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Historian Steven Blush on Indiana hardcore


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Author Steven Blush
  • Author Steven Blush

"This was like the dirty little secret that nobody really talked about when it came to music," says Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History, of the genre that would become the subject matter of his book. "So it was either me or somebody else."

First published in 2001, Blush's book chronicles the peak years (1980–1986) of hardcore in fittingly zealous, do-it-yourself fashion. The more-or-less definitive tome covers the big names — Black Flag, Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys, and Minor Threat — along with countless lesser-known bands. Yet as Blush is quick to point out, his book — like hardcore itself — isn't just about music.

"This was a social movement and a political movement," he explains to NUVO. "And that's really what I'm getting at — that hardcore wasn't really just a sound. And I think now if you talk about hardcore, it's just about playing fast, or having tattoos, or whatever."

American Hardcore was revised and expanded to a whopping 403 pages for its second edition, which was published by Feral House in early November. Blush's book tour/crusade is bringing him to Bloomington on December 1, where he'll be heading up "Living in the 80s: The Rise of DIY Music in the Hoosier State," an event which will feature a presentation by Blush, a panel discussion featuring members of the Zero Boys, the Panics, and the Gizmos and outtakes from the 2006 American Hardcore documentary and the Zero Boys live DVD Live at the Pizza Castle 1981.

Blush's book offers a region-by-region breakdown of the various scenes that sprung up around the country during the early '80s. It includes a section on Indianapolis in the chapter "IQ 32 (Midwest Fuck You)." While his description of the city itself won't win him any fans at the chamber of commerce, he has better things to say about the music, specifically local heroes the Zero Boys.

A 1982 Zero Boys show flyer.
  • A 1982 Zero Boys show flyer.

"They were really a solid band," he remembers, "really like the future of [rock] music — this kind of hardcore with a melodic sense. If you look at a lot of 'mall-punk,' I guess you would call it — the modern punk — you see that line."

He adds, "I think you could actually trace the rise and fall of the Indianapolis hardcore scene to the rise and fall of the Zero Boys. I mean, the Zero Boys break up and the scene basically ends."

The book nails home just how much independent bands struggled during the early '80s. The support network of venues, labels, and publications — let alone Web sites — that indie bands take for granted today simply didn't exist in the early '80s. Mere involvement in the hardcore scene made one seem an outcast and a menace to an extent that's hard to even imagine these days.

"It's kind of hard to even talk about that stuff now, but people wanted to kill you for how you looked," Blush says. "I used to promote hardcore shows in Washington, D.C., and have the cops show up at my house. I don't think cops even care if you, like, walk around [today] in a Hatebreed shirt and covered in tattoos. 'Cause they are too!"

Blush salutes the Zero Boys, and lead vocalist/concert promoter/Affirmation Records head Paul Mahern in particular, for making things happen locally in the face of such struggles.

"There was no backing for you. At least if you did something in New York or D.C., you might be able to actually do it in a club or get somebody at a newspaper to mention it. Paul didn't have that. It was really bare bones."

"Indianapolis was never a big scene," Blush continues, "but it was a very important scene because bands needed places to stop on the road. This is what made hardcore different from punk rock before it. I mean, I loved the Clash and all those bands, but you know, they played New York, LA, San Francisco, maybe Chicago, and they were all on major labels and had managers and agents.... These [hardcore] bands took the idea that punk had promised—this idea of DIY—and actually did it."

"So this whole notion today that we have DIY music really does come back to the hardcore bands. And every city had their guy, and Paul Mahern defined Indianapolis hardcore. He promoted the shows — most of these shows had about 50 kids at them — but T.S.O.L. came through there, the Kennedys came through there, Black Flag came through there. He lost money on all the gigs and on his records," he laughs, "but they're seminal recordings and seminal events in the Indianapolis underground."

The second edition of "American Hardcore."
  • The second edition of "American Hardcore."

Event details:
"Living in the '80s: The Rise of DIY Music in the Hoosier State," a multi-media event featuring a panel discussion with Paul Mahern (Zero Boys), Tufty Clough (Zero Boys/Toxic Reasons), John Barge (The Panics), Dale Lawrence (The Gizmos) and Steven Blush (author of "American Hardcore"); screenings of outtakes from the Zero Boys live DVD "Live at the Pizza Castle 1981" and the documentary "American Hardcore"; and a presentation by Blush. (Wednesday, Dec. 1, 6-8 p.m., free, 18+ at The Bishop, 123 S. Walnut St., Bloomington)


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