Retro Review: Rettman’s Chronicle of Detroit Hardcore is a Must Read

The following review was originally written for just after the release of the book. Since that time, Tony has done several other amazing projects. Today’s repost was sparked by his appearance on the Cinepunx podcast.

Why Be Something That You’re Not is not only a great question. It’s also the name of a song by Negative Approach that encapsulates the Detroit hardcore scene of the early 80’s so perfectly that journalist Tony Rettman used it as a title for his first book, an intimate and thorough look at one of the earliest and most overlooked hardcore scenes in America.

Rettman’s experience covering the scene was one he truly enjoyed.

I was happy to talk to everyone I spoke to for the book, but the trip I took out to Michigan in Feb. of ’09 for interviews was a real mindblowing trip. From hanging and drinking in John Brannons’ apartment on a quiet Wed. afternoon to drinking and chilling with my High School skate hero Bill Danforth to drinking (do you sense a theme here?) with the Violent Apathy dudes way out there in Lawton to the final night of goofin’ and eatin’ sushi with Tesco Vee and Steve Miller from The Fix, it was like the story was unfolding right there in front of me.

From the way he presents the material in the book, it’s quite obvious that he isn’t bluffing. This experience was obviously a fun and interesting one for Rettman. While maintaining a clear journalistic integrity in present positives and negatives of the scene and the central figures of the scene, there’s no denying that Rettman is present a scene that he admires and seemingly wishes he could have been a part of.

For me, all I knew of Detroit’s influence on hardcore I learned from my brief conversation with the author just before I received the book in the mail. His book was the perfect expansion on that discussion. It reads as a clear cut narrative beginning in the early moments of the scene, chronicling through until the mid 80’s. The reader is given a clear understanding of how pieces came together and how elements built on each other in the scene, accented by anecdotes and stories that bring in some character development of the key players in the game (and, my, what characters some of them are).

After reading this, not only did I feel compelled to listen to as much of this music as I could, but I also felt like I knew and could relate to the bands and the people in the scene. This is always a testament to good journalism and good writing. Having read many books chronicling bands, artists, genres, and scenes, I could only wish that some of my favorite music had such a treatment. Sadly, though, there is not guarantee that more are on the way. When I asked Rettman what his next project was, he told me, “I think for now, I’m going to see where WBSTYN goes and play it by ear.” This reviewer, for one, certainly has selfish reasons for wishing the success of this book.

Without trying to recant the story, I’d like to briefly highlight one of my favorite excerpts form the book:

Also coinciding with the Necro’s New York visit was a bizarre invitation to attend the Halloween night broadcast of Saturday Night Live. Former SNL cast member John Belushi had worked out a deal with the produces of the show that in exchange for a cameo appearance, he could have whatever musical guest he wished on the show. Belushi, being a face of the LA punk scene for the past few years, settled on Fear, an LA hardcore unit led by their trash talking, foul mouthed front man Lee Ving. Somehow through the LA connections, Ian MacKaye’s phone number found its way into Belushi’s Rolodex. The comic called and invited him and the DC crew to come up to New York and show the country “what it is all about.” Since the Necros would be in town with their usual crew (Tesco, Brannon, Hyland, etc.), MacKaye extended the invitation to them and all hell broke loose.

To find out what kind of hell broke loose (in the words of Rettman and the words of those involved), you’ll need to go pick up your copy of the book. Let me tell you though, this story is entertaining to say the least… and there are plenty more like it.

I asked Rettman for a few examples of where I, and the TPM readers, can start on the music of the Detroit hardcore scene of this era, he succinctly replied, “Sadly, I could only recommend the two collections that are legally available right now – Total Recall by Negative Approach and At the Speed of Twisted Thought by The Fix. If you wanna scour eBay or wherever for bootlegs, I’m sure there’s gotta be something with stuff by the Necros.” Disappointing, but at least you can join me and pick up those 2 collections. Mine are now sandwiched between my Minor Threat and Black Flag CDs.

Having read over this review up until this point, it dawned on me that it sounds more like an ad or a blog by a crazed fan than a review, but that’s honestly just because it’s simply a fantastic book. Well written, informative, and entertaining… this is what a good piece of music journalism should look like. Not only do I honestly love this book, but without it I’d never have been properly exposed to an important part of the American punk rock story.

Justin has been running websites since his first Geocities site in 1994, but only did he ever start covering anything of substance years later. After he stopped regularly running local concerts in Northern NJ and the greater Philly area, he knew he needed to step up his writing game if he expected to continue to get free music to listen to. He writes regularly here and at Cinapse, as well as contributing to a few other sites on occasion. He likes music, film, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers, talking about Criminal Justice, reading Intelligence Report, and his family... not in that order. His beautiful wife is far more talented than he is and his kids far more adorable... and crazy.
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