"We're now in distribution abundance," says Jon Fine, "so if you're telling me that Amazon is bad for culture, like seriously, fuck you."
Fine is the executive editor of Inc. and the author of the acclaimed new memoir, Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear), a rollicking tour of his days in the alternative music scene of the late 1980s and '90s.
"Somewhere in the latter half of the eighties, it became much easier for weird bands to do band things: play shows, make records, go on tour. The hows and whys that had been so elusive just a few years earlier were now shared through surprisingly effective samizdat and word-of-mouth networks," writes Fine, a member of "resolutely non-famous bands" such as Bitch Magnet and Coptic Light.
Your Band Sucks is at once a remembrance of things past and a polemic against the generic, mainstream culture and political correctness that Fine found deadening while growing up in New Jersey and attending college at Oberlin. It's a book that is by turns angry, funny, and infuriating. Throughout, it perfectly captures the adolescent anger and inchoate longing that has always fueled rock music and provided the soundtrack to DIY forms of cultural production and consumption.
"If there's anything that will turn you into a foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Party[er] and get you throwing stones at every liberal shibboleth you can get your hands on, it's going to Oberlin," Fine says. At the same time, his urge to create radically different music far beyond anything that was being played on MTV or commercial radio. "I felt like there was a lot not being said" in the mainstream, he explains. "Howard Jones had a song called 'Things Can Only Get Better,' really bouncy, annoying optimistic. I was like, 'You're actually wrong! Things suck and they are getting worse!'…I actually got mad about it: 'How dare you say that!' You couldn't find music easily that was talking about the other stuff….There was so much shading I wanted to get at."
"Any time you're identifying strongly with a subculture that's a minority in America, whether it's weird underground music or libertarianism, you've gotta know that you're gonna be kind of despised," says Fine, drawing an analogy between outre art and politics. "You've got to be a little bit pugilistic about it and furthermore, you understand yourself not just by the people around you but the people who are not around you and are doing the things you think are weak and inept."
Nick Gillespie talked to Fine about how alternative and independent culture has flourished over the past 30 years and whether—Howard Jones be praised!—things may actually be getting better.
About 7.30 minutes. Produced by Joshua Swain, with camera by Swain and Todd Krainin.
Special Note: Scroll down for a special MP3 recording of the full conversation between Fine and Gillespie. This 44-minute conversation ranges as widely and obscurely as a Bitch Magnet tour across questions of politics, music, and culture.