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February 10, 2017

Book Notes - Scott Crawford "Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene"

Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Scott Crawford's Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene, a companion to his documentary Salad Days, is a fascinating oral history of an important era in American music and is also filled with breathtaking photographs.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"This volume serves as a visual and narrative companion to Salad Days, a 2014 documentary, also by Crawford, that explores the 1980s Washington, D.C., hardcore punk scene. Like the film, the book sheds light on the ways in which the music coming out of the nation’s capital, by bands such as Bad Brains and Fugazi, served as a mode of political and economic critique."

In his own words, here is Scott Crawford's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene:

The tracks that I've chosen as a soundtrack of sorts for Spoke (as well as the documentary film that it's based on, Salad Days) have been in my head since I first discovered punk rock while living outside of Washington, DC in the 1980s. Virtually every photo that I chose for the pages of Spoke has a song attached to them. That said, here are a couple of standout bands and/or tracks that had a particular impact on me.

As much as guitarist/lyricist/vocalist Guy Piccittio would probably cringe at me for this, he's as close to a poet as I'd ever met. His lyrics were thoughtful, metaphoric, and at times, heartbreaking. But it was the WAY he delivered those words that made the difference—sung with a kind of anguished intensity I'd never witnessed before. By their debut album's final closing number (the aptly named "End on End") it feels like you've been taken on a highly personal, cathartic journey with a band just on the verge of exploding. The album just hints at their chaotic live shows—where it wasn't unusual to see them leave the stage with their guitars splintered and cymbals smashed. They were clearly living in the moment, playing as if every show might be their last. STANDOUT TRACK: "For Want Of"

GI were part of the earliest wave of DC hardcore punk. The late John Stabb served as their charismatic, sarcastic frontman—his spaztic antics always playing center stage to the band's often revolving lineup. Of all of the first wave of DC punk bands, GI's musical evolution was remarkable, later peppering their guitar-heavy approach with bits of psychedelia, new wave and pop (with Stabb's vocal approach often sounding like Dave Vanian). Their final two albums were the bands' crowning achievements ("You" and "Crash"), featuring anthem after anthem, contemplative lyrics and a level of musicianship unlike earlier versions of the band due in part to a solidified rhythm section.  STANDOUT TRACK: "Jaded Eyes"

What can I say about this band that hasn't already been said? Every song in their canon is a classic—from "Bottled Violence" to "Salad Days", they were a band that inspired every group around them (much like the Bad Brains had done before them) to raise their game. It's especially notable that over the course of their 3 years together, not only were they DC's biggest local draw, they were also barely out of their teens. STANDOUT TRACK "Out of Step"

A five piece powerhouse, Marginal Man were known not only for their live shows, but for their "proto-emo" lyrical approach—with songs like "Identity," "Marginal Man," "Forever Gone" and "Double Image" exploring deeply personal territories. They were one of the few DC punk bands in the 80s to tour the country (twice) and developed quite a following in the process. Vocalist Steve Polcari was always in motion—and always in control of the crowd (often inviting them on stage to stage dive, while other bands at the time frowned on such behavior). Full disclosure: members of the band befriended me as a 12 year kid (watching me go nuts at their shows) and I saw them as my defacto big brothers—always keeping a watchful eye on a kid at a crossroads. Personal connections aside, Marginal Man's brand of introspective punk-pop still holds up today—sounding neither dated or cliche—serving as further proof of their potent songwriting abilities.  STANDOUT TRACK "Missing Rungs"

While the Red Hot Chili Peppers were busy covering their cocks with socks on the West Coast in the mid-80s, DC's Beefeater showed how potent a combination of funk, metal and punk could (and should) be played. With a confrontational live approach—where frontman Tomas Squip's social activism was often at the forefront—their shows were always unpredictable affairs, but the band's collective musicianship was awe-inspiring to watch. STANDOUT TRACK: ""Insurrection Chant"

After his band Minor Threat broke up, guitarist Brian Baker knew he needed to showcase what he did best: play tuneful punk rock songs. Dag Nasty would become that band—and with much success. They were unabashedly punk rock--fast, tight, loud and never without a classic Baker guitar hook. Though they'd go through 3 vocalists and multiple lineups, the band consistently released albums throughout the 80s, with "Can I Say" as their classic debut and the uneven "Field Day" proving to be their swansong in 1988.  STANDOUT TRACK: "Can I Say"

Black Market Baby were unlike a lot of the other punk bands in DC at the time. Influenced more by Johnny Thunders than say, the Bad Brains, their songs were loud, anthemic and unapologetic. Musically, the band had chops that many of the younger groups at the time had yet to develop. They had a local reputation as boozy hellraisers (which wasn't that far off the mark) and I remember thinking their live shows always felt dangerous —with drunken brawls and some type of violence virtually guaranteed. As you can imagine, that sense of danger only made me love them more. Their "Senseless Offerings" LP remains a DC classic.  STANDOUT TRACK: "Downward Christian Soldiers"

By the end of the 80s, Fugazi began playing around town and their sonic approach was decidedly different from anyone else at the time. Gang of Four inspired punk with tuneful yet urgent delivery by guitarists Ian MacKaye and Guy Piccittio, and a rock solid rhythm section in bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty. Their live shows were sweaty, communal affairs and the band became known for their extended sets and impromptu dancers that would join them on stage. Fugazi's outspoken social activism, strict adherence to playing only all ages shows, work ethic and commitment to touring are the stuff of legend. STANDOUT TRACK: "Waiting Room"

Part of the "third wave" of DC punk, Soulside's brand of punk was always positive, catchy and later on, edgier with off-kilter rhythms and artier guitar explorations (paving the way for them to start Girls Against Boys soon after vocalist Bobby Sullivan quit). Also noteworthy: Soulside were the first U.S. punk band to tour behind the iron curtain in the late 80s.  STANDOUT TRACK: "Baby"

Perhaps one of DC's most notorious outfits, Void combined frenetic tempos, metallic guitar bursts and an explosive live show. They were also the first DC punk band that I ever saw live, so they hold a special place in my heart. Though they only released a split LP with labelmates Faith, their relatively short lifespan has taken on almost mythical proportions among punk and metal fans. STANDOUT TRACK: "Who Are You"

Led by Ian MacKaye's younger brother Alec, the Faith remain one of the most underrated bands of the era.  MacKaye had an enigmatic, unpredictable stage presence, seemingly on another plain than the rest of us, while the band's twin neck-bending guitars worked together to create melodic mayhem. Like many of their DC brethren, the band was shortlived, but left behind two classic albums (the split LP with Void and "Subject to Change") STANDOUT TRACK: "Subject to Change"

Heavily inspired by seeing the Bad Brains, Scream was the first band to release a full length album on the fledging Dischord label in 1982 ("Still Screaming"). Though capable of playing at breakneck speed, they also combined elements of metal and even reggae into their fiery repertoire. They released several albums and singles over the course of the 80s—with "This SIde Up" being my personal favorite—culminating in a large body of recorded work. After losing original drummer Kent Stax, Scream recruited a local goofball named Dave Grohl as their drummer. The band would tour the US and Europe, gaining a devoted following in the process. STANDOUT TRACK: "Walking by Myself"

Scott Crawford and Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene links:

the author on Twitter

Shockwave review

Dazed interview with the author
A Punk in My Soup interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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