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UNITYHXC.COM | Interview with Steven Blush

Steven Blush

This interview was conducted by Jason Viteritti, 4/28/2003

There have been a variety of books written on music subcultures in the past 10-15 years such as punk, hip-hop, techno, blues – the list goes on, but there hasn’t been anything that focuses on hardcore this extensively. Why do you feel this music and subculture has been neglected for such an extended period of time?

Well, it was always ignored. It was music that always…nobody really new about it. If you were part of the hipster…if you were part of the mainstream music business you certainly did not know about it and certainly didn’t like it. You just kind of like summarily dismissed the whole thing. If you were kind of a hipster, you didn’t really like it either because it was kind of adolescent and heartless or kind of not bohemian and that didn’t go with the zeitgeist of the day. No one really gave a shit about hardcore except for a bunch of kids – inspired, young adolescent kids largely from the suburbs of America, who never sold a lot of records in mainstream numbers. They never really had any attention or made a dent in the mainstream at all. It’s only the influence of all these bands because while these bands didn’t have the numbers they had the passion, the vision, and the drive. Something that I doubt will ever happen again. A lot of things you discussed like hip-hop and alternative rock were things that hit the mainstream. These were things that were in Spin Magazine and Rolling Stone Magazine. That wasn’t the case with hardcore. But the thing that I always point to with hardcore was the bands of 20 years ago sold 5, 000 copies are the ones that matter today. The band's that sold a zillion records in the early 80’s like Journey, Night Ranger and Styx that are like a joke. Those bands sold millions and millions at the time. That showed you what the mainstream of America was. This kind of bloated kind of bands with no theory.

These were Bands with no substance at all.

Well they may have felt they had substance, but if you were looking for something deep and primal you had to react against it. You think about the influence of…. You look at Henry Rollins of Black Flag. You see that aggressive, very macho kind of singing had never been seen before, and I would submit that virtually everything that goes on today from your Korn and Limp Bizkit, etc. to the new punk. They all sound and deliver and act a hell a lot like Henry Rollins and like H.R. from the Bad Brains and guys like that - Ian Mackye, well maybe not Ian Mackye. There’s that for the mainstream rock. The influence of Ian Mackye and Discord Records and ethic of D.I.Y. and hardcore, which lead into Emo and Straight Edge you’re talking about 5, 000 kids around the whole country involved in this world and look how important and influential it was. You know Moby had a hardcore band, Dave Grohl had a hardcore band, you know fucking Courtney Love was at hardcore shows and even the Beastie Boys were a hardcore band. It’s such an incredibly powerful force so…No one had ever documented this before and it was astonishing to me.

Why did you decide to document this time period, and why in the title of your book was American Hardcore referred to as “A Tribal History?”

What actually inspired me to write this book more than anything asides from being a journalist and feeling like I came from Mars like I had no…I had been involved in this underground where everybody had spilled their blood for it. As much as I say it had this big impact, I just gave you this whole rap…on another hand it had no impact in that where was it written anywhere about any of these bands. I remember watching the History of Rock n’ Roll shows that were on TV. There was one by the BBC and one by PBS. They were both really amazing and well done, but what they both do is they talk about Punk, Sex Pistols, the fury of the late 70’s and they might even talk about X. Then it goes right to Nirvana, as if “this” fucking never happened and to me it was just astonishing.

They skipped over hardcore completely?

Like it didn’t happen! Ask anybody…I mean Kurt Cobain…who on one side was a John Lennon kind of singer songwriter, but is coming out of the SST Record collection. It was coming out of Meat Puppets, Husker Du and Black Flag. Don’t forget Soundgarden’s first big record was on SST. That was a big honor for these bands. These were the bands that they bowed down to and were the ones who came to the towns.

Bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden’s initial goal were to sign to labels such as SST and Sub Pop. They never expected to reach the level of success they ended up at.

There weren’t even thinking that. If you came from the underground Black Flag was huge in your mind. Bad Brains, Misfits and Minor Threat, in your mind these were gigantic bands. I don’t know. I always felt like I was in a packed room. I always felt it was this very fierce movement that had just incredible fury and fire going on in the early 80’s and it was never covered. I almost felt like there was something sinister about all this. I thought it was trying to write itself out of history. That’s how I felt, I could be wrong. I had my suspicions and I raised the subject with people who kind of agreed with me a little bit. They kind of white wash it as if there was punk, and then alternative rock and then a million records sold. You know there was this whole vision that came out of hardcore. Like I said I didn’t take a penny to start this book. I hadn’t thought about hardcore for fucking 10-15 years. I mean I like a lot of the stuff but in terms of where it was at I hadn’t really addressed my youth in a long time, and I called the book “American Hardcore” because it’s a defiantly an American movement. This is not British influenced or something coming out of Paris or whatever. This was American suburban music, and it’s American Hardcore Tribal History because when I did the research I realized that we were all part of a tribal subculture. We all had our tribal markings and town-to-town the tribes looked a little different. There was the fashion, the sounds and all that. It was like the gangs meeting and a show was like the meeting of the tribes. I remember going into different towns. In D.C. sometimes we’d have shows where Philly and New York and Raleigh would all come to represent. You could tell the difference between those kids. They all looked a little different. I mean you could tell there was something going on, so I felt very fierce that this was a subculture, like we were all parts of a tribe. That was the whole vision behind the book.

Do you feel that maybe now looking back you could possibly write a part two covering different geographic locations that weren’t included in the book?


No, in the United States, did you receive any feedback where someone from a small city felt as if his or her scene wasn’t covered? Do you feel there’s enough material out there to cover other areas? You really did cover the key scenes, but I could imagine there’s someone out there who feels his town wasn’t covered.

The research on American Hardcore is exhaustive. I mean it’s so exhaustive that it almost seems like it’s not. I mean it’s so understated in the way this thing is researched. I say very clearly in the book and if you feel there should be any changes let me know because I don’t claim to…I was the guy who just gathered all the information. This is how I read the information. Some people say, “oh you call that band a skinhead band, but they were a positive skinhead band.” (Laughs)

Well I’m sorry but these guys are now married with kids now and they’re worried about their history. A lot of people like to think about themselves as different now than when it was. But I feel that every major scene; every major character gets mentioned. There might be one thing here or there…in the recent reprinting I changed about 15 things. One of them was these bands that said, “we weren’t Nazi Skins, we were Positive Skins,” but I don’t remember it that way. You know what? I took it out and said they were a positive band just to make them feel good, but I don’t even know if I should have done that. I stand by the facts. There are a few people who have come up to me and said well you forgot this or you forgot that. I’ve thought about it and I added one or two things, but really don’t feel that I missed that much. I feel like I make very sharp judgments on the bands, but on the other hand I tried to speak in the language of hardcore and this is how we were. We were very sharp and acidic in how we viewed our bands. It was not a love feast. It was very clear - this band rules, this band sucks…you know I tried to keep that spirit.

Yeah, some of the negative reviews I read were from people who were obviously not part of this scene at the time. I was really curious about the bands and the people who were subjects in the book. What was their feedback like?

Well here you go – this is the key about all this. The people who were involved in the movement have all said to me thank you finally for telling the story. I haven’t gotten a lot of bad reviews, but the ones that I get are basically like who’s this guy to say this and this fact and that fact. Here’s the kicker, here’s how it works- when we were in school they had the game of telephone, like you whisper in somebody’s ear and the story gets totally changed by the time it gets around the circle. There wasn’t anything written on hardcore, though the history of hardcore was like a mythology, like this lore…”Hey I saw the band in ’87 when 5, 000 people were there”, or “He saw the band when there were 10, 000 people.” So a lot of the people who are still hardcore today are…I think if you read any bad review the gist of it is that I say that the hardcore movement was an early to mid 80’s movement and then dies. Therefore, if you’re still doing hardcore today, I am saying what you’re doing is over with, and they have to be upset because I’m calling bullshit on what they do,

I know, you mention in your book that hardcore was over in 1986, which is a strong statement that many people have disagreed with. You can probably debate the demise of hardcore forever, but I completely understand and agree with you. I didn’t start going to hardcore shows myself (at age 14) until about late 1985 and although I’d seen some amazing bands, I always felt as if I missed out on something and what I was seeing at that point was second rate. By 1990 it was basically over for me. It was completely watered down and most of the new bands weren’t doing anything interesting or original unless they completely changed their style of music. A lot of bands were branching out musically, but inept at their new attempts. Not to mention names, but you know all the bands that tried crossing over to metal or wanted to sound like U2. But now in 2003, for a new generation of kids, hardcore seems to still be alive throughout the world on both an independent and mainstream level. Do you feel that hardcore really died in 1986?

I did an extensive tour for American Hardcore. I traveled around the country and promoted the book in about 23 different cities and that was my whole marketing of the book. I took all my marketing money; there was no magazine ads or anything like that. I went city to city because my book is not a N.Y.-L.A. book. My book is Austin, TX, Portland, OR, Milwaukee, and Detroit. I’m really hitting the meat and potatoes of America, and I got the press in those cities. That’s what made the book kind of skyrocket because I went to the towns and said you guys’ rule. While I was there I saw this new hardcore scene. I thought when I wrote the book that my audience was going to be people of hardcore age. I found out that my audience is this new generation, and a few of them were like, “Hey you say the scene is over.” I felt kind of bad, but on the other hand I came across with a different feeling after that honestly. I feel hardcore was a political movement. That’s what I believe about it and that’s my statement on it, but if you still get something out of it today…right on, I’m with you and I feel good about the spirit that we helped passed down. That’s my answer to that question. I have met a lot of these new kids and I like them, I like them, I think they’re cool.

It seems as if it’s important to a kid at the time they are experiencing it and sometimes it doesn’t last longer than five years.

And it’s not too different than what I was going through, honestly. I’m not here to say we had it so much more intense. Here’s my call on it. Let’s say I wrote this book not on hardcore and I wrote about the blues. I’d talk to you about Robert Johnson; I would talk about the various movements how it grows to Chicago, Detroit and New York. Then I would stop! Then you would have somebody say to me…

Blush and J simultaneously – “Where’s Eric Clapton?”

Well I would say Eric Clapton is not of the original movement.

He was just inspired by it.

There are people today who still play the blues all the time and there are blues magazines. I mean 30 years a go they used to joke about white people playing the blues. Now there are only white people playing the blues…or Reggae. Reggae is something that ended…talk to a Jamaican. Reggae has been dead since Bob Marley. Now it’s Dancehall and dub.

And that’s not real Reggae.

That’s not Reggae…Reggae has been carried on by white people who today still do it. So that’s what I’d say about the hardcore movement today - that it’s a social cast, a legitimate one, but it’s not a fiery political movement standing…I mean given what’s going on in the country today, I would hope to see more fire coming out of it.

Do you feel that with the war going on and all the other problems in the world today that something new could spark?

Well I thought so. I’ll tell you this much – Ronal Reagan set off hardcore.

Did you think George W. Bush could set off something new?

I thought he could, maybe he still will. I’ll wait to see. I would like to see it happen.

Speaking of the Reagan era, the popular bands of the 80’s such as Loverboy, Toto and Journey hold absolutely no cultural significance today, yet the hardcore bands in your book seem to have influenced a variety of music and culture that is now popular. Why do kids really care today about music that was ignored 20 years ago?

Hardcore really means something as opposed to Loverboy, Toto and Journey. I think that’s what translates over the years is intent. The Hippies still mean a lot to a lot of people. The hardcore people still mean a lot to a lot of people, anyone who really put themselves on the line, such as the early Hip-hop people. I would submit that bands don’t do that anymore. I don’t see a lot of bands out there out to change the world. My point about being a hardcore band today is that if you were going to do something revolutionary, you would not do hardcore. You would do something completely different. You would rebel against my generation. So I haven’t seen any growth in rock music in the past 10 years honestly. I just kind feel that everyone is just playing with styles. Maybe that’s a down way of looking at it. But look at techno, alternative rock, hardcore. Tool, Marilyn Manson & Rage Against The Machine, these are early 90’s bands. I don’t really see…

This great rock revolution!

I don’t see it and I would love to see it.

Do you feel that one of the most important elements of hardcore basically was that it was the blueprint for what is now considered independent music?

Absolutely! Just the whole idea of putting out your own records and doing your own shows…when I think about what we used to do, people thought we were nuts. I think that’s the only reason we got away with half the stuff was putting on shows and we had the balls to do it. Other people didn’t even understand what it was. The whole idea of music before was only about getting signed to major record label, it was only playing to a million people; it was only playing guitar solos and being aloof and drugged out. So everything about that was what hardcore rebelled against. Some people think my assessment of punk rock is a little harsh, but I was punk first and foremost. What I criticize comes out of tough love. Punk was not a D.I.Y. movement. It was guys doing cocaine and on tour buses.

All the original popular punk bands were on major labels.

They all were on major labels. They started the language and talked about D.I.Y. and had elements of it but it was still related to the music industry. I don’t think there were pieces of the legitimate music business attached to hardcore. I don’t think there was one real official music industry person involved in this whole fucking movement. That says that it was all about the kids. One part of the book, I describe hardcore…We all read that book “Lord of the Flies, “ basically the kids have to create their own society and initially it’s amazing, it’s like utopian, the kids have this drive and eventually it just goes to hell because of all the bullshit. That’s the story of hardcore. There’s a flame out, there’s a time where it explodes. Let me tell you, you say come in 1985; Black Flag has like long hair and everybody’s metaled out and smoking pot. Like you said tried to sound either heavy metal or like U2. There’s like this real schism.

I caught I clip of it and felt as if I missed out on what was real important.

Well let me also say that everybody feels that way. I felt that when I saw The Clash’s first American show at the Palladium. They opened up with “I’m so Bored with the U.S.A.” and Bo Diddley opened the show. Everybody at the show was telling me that you missed out on the Sex Pistols and this is bullshit. I remember wishing I was around to see the Sex Pistols.

My first time seeing the Bad Brains was when they opened for Slayer at the Ritz and I thought it was the most amazing thing that I’ve ever seen, but the kids who were 5 years older than me were telling me it was terrible (compared to 5 years back) and I couldn’t understand it at the time. Seeing the Bad Brains for first time really changed my life in 8th grade. What experience stands out the most for you from being involved with hardcore as a kid?

It was Black Flag’s first show in Washington D.C. As I came to learn it was their second East Cost show, Dez Cadena singing, Valentines Day, 1981. Because I came from NY kind of sophisticated in that I had seen a lot of new wave bands. I saw Kraftwerk; I saw Gang of Four’s first American show and all these British bands that were touring on 7 inches. So I was kind of going in that direction. I saw Black Flag when I was 4 months into college. I remember seeing R.E.M touring on a 7 inch and Mission of Burma, who I didn’t even like. Black Flag changed me. It was a total deconstruction of music. It wasn’t verse-chorus rock. It was just this violent combination of riffs and sweet and fucked up drum beats. The show was about 25 minutes long. I don’t even know if I liked it at first. I don’t know if you have this feeling, but sometimes the most incredibly moving things in your life you don’t like at the very instant it happens. I went with this college friend of mine who was kind of prick and Ian Mackye and his friends just beat the fuck out of him after the show. I don’t think that Ian through the punches. Ian was like the violent peacemaker who was always in the middle.

This is probably hard for a lot of people to believe now who didn’t know Ian during that time.

When I wrote the book Ian wanted to make sure that kind of badass side of him got out. I think because he is kind of tired of being seen as a saintly character. I mean Ian Mackye and Henry Rollins were very powerful personalities but they were fucked up kids. They were out to fucking wreck shit. That’s what hardcore was. So again you come to this point about people’s critique of hardcore, I’m telling you how it was, don’t blame the messenger! But Black Flag changed me – I’ve never been the same since that show.

I know you’re book is selling well and getting a lot of attention in the past year since it’s been out. You previously told me you might be working on film adaptation of the book. What are you plans with the movie and whom do you plan on working with?

Paul Rachman with Steven Blush

I’m working with my friend Paul Rachman. Paul is one of founders of the Slamdance Film Festival, made a lot of famous music videos back in the day. In terms of Hardcore, he made the Bad Brains “I Against I” video. In the early 90’s, he made videos for Alice In Chains and Temple of the Dog, so he’s always had that edge. In fact there’s brand new Bad Brains “Best of” album coming out on and it includes a re-edited version of the “I Against I” video. Paul comes from the scene as well and he just gets it. We started conducting interviews, taking some meetings and no one had offered us those elusive zillion dollars so we’re just going to move on with this and proceed ahead. The book took a long time and the movie will probably take a long time but hopefully it will be worth it for everybody.

You must be going though the usual trials and tribulations of filmmaking?

I think it’s the same catharsis that all artists go through in whatever they’re doing and hopefully it will make for a better film. The film will get done and we’re ready to go. I’m working on a few other things as we speak, but this movie will be done before you know it.

What are some of the other things you are working on now?

What I have on the plate right now aside from booking bands at Don Hills (rock club in NYC). Ironic because when I booked bands in the hardcore years, I swore I would never do it again and here I am but I like it. For years I have also published Seconds Magazine. That was what I did after hardcore. That’s what I took from the hardcore ethos without any publishing experience and minimal writing experience I started my own magazine. In a day when everybody was very strict in how they categorized their music with punk, metal rap. I was kind of the one who brought it all together. We ran a totally 100% independent company for 15 years and published 52 issues of Seconds. Feral House, my publisher is putting out a book called “Second Coming”, the most intense interviews from Seconds Magazine, which will be out by the end of the year. That’s my next big thing.

With Seconds magazine, you covered both hip-hop and metal early on. Do you feel that maybe you were part of something that was interesting and not proud of what it turned out to be?

Yeah, the very first issue of Seconds Magazine was the Beastie Boys first ever cover right as “Licensed to Ill” came out and it had Metallica, the Butthole Surfers, and DC Go-Go Funk. I remember so many bands; I was there at the roots of this kind of movement. I’m now very confused by it. On one hand it’s this kind of a Frankenstein monster that got out of control. On the other hand I was backstage at OZZFEST and there’s about 50,000 people there. Everybody’s there to see these bands and I’m backstage and all the bands want to hang out with me because I’m the guy from Seconds and I’m the guy they were reading when they were coming up. That was very deep to me. When I went on the American Hardcore lots of people came up to me saying when I was 17 I read that article and I still have it at my mom’s place and I used to show them to my friends. That’s what hardcore was and that’s what I tried to do in publishing. Ultimately I just lost interest. I just felt the underground that we propelled was no longer there. I know when we were about to do our 4th Marilyn Manson related cover it was time to get out. That was a band we helped break. They were nasty, foul and on the edge – come out of Punk, Satanism, Metal and all those good old American things.

If you had your choice to write a biography of one band, who would it be?

I recently had this discussion recently and if I were to write a biography on one band I would love to write the biography of Black Flag. Unfortunately I don’t think anybody would really buy it. I think Henry Rollins wrote “Get In the Van” and I think that’s about it.

Don’t you think the same kids who bought American Hardcore would buy a biography on Black Flag? Would they? I don’t know. That’s the book I would love to write. You wrote the book and are now working on the movie. Do you have any plans on putting together a compilation of the bands featured in the discography at the end of your book, which I thought was amazing?

Thanks. I put together a compilation CD that I’m going to try to get released. One thing about the discography, I spent a half a year on that. Most people would of made that a book and we crammed it into about 30-40 pages, whatever it is.

I know of people who don’t even listen to hardcore anymore that use your discography as guide to buy records they feel they missed out on it the past.

I’m thrilled to hear that. I was just hoping when I was writing this book that people would care.

There have actually been a bunch a reunions and reissues that have spawned as a result of your book and discography.

Very true! I had a discussion with Penelope Spheeris when I DJ’d the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. I had a long talk with her and she was aware of my book and all that. I told her when we were kids…everybody would say “Decline of Western Civilization” was all bullshit and it was just an exploitation of the scene. But everybody got their idea of hardcore from that movie. She made that statement and everyone else just followed. I feel that’s what happened with American Hardcore. American Hardcore became a lighting rod for everybody’s fantasies about what they thought hardcore was and I turned the light on.

Could you imagine another book on hardcore?

I can’t imagine another book on hardcore after this – be my guest. A few people have asked me if I would do a book on the next generation, 85 to the early 90’s. I’m not the person to do that. I was just off into different things. I was in NYC, there was Hip-hop, industrial, heavy metal, and there was Slayer for God’s sake. The most intense bands would come and play in NYC, but it wasn’t hardcore. It was almost as if hardcore was the least threatening. A lot people were like I had band in ’88 and you didn’t write about it. It’s like the Eric Clapton thing we were talking about. I’m writing about what I wrote about if someone wants to do something else, write your own book!

-Jason Viteritti

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