Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991
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Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  6,887 ratings  ·  453 reviews
This is the never-before-told story of the musical revolution that happened right under the nose of the Reagan Eighties--when a small but sprawling network of bands, labels, fanzines, radio stations, and other subversives reenergized American rock with punk rock's do-it-yourself credo and created music that was deeply personal, often brilliant, always challenging, and imme...more
Paperback, 522 pages
Published July 2nd 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published 2001)
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Please Kill Me by Legs McNeilChronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob DylanLove is a Mix Tape by Rob SheffieldOur Band Could Be Your Life by Michael AzerradPsychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
Best Non Fiction About Music
4th out of 746 books — 571 voters
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brian
as a kid i assumed punk & hardcore was an inherently right-wing music; from the safe confines of long island it seemed the nose-ringed & mohawked or shirtless & skinheaded were all about death and destruction and i naturally figured they'd be so inclined to support the party which always seemed to advocate dropping bombs on brown people and throwing a bit of 'fuck you' to the poor. yeah, dead wrong about the punks and a bit of a caricature regarding the grand ol' party. must admit i...more
Eddie Watkins
I missed the entire “Indie Revolution” as I spent the late 80’s – early 90’s first as a psychically fragile (nearly suicidal) drifter-type (though I worked sporadically) living in Baltimore without a music collection, then as a wash-up living back in my parents’ basement in small town Delaware, and finally as a practitioner of Zen and social isolate living in Denver who listened to little more than classical music. This book helped me immeasurably in catching up with the past I missed while it w...more
Caroline
This one took me a while to get through and occasionally led to existential crises in the nature of, "WHY AM I READING A 50 PAGE CHAPTER ABOUT THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS WHEN THERE ARE PEOPLE FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST?"

There are certainly places where this book delves into "More information than I could possibly need about people I really don't care about." But overall, this is a fascinating reading experience, and I think just about any level of information a reader goes in with (as l...more
Dave
Wow, what a read. The big plus for this tome is that Azerrad spills as much ink on some bands who were slipping off the radar - notably Mission of Burma (at least at the time the hardcover was published, pre-reunion) - and on how he's able to let the story of one band from this geographic region lead into this band from that region... so at the end the reader has an idea of how 6,7,8 different little underground scenes birthed a nationwide network that is still around and supporting interesting...more
Elizabeth
I have read the chapters on Black Flag and The Minutemen and am loving this book. It revived so many old feelings and memories, and I didn't know it was possible to love Mike Watt any more than I already did, but I find myself even more enamored of The Minutemen. Next I think I'll skip to the Husker Du chapter--should be interesting in light of Bob Mould's recent 'coming-out' memoir.

I just finished the book and absolutely adored it. I think Azerrad does a brilliant job of tracing the geography o...more
Kerry
I'm going to be candid here...wait, when am I not? This book is really only for the hard-core music fans. The ones that want to know everything about it. From the formation and inspiration of the music to the gritty work ethics so many musicians and bands take to make it.

What I love best about this one this is that this book is purely about true indie bands. These were the bands that didn't want to sign with major-labels bc they felt it would sacrifice their integrity and the integrity of the m...more
Meagan
This is right up there with "Please Kill Me" and "The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones" as one of those foundational rocknroll books with a "You Are There" feeling throughout. Basically, if you were under the impression that punk died when Mick Jones got kicked out of The Clash and wasn't revived until Nirvana released Nevermind, do yourself a favor and read this book. Yes, there are a few omissions (okay, just one that kind of sticks out in my mind. Meat Puppets. They're mentioned several...more
Pamela
This is such a GUY book. The band histories are filled with the drama and backbiting you would expect from teenage girls, but are posited as Very Important Cultural Happenings. I guess that would be its strength, and it's entire reason for existing: documenting a whole bunch of assholes and taking them seriously, even at their most hapless and idiotic. I mean, he manages to write a deathly serious chapter on Black Flag, whereas I just giggle at the thought of Henry Rollins circa '81, standing on...more
Elizabeth
I loved this book. Azerad profiles bands like Black Flag, Minutemen, Mission of BUrma, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Big BLack, Minor Threat, The Replacements, Fugazi, BEat Happening, Mudhoney, and Dinosaur Jr. It's the royaly of 80s underground music in America.

There are bands that could have been incouded, namely the Pixies, but Azerad wanted to focus on bands that made a big splash in America. And while the Pixies were an American band, they were on 4AD, an English label. They began to hit...more
Sebastian
Our Band Could Be Your Life is the most absorbing book about music I have ever read. While it's not perfect, it's essential reading for anyone interested in independent music, be it of the era covered by this book (1981-1991) or today. Composed of about a dozen profiles of bands from across the country, it's long-form journalism at its best. Interesting tid bits (and occasionally scandalous details) abound, but more importantly the larger portraits of each of these bands feel close to definitive...more
Julien
How much you like this book will depend on how much you like the bands. I liked the chapters on Black Flag, The Minutemen, and the Butthole Surfers the best, but was a bit bored with those on Husker Du and The Replacements because I was never terribly interested in their music. But aside from a few embarrassing descriptions of music (which I almost always dislike, no matter what), there's a lot of good information and stories about a group of influential bands, though I might have collapsed the...more
Lee Fritz
"Our Band Could Be Your Life" is about USA underground rock from '81 to '91, and so many of the bands and stories reminded me about our experiences with Roy G. Biv from about '98 to '04. Among the topics discussed:
- Punk as an attitude rather than a style of music. check. (not conforming to the Blink 182 pervasive riffs of VP "pop punk")
- Bands like Black Flag and Minutemen establishing the series of small clubs across the country and then Husker Du and Big Black taking mini Midwest tours to Mad...more
Timothy Hallinan
This is rock writing that's as good as rock itself. Michael Azzerad traces the rise and--well, endurance--of American indie rock through astute (and often very funny) profiles of many of the bands that paved the way for Nirvana, Pearl Jam, et. al. These pioneers, some forgotten except for a few aging thrashers and some still either going strong or head-banging in people's memories, include The Minutemen, Mission of Burma, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. Butthole Surfers, Hüsker Dü, F...more
Richie
This was an interesting book, but not for the reason I had expected. I initially bought the book because I was listening to some of the 1980s underground bands that were featured in it, like Husker Du, Black Flag, and The Replacements, and wanted to learn more about them. Instead, I found that the stories about how the indie underground was founded to be more interesting. Learning more about the economics of the industry (of the lack thereof), and what it was exactly like to play music in those...more
Amber
In high school, I subscribed to Spin magazine like it was my job (I was heartbroken when the changed the paper and made it smaller and took out "Genius Lessons"! END OF AN ERA, PEOPLE). It pretty much was my job, I guess, as an angsty-youth with the eyeliner and ridiculous clothes, and it recommended this to me. Despite the fact that I am sure I would have been really into them at the time, I asked for (and received) this book for Christmas my Junior year (and didn't read it until, like, 6 years...more
Paul
Mar 12, 2009 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
Really cool book, especially if you were born ten to fifteen years before I was. Aside from Sonic Youth and the Replacements, I knew next to nothing about these bands, and most I had never heard before -- one (Beat Happening) I'd never even heard of. (Embarrassing to admit as a Washingtonian). Still, the collection was well written and interesting. Every single piece of music writing I've ever read always falls into that ridiculous and annoying hyperbolic bullshit of like "X's bass notes and Y's...more
Ralph
Surprisingly disappointing collection of stories about bands I suddenly remembered I didn't care all that much about in the first place. I had read about all my favorites -- the Replacements, Husker Du, Minutemen -- while standing in the aisles of Barnes and Noble, so I had already hit the high points. After a couple of chapters, the stories kinda meld into one -- two weirdos meet in high school and start playing songs, then meet another goofball and go on tour; they aren't very good and the aud...more
Nate
As I read this I felt like the stories of the bands themselves were more important to the book than the actual music. While being a horrible record geek allows me to enjoy all the music talk I can read I didn't miss any in-depth analysis because the stories were so compelling. The chapter on the Butthole Surfers left me in awe and of course the Minutemen chapter is pretty moving. Bands like Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth and Minutemen were all sacred daily listening for myself and my friends so I was pr...more
Tom
One of the most comprehensive looks at probably the last great era of independent rock music. This books is eye-opening in terms of understanding the past and how that has affected our attitudes toward the industry as a whole. I mean "yeah, major labels are baaad, they destroy bands"; what this book does is painfully describe: why and how.
The parts on Minor Threat, Fugazi and Sonic Youth are great. It definitely unveils the invincible shroud over Ian Mackaye, what a bastard...but what a genius....more
Ed Wagemann
A great book, definately a must for anyone that wants to hear the war stories of American Underground Rock. I also like the fact that Azerrad just deals with American bands from that time. I was a DJ at the college radio station at Western Illinois University in the late 80s and it was like anything British was considered Underground, The Smiths, The Cure, Soup Dragons (scottish actually). But none of these bands came up from the DIY ethic unlike the bands in Azerrad's book. That DIY ethic is re...more
Jennifer
Just a couple of observations about a book I should have read years ago, and probably everybody I know has already finished...

1)Where are the girls? Kim Gordon and Heather Lewis are the only females, and Gordon gets very short shrift.

2)Most well-adjusted seem to be Mission of Burma and Sonic Youth. A lot of these folks seem borderline institutionalizable.

3) It's uncomfortable to think about how much poverty and suffering went into these records.

4) It's wonderful to have an excuse to listen to a...more
Jason
In the 80s, I was a kid skateboarder living in suburban Ohio. By virtue of a college-aged brother, some older and cooler friends, MTV's 120 minutes, Spin magazine and some cool local record stores, I also listened to some of what I believe to be the greatest guitar-based music ever created, including many of the bands featured in this book. Some favorite bands of the era like 7 Seconds and Dag Nasty never really caught on or left a legacy to the extent of more popular bands of the era and not al...more
Daniel
Gotta go with Tim on this one, this was pivotal in my musical development at the time that I came across this book. My own explorations had been inching me closer to that whole area of music, so this book turned out to be a good companion throughout. Real fun read for lovers of the music!
Daniel
I read Our Band Could Be Your Life at a time when some of these bands were my life. I read and can recall reading half of the book, based on what was currently playing out of my computer speakers. I was a punk rock kid and my much hipper and much older brother (who only listened to bands in the second half of the book) let me borrow it to read about Black Flag, Minor Threat, Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Replacements, and then, begrudgingly, Fugazi (who I had thought at the time took themselves t...more
Renata
I'll start this off by saying that I'm probably one of the least punk rock people in existence, and I wouldn't have picked this up if 1) it hadn't been a Kindle Daily Deal and 2) my friend Caroline hadn't been so enthusiastic about it. But I'm super glad I did! I learned a LOT.

I had honestly never heard of most of these bands? And even the ones I had... I mean, literally the first time I ever heard of Henry Rollins was when he was a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race. And now I'm like, wow, it i...more
Melissa
Jun 11, 2011 Melissa marked it as to-read
I thought I had already read this, but now I'm not sure. Oh well, it won't kill me to pick this up again. And I can lust after Henry Rollins. Yeah, I said it.
Sasha
'coz Im a music nerd like that
Nick
Minutemen 4 lyfe.
Unwisely
I am a bit too young for these bands; I had actually never even heard of two of them (Big Black and Beat Happening). But they definitely laid the groundwork for the things I listened to an love, so it was an interesting read.

The bands, particularly the early ones, were testosterone-steeped enough that even raeding about them made me a little angry; I'm sure it would've been awful to be female at some of the hardcore shows. (Which is a pity; it's the sort of thing I would have very much liked.)...more
Ariane
I've always thought music writing was pretentious, boring, and not very good, but Our Band Could Be Your Life has proven me wrong. I may have missed this pivotal era in music history (boo!) but Michael Azerrad brings the scene and the music to life in a way that stirred up feelings in me as if I had really been there. I've always been a big fan of Black Flag, Minor Threat and Fugazi, but after reading this book I think I might actually be in love. Before I dismissed the Butthole Surfers; now I'm...more
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“Rock'n'roll is a teenage sport, meant to be played by teenagers of all ages--they could be 15, 25 or 35. It all boils down to whether they've got the love in their hearts, that beautiful teenage spirit... -Calvin Johnson” 15 likes
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