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November 14th, 2012 MITCH LILLIE | Books
 

Joe Biel, Beyond the Music

Like a long car ride with your Uncle Hank.

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Punk zinester Joe Biel’s Powell’s chat will be a riot. Expect stories about cops breaking up fights outside house shows, roadies on endless tours and squatting mobs reclaiming abandoned homes—a distilled version of Biel’s Beyond the Music: How Punks Are Saving the World With DIY Ethics, Skills, & Values. It’s too bad the book itself isn’t so condensed.

Biel conducted interviews with dozens of punks, transcribed them and plopped them in two columns of small print for 192 pages of largely unedited conversation. The interviews do eventually cut to the ethos veiled beneath the crust of punk style. It’s raw! It’s real! But it’s pretty tedious!

What happened here, really, was Biel sacrificed accessibility for digestibility—arguably a criticism of punk in general. You can flip open to any question from any interview in the book and find a mildly engaging answer from, for example, author Wells Tower or designer Ian Lynam. Reading through a single interview can even be satisfying. But place a whole string of these interviews together and you get the exhausting though intermittently spiced compilation. I don’t really care that Soft Skull Press boss Sander Hicks was “planning on getting [his] MBA...in 2010” or that Boxcar Books finds volunteers by asking them to fill out an application and then interviewing them. 

Beyond the Music certainly has its highlights. The Ben Weasel interview is surprisingly enlightening and many of the interviewees, like punk house photographer Abby Banks, have realized truly creative ideas. I would love to find out “how punks are saving the world with DIY ethics, skills and values,” as the book’s tagline promises. I just don’t want to have to slog through a swamp of disjointed questions and answers to reach the gems, even if that swamp is totally easy to jump into at any point. But I suppose cleaning it up may not be in keeping with the DIY spirit. Unless you’re a punk-rock lifer, skim Beyond the Music and skim it hard.


GO: Joe Biel speaks at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651, on Sunday, Nov. 18. 7:30 pm. Free.

 
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