“We’ve always been of the mind that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.” –Eddie Spaghetti, The Supersuckers.
So begins We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut: 1988-2001 by Eric Davidson, whose name you may have seen on by-lines for succinct, sucker-punching articles in Village Voice media papers and on features in CMJ, and elsewhere. Or you may know him as a member of New Bomb Turks, one of the bands that kept underground, garage-fumed punk rock alive through the 90s pop punk boom-bust.
Davidson has spent years putting together this over-300 page Bible of the fecund underbelly of three chord, deviant American independent rawk, beginning with the death throes of 80s hardcore as bands like The Cynics and Death Of Samantha pushed noise from “loud, fast rules” to “loud, lo-fi blues.” Remember walking into Fallout Records on Olive and seeing vinyl kept alive by bands like the Raunch Hands, Didjits, A-Bones, and Devil Dogs (among all the zines and comix and gnarly t-shirts)? Or when you went in to get the new Spinanes or Built To Spill CDs at the Sub Pop Mega Mart and saw Sub Pop and other labels releasing and distributing rare and obscure scuzzy sounds from Thee Headcoats, Dwarves, and Oblivians? “We Never Learn” comes with a paralyzing free CD sample of this no sell-out, no-surrender punk to soundtrack the history Davidson tells.
And Davidson tells this history with a ton of laughs and love, with more insider shit-talk and acid humor than earlier-era American Hardcore due to his well-honed scribing talents. It happily makes a link from the national garage punk scene to the crossover grunge bands that were always a part of the cesspool that spawned alternative and its nasty little backyard noise brothers and sisters. Any given week these days you can go to Georgetown and hear bands influenced by the ones he tells crazy anecdote after anecdote about, tracking how groups like Rocket From The Crypt scraped through the mainstream, as the Mummies influenced new swarms of basement and club creatures like the Rip-Offs. The garage punk scene bubbled up into major label status every now and again, labels like Epitaph scrambled to sign up New Bomb Turks and other gristly gangs to beef up their street cred, and Davidson doesn’t hesitate to explain how awry those plans often went.
But stories like the one about smiling Seattle transplant Tim Hayes (from Austin’s original Whore Moans and who owned Fallout after long time supporter Russ gave it up) — who rigorously chases down a gutter-punk shoplifter from a record store, through alleys and on to curbs, who then poops his pants and finally gives up the Butthole Surfers (?!) t-shirt he kyped — make this narrative a treasure trove of goon gossip and forgotten tales. Who were all those bands from the Sub Pop singles club, on the back of Seattle magazines like Fizz and Tablet, who are all over the same compilations you treasure for the early White Stripes tracks? They’re in We Never Learn.