Why Be Something That You’re Not: Detroit Hardcore (Revelation Records Publishing)

Detroit hardcore doesn’t have a reputation that screams “someone needs to write a book about this”. The city’s best known bands (The Necros, The Meatmen, and Negative Approach) arguably aren’t even among the top 20 most important, or most interesting, American hardcore produced. Yet somehow I hold in my hands Tony Rettman’s book, which tells the story of the scene that time forgot via Please Kill Me-style quotes from participants and witnesses, along with Rettman’s own commentary. The book has major problems though. First, it ends rather abruptly in 1985, after just 160 photo-heavy pages. Second, sometimes Rettman’s commentary is lunk-headed, and his dismissals of Patti Smith as “that hairy-lipped lady poet from New York City”, and The Stranglers as “those limey louts” doesn’t help his cause (even if they’re kind of funny). Finally – and this is really the main problem – Detroit hardcore isn’t all that interesting. Detroit didn’t have a well-defined local sound (like DC, or New York hardcore) or a cast of interesting characters like Ian MacKaye, HR, Jello Biafra or Henry Rollins; and without those crucial elements, there no reason to keep turning the pages. If you were there, this is the book for you. Otherwise, the ten pages dedicated to Detroit in Steven Blush’s American Hardcore (a much better book) are all you need.

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