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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

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  14,057 ratings  ·  691 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 December 20th 2001)
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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 ·  14,057 ratings  ·  691 reviews

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Start your review of Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991
Jan 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 discovered mos ...more
Eddie Watkins
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 21, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Nov 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
ok i eat this shit up. this book took me a while to get through but mostly because i had to stop frequently to listen to entire albums. it genuinely bums me out sometimes that there is so much more good music in the world than i can realistically absorb & appreciate the way i want to because, alas, i am not a big omniscient sponge
Twerking To Beethoven
Cool book. The chapters about Black Flag and Minor Threat stand out.
Nov 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Mack Hayden
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, music
I would've been totally shocked if I didn't love this book. With that said, I wound up enjoying it even more than I anticipated. The bands, record labels, and general era in the history of music described here are all favorites of mine. It's so cool seeing all these great college rock bands crossing paths, witnessing their internal drama, and seeing indie rock as we know it ascend to a place of prominence. It really conveys the vitality and joy of its title: as a proud fan of all these bands, I ...more
An amusing motif of this book is being excited for your band to open for Public Image Ltd and being disappointed when, in true arrogant, wannabe-rock-star fashion, PiL skips your set. For example, when Minor Threat opened for PiL at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum in 1982, Ian MacKaye took it personally when John Lydon rode into campus in a limousine after Minor Threat reportedly "rocked fucking the house." Something like this allegedly happened to approximately half of the bands d ...more
Nov 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
Joshua Buhs
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Rebecca Hyland
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-in-2019
I had pieces of longer reviews written for this, but nothing really cohesive, and I didn't want it to be like 50 bloated paragraphs.

Anyway, I loved it. I feel like "you were there" histories about art scenes that interest me are kinda my literary comfort food/candy. In the case of this book, I WAS there for at least some of it. I was never the hugest Black Flag fan, but their name and general aesthetics made me viscerally nostalgic for the '80s. I could see the jean jackets with Black Flag patc
Feb 23, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 15, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Dec 20, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, audio, music-writing
I'm surprised the audio release didn't get more attention because it's excellent. The first time I saw pairings between the chapters and readers, I had my doubts, (Jonathan Franzen and Mission of Burma?) but it worked out beautifully. I'll have a lot more to say about this soon. ...more
Nate D
Apr 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nate D by: Jessica
Exciting! Informative! Just reading about these bands is enough to get my adrenaline up, sometimes.

Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
the book of music was great.
East Bay J
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life is a thirteen band look at what it was like back in the bad old days of U.S. independent underground rock. The profiles of Black Flag, The Minutemen, Mission Of Burma, Minor Threat, Husker Du, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, Mudhoney and Beat Happening tell the story of how the indie music scene came to be.

The story, in a nutshell, is that a few key bands decided, since there was no chance for main
Melting Uncle
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the best things about OBCBYL is the format - a chapter for each band featuring interviews with the members, major players of the scene, etc. I can imagine many other eras or genres that would benefit from the exact same treatment. Maybe the biggest weakness of the book is that it tends to oversell how great the music of these bands is, sometimes lapsing into a fawning fanboy mode i.e. describing the bass players fingers as thundering pistons or the sound of the guitar as a rabid junkyard ...more
Joe Cross
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
For anyone even remotely interested in indie rock, I'd call this an essential read, and throughout I kept wishing that Michael Azerrad would do similar profiles of '90s bands like Modest Mouse and Yo La Tengo. So why 4 stars instead of 4.5 or 5? Well, at 501 pages, it's, for lack of a better word, long, and some chapters are repetitive or unnecessary (see: the Big Black chapter, which did nothing but reaffirm my dislike of Steve Albini, or the Sonic Youth chapter, which, despite them being my fa ...more
Baal Of
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Early in the this book Azerrad spent a bit of time building up the bands he loves by insulting bands like Genesis and Yes, which annoyed me since I happen to like a lot of prog rock in addition to the punk and indie music covered in this book. Fortunately he mostly dropped that attitude for the rest of the book. I liked the structure of the book, with chapters being just about the right length to give good depth to each band, but not so much that it became tedious or boring. One of the recurring ...more
Joe Sundermeyer
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I guess I'm old enough to be told the truth about some of my favorite music.

Husker Du: heartbreaking
The Replacements: would have been even bigger assholes than Motley Crue if it they "made it"
Sonic Youth was an art project. They knew what they were doing all along and it wasn't about music. There, doesn't that make you feel better? You knew it all along, didn't you?
Minor Threat: Righteous
Mission of Burma: I missed it
The Minutemen: GOLDEN. Best musicians and best music of the lot. All made while
Kerry Dunn
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
Exhaustive. This book took me forever to read. My favorite chapters: The Minutemen, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr, Mudhoney. My least favorite chapters: Black Flag, Big Black, Butthole Surfers. I think the main thing I learned from this book is almost everyone in a band is an asshole. And also men are big fucking babies/martyrs. I’ve never read a book that made me want to be in a band any less. It seems like a miserable existence. I’m still giving it four stars because it is well researched and ...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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