Skyscraper Magazine » We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001
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Eric Davidson
Backbeat Books / Hal Leonard
Format: Paperback
Release Date: June 1, 2010
By Dave Cantor August 10, 2011

Wrapping up the totality of an epoch in music’s recent past is a perverse pursuit. Eric Davidson, author of We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001, goes so far as to include an interviewee telling him so.

Fronting the New Bomb Turks for 20 years has apparently imbued Davidson, who also did time editing CMJ, with enough gumption to give his book-length investigation of garage, punk, and its ephemera a proper vetting. Beginning with a bit of Cleveland punk history – Rocket from the Tombs, Electric Eels, and such – distills Davidson’s understanding of the genre, even as his native-Ohioian bias comes on relatively early. Making use of his connections earned touring the world, the author weaves together an admittedly reductive view of underground rock stuffs linking the end of hardcore to bands detailed herein, grunge, and off to garage’s reiteration during the early part of the new millennium.

First hand narratives, as they often do, become a bit tiresome by the time Davidson tells readers about touring Spain. But between the sporadic first person stories, the singer’s able to coax some insightful one-liners from the performers he interviews. Everyone from the Mummies to the Devil Dogs finds inclusion. Of course, there’s an unfocused discussion of Jack White being a monster that crops up every once in awhile. The author, so judiciously, distances himself from the most famous guy in the book, never really weighing in with his own perspective on the White Stripes. There is a bit on Davidson approaching White for an interview and getting some cryptic e-mail in response. What’s funny is that while Davidson’s inexorable gushing about Billy Childish doesn’t approach journalistic detachment, there isn’t a kind word for Jack White anywhere to be found. Maybe that’s deserved, but the Detroit native gets railed for making a boat load of money (and how he went about it) even as some other major label signees are depicted as folks who gave it a shot but got mangled in the machine.

Separating the author’s affection for a number of bands mentioned throughout this volume and the actual impact these folks had on anyone gets a bit difficult. The Raunch Hands may have had a moment of glory and turned in some ravers, but proportional to the impact Mick Collins and the Gories had on folks, the space each ensemble takes up seems curious. But that’s Davidson inserting himself into the book. Despite We Never Learn eschewing even handedness, it winds up being not just an engaging read – and a quick one at that – but also an important first document in what will no doubt be an over-chronicled period of time. Shitting on grunge bands, though, only makes you sound bitter even if Soundgarden does kinda suck.

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