this explosion in distribution. There’s been good and bad with that. But my gut feeling with this stuff—and I’m constantly saying this to people who disagree with me at these book events—I can’t argue against more distribution of music being a bad thing. When I was in my teens, you would hear about a band like The Stooges or The Sex Pistols and then you’d have to find the fuckin’ record. And it would take me years to find stuff. You know? And you’d talk to other people and they’re like, “Yeah, man, I’ve heard about that too. I just don’t know where it is.” And that just doesn’t happen anymore. And I don’t wanna minimize the collateral damage that the internet has reeked on music as well as many other creative industries, but more people having access to more things? I just can’t argue that that’s a bad thing.
Scott: So what do you think’s gonna save whatever’s left of the music industry?
Jon: Well, I guess probably the best thing to do is to draw a line between music and the music industry. The music industry, as any business that was built on artificially high margins and artificial scarcity, it’s gonna keep collapsing until it’s a size that actual makes sense in a world where there isn’t scarcity of distribution and you can’t artificially jack up prices. And I’ve got friends who’ve lost jobs because of that, I have friends who’ve closed down record labels that I cared about deeply because of that, but I mean, sorry? Business changes. At the same time, there’s just an absolute explosion of creativity in music because there’s so many more ways to play with songs, mix things up, there’s different ways to collaborate with musicians, there’s different ways to get your stuff out. I mean, I’ll give you an example which is now dated a couple years, but I just love this so much. Someone—a good friend of mine—who was a co-owner of that record store in San Francisco, Aquarius, sent me a link a couple years ago. It was Bandcamp, which is one of the platforms where people can post their own music. It was a band called Apprentice Destroyer. This fabulous sort of trance-y, kind of Krautrock-y stuff, mostly synthesizers but not exclusively. Apprentice Destroyer is one guy and the shtick on Apprentice Destroyer is that it was recorded entirely on a simple digital recorder at Guitar Centers. He did all the performance and recording in music stores. Like, bit by bit. I mean, that’s just fucking amazing! You know? Like, he did that for nothing. There were costs of possibly getting chased out by a security guard, but if you wanted to make a record when my bands were around—and I started playing in bands that made records in 1986—it was like, “We wanna make a record! Great. Okay, so we gotta pay for studio time. And we gotta pay for tape.” Because you were paying for these big, specialized recording tapes. And they were a couple hundred bucks a reel. And that was real money if you’re broke and twenty-one years old. And the studio time was a couple thousand dollars. So there were huge barriers to music happening. I think people who are older get cranky about music and they’re inclined to dismiss it now because, “Oh, it was better, it’s all a mess now.” And I just think that’s really a function of not having the time that we once did to go deep and burrow in and find stuff. And there’s just more stuff to go through than ever, so I don’t do that. I don’t follow music as obsessively as I used to, I can’t. And it can take up even more time than it did when I was doing it. And I wanna be clear. When it was just records and tapes and cd’s, it took up all my time keeping up. But, I mean, it’s out there.
Scott: I have some good news for you, actually. Corinne’s niece plays in a band—a Swedish band, they’re both in Sweden but they play in a band—and it’s called Peter Bjorn and John. She’s in that. And they’re now touring the United States, I think she’s in Colorado.
Jon: They’re kind of a big deal.
Scott: They’re a big deal, but her other nephew, or my cousin—Viba? is his name—he’s actually leading this band that’s all indie synth. So indie synth is taking over Sweden, so it’s kind of like taking back that whole indie synth movement that existed back in the…
Jon: Well, I mean it’s funny. I think at this point you can just find a thriving subculture around any kind of music. You know, like I could find a thousand bands today if I wanted to that are essentially essaying Italian disco from the early eighties. Which, by the way, is a thing. And the best Italian disco from the early eighties is fucking unbelievable. It is super cool and super weird. And what you’re talking about with your cousin’s band, like, to me, that sounds like an outgrowth of what was going on in New York and elsewhere in the nineties and the early 2000s. Like the biggest band to come out of that was probably LCD Soundsystem, who are still going. But all this stuff exists, you know? Like, punk rock exists, hardcore exists, straight-edge hardcore exists, you know, Christian hardcore exists, metal exists. Heavy metal exists. Death metal exists. You know, Christian death metal exists. I mean, you can sub-divide and subdivide and all this stuff is out there.
Scott: They have, like Christian heavy metal—Finnish music exists.
Jon: Yeah, totally. Like, with all the motifs of death metal. You know, like vocals that are like (imitates death growl) and what’s called blast beat drumming which is like this crazy—I mean, it’s all out there. And like I remember just sort of tripping out on this—thanks to my friends at the dearly departed Aquarius Records—when they’d be like, “Yeah, they’re sort of a death metal band. They’re from Holland but they’re sort of affiliated with the crust punk movement, and by the way they have a saxophone player.” Or, there’s a death metal band and the singer is a parrot. Which, by the way, exists. I think they’re called Hatebeak. And it’s just endlessly thrilling to me that this stuff exists. I don’t remember who I was talking about this with recently, but 125 years ago there wasn’t really a music industry. There was live music performance, and a few stars, but not much else. And music was something that people did. Music was something that people shared and they did together. There wasn’t a lot of ways to entertain yourself so you’d just sort of gather around and play music. And there was someone in your family who could sing well. And there was someone in your family who could play guitar. And others who were less good, but it was just something that people did. And maybe that’s what it’s gone back to. And in terms of societal good, maybe that’s not terrible.
Scott: Well it’s interesting also, I think, today everybody seems to be so passionate about what they’re doing, whether they’re into the metal bands that you talked about with the singing parrot or not—they seem to be really into it. But I noticed when I read your book “Your Band Sucks” that in the nineties you note that bands didn’t seem to care about anything. They projected most sexuality or interest in the pleasure principle, displayed meager instrumental skills, but they began to gain tremendous popularity as underachievers—
Jon: Well, I wanna walk you back a little on that. I mean, I was talking about one very specific subset of indie music in the eighties and nineties where, yeah, there was kind of this willful modesty and, you know, it was a point of pride…
Scott: Was that your band? Were you guys like that?
Jon: You know, we were unusual in that, accidentally, the bassist and the drummer were amazing. Like, really great. The bassist had been playing multiple instruments since he was, like, 10. He was pretty much a fully developed songwriter at the age of 18. And the drummer—whose name is Orestes Morfín—was seriously one of the best drummers in the world, and nobody knew it. And I wanna be clear, if anyone who’s listening to this and rolling their eyes; I know way fucking more about music than you and I’ve heard way more drummers and I’m right and you’re wrong. So fuck off. But there was a modesty—and I was terrible. I had to learn to catch up with them, and I was the one who couldn’t play, but eventually I could. And this is important. It’s rock music. This isn’t, like, reconstructive surgery. You don’t have to be a fucking expert to play it. It can be three chords and a irresistible hook, or it can be two chords and a drone you can’t get out of your head. That’s some of my favorite stuff in the world. Why we were so pleasure-averse is because we were basically a reaction to eighties hair metal, which was all about the party and all about the chicks and all about primping and looking good. And the music fucking sucked. And the way you can tell that is that there are no bands that are actually influenced by that anymore. Like, that stuff disappeared. And while I do feel, as in the subtitle of my book, that whatever revolution we wanted with indie rock or punk rock failed, we killed that shit. I mean, when Nirvana got big—and I don’t even like Nirvana that much—but when they got big and when bands that came out of our culture came big (Soundgarden, Helmet, again not my favorite bands but they were of the culture) Poison and bands like that went from playing football stadiums to arenas to clubs in the span of, like, a year. It just fucking disappeared. And I feel that my people in this subculture can hold our heads up high for doing that.
Scott: Wow, that’s amazing. How did you guys come up with the name Bitch Magnet?
Jon: The anecdote is in the book, but we were 18-year-olds sitting around our college radio station. We had a flyer, which is how you got the word out for shows, of our first performance. And it was completely done except for the place where we were gonna put our name. And someone in the room made a joke about a DJ at the radio station who had fabulous success with women. And I made a joke referencing, like, “He’s a bitch magnet,” which is some really crude Southern slang. And the bassist in my band was like, “That’s it.” And the next think I knew, he was pasting up the letters for Bitch Magnet on the flyer, and I was like, “Well, I guess that’s the name.” I wanna be clear, we were 18. We were not thinking for the long-term. I’m not walking away from that name, I don’t apologize for that name. Some people, when our records were reissued in 2011, said, “This is a really great and interesting band.” Thank you. “And one reason why no one knows about that is probably because they chose a really fucking stupid name.” And it’s like “Yeah, guilty.” What can I tell ya? We lost a few gigs ‘cause of it. We were also going to Oberlin which, then as well as now, was deeply “PC” as they say. And obviously we were trying to poke the beast a little bit. But we were sitting around a radio station. Like, I had no idea I’d be talking about this, oh my god, almost 30 years after the fact. Or that we would be playing shows in Asia and Europe and America in 2011 and 2012, 25 years after that conversation. We were 18! We were fuckin’ idiots! We weren’t thinking about the long-term.
Scott: When you were 18 years old and you came up with Bitch Magnet, though, you definitely had some kind of desire to change the world or do something—leave a mark so that, you know, the name…I mean, you could look back on it and say what you want, but it certainly has a cache to it. I don’t think you forget about it.
Jon: Yeah I know, but the thing that I learned much later is that you don’t want a band name where people can hear it and think that you’re not serious about music, or that it’s some kind of joke. Like, this was not a joke. I mean, we lived and died with it, we slaved over our music, we made three vastly different records that I’m still really proud of, and I was 19 when I recorded the first one. I mean, I’ll stand that shit up to almost anything. And I’ve been lucky to make a living off of creative work. I’ve written for magazines, edited magazines, written a book, and I’m nearing 50. And I know that on my deathbed, there are some Bitch Magnet songs that will be among the proudest things I’ve done. Like, without question. Without question.
Scott: So, can writing ever usurp the feel of playing music live as the ultimate power trip in your mind? Like, when you’re onstage and you’re feeling it and the music’s coming out and you’re connecting with your audience? Can you get anywhere close to that when you’re writing?
Jon: The pleasures of writing are very strange. This is not my line, but I don’t like writing. I like being finished with writing. You just have to get through the writing to get to that feeling. And I don’t wanna complain about writing the book because writers like to complain about how hard the job is. And it’s like, yeah, you’re not digging ditches when it’s 120 degrees out. You’re not working at a McDonalds and trying to raise two kids while you’re working at McDonalds 30 hours a week. That’s fuckin’ hard, you know? This is moving sentences around on a computer screen. There are very unique satisfactions with it that are very profound. And, you know, if most writers are honest, I think they’ll admit that there’s an aggression to it, and a mania to be heard that is one of the driving forces. But there’s nothing like being in a rock band onstage. I mean, there just isn’t. And I interviewed about 60 musicians and people from the kind of independent rock subculture for the book, and one of the many favorite things that someone told me was mentioned by Clay Tarver; in the eighties and nineties he was in bands, Chavez and Bullet LaVolta. He’s one of the executive producers on Silicon Valley. And he said, “Going on tour is so much fun that it kind of makes you crazy.” And it does. The ups and downs of every day, it’s amazing. And it makes you insane. And to take that further, chasing that feeling kind of ruined my life in some ways, you know? And there are people I know that it definitely ruined their lives. These are people who went so deep in it, they can’t have a job. They can’t do anything else. And there’s almost a factor of addiction to it because being onstage is such a multidimensional thing, when it’s clicking. It’s like there’s the absolute sheer volume of what you’re putting out, like you’re literally feeling it in your bones. I mean, it’s, like, 120 decibels, the lights are in your face, it’s hot as fuck, there’s this intense communion with the people in the band you’re playing with, it’s almost telepathic, you’re anticipating stuff and you’re trying to fake each other out, but you’re there with each other. And then all this energy that you’re throwing out is coming right back at you from the crowd. It’s sexual, it’s like heroine. I mean, I miss it.
Scott: Is everything you just described—
Jon: I’ve never done heroine, by the way.
Scott: We’ll note that, of course. (Laughs) The power that you just talked about, everything you described, is it really a reflection of the power of the youth? Or is it a result of that, of that experience? Is that what you get?
Jon: It’s a really interesting question. The feeling got really inextricably tied with the kind of male, I don’t know, sex drive, warrior urge, whatever you wanna call it. Those hormones. Which, when you’re 18, are running pretty high. And you don’t know what the fuck to do with them. As those of us who are now around teenagers, you can sort of see them, sort of, freaking out from their internal chemistries. ‘Cause it’s so intense and they just don’t have any experience with it. But at the same time, I did all this stuff again when I was in my forties. And I fucking felt it. Like, needle in the goddamn vein, man. Like, adrenaline shot straight to the heart. I felt it. You still feel it.
Scott: You did that in 2011. What exactly did you do?
Jon: So, Bitch Magnet—which was a band that was between 1986 and 1990—that was my first band. We did three records, we toured Europe and America. I mean, we weren’t famous by any stretch—I rattle about this in the book—but we were known enough in this subculture and known enough to enough people to be able to go on tour and sell records, and you see little bits of money here and there. And so I did a bunch of other bands until, like, 2005, 2006. Toured America, toured Asia. In 2011, Bitch Magnet’s entire catalogue was reissued by the wonderful people at Temporary Residence Limited Records. And we got asked to reunite for a festival in the UK called All Tomorrow’s Parties. And this was complicated because, at that point, we lived in three countries. I lived in New York, the drummer lived in Calgary, and the bassist—who was also the vocalist—lived in Singapore. So it was complicated. But number one, it was clear there was some kind of audience. Number two, All Tomorrow’s Parties made a pretty generous offer, and we were like, “Well, it costs thousands of dollars for us to get a room together, but you know we can do this.” Then it’s like, well if we’re doing this, if we’re gonna play All Tomorrow’s Parties, we should play these shows in Europe. And Sooyoung, our bass player, lives in Singapore so we should probably practice out there and we should probably do some shows. I can get us a show in Tokyo, Sooyoung can get us a show in Seoul. So we did that, too. And America was the obviously thing, ‘cause it was the last to re-book, and I’m glad we did.
Scott: As you describe it, it’s a really interesting insight into, sort of, young males. I mean, you could almost argue it’s also young men and women.
Jon: It is for sure. I mean, I can only speak to the male experience, but you definitely see it.
Scott: Especially these days you see it in a big way. Maybe not as much back then, but—
Jon: One of the things I’m proud about indie rock subcultures is it was the beginning of women really taking the reigns and playing much more active roles in bands than they had before. And progress was slow as it usually is, but it led to other things.
Scott: You know, when you’re twenty-something and you’ve got this sort of awesome power, this sort of force that’s inside of you, that you look out in the world and you go, “Fuck. Everything is wrong, everything has to be righted.” And the energy that you put into this music in the punk scene that was the eighties. If you look at 2016 today and you look at the world, what can that power represent? That idealism? How does it manifest itself today? Not in music but in culture.
Jon: Well the obvious thing—and I pause for a second because I didn’t wanna just say “the obvious thing”—there is a great deal of youth and energy behind what looked like a pretty unlikely long shot bid for the Democratic nomination. And Bernie Sanders got a hell of a lot farther than I think pretty much anyone thought. And you saw the people that came out to see him. The younger voters were really well represented. That’s a good example. I mean, I tend to think of it in terms of activism, and that’s where you see it the most. I’m probably thinking about it in activism because I pay much more closer attention to politics and activism than I do to music right now. I mean, I’m sure there are pissed off 18 year olds right now—men and women—just being like, “All of you grown-ups, this is bullshit.” Like, “Your music is bullshit, your culture is bullshit. We are going to do this. And you will see that we’re right.” And you know what? That’s exactly what they should. If I put up a building, culturally speaking, that I’m proud of, they should still wanna fucking tear it down. That’s what this is all about. And I’m not the hugest fan of this band either necessarily, but when R.E.M.—I’m going way back—when they were becoming a really big deal and they were being deified in the mid-eighties, someone asked Peter Buck one of the most horrible, highfalutin questions, like, “What do you think R.E.M.’s influence will ultimately be on music fifty years from now?” And he was like, “You know, I don’t really know, but the thing that’s actually exciting is that someone is gonna hear our music. And they’re gonna say, ‘R.E.M. fucking sucks and they’re so terrible, I’m gonna start a fucking band and I’m gonna show them.’ And that band will be, like, the next Velvet Underground or the next Stooges. And that is what’s really exciting.” And that remains to this day. It’s tricky when you’re an actual grown-up, but it’s like, yeah, the whole point of being a teenager is that they’re supposed to wanna blow all of our stuff up.
Scott: If you go back to yourself at that time and if you think about it, what was the hole in your life you were trying to fill?
Jon: So I was deeply into music, and I felt that the radio—we remember radio, I don’t know if radio really exists anymore—but the radio was how you found out about music. And it was the only channel I’d hear this stuff. And I hated a lot of what was on the radio, and on a very personal level I felt like musicians and bands were lying to me. I felt that they weren’t writing stuff that was reflecting the emotional states of myself and the people I liked. Who were all, by the way, outcasts that were completely fucking despised by 95% of our hometown. But I would hear some maroon like Howard Jones, like he would be on MTV with his song called “Things Can Only Get Better.” And I’d be like, “Fuck you. Things suck and they’re getting worse, and you’re lying to me.” And as sort of childish as this sounds, that was how I felt.
Scott: So you weren’t into Rick Astley or anything like that.
Jon: You know, I really barely heard Rick Astley, to be honest with you. He kind of came later, and at a certain point I was able to discover a subculture that was building itself up when this crap like Howard Jones was everywhere. And I didn’t spend a lot of time with the mainstream after that ‘cause it bore me shitless and our stuff was better. So, my niece who’s thirteen, who I adore more than almost anything in the world—save for my wife—she is in love with Hamilton. And so she’s all excited, she’s like, “Uncle Jon, you’ve gotta listen to Hamilton!” and I’m like, “…Yeah, I don’t know how to tell you this, it’s not really my thing.” And I was kind of playing with her, and I was like, “Alright, so here’s how Uncle Jon understands music like that. Don’t tell me what everyone’s favorite song off the Hamilton soundtrack is. Tell me what the weird song is. Like, what’s the fucked up song that nobody likes? Like, what’s the song that kind of sticks out? ‘Cause that’s what Uncle Jon’s gonna get excited about.” And she was like, “Yeah, there kind of isn’t one.” And I’m like, “Well, you know, eh. Not that interested.” So, I just didn’t interface much with Rick Astley. I’m pretty sure at this point I’ve heard Taylor Swift, just ‘cause she seems to be everywhere. But I’ve never knowingly heard Taylor Swift. And I’m pretty confident I’ve never heard Justin Bieber, either. It’s like, fuck all that shit! And by the way, Taylor Swift might be really good? I don’t know. Justin Bieber, I’m sure, totally sucks.
Scott: But you have this sort of like—and it’s really interesting—I think inherent in you is this sort of “Fuck the mainstream” and this sort of desire to find the broken edge somewhere on the side on the periphery, something that’s not the polished and middle. And I think inherent in a lot of leaders that I’ve spoken with who run movements, who try to change things, they have the same approach. And it’s not in everybody. Most people prefer the shiny, happy middle, you know? It’s quite unusual. And is it an environmental thing? Were you born with it, or did someone teach you? How did you personally start to become that person?
Jon: To become the person that is kind of attracted to the middle, or the person who is, like, trying to cut himself on the jagged edge?
Scott: The jagged edge. ‘Cause you’re not in the middle.
Jon: Well, I’m a lot more in the middle than I used to be. I mean, which is totally fine. I don’t know, I was just attracted to the stuff that excited me, you know? I was just attracted to the stuff that was interesting to me. I was attracted to the people that were interesting and different. And there was a lot more marginalization of cultures in the eighties. In the eighties—I’m not saying this to say that it’s easy by any stretch to be gay in America now—but it was pretty hard to be gay almost anywhere in America in the eighties. And these were the interesting people, they were the unusual people, they had much more interesting ideas. I mean, who the fuck wants to hang out with the popular kids? Maybe the popular kids today are really cool, I don’t know. I’m in New York City, and they kind of do seem sort of cool. But who wants a life that’s based around high school football games? And Instagram’s full of, like, fall color and pumpkin spice latte’s and seriously! Like, don’t people want more than that? Like, isn’t there a great hunger in us for something? I mean, for me this was how it expressed itself.
Scott: So you had that sort of music scene, you have young people, punk rock came out, there was obviously economic instability that helped to stimulate that whole scene in the UK and then obviously in the US.
Jon: I mean, I wanna back you up on that. Because most of the people that are deepest involved in this are, like, middle-class white kids who went to art school and the equivalent. Like, Joe Strummer grew up very comfortably in The Clash. I really dislike The Clash, but, I mean, he’s kind of an important figure. Wire, which is a band I adore, who are still going and they’re in their seventies. Probably the most important band to come out of the seventies UK punk scene. They were an art school band. Like, I grew up pretty damn comfortably. I grew up in a big suburban house. I had my own bedroom, you know? I mean, most of the people in bands in my thing did too because you almost needed the fallback of a parent’s house to crash at. There was no money in this. It was difficult to do on nothing.
Scott: Did you ever watch the TV series Vinyl?
Jon: Yeah, it’s fuckin’ awful. Jesus fucking Christ.
Scott: Did you see the band that was kind of a little bit like a punk band?
Jon: Jesus fucking Christ, are you trying to piss me off?
Scott: (laughs) No! Well, what’s interesting about them is that they were kind of like skid kids. They weren’t the middle class kind of kids that you’re describing—
Jon: Well okay, but—
Scott: I know they’re characters, but—
Jon: But that was like Mick Jagger’s and—and by the way, Mick Jagger’s son, coincidentally playing the singer and being fucking terrible as an actor—and Martin Scorsese’s idea of what punk rock was like, and it’s obviously preposterous. Any musician who is remotely familiar with the settings of live music will say that the live music stuff in Vinyl is completely fucking preposterous, that your entire notion of what it’s like to be in a band is completely preposterous. The band’s interactions with a major label are completely preposterous. It was a deeply troubled show that could’ve been really great in the hands of other people. Having said that, Ray Romano as a neurotic Jew? Like, five gold stars. Unbelievable.
Scott: But they still, at the same time, keyed into something that was going on in society. And punk succeeded because it was, as you say, an activist culture that just seemed to catch people at a time when things needed to change. I mean, there was a lot of things people were fighting against, whether it was apartheid or it was social injustice. Whatever it was, punk came in, and sort of turned around the seventies loving from, “We’re all together loving each other” to, “Fuck, we gotta change everything.” And there was an anger, and the point I’m making is if you look now—fast-forward to 2016. There’s a fucking lot of anger out there. But there isn’t a lot of music. And—
Jon: Oh, no no no no no. No, there’s so much music. There’s more music than ever! I mean, just because there aren’t like the giant channels, it’s a distribution issue. Like, just because the giant channels that there used to be. And also frankly, Scott, you and I aren’t paying that close attention anymore. If you and I wanted to, we’re both in New York City right now, right?
Jon: Alright, so I bet if we wanted to, and we looked within fifty miles of where we’re sitting, we could find five hardcore shows going on in a basement tonight. If we wanted to find that out. We just don’t. I mean, that’s still out there. And you know, I honestly gotta tell you, I’m always a little weary of finding the cultural resonances with cultural movements—I’m sorry, finding the broader cultural resonance with artistic movements. I mean, to me the most American punk rock band was Black Flag. Incredibly important. Great band, they carved out the entire independent circuit. They created the idea of what an independent label is, without which any of what we’re talking about was impossible. They created the touring circuit on which all these bands play. They were the first unusual band to go out in a lot of these places. They got really violent and strange reactions from people because of that. Black Flag was apolitical in their music, they did not have the most evolved attitudes towards women. And if you talk to each of them individually, I bet you’ll find out that they were either kinda right wing or generally libertarian or apolitical. And to me, the Sex Pistols and Wire are much more interesting and much better bands than, like, The Clash. The Clash were overtly political. The Sex Pistols have an anti-abortion song on their first album. Wire didn’t really write about politics. I don’t know how they vote, I don’t know if they voted pro-Brexit or not, I kinda don’t care. It’s a little dangerous to assume that just ‘cause of fuckin’ boring mainstream shit like Bruce Springsteen and U2 have the sort of feel-good lefty attitudes. And that’s not necessarily widely shared. Musicians who are serious about music wanna do music. And I can find lefty hardcore bands that I really like, but I can also find rightwing hardcore bands I really like.
Scott: But there’s something about, like, angry, young men. Like, there’s lots of great quotes of angry young men without jobs or without access to females or whatever it is. They become incredibly destructive, or they can be destructive. You look out in the world today and you see both constructive people that you see—a lotta young men—and women—but mostly men. I’m not just talking about the US but just beyond the US that have this incredible energy and this destructive energy and it’s…I don’t know, maybe I’m missing it, and you’re right, I’m definitely at a different generation than I was in the past. But I just wonder whether the music scene doesn’t touch people the way it used to. And maybe it does but in such a splintered way that it just doesn’t connect us bigger, in a bigger world. So it’s so splintered that we just don’t connect as a bigger group of people. So I remember when The Clash came about, and it definitely connected with a broad group of people. And whatever your political views were, you went, “Okay, that band is super cool. I like their music.” And whether you were British or South African or Canadian or whatever, you—
Jon: We’ll agree to disagree on quality of The Clash. But carry on, sir! Carry on!
Scott: I think there’s at least, anyway, some kind of connectivity between people. Now, it seems, there isn’t any of that. And…
Jon: But number one, Scott, honestly, we’re both grown-ass men in our forties. I mean, we’re too old to know. Like, what the youth is doing is gonna be kind of invisible to us and it should be. But there are so many different ways to connect. The obvious shit like Snapchat and Facebook, there are online communities that are grouped around really intense interests. And honestly, the music scene is really splintered, but maybe that’s probably how it should be. Because I remember when it was centralized, and it sucked. And I also remember when I realized that the centralized music scene sucked and it was just, like, FM radio and MTV playing the same 12 videos over and over again. And I was like, “I know there’s something else out there. And I’m actually reading about something else out there.” But it took me three years to find it. I mean, if someone is interested in hardcore or dance music or, God help us, dubstep, which is horrible, or crazy psych folk music, they can find it in ten minutes. That’s really powerful. And misdirected male anger is a huge societal problem, always was, always will be. But there are more bands now than ever. So that, to me, argues that at least a decent percentage—and probably more of a percentage of people—are channeling it that way, because it was just harder. You had to really want this in the eighties to be able to do it.
Scott: So if you’re a musician today and you want to start a band, what do you do?
Jon: Really good question. You start trying to develop an online community around yourselves as quickly as possible, you try to associate yourselves with other likeminded online communities, you do some of that stuff that, honestly, we did in the eighties. You find the likeminded bands, you forge connections with them, you play in each other’s hometowns. You put music up online with some regularity, although you don’t just throw everything that you did up there. And you try to create, where possible, scarcity around objects. These smart record labels that are doing it will do a limited run of a record, a kind of collector’s editions of records, and it’s slightly hokey but it works. And there’s some weird alchemy to this—it works better for certain bands than others—but when it works, it really works. And the other thing is you can actually have a much deeper connection with your audience now than in the eighties. I mean, I remember in the eighties, you would go to the PO box that your band rented once a month and take out this hopefully passel of postcards, people writing your band, and maybe you’d get around to writing back. But, you know, it was a little daunting and you had to write it out, put a stamp on it, take it to the postbox, it was a pain in the ass. You know? Now, there’s this instantaneous communication. The trick with that, obviously, is not to get so sucked into it that it’s all you do, which is something I hear from friends of mine who are involved in that.
Scott: Well, this has been an amazing discussion. We touched everything from the 1980s punk scene to angry young men to your reunion tour. I saw this really great quote, actually, when I was looking up reviews about your book and it said that “I imagine, in a small van, Jon Fine is very hard to take.”
Jon: I love that so much. Yeah, that was someone on Amazon. I, like, pulled that, I’m like, “I’m gonna put this fucking everywhere.”
Scott: I thought that was super good.
Jon: It was awesome.
Scott: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time and I think everyone who’s listening feels as well.
Jon: My absolute pleasure.
Scott: Yeah, a pleasure. And look forward to your next gig! Let us know!
Jon: Sounds good. Thank you.
Scott: Okay. Talk to you soon.