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

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,228 Ratings  ·  530 Reviews
It was a musical revolution that happened in the midst of Reagan's 80s: a small but sprawling network of bands, labels, fanzines, radio stations and other subversives who re-shaped and re-energized American rock music with punk rock's revolutionary do-it-yourself credo. The music that resulted was deeply personal, always challenging and immensely influential. This book tra ...more
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published July 31st 2001 by Little, Brown (first published 2001)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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brian
Jul 18, 2015 brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
as a kid i assumed punk & hardcore was 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 and throwing some '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 was kinda disappointed when i di ...more
Eddie Watkins
Oct 08, 2014 Eddie Watkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
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
Feb 27, 2011 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, prose
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
Pamela
Aug 26, 2014 Pamela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
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 is the book's strength, and its 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
Dave
Mar 21, 2007 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 09, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
A.J. Howard
This is the story of how a bunch of kids who appreciated the Beatles, the Stones, and the Stooges, but came of age after they left the scene. These kids became alienated with new mainstream bands like Aerosmith, the Eagles, and Genesis but then the Ramones put out a record and these kids found solace and a sense of identity in the music of the Clash, Television, and Talking Heads. They took these new ideas and formed great bands like the Minutemen, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, the Meat ...more
Kerry
Nov 16, 2009 Kerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 15, 2016 Meagan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Elizabeth
Jan 09, 2008 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 06, 2009 Sebastian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joshua Buhs
Alternate title: 13 arguments that music in the 1980s wasn't all a vast wasteland.

This is a journalistic recounting of independent music during the 1980s (well, late 1970s to early 1990s) told as the story of thirteen different bands. It is really good, at times brilliant, though there are structural issues--tough ones, not ones I could even imagine solving--that ultimately keep the book from being as transcendent as the bands it chronicles.

In the late 1970s, American music companies were focuse
...more
Ari Eris
Mar 19, 2013 Ari Eris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Julien
Nov 26, 2012 Julien rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ron
Mar 27, 2016 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Azerrad writes brilliantly, which is not the contradiction of punk terms that it would seem, tracing the history of the underground from its secondary movement to the birth of Nirvana and the eventual (inevitable?) sell out to the mainstream.

The punk ethos was ever about thinking for one's self and expressing individuality, but the original movement had few bands of any lasting merit--Ramones, Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads--and while the latter three of those and some others (Elvis Costello) ma
...more
Jeff
Apr 17, 2015 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall a pretty great book, especially (and obviously) if you are a fan of 80s "underground" rock. Azerrad does a great job relating the histories of both seminal 80s bands as well as the labels themselves. Just how SST, Sub Pop, K Records etc started, evolved, and ran their businesses is fascinating stuff given the humongous obstacles in the way at the time. Azerrad also does a nice job with profiles of some of the big figures in the movement, and I learned a ton about guys I didn't know much ...more
Michael Logan
Nov 16, 2014 Michael Logan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wheeeeee!!!!!!!!!! This book was, as I expected it to be, so far up my scuzzy alley that it ran the risk of being mugged.

Yes, it is at times a little repetitive - but how could it not be, when it is the account of 13 bands full of, for the most part, principled young musicians making music and going DIY with the recording, distribution, etc. But the overarching message of making music for the love of it, instead of going for the money, resonates throughout. In virtually every case, all of the jo
...more
Lee Fritz
Mar 28, 2014 Lee Fritz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Mar 18, 2013 Richie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2008 Amber rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, music
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 liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
AJ
Nov 15, 2014 AJ rated it really liked it
What a great book. I found it a bit slow at first while it went over some bands that I wasn't terribly familiar with, but it's such an informative and interesting history of indie rock in the 80s and 90s. It covers the bands and indie labels that evolved into some of my favorite music of all time.

The author has a chapter on each band covered in the book, from Black Flag to Beat Happening and everyone in between. My favorite chapters were on Mudhoney (an excellent history of the Seattle scene and
...more
Tristan
May 05, 2015 Tristan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The kind of book that can change your life. We take it for granted, in the age of iTunes, how difficult it could be to find music that mattered and a community of people who felt the same way. A great book about young people being dissatisfied and disillusioned, not only with politics but greed and hypocrisy, and as a result making honest, beautiful art. The Husker Du and Minutemen chapters are strengths (really, anything about D.Boon), although the whole thing is excellent. Please read.
Ralph
Dec 20, 2011 Ralph rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 12, 2015 Nate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, music
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
Nov 06, 2012 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 17, 2010 Ed Wagemann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 06, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joe
May 08, 2016 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book covers the story of about a dozen early punk and indie bands. Some of the bands I've always loved; some of the other bands are not among my favorites, but it was still great to read their stories as a counterpoint to underscore the point that early independent bands really did cover a big range of attitudes and behaviors.

Some of the bands literally helped to define what it meant to be DIY; others built on the paths that the earliest bands found. I was pretty familiar with some of the b
...more
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Michael Azerrad has written for a number of magazines, including Rolling Stone, Revolver, and Spin. He lives in New York City.
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