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Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk
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Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  305 ratings  ·  42 reviews
How can so many people pledge allegiance to punk, something with no fixed identity? Depending on who and where you are, punk can be an outlet, excuse, lifestyle, escapism, conversation, community, ideology, sales category, social movement, punishable offense, badge of authenticity, reason to drink beer forever, or an aesthetic of belligerent incompetence. And if someone ha ...more
Paperback, 265 pages
Published February 11th 2020 by Rare Bird Books, A Barnacle Book (first published 2020)
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Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Back in the early nineties whenever I managed to get my grubby paws on the new issue of Maximumrocknoll it was always a toss-up over whose column I’d read first. Typically this came down to a choice between four of the most loudly opinionated (at the time) columnists in that storied punk fanzine. Would it be the discursive, highly parenthetical stylings of Rev. Nørb, ringleader of Green Bay band Boris the Sprinkler? Or perhaps it would be the transgressive New York attitude of Mykel Board, whose ...more
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So great! This hit the spot and made me revel in the art of crafting a perfect sentence. I mean really - such a well written description that it makes me swoon. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about an over lapping concurrent view point of my life as shared by someone in my orbit yet from a very different perspective. Sam and I could ride the Same path train back to jersey after the same show and he would be reading The NY Times while I was listening to my Walkman and we would not speak. Or we ...more
Ryan Mishap
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: punk, modern-essay
"Commenting on the world isn't the same as engaging the world."--from the book

I recall overhearing my mother discussing a client who had come into the lawyer's office where she was a secretary. The client was a teenager; a troubled sort who had the letters spelling "skinhead" tattooed on his knuckles in that done-at-home blue ink that would eventually become familiar. The 1980s was a time of many fears related to delinquent youth: Satanists, homosexuals, D & D Players, punks and goths and many o
Meghan Minior
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this. Don't skip the endnotes! ...more
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Never got into Sam's bands or his label, and also not into many of the bands he writes about in this book. One of the bands I do like that's written about (Die Kreuzen) has some major errors (he says the band played at an indie rock tempo for 3 decades, despite breaking up after 12 years or so. Not to mention his dismissal of their post-HC work, which seems odd as his post-Born Against bands certainly strayed from hardcore orthodoxy.)

That stuff didn't really affect my enjoyment of the book, whic
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As a jaded, rapidly aging hardcore (no longer a) kid, I love this book a whole hell of a lot. McPheeters writes from a perspective similar to my own, having moved on from the smelly basement shows and the hoarding of crappy 7”s, but his love for what was shines through in these pages. I truly miss the weirdo perspective in whatever passes for a hardcore scene nowadays, and this book is a great reminder of the days when that perspective was easily found at shows and on record. Highly recommended.
Greg D'Avis
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’ve admired Sam’s work in multiple fields since 1991 or so - no way was I gonna miss this. It exceeds my lofty expectations- he’s able to look at hardcore punk from the perspective of an ex-insider, while simultaneously avoiding nostalgia and contempt. Plus he’s a fantastic writer.
Jack Mckeever
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
For those interested in Hardcore punk - and particularly those who were there during its reign of multi-faceted creation and rage throughout the '80s and '90s - Sam McPheeters and his band Born Against are cult heroes. Now channelling his wit and realism-based imagination into novel writing, McPheeters' half memoir/half essay collection comes unexpected. At various stages throughout the book, he expresses relief at getting out of the hardcore scene (and performing in general) when he did. But hi ...more
Gregory Collins
Feb 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not so much a book about hardcore punk as it is a book about what hardcore punk does to a person. Still, it’s the smartest, most self-aware, and least sentimental book on the subject I’ve ever read. It’s also funny as fuck. After guffawing though the heart wrenching chapter on 26/Doc Dart, I revisited “Wisconsin” by The Crucifucks and wept. Millennials probably wouldn’t even recognize that music as hardcore today but holy shit...what that hardcore record did to 14 year old me...what that ...more
Scott Hicks
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book about punk rock I’ve been waiting for. Earnest and cynical. Hilarious and thoughtful. This is a microcosm of my life, though Sam has weathered it in a considerably more public and known context. Honestly the chapter on 7 Seconds was worth the 15$ alone - I laughed so hard and felt compelled to call everyone and read the whole thing out loud to them. (I didn’t).

Anyway, thanks Sam. Anticipate a postcard.
Jay Kistler
Jan 10, 2021 rated it liked it
The most puzzling thing Sam says in this collection of essays and stories is “hardcore’s main selling point is accessibility”. To think that angry, aggressive, sometimes hateful music can be labeled as “accessible” is beyond me. This has to be a joke, but it didn’t really read that way to me. The author and former frontman of Born Against is funny, but this might have been a serious take.

Sam also makes a distinction between “punk” and “hardcore” which kind of irks me. Hardcore is punk but punk i
Cosmo Bf
Feb 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
Mutations is a lot of things: a fragmented memoir, a collection of band profiles, rambling musings on the commodification of identity, an admittedly biased history lesson, and possibly a mid-life crisis. It's also a lot of fun to read.

"Hardcore" and "punk" are both words that mean different things to just about everybody who swears by them, and McPheeters tries to reconcile these contradictions via a snapshot of his involvement with "the scene" from the mid-80s through the early 2000s. The resul
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Really great, something for anyone that’s ever had more than a passing interest in hardcore punk, underground culture, or self loathing.
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
After the first wave of hardcore, which I still love, I thought the rest sucked. I didn’t even listen to single band he mentioned that I didn’t know, except Casual Dots. Great, not hardcore. But that didn’t stop me from loving McPheeter’s stories and rib-tickling observations about punk. He’s a gifted writer, who covers a lot of ground, culturally. Reminds me of Klosterman at times, voice-wise. McPheeters has some great tour stories.
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great book about the evolution of American punk rock & underground weirdo music by one of my favorite artists of the genre/scene. This book is mostly an attempt to suggest a framework to understand the various ideas, features, and institutions of underground punk music of the 80s-early 2000s. McPheeters treats his own biography in the hardcore scene as kind of a case history, without getting in to too much detail about the stuff he did with Born Against & Men's Recovery Project. He depicts himse ...more
Jun 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sam McPheeters completely sold out the scene with this book (/sarcasm). Had this been written when I was 19, I would have gobbled up the contents – it feels like it was written a decade or two too late to be of much relevance. It is interesting that the author spends most of the time writing about the bands the preceded his own musical career (it says he was born in ’81, so I doubt he was spending much time with Rites of Spring or Youth of Today in the mid to late 80’s). As a work of history thi ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
Huge, delightful, laugh-out-loud funny, deeply insightful, often poetic, this book could conceivably be enjoyed by readers with no familiarity with the bands discussed or by those deeply enough invested in underground music to want to hear gossip about Mordam Records, the Epicentre, ABC NO RIO, and the last years of punk before the internet. McPheeters takes a few controversial positions that strike me as silly—that’s sort of his job in life, to find something to say that nearly every single per ...more
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I don't care about almost every band mentioned in this book and I still loved it. Who knew I wanted to read about the singer of Crucifux? The writing is so funny and good, and there are a ton of endnotes that add extra humor and weirdness to the chapters. ...more
Jun 30, 2020 rated it liked it
This, in the business, is what we call a “headscratcher.” On one hand, there is a ton to enjoy in Mutations, but I’m not sure what the goal of this book was or if it tries to accomplish anything. If you were to ask me now what it’s about, I’d say it’s several stories and observations from a minor (?) player in the 90s hardcore scene. But if you were to ask me what the book thinks it’s about, I might say it’s about “The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk.” I know it’s written right there on the ...more
Rick Seery
Should really be five stars, but it's not like it's going to change your life.

A very good first-hand, highly subjective, frequently hilarious account of life from the inside of the U.S hardcore punk subculture with a more diverse range of topics than that would imply.

Firstly, Sam McPheeters is a very capable writer with a lot of stylistic flourish.

Favourite chapters:

- The interview with Doc Dart from the Crucifucks. Dart would make a singular antihero in a modern American novel. In fact someon
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think the writing is great. Given that he could likely gossip and tell lots of wild stories, the stories and opinions here are restrained (and well edited), and not drawn out and dramatized. I appreciated that, and I think that's what makes this book so good and the author so sympathetic. Simultaneously, I wished for a little more detail at times. Still, I understand that this is not an autobiography in a strict sense, and I trust him as a filter and storyteller.

Prior to this I was only famili
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
An insightful examination about the rise and evolution of the hardcore punk music scene from one with a bit of an insider view of it all. Y’see, author Sam McPheeters was the front man of Born Against, Men’s Recovery Project, and Wrangler Brutes and, before that, he ran fanzines about the scene. So, yeah, he knows what he’s talking about.

The book is broken into three distinct sections: the first highlights the early history of the genre; the second reviews individual bands, one per chapter; and
Bill Florio
May 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great writing. Really loved the Doc Dart, SSD and Alberti's more journalistic chapters that explain some of the almost unexplainable had to be there sorts of things. I found the self reflection around some events I shared apt yet overall Sam's still way too harsh on himself. We were all kids struggling with bouts of depression and desperately trying to find ourselves. When I drove cross country in 93 Born Against were the only band everyone I ran into was talking about. I'm sad to hear Sam only ...more
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have very little skin in this game and no real idea why I chose to read this book. I've never listened to Born Against, and while I do like hardcore, the McPheeters era is a little blind spot and I'm barely familiar with any of the bands that he discusses here. It is, however, a really interesting insight into a closed community with autobiographical chapters alternating with chapters that have broader themes about music and the hardcore community in general. It's a quick read, and will both m ...more
MacDara Conroy
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mutations is right, as Sam McPheeters’ collected essays shapeshift between wry criticism, wistful but not rose-tinted reminiscences, self-excoriations and determined opinions on any number of topics: consumer culture, scene politics, the worth of art. It concludes on a rueful note, with a vignette from the early Naughties on the closing of a longstanding record pressing plant that’s by happenstance a treasure trove of US independent punk history, one read some 17 years later with the keen unders ...more
Melissa Frost
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
i love the work of sam mcpheeters - the music of every band he was in, his illustration work, zines, and his overall general sense of humor / way of communicating with the world if this is not the case for you, this book may not be 5 star level for you. but if youre even just kinda obliquely interested in 80-00's hardcore punk, you'll still be amused & get some bizarro arcane knowledge from this. its a stream of weird stories filtered by the perspective ripened with hindsight, adulthood and a cu ...more
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It’s hard to not feel pangs of nostalgia with this book. I grew up in the era of punk that McPheeters helped create and which he chronicles in this book- the DIY punk and independent music scene of the 90’s that sprang out of the implosion of the first wave of hardcore in the mid 80’s. I miss going to show “spaces” that also doubled as zine libraries and community centers. Maybe the nostalgia is just because we’re deep into the pandemic, and if I read this at another time I’d still feel the nost ...more
Greg Ruben
Apr 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Not what I expected.

I figured this would be a memoir, but found that the (excellent, very compelling) autobiographical chapters are padded with more conventional music writing. There are several short chapters about different hardcore bands, some of which feel like short, superficial record reviews. Some of them are interesting.

The book ends abruptly and you get the feeling it was hastily slapped together. I would love to read a true memoir by McPheeters someday.
Mar 22, 2021 rated it liked it

The author's writing is often funny and poignant, yet I disagree with almost every musical opinion he offers (like Hardcore Punk being "accessible" and Pop music being uniformly horrible). This book made me look back at a lot of the punk shows I used to go to in sweaty basements, but where I thought I'd feel nostalgia I just come up feeling empty.
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Sam McPheeters was born in Ohio and raised in upstate New York. In 1981, at age 12, he co-authored Travelers Tales; Rumors and Legends of the Albany-Saratoga Region. Starting in 1989, he sang for Born Against, Men’s Recovery Project, and Wrangler Brutes, touring seventeen times across North America, Europe, and Japan. Since 2009, he has written for Apology, Chicago Reader, Criterion, Vice, and The ...more

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