Book: We Never Learn | Author: Eric Davidson (NEW BOMB TURKS)
First off – this book was actually published in 2010. But I didn’t get around to reading it until earlier this year. And man, am I glad I didn’t wait any longer. Because it rules. I’ve read about ten books this year (mostly non-fiction). I try to do at least one per month. But at the end of the year, if I can look back and say that I’ve read around 8-10 by year-end, I typically feel like I’ve done pretty good.
I love books, and I still harbor a great deal of passion for the old-school hard copy paper versions. And I’m still having a pretty tough time coming to grips with the Kindles, e-books, and iPads, etc. of the next generation. I still like to write on paper, with a real pen and pad. And I still love the physical (as opposed to the digital) experience of reading and holding and highlighting and marking-up a real physical book.
When I read We Never Learn – The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001, I went through two highlighters. I scribbled and dog-eared that f*cker to death. I read stories and interviews and commentary about the bands from this sub-era, that made me laugh my tail off. And I learned more about more great punk rawk n’ roll bands than one could possibly only ever imagine.
WE NEVER LEARN…
We Never Learn was written by Eric Davidson – editor, writer for several music/scene magazines; lead singer of world famous punk rawk band NEW BOMB TURKS; and all around cool smart dude record collector nerd. In this book – he literally combs and scours through 13 years of history in one of the greatest eras of filthy, dirty, ass-kicking, subterranean punk rawk n’ roll that this industry universe will ever see. I’ll try to keep this “review” scaled down to commentary about the book (as opposed to the bands and the era, etc.). After all, Eric absolutely kills it for us. And we don’t want to give the whole story away.
The [killer black & white] photos of the bands, featured all throughout the book.
I’m guessing if some dipshit book review douchebag wanted to criticize We Never Learn, they’ll likely do it out of some form of envy. Because Eric knows more shit, about more killer punk rock bands, than anyone I’ve ever heard.
He spits cheeky funny punk rock journalist game like a man literally god damned by it. And yet he wraps it all up in a wicked interesting, educational, and highly enlightening prose of stories, interviews, and industry experiences of his own – while touring with NEW BOMB TURKS during the “Gunk Punk” era.
At worst, some readers might get annoyed with Eric’s undeniable passion for quirky, hilarious metaphors, rhymes, and funny forms of alliteration (sometimes I think he outsmarts himself). Some hysterical, some on the verge of completely ridiculous (don’t worry ED, I get it, mate). And some may misunderstand Eric’s wealth of knowledge of the era, for a self-interested chance to promote his own bands, or to toot his own nerdy music genius horn. I say screw that shitty critic b.s., altogether. Because this book absolutely shreds. It’s funny, and smart, and entertaining, and highly educational all throughout, all at the same time. Definitely the kind of stuff great books are made of.
This could be real easy – just by typing “the whole friggin’ thing” down here, and calling it a day. But just for shits and giggles, I’ll highlight ten of my favorite moments:
- Chapter 4 interview with Blag Jesus (DWARVES). Absolutely hysterical.
- Chapter 10 interview with Johan Kugelberg. Dynamite.
- Billy Childish interviewed; Raunch Hands; The Mummies, etc. Hilarious.
- Back From the Grave, Killed By Death, Nuggets. ‘Nuff said.
- More punk rock bands, zines, covers, comps, flyers, photos, letters, etc. than you can stake a shit at.
- Revealing, honest, no-holds barred interviews about what it was really like.
- DEVIL DOGS, CANDY SNATCHERS, SUPERSUCKERS, TEENGENERATE, NBT, the list goes on and on and on.
- The killer 20-song soundtrack download bonus when you buy the book.
- The killer interviews and commentary with record label owners Tim Warren (Crypt), Long Gone John (Sympathy For the Record Industry), Estrus, In the Red Records, Epitaph, and many more. Total dynamite.
- The last two chapters.
There are many more. But you get the gist. ED spent over 2+ years writing this book, and compiling 13+ years of touring, recording, diggin’ in the crates, and everywhere else in between the Gunk and the rest of the Undergut. There are literally hundreds (if it doesn’t approach the thousands) of crazy, obscure, f*cked-up punk bands all over this book – some more un-popularly well-known than others.
And these aren’t those British Oi or Crust “punk” bands in the form of what most folks might consider “punk” either. We’re talking about garage rock and blues and Motor City and flames and filth and R&B and punk and funk and speed and fuzz and busted guitars and lo-fi and more filth and noise and dirt and fuzz and blood and everything else this B-movie, horror-film, evil gearhead greaser gasoline-burning era of pure unadulterated punk rocktane – has become un-known for.
“Talent Is a Crime”
This book is like equal parts history book, a punk rock rendition of the Onion, and a National Inquirer (not really) of sorts – chock full of wisdom, humor, personal experience, and more hilarious stories/interviews straight from the gutter. It’s one that I found myself actually studying in certain parts – making highlights or notations or reminders – as opposed to the more casual kind of read. There’s so many little nuts and bolts of the guts and gore of this era scattered about. And ED drops more names and labels and magazines and records at will – like it just rolls right off the tongue for him. This is like…one of those “insider” kind of books you want to read if you want to be on the bleeding edge of subterranean punk rock trivia/history.
The way I see it – depending on who you’re talking to – the knowledge you gain from reading this sucker, will either a.) convert you into a full-blown gunk punk rock culture/collector/record addict or b.) ensure that you’re never invited to another cocktail social ever again. Either way, it’s a total win-win.
“Half-Assed, Will Travel”
It may have just been me, but it seemed like Eric took his story-telling into another gear slightly after the mid-point. Having chronologically caught-up with the era’s peak period by this time, it’s obvious why the author’s glaring enthusiasm for the scene at that time leads to a different gear of raunchier humor, recollection, and [dare I say] nostalgia.
Eric talks at-length about some of the great bands (SUPERSUCKERS, JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT) that eventually caught some of the craze of the wave with major labels. And he equally celebrates less “major” successes from the likes of THE NO-TALENTS, THE RIP-OFFS, THE MUFFS, NASHVILLE PUSSY, and THE REATARDS (and I’m not even scratching the surface).
He takes us on a proverbial walk through memory lane of some of the crazy tours (and tour-mates), label-signing and contractual experiences, cities and venues, and various different run-ins and encounters with just about everybody who was anybody at the height of that scene.
At any rate, y’all punkers are lying to yourselves if this book isn’t a great nostalgic sort of read. Especially for the bands and industry folk – and the people who actually lived and experienced the Gunk Punk scene – We Never Learn is chock-full of killer memories, crazy stories, and wilder interviews straight from the real Undergut of the scene. And I gotta admit – I had no idea Jack White was such an asshole.
“Hate To Say I Told You So”
The book winds-down with some great commentary about THE HIVES and their rise to fame during the tail-end of the era. But for some reason, I found myself wanting more about bands like UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS and THE HELLACOPTERS and TURBONEGRO and the host of great punk n’ roll bands that came from Sweden/overseas.
Eric drops a pile of names throughout this book though. Did he miss a couple? Maybe. But goddammit if every single kick-ass Gunk Punk rock band doesn’t get some kind of a mention, somewhere. Am I disappointed with what one might argue to be lop-sided coverage? Hell not at all. One could easily drill-down and turn this book into encyclopedia volumes by certain years, and certain countries, etc. And we’d still be here till the end of the millenium. Wrapping it all up and summarizing thirteen years into 350 pages ain’t no short and easy task. But Eric nails it. And for some reason, I feel like he created just enough of a swarm of a teaser for us – perhaps for a Gunk Punk Part 2.
Just buy it. And read the hell out of it. It’s hilarious, and awesome, and quirky and highly entertaining. A little sadder in a few parts. And sometimes – on the border of the ridiculous end of punk rock nerd-dom. But it’s a fantastic read – especially for y’all punk rock record collector diehards, culture fanatics, historian types, and official gunk punk scenesters.
If I had one single gripe about this book, it would’ve been the wish that it would’ve been kept at its original twice-as-long length (Eric mentions in the beginning he had to cut the thing way down). ED covers the American (and especially the Midwest) Gunk scene in great detail (as well as he should). And while he also absolutely ventures into other territories covering bands and scenes in other countries – one could argue that said coverage is a little light in comparison.
Still, Eric quite literaturely takes us on a wild punked-up ride of the ups, downs, and further downs along the Gunk Punk era’s gutter. It’s brilliant and funny and crazy and badder than shit all at the same time. But then again – great punk rock projects typically are.
Get We Never Learn on Amazon here.