By Warren Kinsella, Random House, 304 pp. $27, softcover.
This brief history of punk sadly has about as much street cred as Simple Plan. Warren Kinsella, a 40-something lawyer and political consultant, interviews many key people who've been involved in the punk movement over the years, including CBGB's owner Hilly Kristal, Dee Dee Ramone, straight-edge Fugazi founder Ian MacKaye, and Joe Strummer, encountered backstage after a Clash gig at Vancouver's PNE Gardens, in 1979. A onetime North Vancouver Liberal candidate and former aide to ex-prime minister Jean Chrétien, the author has been interviewing punk musicians for over two decades. Those interviews, along with background information and firsthand experiences, form Fury's Hour: A (Sort-of) Punk Manifesto, a book in which Kinsella's humour and palpable enthusiasm help create a mildly entertaining read.
Once the bassist for Calgary band the Hot Nasties in the 1980s, Kinsella opens with the early days of punk and doesn't attempt to gloss over the skinheads and hatecore ranters who initially gave the scene a negative image; included are interviews with infamous singer George Burdi of Canadian white-supremacist band RaHoWa (Racial Holy War). From there, one of the most engaging things about Fury's Hour is the way it looks at not just where various punk musicians came from, but where they are now. Singer Ari Up of prototypical all-female punk band the Slits, for example, is interviewed on the phone from her New York home while her kid is at school. As with the rest of the book, Kinsella's stale questions (i.e., "Is punk dead?") aren't nearly as interesting as what these revolutionaries have to say as they look back.
The heart of Fury's Hour beats in its endorsement of the DIY aesthetic and in the chapters on punk and politics. Highlights include the inclusion of the first all-black hardcore band, Bad Brains; the ruminations on the influence of the Clash and the Sex Pistols; and an examination of riot-grrrl pioneers Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) and Jen Smith (Bratmobile). Unfortunately, Kinsella's trustworthiness is called into question when he interviews the members of Good Charlotte; by talking to pop bands with tattoos and faux-hawks, he makes one seriously wonder how well his punk bullshit detector is working. One also has to wonder if the author can name a single underground band from his hometown and why he didn't include in the book younger musicians on independent labels.
Fury's Hour is a great reference tool for gaining an overview of the major turning points of punk culture, but it fades into a rambling monologue on the genre's decline, completely ignoring the thousands of bands still playing raw music in pubs and community halls worldwide. If the book lives up to its billing as a sort-of manifesto, it's only as one for baby boomers who want to read about six months in 1977 that, according to Johnny Rotten, was all that punk ever was. But Rotten is old now and has retired from the stage to the university-lecture circuit. Like Kinsella, he's obviously never been to the Asbalt on a Saturday night.