Ned Russin on Horizontal Rust, Wilkes-Barre and a lost Free Spirit business card

Ned Russin of Title Fight and Glitterer recently completed his first novel, Horizontal Rust, which was published by Shining Life Press.

Author photo from Horizontal Rust (photo by Sarah King)

What’s up Ned, thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. When I saw Horizontal Rust on the Shining Life Press instagram I immediately ordered since there does not seem to be a ton of fiction written by people in hardcore, and it’s a departure from Shining Life’s existing books and zines. How did you start the conversation about publishing a full length novel?

Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. I completed the first draft of this book in early 2019 and had always planned to do it on a small press. So I started shopping around a more complete draft in early 2020. And by shopping around I mean sending it out to agents and publishers and getting turned down. My initial idea wasn’t panning out and so I just kept working on revisions while also submitting queries. I was finally making some progress in talking to publishers when one night I FaceTiming with John from Shining Life and, as a joke, asked him when they would publish their first novel. He said something like, “Whenever you finish one.” That was exciting to me because, yeah, it was approval but it was also a new idea that I didn’t even consider until that point. I’d known John and Zack for a long time obviously but this was new territory for both of us and at first I was unsure if they’d be interested in actually publishing a novel. They were totally into the idea. So after a few more conversations with John, I rescinded all of my pending submissions and fully committed to Shining Life. 

How did the pandemic impact the completion of the book – did you have more time to write due to a lack of shows and other events?

I’m fortunate in that I started and finished this book while touring pretty consistently, so I would always have these stretches of time where I’d be home and I could try to work on another draft with few other distractions. I probably would’ve gotten the book done somewhat faster had I not been on the road so much in the first place, though I’m thankful that it gave me this buffer time between drafts so I could look at the pages a bit more objectively. I feel like I benefited from putting the manuscript away for a month or so, it would give me a fresher set of eyes. But I will say that the editing process was definitely helped by everyone being stuck in one place. Matt LaForge, my editor, and I were able to go over notes and drafts faster because we were both available somewhat regularly, which felt like a rarity. 

Libraries are briefly mentioned in Horizontal Rust, though more in the context of study spaces. How many library cards do you own, and in what systems? And what is your favorite library?  

I have a total of three library cards, though I lost one. I currently have my Columbia alumni library card which works for their library system (even though I don’t live in New York anymore) and I have my DC public library card which is what I currently use. I had a Luzerne County library card but it was lost when my wallet was stolen in Costa Rica. I had already moved out of Wilkes-Barre at that point so I never bothered getting another one. I was more upset about losing my Free Spirit business card.

Getting a book signed by Keith Gessen (photo by Sami Reiss)

Was it a conscious decision to write about a protagonist not involved in punk or hardcore, and one who stayed within the “Columbia bubble” when presumably you spent a lot of time exploring the city and going to shows during your own time at Columbia?

Yeah, very much so. I haven’t tried to write about someone involved in hardcore yet, it’s almost too daunting. Not saying I won’t ever do it, but it’s just something that, in my mind, was too complicated. It’s not that I think Graham is more universal because he isn’t involved in punk or hardcore, it’s that I don’t think it’s necessary to explain his motives or desires. 

How did your experience playing in bands and finishing albums help you complete the formidable project that is a first novel – and was it easier or harder than writing a record with the rest of a band?

To be honest, playing in a band didn’t prepare me for writing a novel at all. The only thing that was familiar was the feeling of being in the middle of the process and being unsure of how it would ever get done. If you’re a band, you write songs. When you write enough songs, you record them and that’s an record, an EP or LP or whatever. There can be thematic throughlines, sure, but it’s really just working on a bunch of ideas until they’re ready. With writing, however, it’s different. I assume most fiction writers start off doing short stories. And if you study writing in school that’s all you’ll do. A novel isn’t just a couple of short stories thrown together. It’s one singular piece. It’s made up of smaller moments but they all need to come together to a certain extent. I guess to compare it to writing to music it would be like if you made a record that was a single 35-minute song. The book took me a lot longer than writing a record ever has. Maybe because it was the first time I did it or because it’s just something that you have to do all on your own, but either way that alone made me feel like it was more difficult.

Glitterer in Wilkes-Barre (photo by bedfordtowers)

Along with documentaries, there seem to be more and more books coming out on different subsets of hardcore – in fact, I just realized I had highlighted your quote about Trumbull Escapades for the straight edge book in the Serve ’em a Sentence interview with Sami Reiss in 2019. Do you think people are interested in more novels coming from the hardcore scene, or mostly still in nonfiction books? What is one area of hardcore not yet covered in book that you’d like to see?

I don’t know too many novels out there about hardcore. There’s was that Ten Thousand Saints book (and movie) that I never read and the last Nell Zink book starts off talking about harDCore, but I don’t really know of any other books that talk about hardcore or use it as a setting. I think being so involved in anything makes you skeptical of its representation. I could completely wrong here, there are millions of books out there, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a novel about hardcore written by someone who was actually involved. I’m sure people within hardcore would be intersted in that, but hardcore is also so interested in history and tradition that it seems like the preference is for nonfiction. People love minuatea, myself included. Obviously I’d love to see someone do a book on early 00s hardcore, something about early Lockin Out or Posi Numbers or whatever. But for me personally, I’d like to see an actual critical take on hardcore, any scene at all. It’s nice to see the oral histories, but I’d prefer to see a person synthesize that information and make claims. 

Did the parallel of hardcore kids from all over the world descending on the 570 for Posi Numbers cross your mind at all as you were writing about visitors arriving for the Slavic Brotherhood Organization convention? How would you describe Wilkes-Barre to someone who has never been there or has not yet read your book?

It’s actually not something that I thought about but that does work well. I remember always being impressed by the turnout of Posi Numbers. People would always tout the fact that people came from all over the world to come to the fest. It was like people from Belgium flew to the US to go to a firehall near the old Dominos, the same firehall that was probably booked up for graduation parties for the rest of the summer, to watch some bands play and experience the town. I romanticize it a lot in my mind which misrepresents it some. Because the fact is there were a lot of people that just came from their own small town probably not that far away and probably didn’t wander around Wilkes-Barre. The people in the book who come to the SBO convention are also mostly coming from little podunk PA or Ohio towns, but their trip is to fulfill a professional duty. Overall though it’s not too far off. I have a hard time explaining WIlkes-Barre, though. It’s a small, generic Rust Belt town, a former coal city. It’s not a metropolitan area, even downtown Wilkes-Barre feels more like a suburb than a city. But it’s just this little area in Northeast PA, not too far from Appalachia, that feels pretty plain and beaten down. Despite having two colleges, the area has no real culture or industry, which is a big reason why an underground music scene has thrived there for so long — young people have to make their own fun because there’s nothing else really going on.

“Here’s a posi little number for ya” – Slapshot opening with No Friend of Mine at Posi Numbers 2003

When reading the part about experiencing deja vu when seeing the ballroom dressed up for the next event, I started thinking of how many novels have comic or absurd moments centering around events in hotels – everything from Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet to The Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith. What are some of your favorite works with at least one scene set in a hotel?

Scanning my bookshelf, here’s a small list: Ben Lerner Leaving The Atocha Station, Joan Didion Play It As It Lays, Peter Handke Short Letter, Long Farewell, basically every book by Frederick Barthelme has some roadtrip scene where they stop in a hotel, Martin Riker Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return, JD Salinger The Catcher In The Rye….

Speaking of travel – what are the best books you have read while on tour?
There are only a few books that I really have distinct memories of reading on tour. The first was probably Steinbeck’s East Of Eden which I read when I was in my early 20s while driving through California. The second would be reading Simon Hanselmann’s Bad Gateway in one sitting at the merch table in Cleveland, OH. And finally my friend JDK sold me a copy of William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways shortly before he passed away. He told me it was one of his favorite books, so I read a book about travelling around the US while driving around the US. It felt like a fitting tribute.

Horizontal Rust painting by Franz Kline

If your book was a movie what songs would you want on the soundtrack – and did you have any in mind while writing it?

I wrote the book over such a long period of time that I feel like the soundtrack I had playing in my head changed many times over. Graham is a college kid from the early 2010s so I feel like the nu-indie stuff from that time would be fitting. I feel like Wilkes-Barre setting shots needs something a little bit more sad, though. Like any slower song from Harvest would do. Eno ambient stuff would work well for that, too. For early Graham/Ollie scenes it’s got to be ELO, like “Living Thing” or something. Ideally, though, I’d write something for it.

Any last thoughts you’d like to share – about reading, writing or your other recent projects?

I’m never great on last thoughts. I’d just like to say thanks again for the interview and thanks to anyone who has checked the book out. It’s very much appreciated.

Books, Bands and Budgies: Interview with Melissa from Denied and All Shall Suffer

What’s up Melissa, hope you are doing OK during the pandemic! How are you entertaining yourself til it’s safe to go to shows and play in bands again?

Hi Becky! First, thank you for your interest and taking the time to ask me great questions. I am doing good! It’s been a long ass year and I’ve devoted my time toward my home. I’ve acquired a number of pets during the past year. Plus I’m a mom and a full time high school teacher. So I’ve had a lot to focus on. But being home all the time has been rough. So I’ve also gotten a lot more plants haha!

Tell us about your new band, All Shall Suffer – was this a project that came together during the pandemic, or something you had gotten going beforehand?

All Shall Suffer has been something that’s been worked on the last couple of years. There was no real urgency to put anything out so it was just a side project that Nick (guitarist) and Kevin (guitarist) had been going back and forth on. Mostly for fun. Then when Gregory (singer) came back into the picture about two years ago, things started to get more formal and it became a new goal to get some music recorded. The pandemic wasn’t much of a motivator outside of the fact that we had more time on our hands and we took full advantage of it. It’s been a blessing really to focus solely on music and not be sidetracked with other issues or events in a normal routine. I guess that was an upside to this terrible time with the pandemic.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Denied lately, including a UK zine about Bulldoze that described Together as None as “Time-Served’s best release” and gave it five stars. Does Denied have plans to do anything in 2021 or beyond?

Denied was a really amazing, special part of our lives. We just did an interview with this UK Podcast “Everyone But Us Podcast” this week and it really took us down memory lane. The “Together as None” release was so well received worldwide and it astounds me that people still refer to it and listen to it and ask about us. That release was in 1998! But our last release as Denied was in 2009 and I think enough time has passed to allow us to create under a new name and experience. We’ve had a lot of rotating musicians in Denied but All Shall Suffer features the original founders of Denied (Nick, Greg, myself). We like our new sound and direction of All Shall Suffer a great deal. It’s also important to us to have the freedom to grow and expand and present ourselves differently from Denied. The scene is different, technology is different and we really want this new chapter to explore ourselves musically. So that’s the long answer. The short answer is no, we aren’t going forward with Denied anymore. But the heart and soul of Denied is still in everything we do. And since we are the original writers of Denied, you’re going to hear a lot of our style be there still.

Moving from hardcore to books here … how many library cards do you own, and in what systems? And what is your favorite library?

Books! Yay! So I only have one library card officially which is through the NYPL. But I have to be honest I haven’t used it in years. As a high school English teacher, I’m always so overwhelmed with reading and grading that I don’t have much time or energy for personal reading. I know, such a shame. So I stick to nonfiction for now and leave the classics and fiction for work. My current library is in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing which is a madhouse all the time. My closest library is in Fresh Meadows but they are always out of my books of interest. I mean I hate to say this but city libraries in Queens are often so disorganized and sloppy. I don’t blame them though because I know libraries are not a priority on city budgets.

What is your favorite book, and who is your favorite author?

My favorite book of all time is “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. She is one of my top authors for sure. “The Awakening” is such a sensually written masterpiece. It’s just deep as fuck when it comes to the protagonist’s internal chaos and odds she has against her society. She’s a 19th century rebel with a 21st century mind and despite the fact this story is over a century old, her female struggle is still an ever present theme for today. The most controversial part of this book is the ending and that’s my favorite part to discuss. It angers a lot of readers. But I have nothing but respect for it.

Other authors I love include Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros and William Shakespeare. I’m super drawn to strong visual writing and writers that are adept at really powerful imagery. It’s usually any writing that reads like poetry. I am also drawn to a lot of feminist writings and am always so curious about the female voice and archetype that has long been overlooked historically.

What’s your favorite literary reference in a hardcore song or band name?

That I’m not too sure of. I always loved Fahrenheit 451 for their literary reference. I also enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, Of Mice and Men, District 9, etc.

I have heard you are a Harry Potter person too – what is your favorite magical pet and what house would you be sorted into?

I absolutely love Harry Potter. I have always dreamed of having a teaching position at Hogwarts. It’s very disappointing to know that it can’t be a reality. I cannot think of a cooler school to work at. My favorite magical pet is actually very weird one. I absolutely adore the mandrake. I am a huge fan of plants and I have many plants at home. And the idea that plants have these personalities as the mandrake just cracks me up. I think it’s so funny when the mandrakes cry. When I went to Universal Studios one of the shops had crying mandrakes in the window and I just thought they were absolutely amazing. I feel like I would probably be best suited for Slytherin.

I feel like people of Slytherin are rather complex individuals that don’t necessarily fit easily into society. I also like that Slytherins are smart and cunning and quite driven. I really like Severus Snape and thought he was ultimately a rather noble character. I know Slytherin gets such a bad rap but I am attracted to the darker side of personalities and find that they are more real and realistic to me.

What kinds of pets do you have, and are you still caring for the bird you brought home from the classroom? And how many cats are currently owned by your band members in total?

In my household we have 13 pets. But my household is split into two floors so my family divides my pets. I currently take care of 7 budgies (parakeets), 2 dogs and a cat. Downstairs we have another cat, dog and a Blue and Gold Macaw. The pandemic was what really brought so many animals to our house. My job/school houses a real life farm in Queens and they have many many animals. When the city closed all schools last year, it was unknown for how long. When it became obvious that this was going to be a long-term closure, the agricultural department at my school requested teacher volunteers for various animals. The request was because birds are very social animals and a lack of human interaction would negatively impact them. So they actually had quite a list of animals to be homed temporarily. I took it upon myself to foster the blue and gold macaw. At the last minute I wound up taking the budgies as well because they were some of the last without a home. The experience turned out to be beyond my expectations. We all fell in love with the birds and it was just natural to want to give them a permanent home. So I formally adopted the macaw (his name is Billy). Billy just turned out to be an absolute love and he requires so much specific attention. The thought of him returning to a bird room was not something we could not accept. He made us happy and we wanted to give him a permanent home. All of them have just made our lives better, if not more crowded. But we absolutely enjoy them and love them and we’ve all become a big happy family. It gets a bit crazy sometimes because there can be a lot going on. But they’re all worth it.

I know the singer from Nuclear Assault is a teacher, along with a member of Crazy Eddie/Darkside NYC. How has your experience in NYHC made you a good teacher? Do you ever mention music to the kids?

I think the greatest characteristic in hardcore music is about living in authenticity. And those are the principles that I think have helped me most as a teacher, which is to keep it as real as possible. There’s a lot of diversity in students and finding and connecting with the misfits are such an important part of teaching because those are often the kids that are most at struggle. I also think the characteristics of hard work and loyalty are also important factors that make for a good teacher. Kids are the first to see through facades and they don’t let you get away with shit. They keep it more real than anyone else and any other age group and that is definitely intimidating at times. But at the same time I also appreciate them so much for it. I recently began working as a Dean as well which brings my job to a more disciplinary role. And as a Dean you have to be really fast in dissembling problems and keeping situations from blowing up. I think you have to have a pair of balls to really participate in a hardcore show and I think you have to have a pair of balls to confront teenage kids when it comes to fights and disciplinary issues and so on.

As for my telling students, no I don’t. I don’t even really relate much of that part of my life to my colleagues. I don’t mean to keep it private on purpose but most students listen to rap or other genres. Plus I am committed to being really as professional as possible and I just generally don’t discuss much of my personal life unless it connects to their experiences. But once in a while they do find out and get all excited. So it’s cute. But no I don’t advertise it.

Any last thoughts you would like to share?

I really appreciate being asked these wonderful questions. This was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. Thank you so so much! Of course I’d love to plug our release as we have worked incredibly hard on it and it means so much to us.

All Shall Suffer’s music is now available on all platforms including Amazon, Apple Music, Instagram/Facebook, YouTube Music, iTunes, Spotify, etc

For more information please follow/contact on:

http://www.facebook.com/AllShallSufferhc

http://www.instagram.com/AllShallSufferhc

For booking and merchandise please contact allshallsufferhc@gmail.com

http://allshallsufferhc.bigcartel.com

We will also be featured on an upcoming UK podcast Everyone But Us Podcast. You can find them on Facebook or https://linktr.ee/everyonebutus.

Time is Too Valuable: Alaska on Cargo Cults, Clutter, the Cape Cod League and the Circle Jerks

After hearing the new Cargo Cults album Nihilist Millennial, I had the opportunity to ask Alaska about its many baseball references – and a plethora of other topics, some featured on the album, and some not.

So your new album Nihilist Millennial is fucking great … what has the response been overall, and is the younger generation into it too despite being “get off my lawn rap”?

Overall the reception has been really positive. I was stoked to see the feedback, I felt that this was the best work of my unevenly long career. I think some youngs are enjoying it, but as someone in their late 40s pretty much anyone under 45 is a young to me. I do not think that many 18 year olds are digging it, which is probably for the best.

How did you come up with the concept for the two limited edition CD formats, which both sold out quickly? Any hope for a repress or more versions? And are people besides me actually still interested in CD’s compared to other physical media like tapes or vinyl?

It was a group effort. Zilla wanted to do the black velvet case and I wanted to do the CD tin, mostly because it looked cool as shit and as someone who hates clutter I imagined that people could use the tin to store small things like airplane sewing kits and toenail clippers. Realistically they are probably just using it to store weed. We are not going to repress them. I would love to do vinyl at some point but I am not sure if there is a demand for it. I do think there is a demand for it. Everyone I know who prints them sells out. It is a small market, but I think there are people who grew up with CDs as their medium of choice and they appreciate their music in said format. As someone who hates clutter I despise all physical forms of music since I do not have any sort of system to play it on they just end up sitting on my bookshelf. Haha.

Zilla Rocca, who did the beats here, is also part of your podcast, Call Out Culture, as is Curly Castro who makes an appearance on “Pinky Toe”. Is there any intentional symmetry between the names Cargo Cults and Call Out Culture, and can you briefly describe the podcast for someone reading this who has not yet checked it out?

The main symmetry was that Cargo Cults was originally donned Call Out Culture, and we used it as the podcast name thinking we would cross promote, but as we got deeper into the album, the name no longer felt relevant to the music. However, it did feel relevant to the podcast so we decided to nix it as the group name. I learned of Cargo Cults when I was sitting in on a talk at a tech company. I thought the name fit really well for where we are as a society – a bunch of primitive people creating these tech deities that we thought would save us from ourselves.

As for the podcast, I think it is the quintessential “friends talking shit about rap music” podcast, with the added bonus of us all being practitioners in the craft so we have a layer of insider insight that fans might not have, plus we have access to other artists. This allows us to get really deep into what makes an artist special and why we love them. We also make fun of Common a lot.

Lyrics in “All Power to All People” reference both the advantages and pitfalls of social media, from allowing marginalized groups to organize, to the darker side of giving a platform to racists with “their first fucking computers”. How would you advise navigating the fine line between feeding the trolls and ridiculing them? Also FYI the “vicissitude” and “give a shit my dude” rhyme is one of my favorites since Bumpy Knuckles paired “Yeltsin” with “felt, son.”

I think if you give a troll enough rope they will just hang themselves. Their only goal is to make you irrational and emotional. If you give them the response they want they win. I think about shit heads like Richard Spencer and Milo, and all the shit they were stirring back in 2017 and 2018. They didn’t have to do shit other than show up. The reaction to them is what gave them power. The spectacle. The second they were allowed to discuss their platform, they were exposed as the sacks of shit we all knew them to be and they just as quickly disappeared. The more interaction you have with them the more powerful they become. It is like that Simpsons Halloween episode when the advertisements came to life. The second they stopped paying attention they died.

I really love that vicissitude line myself, it is one of my life’s greatest accomplishments. I am glad that you appreciate it. 

Alongside the social media and political commentary, there is also an Agnostic Front reference in the track referenced above. How were you introduced to hardcore and what are some of your favorites in the genre?

I was introduced to hardcore through my friend Mike Desocio in high school. Mike was in a band called No Win Situation with John Franko who later went on to front Awkward Thought. MIke introduced me to shit like Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, etc. My experience in hardcore pretty much started and ended in the late 80s early 90s. I was mostly a tourist, I really enjoyed bands like Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, Murphy’s Law, early Black Flag with Keith Morris and my all-time favorite The Circle Jerks. Group Sex is probably my favorite record of all time. I was always more into hip hop than Hardcore, but Hardcore was a nice break from hip hop.

In “UX”, “Joe MacMillan” and elsewhere, there are references to your perspective changing due to being at a different place in your life. Do you think you are continuing to create better music as you get older, and how does this perspective reconcile with genres where artists could write one good album and then not be able to replicate it?

I do think that my work is getting better, but that might also just be my perspective. I think one of the benefits that I have in making music is that I made a lot of mistakes when I was younger. I realized early on that making music for the sake of being relevant is a surefire way to have a shitty and irrelevant career. I was fortunate enough to pursue music professionally for about 7 years, by the end of that time I was a vapid asshole, with nothing real to say, just a bunch of empty platitudes and pseudo-deep thoughts. As I got away from that lifestyle, and just became a regular ass working stiff, with a family and a mortgage, I think I was able to make music that was more grounded in my reality. I think the topics that I can address and speak about come from a place of lived experience. When I complain about something or celebrate something it is not an abstract idea it is my reality. I think that is where a lot of artists get hung up. So much of working towards the first record is building on your experience, which is likely an experience that a lot of people share. I cannot speak for everyone, but when I was professionally pursuing music, I was not speaking about shit from lived experience anymore, and if it was it was a real limited experience of life in the music industry. Which is heavily geared towards remaining relevant. So, the music was no longer about figuring out my life and the world around me. It was about seeing what I need to do to keep that check coming in. It was not sustainable. There is nothing sadder to me than trying to remain relevant, especially as you age, it isn’t dignified in any way. I think that is where artists lose it, and it is why their work suffers. Artists need to be true to who they are now, not who they were or who they think they should be. The music industry thrives off of that.

Did I miss any baseball references besides the Mets pitching, friendly game of baseball, Kirby Puckett, Sammy Sosa, Dwight Gooden, Mookie wearing a Jackie jersey, and Honus Wagner? What is your favorite baseball reference in a rap song? Also, how the hell did you become a Red Sox fan?

The only one I think you might have missed was David Halberstam, but that was mostly baseball adjacent since I love his baseball writing. My favorite baseball reference is Bun B saying “Like Dontrelle Willis we the trillist!”

When I was young I used to go to Cape Cod for a week every summer. The town we stayed in had a Cape Cod summer league and Carl Yastrzemski’s son played on the team. I met Yaz and he immediately became my favorite player. I have been a fan since. It is weird though. I used to live and die by the Red Sox, but now that they have won 4 titles in the past 15 years it feels a lot less urgent. I don’t really care anymore, I have become a fair weather fan, I only watch if they are good. I have turned all of my diehard rooting to the New York Jets, I need to see them win a title or two so I can stop caring.

Dontrelle Willis chillin’ with a cat

If you read books about baseball, what is your favorite baseball book? And how many library cards do you own and in what systems?

I have read a few baseball books. My two favorites are “Summer of 49” by David Halberstam and “All the Stars Came Out That Night” by Kevin King.

I am completely anti-government so I will take no part in their library systems :). I tend to like owning books, mostly because I forget to return them and end up owing the library more than the book costs. Plus books are one of the few things that I like to clutter my space.

The Oxford Comma makes an appearance in “Joe MacMillan” – are you pro or anti Oxford Comma?

I am not much of a fan. I think it looks clunky and clutters up the sentence structure.

What’s it like having a state named after you, and is that why you advocate for states’ rights? Also when are you getting control of Alaska’s electoral votes?

It was a big honor that they named the state after me, but I think they had to do it in order to rebrand after that Sarah Palin PR nightmare. Unfortunately it is mostly a ceremonial position, so I do not have access to the electoral votes. If I did Vermin Supreme would receive them.

As for states’ rights, I mostly think that we are too fixated on the federal government being the solution to our problems and the country is too big for this to be a satisfying solution for anyone. We end up having the broken system that we do have now. I would prefer a system where the federal government address the highway system, monetary policy, defense (though much stripped down), civil rights violations and got the fuck out of everyone’s life. New Yorkers should be able to live how New Yorkers want to live and Texans should be able to live how Texans want to live. The fact that Arkansas can dictate what we do and we can dictate what Alabama does seems silly to me.

Have you ever been to the Alaska deli in Chelsea? And what is your favorite bodega?

I have not, is it the best?  My favorite bodega is the Albemarle Food Corporation, or as those in our neighborhood call it “Mo’s”. You can follow them on instagram at modega101.

Flyer for I Question Not Me #3, which was not actually released till May 2015.

Can you make one more track on Bandcamp that is just a clip of “self-proclaimed disruptors on their motherfucking scooters” that I can play when dudes on scooters ride them on the sidewalk in my neighborhood? What is it about adults on motorized scooters that so thoroughly incites our ire, either rationally or irrationally?

I think if you feed the line into a casio keyboard you should be able to loop it yourself – “teach a person to fish” – I am like the Jesus of looping.

Those muthafuckers are assholes. I watch them scoot around and I cannot help but think that they are the worst that humanity has to offer, they are the failure of liberal democracies. Back in like 1998 I was working in the Empire State Building and on my way to work some lady was zipping in and out of foot traffic on the sidewalk on a razor scooter and she fucking wiped out right in front of me on one of those sidewalk grates that they have over the subway systems, I am talking full header, the shit definitely had to hurt really bad. It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. I still remember it fondly to this day.

The last song “Time is Too Valuable” references time being both valuable and finite. How do you balance your creative projects against other life responsibilities, and do you feel like time is going faster or slower during the pandemic?

It is weird, I get way more done now than I ever did when making music was my job. It is really a matter of time management now. I cannot put it off until later. If I want to get music/writing done I have to do during the downtime or it isn’t ever going to happen. Time management has become a necessity if I want to be able to have a creative outlet, because it really is like number 10 on my list of responsibilities. So it is up to me to make time for it when I can. I usually do a lot of writing while I am doing other tasks, walking the dogs, cleaning, cooking, laundry, taking the subway. That is when I have time to myself where I can use all of my brain power towards being creative. The rest of the day is family and work.

Time has been going both incredibly fast and incredibly slow. Like this summer we went swimming a lot at swimming holes in the Catskills and it seems like it was just the other day and 20 years ago at the same time. It really drives home the idea that all time is happening at once.

How do you manage to remain a “black ops optimist” despite all the disturbing world developments referenced through the album?

I have always secretly been an optimist. I think the human condition is to strive towards improvement. It just takes a long time to get there. I think we have a really bad tendency to focus exclusively on the moment that we are on, but if you start to zoom out and look at the entire timeline of human existence we are really in a better place. Look at something as simple as death rates for COVID vs. Spanish Flu: it is like 1.5 million vs. 50 million. Global poverty rates are going down. Medicine is better, access to information has increased. The problem I think is that we are seeing more of the things that we didn’t see in the past. Which is good, it is scary, but it is good. We need to see this shit so we can no longer deny it. Overall I think humanity is in a better place than it has ever been. It might suck to be an American right now, but that shit is all self inflicted. We have nobody to blame but us. We see how fucked up our system is, and we want to empower the system even more in hopes that the same people fucking up the system will fix the system. We are fine with a president having the level of power Trump has as long as it is someone we agree with. Watch how quickly all of the arguments about executive power will switch on January 20th. We aren’t serious about change, we are only serious about power. All of the issues in our society are state sponsored, yet we want to give them more power. We are the cause of our own pain. But that only sucks for us, I think we are on the verge of breaking out of this, stripping the government of power and ruling over ourselves. It might not be this year or next year, but I think it will happen sooner rather than later. That is why I am optimistic.

Literary Escapades: Sami Reiss On Books

Of all the people I asked about The Philip Roth of NYHC for I Question Not Me #4.5, Sami Reiss provided the best and most detailed response. This comprehensive discourse, along with an article he penned for GQ earlier this year, provided the impetus to feature his literary habits on Serve ‘em a Sentence. Sami needs no introduction, but the humor and style in his old zine Trumbull Escapades inspired some of my own projects along with an entire sub-generation of hardcore kids. Pick up a copy of Gratitude #3 for assorted Sami interjections, and more on his own literary proclivities below:

Tell me about yourself and your reading habits! And what are you reading right now?

Hey! I’m not a great fiction reader. I read a few at a time, thin for the commute (I work as an editor for the NHL’s website) and thick everywhere else. I don’t read much sports stuff anymore. I just finished True Grit this week and it’s just so great. Power Broker, a bit left… I stopped 600 pages in years back. Caro is prolix and reading about the tri-state area depresses me. The Prize, by Daniel Yergin, so vibrant and really funny. Brothers Karamazov, which… man… it doesn’t get better. I read John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold last month and went to The Strand after and bought seven other Le Carres the day after and found two on the street within the week. I read the best one first, Tinker Tailor is merely great. I finished The Honorable Schoolboy and it is rough. It’s nice to read third-tier fiction, because I’m such a newb and am still on the classics. The world we grew up in, we get socialized in different types of art early, so it’s nice to find foundational stuff later.

How did you become a frequent reader? And is there any point in your life that books have saved you the way that people frequently credit hardcore for saving their lives?

Growing up I read a lot, but mostly my dad’s Mad Magazines from the 1960s. A decade ago, I started working in sports and overloaded on that writing. My habits crystallized in 2013. I left a job where I wrote a lot and barely read. I couldn’t write in ‘13 because of the non-writing job I had kept. I was broke, a relationship had ended, working nights, nothing to do. I just read. I needed my vegetables. Every New Yorker cover to cover for a year, from there books by writers I liked or mentioned. That was a peaceful and fruitful time. I don’t think reading saved me. I was glum throughout, and for a while after. Reading didn’t give me life lessons, or help me meet new friends or solve my problems. But it gave me a sense of quiet, peace and purpose. It was a way to entertain myself and stay steady. It is nice to get better at something (writing) by doing nothing. I was excited every day to just get home and read. I don’t know if it’s a salvation. In our world you can feel old at 25, though as a reader and writer you’re young in your 40s. Which is nice. Maybe it saves lives. Free time was and is much less daunting knowing how many good books there are out there, and how many surprises there are bound to be.

How many library cards do you have, in what systems, and what is your favorite library branch?

I only have a NYPL card, and I only use it for Kanopy. I don’t check out many books. I can’t defend this habit, it’s super lame. I’ll spend time at the Brooklyn Public Library, read reference books and leave. There is more in 10 shelves there than on the whole internet. Ian Frazier the writer says he works at the big NYPL, in Midtown. They hold a big party every year and sometimes Robert Caro goes. I should start hanging out there. Will I? Not sure. I like buying books and having them forever and I don’t have a books budget, I buy when I see something I like. 

What is your favorite book, and who is your favorite author?

I don’t have hard favorites. There’s a peloton: James Joyce, Joseph Mitchell, Peter Hessler, E.B. White, Joan Didion, Elmore Leonard, Charles Portis, Larry McMurtry, Pynchon. I haven’t found a school of fiction I love. I don’t have the authority to have a favorite fiction writer, I’m too poorly read. Dubliners is my favorite collection and I go back to it a lot. Moby Dick made me want to lie down in silence because not a thing can follow up those chapters. It elevates the American east coast to London or Paris. Plus it’s so funny. The two books I wish I could read again for the first time are Brideshead Revisited by Waugh, which is heartbreaking, makes me want to feel bad, which I don’t like feeling. One of the best love stories ever written. The other is Barbarians at the Gate, a book of reporting about the leveraged buyout of RJR-Nabisco in the 1980s. It is honestly just the sickest fucking book ever written. It is so fucking good. If you see it, buy it. I can’t say enough about it, it is so funny and satisfying and so rich in detail. I did not think when I spent the $3 on a book about Nabisco being pulled off the stock market in the 1980s it would be one of the most ripping yarns of my life. But it is. Perfect book, and if I had a time machine I would travel back in time, read it again at my leisure, and then get to sports betting and righting wrongs, the details of which I won’t go into here. 

Thoughts on reading books at shows between bands? And have you ever moshed with a book in your pocket?

I went to shows in the 90s, the bad part, but I don’t mind this. It was a cliche back then, you would go to a localcore show and some twerp in suspenders minding a distro is reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, not helping anyone. Enough time has passed since that this association has been withdrawn. Reading a book anywhere raises a person’s dignity, especially on public transit. I’ve not moshed with a book in my back pocket. When I was going to shows and dancing I was reading Infinite Jest and Gravity’s Rainbow, which aren’t pocket reads. I never understood how people can fit books in there. I only wore 501s for a long time, to size. Those pockets can’t fit anything over a short story collection. And Dubliners meant and means too much for me to place it by my keys.

Is there any song that reminds you of a book, or vice versa?

I don’t think my brain works that way. I think the New York of V is identical to the New York of The King of Comedy. And Moss Icon reminds me of Rimbaud. Both were young, downtown beautiful, with short, small lives. Moss Icon was a mid-coast hardcore band and Rimbaud died young in what I bet was a rented apartment. Not a lot of photos of either. But their output and presentation was epochal, painfully beautiful and touched on the most universal themes of being alive and isolated. Their work will live forever. Rimbaud obviously has a better rep, but I think Moss Icon should go in the time capsule too.

Best books to take on tour?

I’ve never been on a proper tour, just a weekend here and there. I guess I never wanted to see what concert halls in Stuttgart looked like on weekday afternoons. The last tour I did was a weekend with Mil-Spec in July 2017. I thought I was getting a new job so I burned my vacation days. I didn’t get the job and don’t remember what I brought to read. I remember having very little time to do that. I went to Trash American Style, the awesome store in Connecticut, with Mental in 2003, on the way to either New York or DC. I bought Lolita and read it over the summer. It was so depressing. I made a point to not bring it to shows.

What’s your favorite literary reference in a hardcore song or band name?

It absolutely is “Here My Troubles Began” by SOS, which is on the Lockin Out “Sweet Vision” compilation. HMTB was the name of the second Maus comic I’m pretty sure. But it was also a headline on the cover of an early McSweeney’s, which is a periodical we all read and worshipped. SOS’ singer Jason Barrow and AJ McGuire and I all worshipped McSweeney’s, at least. I thought it was the start of something: hardcore kids who read David Foster Wallace and McSweeneys, who wore Arcteryxes and Jordan 1s, who sold Yankees Suck shirts and got into fights, but it didn’t broadly take off then. Barrow bought William T. Vollman’s Rising Up and Rising Down, the original hardcover, six bound books, which McSweeney’s published, and two pairs of the original lime Air Max 95s on a Saturday once. The shoes were re-released that day and the book came out the week before. I was so impressed. I doubt HMTB is the first hardcore song with overt literary themes, but i bet it’s the first comp song based on contemporary serialized writing. I love the song too, still. It’s about responsibility. Literature is an adult game, or so it seems. At first glance it looks distant from child music. But so much fiction is about how much growing up and being an adult sucks. The Updike books about the Toyota guy are not so different from Clocked In, for example. 

Is there a book that you have read recently that was far outside of the scope of your usual reading habits, but you enjoyed it nonetheless?

This will sound horrid but I try and read about things I’m not interested in. I don’t enjoy books on music, culture or fashion… or sports. Those things comprise the larger parts of my interests and career path. I follow them in news but nothing is less interesting to me. I tend to read obvious fiction and non-fiction and journalism that covers either esoteric or mainstream things in plain ways. Brideshead Revisited, which I mentioned earlier, I bought for a dollar for no reason, and can’t stop thinking about. I wish I could read it again fresh. That’s the best thing I did outside my scope. It’s an obvious book, but still, just this amazing heartbreaking love story, which I usually don’t go for. I’ve tried a couple Evelyn Waugh books since and they didn’t hit. I think rolling the dice and trying new things with an open mind is a good rule of thumb for reading and other things too.

Are there any underrated books about hardcore that you would recommend? (Bonus if they are still in print). And were you psyched to see Trumbull Fanzine [sic] referenced in the straight edge book?

I think Radio Silence and Live Suburbia, both by Anthony Pappalardo, are great, unique and well-executed artifacts that don’t fall into the regular pattern of hardcore books’ hagiography, back-patting and unverified claims. Many books on the subject read like Al Bundy reliving Polk High football. So much reporting that comes off like stenography. I guess these things are hard to report. But what isn’t? You can’t make a full book from stories too good to check. Lore is cool, don’t get me wrong. But it’s just not good enough. Dance of Days is obviously another one: maybe the only very well-reported book about hardcore. It’s great, but I wouldn’t say it’s underrated. Anthony’s books are broader, nail it, and hold up well. The book speaks from authority and not ball-washing, and is critical too, in that artifacts and scenes are left out. It’s not like the books are languishing in obscurity or anything, but they’re as good as anything on the subject. I had no idea my zine made it into the Straight Edge book. What’d they say? My hope is someone from Excessive Force found it and trashed Owen and I. 

I think the Record Aficionado books by Jay Bil are some of the best journalism on the subject too. He leafed through every single zine in the ABC No Rio library and found ads and reviews on these records no one has seen in 30-plus years. I’m biased, since we’re good friends, but I think they are the best and most complete works of documentation on the subject.

What do you say to people if they say you have too many books? Lately I’ve noticed people starting to disdain owning or collecting things, alongside a passion for decluttering, and your GQ piece was a powerful rebuttal to this trend. Do you think books are immune to this societal mania?

No one’s said that to me. Not sure owning too many books is possible. I’m close to running out of shelf space, and when I get there I’ll build more shelves. People who live in smaller apartments than mine have more books than me. Thanks for saying that about the GQ piece, I’m not sure how powerful it was! Kondo is thoughtful on books. She said if you love them, keep them. Makes sense. Aesthetic minimalism can be hectoring, and it only works when done with noble intention. Otherwise it’s a pursuit of the idle rich. It’s dumb to be singly aesthetic-minded. The Constance Garrett translations of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy look better and have cooler jackets than Pevear and Volokhonsky. But what kind of dipshit would I be if I bought those? Garrett was a butcher — you need the good versions. I am sure books are not immune from top-down culling, but these trends rise and fall like hemlines. It’s a big movement, but it doesn’t have the power to get through your front door.

Any last literary thoughts you would like to share?

One, thank you for doing your thing, I think the world has finally started to catch up to the wave you have been on for the past decade. It’s inspiring and your body of work speaks for itself. I don’t like giving advice, but I have some on reading and writing, since I am guessing some younger kids might be reading. I don’t have much authority, but these are things I’ve learned from people more talented and successful than me. 

Reading: read as much as you can, don’t read related your interests, roll the dice on books you might not go for, like what you like, and push yourself. Find time to read, it’s good for your soul. 

Writing: I’ve barely begun and I don’t have a big body of work, but I’ve had people say they like my stuff but they’re not a writer like I am and couldn’t do it. I just want say here that’s bullshit. There’s no union card. Rough analogy but it’s like playing in a hardcore band: everyone is allowed to give it a shot, and there’s no barrier to entry. Not everyone’s good, but the good ones are the ones who pay attention. Writing anything is not some sort of different world you need to be born into. If you read, you’re a writer, you can be one, you can do it. Keep reading a lot, listen to people, find trouble, read Strunk and White, write multiple drafts, don’t be precious about turns of phrase and find good editors and listen to them. Like anything else that matters it’s just work and time. Things get boring when it’s just cis white males describing their experience, we need a surfeit of dispatches, fiction or non-, about life, from everyone else out there doing it. 

Casualties of a Reading Existence: an interview with Matt Melnick of Darkside NYC

This interview with Matt Melnick is the first of a new series on Serve ‘Em a Sentence in which people in hardcore talk about books. Our scene seems to harbor a higher percentage of readers than the general population, and I wanted to shine a light on fellow biblophiles.

This is part of the existing Paper Bullets section since I am out of Maximum Penalty puns.

Darkside NYC is playing some upcoming shows this summer – more info at the end of this interview.

Tell me about yourself and your reading habits:

My name is Matthew Melnick, 55 years old and I play guitar in Darkside NYC and Downlow. I’m married and have 2 children aged 7 and 13. I like to read from both analog and digital sources: books, short stories, magazines, technical manuals, social media, and news of the day. I try to read at least a few pages of a real book every day.

And what are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading “Age of Miracles” by John Brunner and “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

I read a lot of science fiction and cooking/food books.

How did you become a frequent reader?

I’ve been an avid consumer of data for as long as I can remember and have loved reading books since I was a kid but I’ve only been a frequent reader in the past year. I haven’t really gotten into reading fiction until recently. I have a short attention span (which of course makes writing hardcore music perfect for me since most of my songs are only 1 or two minutes long), and I’ve always had trouble focusing and finishing books. I could only read short stories for a long time. About a year ago I happen to find a Ray Bradbury compilation of short stories on top of a trash bin. (who would throw that out?) I started reading it on the bus after dropping my daughter at school, really enjoyed it and my new era of reading began. Since then, I’ve been traveling with at least one book as much as possible, mostly when I’m on public transit. The background noise, the long length of time I’m sitting there and the desire to withdraw from the general population all help me dig in to a story and take me somewhere else.

20 years ago I used to be the book and magazine buyer at Tower Records on 4th St and Broadway in NYC (R.I.P.) and that expanded my reading habits extensively as well as my collection! There also happens to be 4 libraries on the bus route to my daughter’s school that I pass every day which makes it easy to get a book quickly when I want to learn about a topic or just want reference for something I’ve read online.

I have tons of ebooks and PDFs on my network at home but I just can’t get into reading on a phone or tablet. There’s something about holding an actual book in your hand, the tactile sensation of paper and the turning of pages that just makes the experience of reading enjoyable.  

Is there any point in your life that books have saved you the way that people frequently credit hardcore for saving their lives?

I can’t say that books have saved me, but my book collection is an extension of my personality. Books are like air … I need them to survive. I’m always researching or trying to learn about something. I’m most comfortable when I’m surrounded by books and magazines. The guys in my band are also avid readers, which is really great. Writing and playing music with illiterate people sucks.

One thing that really bothers me lately is seeing every kid, every adult sitting with a phone in their face. I’m sure the percentage of book reading has dropped dramatically in the face of this new technology. When I read on the bus or train, I hope that even just one child might notice me reading and maybe decide to put down their phone and pick up a book for themselves. Reading hasn’t necessarily saved me, but maybe my love of reading could save someone else or be a trigger to get them busy with literacy. Reading real books is the new punk rock!

I originally thought of you for this series when I saw on Instagram the books you were rescuing from your neighbor’s trash. What’s some of the coolest stuff you have found that was discarded by others?

Ok, so I’ve been a “collector” for many years. I’ve found stuff in the trash that would shock you. Computers, furniture, books, music gear..the bigger and more insane the find, the more motivated I am to salvage it. Video game cabinets, pinball machines, stereos.. I’ve found it all.

Recently I was headed home and saw a giant pile of books tied up on the sidewalk. My eyeballs popped out! How can you just toss classic volumes of Shakespeare into the garbage? Trashing books should be illegal! Anyway, I immediately knew what my mission was. I looked around, found a stray cardboard box down the block, sorted through the books and carried my bounty all the way home from Flushing, a long ride on 2 buses but it was worth it. The following Friday I walked by again and more books. As I was going through it all, a lady came out to see what I was doing and we talked for a bit. Turns out, her boss had all these old books in his house, he recently passed away and she was throwing part of it out every week. So for 3-4 weeks, I managed to acquire lots of old cookbooks, novels, chess books, old news clippings and miscellaneous other cool reading material. And this whole experience got me into reading the works of William Shakespeare, which was just amazing. It seemed like destiny.

Superbowl of Hardcore 2007. Darkside NYC absolutely killed it at their first show in years.


How many library cards do you have, what systems, and what is your favorite library branch?

I have a library card for the Queens library and 1 for the New York Public Library. Both my children and wife have library cards. My favorite branch is the main Queens Library in Jamaica, but I’m most frequently at the Queens Library in Flushing. That’s a good one too. Both have shelves of cooking books.

The Queens Library in Jamaica has a special section on its second floor that houses a collection of rare and hard to find Queens and NYC history which can be accessed by appointment only. One day I was in the library, saw a sign about it and asked to visit. All I had to do was leave my ID and I was escorted upstairs. I was the only one there! A visitor to the collection makes a request based on what they want to research and a librarian goes to the files and brings a stack of data to your table. I was given white gloves which were required to handle the original clippings and collections. What an incredible experience it was! I was able to research the history of Laurelton and Springfield Gardens, where I live now, and dig through newspaper clips and information dating back 60-70+ years. I was there for a few hours and barely scratched the surface. I need to make another visit there soon. I recommend it for anyone interested in the history of NYC.

What is your favorite book, and who is your favorite author?

I don’t really have one favorite author. I’m really enjoying the writing of Keith Laumer lately. I just read his book “A Plague of Demons” and it was really good. I just read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick and loved it. “Genesis of a Music” by Harry Partch is a favorite of mine. I just got a 3 volume set recently called “These Are The Voyages: TOS” by Marc Cushman which is cool. I’m a big Star Trek fan and the volumes detail every episode from each of the 3 seasons.  

When I was 14 years old, my favorite book was “Exotic Aquarium Fish” by William T. Innes. Me and my friends were big aquarium and cichlids lovers before we got into music and always referenced that book. Another favorite from 40 years ago is “African Cichlids of Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika” by Herbert Axelrod. I read that book 101 times back then.

Thoughts on reading books at shows between bands?

Haha! I could never do that. I’ve thought of doing it and actually tried a few times but the book never even came out of my bag. Too many distractions to contend with. Reading and playing gigs for me are polar opposites. My attention span sucks. I couldn’t read a single paragraph at a show.

And have you ever moshed with a book in your pocket?

That’s a good song title. No, never.

Is there any song that reminds you of a book, or vice versa?

Maybe listening to Rush’s album “2112” lyrically reminds me of reading a book. I love Emerson, Lake and Palmer and their record “Brain Salad Surgery” is very much like a book, most notable Karn Evil 9, all three impressions. Anthrax’s song “I Am The Law” obviously reminds me of Judge Dredd comics. I’m a fan of Dredd and 2000AD so that’s a song I like.

Best books to take on tour?

“How Not to Murder Your Band Members in Their Sleep” by Matthew Melnick

Out of all the bands you’ve played in, which of your bandmates had the best taste in books – and the worst?

Jason Madrock, drummer in Downlow, (now in Crazy Eddie) is an avid book and comic reader. He likes some really cool stuff. Mark Sokoll, the bass player in Darkside NYC is also a massive reader. He’s into war history books, Sherlock Holmes and other interesting topics. His wife is a librarian. The first time I visited him at his house, I was so blown away by his book collection, I surreptitiously took pictures of it when he was out of the room. I didn’t want to seem like a total geek but it was impressive. Rich O’Brien, singer of Darkside NYC is also an all around literate individual. He’s into Dostoyevsky and reads a lot of classics as well. He’s working on a song right now that’s based on Dante’s Inferno and the 9 circles of hell and just got a very nice version of the Divine Comedy as reference.

October 7, 2007: Darkside NYC at the Pyramid for Gary Muttley’s birthday bash.


What do your kids like to read, and how do you encourage them to love reading?

My 7 year old daughter thankfully likes to read and reads both fiction and nonfiction. Books on coding, Minecraft, Beauty and the Beast … all sorts of books. For homework she has to read 15 minutes a night but usually reads more. My wife and I read to her as well. She also gets a bedtime story almost every night. My son is a tougher egg to crack. He’s on his iPad a lot and skateboards but doesn’t really read as much as I’d like. He’s been teaching himself Russian which counts toward his general literary and we’re trying to incentivize his reading with rewards so maybe he’ll get into it more.

Is there a book that you have read recently that was far outside of the scope of your usual reading habits, but you enjoyed it nonetheless?

Definitely the Shakespeare tragedies. They were a bit hard to get through, and I only read a few of his plays so far but I really enjoyed them. I found a series of books at the library called “No Fear Shakespeare” which puts the original book text side by side with a modern English translation and that really helped getting through a few parts that I didn’t quite understand. Shakespeare was actually a very funny dude.

Are there any underrated books about hardcore that you would recommend? (Bonus if they are still in print)

One of my all time favorite books is “Punk” (1978) by Isabelle Anscombe, Dike Blair and Roberta Baylee. I don’t know if it’s still in print. I doubt it. I used to read it and look at the pictures in that book all the time. There’s a picture in there of the Dictators that got me into the band back then. “Hardcore California” by Peter Belsito is another favorite. Im sure there are a few more but nothing that blew me away. I don’t really read books about hardcore.

What do you say to people if they say you have too many books?

I say “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!”

Seriously, no one’s ever said that to me, not even my wife, who’s disciplined me quite strenuously to harness my “collector” tendencies, but she’s quite an active reader in her own right. She has many books of her own. She tells me I have too many records, but not books. We’re a book loving family. My wife incidentally, is much more of a dedicated and focused reader, both past and present than I’ve ever been.

Lately I’ve noticed people starting to disdain owning or collecting things, alongside a passion for decluttering …

That does not compute.

Do you think books are immune to this societal mania?

Unfortunately, with digital media becoming more and more predominant, books seem to be going the way of the dinosaur but just like excellent food, incredible art and kick ass music, you can only get complete satisfaction with the real thing. As long as humanity exists, real paper books will exist.

Any last literary thoughts you would like to share?

Yes. Try to put down your iPad or iPhone for a little bit and pick up a book to read, even for 15 minutes. A few pages. All the memes will still be there when you get back.
Get a library card and take out a book.

If you need to bring someone a gift, instead of beer, wine, weed or flowers, bring them a book.
Donate books, don’t trash them. You wouldn’t ever think to toss your limited edition swirly colored vinyl Judge 7” in the trash now, would you?

Give a child a book and read with them.

Congratulations for reading all the way through this rambling interview. Books rule!

Upcoming Darkside NYC shows, summer 2018:

June 17 – Lucky 13 Saloon in Brooklyn, NY

with Sex and Violence aka Carnivore AD
https://www.facebook.com/events/2072755032968129??ti=ia

June 30 – Irish Wolf Pub in Scranton PA

With Mad Diesel

July 22 – Mike Scondotto’s birthday show at The Hideout, Brooklyn NY

Free show/Sunday matinee
With The Last Stand and Crazy Eddie
https://www.facebook.com/events/2026991687622923??ti=ia

August 12 – Ieperfest in Ieper, Belgium
http://www.ieperfest.com/

 

White Cats, Black Squares, Idiots and the C.I.A.: An Accidental Summer Syllabus

This summer I accidentally read a bunch of books about Eastern Europe. It all started when the New Yorker featured “Constructed Worlds”, a short story excerpt of “The Idiot” by Elif Batuman, in January. The absurdist tone and astute observations of college life led me on a one-day, three-library odyssey to seek out a copy once it was widely available in the Westchester system.

But wait – this was only after I happened upon “My Cat Yugoslavia” while on the hunt for “Surveys” in the New Books section of the Mid-Manhattan Library. It was the first Summer Friday of 2017 at my office, and I was providing evening coverage in return for the morning off. I was eager to finally get my hands on “Surveys” after being alerted to its presence by Natasha Stagg leaving the editorial staff of V Magazine, and subsequently updating her in our database. An unexpected perk of my line of work: the amount of books I’ve encountered while updating the authors’ contact info. When I first looked up “Surveys” in the Westchester system, it was only stocked in White Plains, a location that is not part of my usual rotation. Happily, it was on the shelf in Mid-Manhattan, a branch with which I enjoy a love-hate relationship due to their draconian coffee policies.

Anyway, while prowling through Mid-Manhattan after having picked up Surveys, I encountered My Cat Yugoslavia also lurking in the New Books section. A Finnish novel about a talking cat? Somehow I missed the New Yorker review of this one, and I am legit peeved that no family members or associates referred me to this title after seeing the review. I headed to work with “Surveys” and “My Cat Yugoslavia” stuffed in my backpack, but no copies of The Idiot were available, which is what led me to seek it out in Westchester soon after.

When you search Elif Batuman in the WLS catalog, the sixth result is Sophie Pinkham’s “Black Square”. I also recognized Pinkham’s byline from work and was intrigued enough by the summary to acquire her debut at the New Rochelle Library when we went east for the farmer’s market that afternoon. But before actually consuming this title, I was diverted to Lindsay Moran’s “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a C.I.A. Spy”, acquired while roving the well-appointed biography section of the Bronxville branch, an unexpected pickup that nonetheless tied into my accidental non-occidental theme.

Below is a brief description of these four titles, all of which provide an engaging summer read, depending on your tastes:

My Cat Yugoslavia, by Pajtim Statovci
Cats, snakes, Finland, Kosovo and gay culture: this is one of the most unique books I’ve ingested in a minute. Suggested summer reading for any current or former coworkers, or my parents, since there are elements reminiscent of a story that my sister and I would have concocted in 1998 for our fictitious contentious town of Saratoga Sky.

My Cat Yugoslavia

Availability:
NYPL: 16 copies, about half of them available in the New Books section
Westchester: 11 copies, mostly still on hold, but available in New Books or New Fiction in a number of the Sound Shore locations. Am surprised it’s not stocked in the river towns due to the significant Albanian population.

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
Memorable characters, scenarios and the steady urbane voice of a fellow New Jersey native outweigh a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. I recently met some Harvard students who were all familiar with the novel due to its environs, and mentioned that it purposely ends inconclusively because there is a sequel planned. Also that it was inspired by Don Quixote, like the original novel by the same title.

For Ivy League grads or students, second generation immigrants, those from academically inclined families, those intrigued by languages, or the frequent residents in the middle of this Venn diagram.

Availability:
NYPL: 118 copies, most still on hold
Westchester: 33 copies, 15 currently available – many in New Books section

Blowing My Cover: My Life as a C.I.A. Spy, by Lindsay Moran
Unlike the other titles featured here, this one is less recent, published in 2005, but still relevant for my accidental syllabus due to some of the action unfolding in Bulgaria and Macedonia and surfeit of colorful personalities featured throughout. I wonder what Moran would make of Macedonia as the modern hub of fake news? This one’s for you if you feel you may have missed your calling in a less adventurous position at the C.I.A. than the one that Moran pursued.

Availability:
NYPL: how is this thing not stocked at the NYPL, or is it out of circulation after being an erstwhile sensation?
Westchester: 8 copies, all available

Black Square, by Sophie Pinkham
The last offering in this group of four, I took a break from Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” (speaking of urbane New Jersey natives ) to pursue this one. While there are no talking cats or bumbling diplomats here, there are similar ruminations on languages to those put forth in “The Idiot” and a sobering overview of modern Ukraine and the conflicts it faces. Pinkham weaves a variety of subtle connections between drug use, hopelessness, intricate ethnic and linguistic allegiances and the lust for war in this gripping ethnographic debut. It’s as if Biohazard – There and Back collided with a gentle third-person account on contemporary conflict and the potential for nefarious forces behind it.

The glib generalizations presented as negatives in the New York Times review are instead to me the soul and humor of the narrative, as the elements that tie Black Square to the absurdity present in the other three titles described here.

For fans of: Ukraine and offbeat revolutionaries. Also includes a throwaway comment that Yiddish was once briefly an official language of Ukraine, which deserves some additional unpacking.

Availability:
NYPL – 10 copies
Westchester – 6 copies, all available besides the one on my coffee table

Surely Not: Cotton Candy Shirley Temple

In the era post Posi Numbers, road trips through Pennsylvania can only lead to two things: 1) multiple Sheetz visits, which in turn lead to 2) the stockpiling of cotton candy Faygo.

In honor of these delicacies acquired in the Land of Kings/Land of Sheetz, I have invented the Surely Not, or a Shirley Temple with cotton candy Faygo in lieu of ginger ale. This potion is not to be confused with the Red White & Blue, a normal Shirley featuring blue cherries, which must be consumed while listening to Cold as Life.

The Surely Not:
12 oz Cotton Candy Faygo
1 dash of grenadine
1 dash of maraschino cherry juice
2 Roland Wild Berry maraschino cherries (blue maraschino cherries)

The resulting concoction is a grayish purple, like a darker Riptide Rush Gatorade. It can also be mistaken for iced coffee from afar. Woe betide any would-be iced coffee thieves attempting to snag a swig of this off your desk.

Serves: one lucky motherfucker.

Admiring and Acquiring in Sidney, NY

On the way from the Catskills to Chenango County, we stopped on a whim in Sidney, NY. While at first glance Sidney appears to have seen better days, it is alive with treats, deals and advice from locals.

We arrived via Main Street (Route 23) and parked in the gravel lot near Trackside Dining. I was thoroughly enjoying the preponderance of free parking upstate. A number of businesses along Main Street have closed due to the flood mitigation project and the street being torn up as a result, but don’t let the lack of sidewalks deter you. Locals are keenly aware of how this situation affects commerce, and make up for its appearance by being extra helpful to customers.

Rainbow’s End Consignment Shop
37 Main Street, Sidney, NY 13838

We passed another thrift shop that had closed for the day, but made our way through the construction to Rainbow’s End, which was fortuitously open. Definitely worth visiting for secondhand blazers, books, tapes, and friendly recommendations from staff. As a petite and difficult fit, I was surprised to pick up two blazers, for $1 and $4 respectively, along with a variety of books. Finding The Face on the Milk Carton here has jumpstarted my rereading of the entire series, and also resulted in a non-facetious “what grade are you going into?” by a librarian back home in Westchester when I sought a subsequent installment.

We couldn’t leave behind a copy of Sheer Terror – Beaten by the Fists of God, a small clue into the existence of hardcore somewhere in the vicinity. I wish I had brought some In Effect stickers. Overall this place was more worthwhile and less overwhelming than Mrs. B’s, a mega thrift store in Norwich that we visited the next day.

A request regarding where in town we might acquire an iced coffee led to the recommendation of Treats N Eats…

Treats N Eats
21 Union Street, Sidney, NY 13838

While Treats N Eats did not sell iced coffee, it did offer a variety of consolation prizes. We ordered the onion pedal (sic) and my degenerate travel companion requested a maple coffee milkshake. When the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Kelly asked what kind of ice cream I wanted, DTC interjected that I was lactose intolerant. She immediately offered Lactaid ice cream as an alternate base. Ironically, I’ve never seen Lactaid ice cream featured at a downstate ice cream spot, probably because it’s not actually vegan and therefore only enticing to those with lactose issues, but I was happy to find it here.

Treats N Eats uses an old style ice cream machine that blends pieces of the chosen flavor with chocolate or vanilla ice cream, so I was able to order root beer flavored Lactaid ice cream (pictured below with an onion embellishment.)

In the best of both worlds, Treats N Eats is under new management and therefore open later, but retaining their signature decadent offerings. Definitely worth a visit for the ice cream aficionado for whom Sidney’s used book and clothing offerings are also a draw.

Distance to Points Elsewhere:
30 minutes from Oneonta (Trailways bus service from NYC)
Under an hour from Cooperstown
1½ hours from Scranton
3+ hours from NYC

No Reason to Bibliophile? Intrepid Bmize Investigates:

As an unabashed snob about hardcore, I can’t help but also be discerning about bookstores. I was raised with high standards in book-fertile central New Jersey and then spoiled impossibly by working three doors down from Micawber Books. As a Westchester dweller but city toiler, I have a foot in both worlds and end up doing most of my book shopping in NYC or out of state. Post-Epsteins forays to Barnes & Noble on Central Ave leave me despondent and unfulfilled, and I usually have to hit up McNally Jackson or Greenlight for my Marie-Helene Bertino or Cornish Trilogy needs.

Yet retail establishments are slowly catching up with my cantankerous purchasing preferences. First Generation Records began its return to form as a legit destination for the unfaulty hardcore consumer (semi Nobody’s Perfect reference to assess who’s actually reading this.) Then a bespoke Barnes & Noble opened in Eastchester last fall, in the long-vacant Borders space. This store is a prototype, Big Collapse style, that is being investigated as viable for more future locations. It’s 20% smaller than the average B&N, yet somehow seems to contain more worthwhile stock.

By no means am I advocating the frequenting of chain establishments over independent shops. But until Westchester has an independent bookstore that serves my needs and criteria, I will continue to be lured by anyone with sufficient offerings. And this B&N is more than an indifferent clone of another big box store. It’s run by the same manager from the old Eastchester Borders, and staff actually have a hand in the ordering. Perhaps this is why the checkout guy seemed genuinely pleased that I complimented their selection.

No indignation for the copious selection of Roth, which is located immediately above the Rushdie.

The store opened in November 2016, but we hadn’t made it there until this weekend. I haven’t had much time to shop in the last few months, and the combination of the Westchester Library System and New York Public Library fulfills most of my needs (shoutout to the DICKS at Mid-Manhattan for making me conceal my coffee on the regular, and the much nicer staff at Mount Vernon and Eastchester.) We ended up stopping by on Saturday, aka a day I had already visited three libraries (Bronxville, Scarsdale and New Rochelle). What can I say, I needed my Elif Batuman and Joan Juliet Buck from the New Books shelf at two different locations, and was unwilling to wait.

I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed by the new B&N, but instead was grudgingly impressed by their selection. Applying my usual metrics yielded the following report, in alphabetical order by author, and broken up like a Breakdown album title. I refuse to use “Brightside” and “Happy Hour”, as some did for their b9 reviews of Posi Numbers 2005:

Plus:
A bountiful Bukowski situation
Decent Chabon selection
Decent Graham Greene selection
Lucinda Rosenfeld – Class
Copious Philip Roth selection
My favorite Colm Toibin book (Brooklyn)

Minus:
No Marie-Helene Bertino
No Robertson Davies
The only Jennifer Egan item was A Visit from the Goon Squad
No Natasha Stagg – Surveys, but I wasn’t really expecting that.

“We both liked Carson McCullers.” Actually I forgot to check the Carson McCullers situation.

The presence of Class was particularly indicative of the quality available here. I first discovered Class from a powerHouse Books newsletter at work, so I was pleased to also find it at a more generic suburban purveyor. I might reside in my own literary bubble, enamored with the lesser Henry Wiggen books and other oft-overlooked non-classics, but Lucinda Rosenfeld only has 708 followers on Twitter and Liked my Stout-inflected tweet about Class, so I assume her work is still somewhat under the radar of the general buying public.

I ended up buying a paperback of City on Fire since I had been thinking of rereading it anyway and it’s a behemoth in hardback. Plus I know various friends and family members who might enjoy borrowing it. And $17 for a 944-page book seemed more justifiable than $16 for the slim but amusing Our Man in Havana.

I may be easy to disgust and hard to impress in various capacities, but will be back to support this prototype Barnes & Noble in the near future. That is, once all my library books are born to expire.

Eat Side Story: Interview with Freddy Alva

Talking vegetarian food with Freddy Alva, creator of the New Breed Compilation and New Breed Documentary, which is being screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers on October 16. More information is available at www.newbreeddocumentary.com.

Describe your eating habits, or those of anyone you worked with on the New Breed Documentary:

My eating habits fall along the Lacto-Vegetarian variety, meaning I do eat some dairy like cheese & milk but I stay away from meat, chicken & poultry.  I eat a lot of grains, pastas, legumes & also have a weak spot for “fake meat” products like Tofurky sausages/Soy chicken/Seitan meat etc. I would say the director & editor of the documentary are not vegetarians but do eat meat in a consciously healthy manner.

How did you decide to become a vegetarian, and what are some of your favorite veg spots in the city?

I became Vegetarian in the hopes of staving a long standing trend of heart disease that runs through my family so I wanted to avoid that fate or minimize it. I tried several times when I was a teenager to quit eating meat, will minimal success. It wasn’t until the summer of 1990, when I was 20 years old, that I came down with Chickenpox & was laid out for two weeks. This was the perfect opportunity to quit meat as I had no appetite whatsoever & it worked: been Vegetarian ever since. Only part that sucked is that Poison Idea played a legendary show at Abc No Rio that same week I was sick so I missed it, still bummed about that.

I love Indian food, especially South Indian vegetarian style so there’s places I like, for example: Seva in Astoria, Samudra in Jackson, Bhakti cafe in the East Village & the Ayurvedic cafe on the Upper West Side.

What is your favorite thing to eat in NYC? And what’s the best place to get Peruvian food?

My favorite thing to eat in NYC is Vegetarian fast food; stuff like Soy Seitan sandwiches, Veggie burgers, Soy chicken fingers… they can be found at places like Blossom Du Jour (6 locations), Superiority Burger. I also love getting in any Chinatown, whether it’s in Manhattan. Queens or Brooklyn: red bean buns or those Vietnamese Bahn mi sandwiches that have become so popular, Tofu version of course. As far as best Peruvian restaurants; you have to go to Queens. There are some great ones like Urubamba, La Coya or Chimu in Brooklyn. In a pinch, you can go to Mancora in the East Village, they make a great Tofu Saltado, which is a variation of a classic Peruvian dish.

What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten at a hardcore venue? And if someone was in town for the BNB Bowl, what is something you would tell them to eat that is in close proximity to Webster Hall?

Best things I remember from the past are: the Che Cafe in San Diego in 1991. I saw Infest/Born Against & others; the food was amazing at their cafe, still remember that. I also remember a Shelter show up the Anthrax in Connecticut, where the devotees brought tasty Indian veggie food to give away, that was great. Recently I went to This Is Hardcore fest in Philly & there was this amazing cart in the courtyard that made awesome Veggie Seitan & Tofu Bahn mi sandwiches. Anyone coming to BNB bowl, I would recommend Angelica’s kitchen about a block away. It’s the classic lower east side Vegetarian spot. There’s also a place right next to the Continental club, on 3rd Ave between St. Marks & 9th street, that makes these awesome “Korean Burritos” with meat or without. Of course there’s Supierority burger on St Marks, probably the best veggie burger in town at the moment.

What is the most notable thing you’ve seen someone eat on stage?

I remember Ralphie Boy (Disassociate singer) playing with Jesus Chrust at a show in a squat on the LES while munching on chicken wings & throwing the bones at the crowd. Another one is whenever Bugout Society played, they threw out White Castle burgers at the audience during their appropriately titled anthem ‘Castle Carnage’. Pretty sure I saw their singer, Charlie Boswell, munch on the burgers before flinging them at the crowd.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve eaten while traveling?

I’ll always remember traveling through Europe in the late 1990s while on a budget & getting a freshly baked baguette with cheese in Paris was immensely satisfying, practically lived on those. I’ll always remember this amazing concoction in Amsterdam called Vla. It was somewhere in between a milkshake & custard/flan, have never found it anywhere else. The best Indian food I ever ate was in Southall, London. Super spicy but completely worth it.

Have you ever been to Alamo Drafthouse, and if not, did you know they have an excellent veggie burger? Or if you’ve been, what would you advise people to order while attending New Breed Documentary screening on October 16?

I just peeped their menu & the veggie burger definitely looks like a winner. Also: their baked pretzels w/beer mustard, the omnivore pizza & tofu w/quinoa bowl all look good. I can’t forget the local ales they carry, love tasting regional beers. I have my eye on Doc’s pumpkin cider!

What is your favorite thing to cook at home right now?

This coming winter season I’m gonna make a lot of hearty vegetable soups. There’s  a cool Vegetarian cookbook that’s been sitting in my kitchen for the longest, about time I used it. Looking forward to doing some hearty lentil & minestrone soups, get a nice baguette & salad plus my favorite beverage: the perfect comfort food.

Anything else you’d like to add about the relationship between food and hardcore?

Food & hardcore seem like unlikely related subjects. At least that’s what I thought when I got into HC. It wasn’t until I met people like Adam from Life’s Blood & Dave Stein from Combined Effort Records, that my views on Vegetarianism were expanded as they were full on HC dudes that believed in the integration of both scenes; placing vegetarianism along political & ethical lines that complemented a hardcore & punk rock view of the world. My new breed co-creator, Chaka Malik, also influenced me big time. He was the first Vegan I ever met & once him & Absolution/Burn guitarist Gavin Van Vlack got a communal house together in Brooklyn; they would make these huge veggie feasts that convinced me vegetarian food can be tasty while being good for you. I owe it to friends like them from the hardcore scene for influencing this dietary choice I’ve been on for 26 years & counting.