A vivid look at a vi­brant era

The 1980s punk-rock scene in Washington be­comes the sub­ject of a cof­fee-ta­ble book

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY MARK JENK­INS book­world@wash­post.com Mark Jenk­ins is the co-au­thor of “Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Na­tion’s Cap­i­tal.”

The 1980s punk-rock fans who squeezed into Madam’s Or­gan, moshed at the Wil­son Cen­ter and ex­pe­ri­enced latenight ec­stasies at the 9:30 Club’s “harD­Core” mati­nees were a di­verse lot. But they surely had at least one thing in com­mon: None of them ever thought, “Some­day this will be the sub­ject of a cof­fee-ta­ble book.”

Those spec­ta­tors — who in­cluded me — lacked the fore­sight to an­tic­i­pate “Spoke: Im­ages and Sto­ries from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene.” This large­for­mat hard­cover packs about 150 photographs, mostly blackand-white, along­side short oral his­to­ries of 25 lo­cal bands formed be­tween 1977 and 1989.

Most of the fea­tured mu­si­cians caused not a rip­ple in the pop main­stream, but the scene did pro­duce in­flu­en­tial cult acts such as Bad Brains, Rites of Spring and Fugazi. Its most fa­mous alum­nus is Dave Grohl, who went from Scream to Nir­vana and then to Foo Fight­ers.

“Spoke” was com­piled and de­signed by Scott Craw­ford, who grad­u­ated from an ’80s punk fanzine to edit­ing and art-di­rect­ing two pro­fes­sional mu­sic mag­a­zines, Harp and Blurt. He also penned a few of the book’s in­tro­duc­tions to the bands, al­though most were writ­ten by oth­ers.

“Spoke” is, in a sense, a DVD ex­tra. It grew from “Salad Days,” Craw­ford’s 2014 doc­u­men­tary that cov­ered the same sub­ject in a dif­fer­ent for­mat. The book al­lows the film­maker to sal­vage re­marks that didn’t make it into the fi­nal cut, al­though it also contains some that did. Many of the pho­tos are by Jim Saah, Craw­ford’s col­lab­o­ra­tor on the movie.

The pic­tures, which in­clude some posed por­traits but are mostly con­cert shots, are the chief at­trac­tion. They freeze mo­ments of ado­les­cent re­lease, vein-bulging in­ten­sity and sweaty com­mu­nion that fuse per­former and au­di­ence.

“Salad Days” was named for a song by Mi­nor Threat, a group fronted by Ian MacKaye. “Spoke” takes its ti­tle from a song by Em­brace, a sub­se­quent MacKaye band. That’s not a fluke: MacKaye has long been D.C. hard­core punk’s de facto (if some­times re­luc­tant) spokesman. Nearly ev­ery band chron­i­cled in the book is linked to MacKaye or the la­bel he co-founded, Dischord.

Yet that wasn’t the full uni­verse of 1980s D.C. punk. “Spoke” spot­lights just one band, Black Mar­ket Baby, whose mem­bers were “older” — that is, over 19 — as the decade be­gan. (Craw­ford was 12 when he dis­cov­ered the lo­cal punk scene, circa 1984.) A few other groups out­side the Dischord galaxy are men­tioned, but only in pass­ing.

The ab­sence of a larger con­text (also an is­sue with “Salad Days”) dis­torts the sig­nif­i­cance of cer­tain de­vel­op­ments. One ex­am­ple is the be­lated flow­er­ing of women in what was ini­tially a testos­terones­loshed demi-scene. Only two groups chron­i­cled in “Spoke” have fe­male mem­bers, and the first, Fire Party, doesn’t ar­rive un­til 1986. But nearly a dozen D.C. punk out­fits with fe­male mu­si­cians had already de­buted be­fore the book’s chronol­ogy even be­gins.

Such over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tions make “Spoke” a poor in­tro­duc­tion for out­siders, but the book isn’t re­ally meant for them. Names and places are mostly unan­no­tated, so that only lo­cal punk vet­er­ans will fully un­der­stand the sto­ries be­ing told. Even the lo­ca­tions in photo cap­tions are some­times vague.

But the pho­tos them­selves are vivid and evoca­tive. In ad­di­tion to Saah’s, there are fine shots by Lu­cian Perkins, Cyn­thia Connolly, Peter Muise, Chris Car­illi and oth­ers whose names are lost to the ages. The most un­for­tu­nate omis­sion is the ex­tra­or­di­nary 1982 work of Re­becca Ham­mel, a few of whose im­ages are glimpsed in “Salad Days.”

It’s amus­ing to spec­u­late where copies of “Spoke” will re­side. On a shelf with vinyl reis­sues of Dischord clas­sics? Mounted on a wall next to a skate­board em­bla­zoned with the D.C. flag’s stars and bars? At the bot­tom of a stack of YA nov­els, all un­read by a re­tired punker's ju­niorhigh-age kids? If a copy does end up on an ac­tual cof­fee ta­ble, let’s hope it’s one sup­ported by two bat­tered prac­tice amps.


TOP: Ian MacKaye at the Wil­son Cen­ter in 1983. “Spoke: Im­ages and Sto­ries from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene” has oral his­to­ries of 25 lo­cal bands formed in the ’70s and ’80s.

By Scott Craw­ford Akashic. 132 pp. $24.95

SPOKE Im­ages and Sto­ries from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene

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