1980 was a rotten year to be a teenager. On the plus side, there was no AIDS and no MTV, but since we didn't know about them, it was hard to appreciate their absence. On the minus side was, well, almost everything else. Someone, somewhere, was having fun, but for most of us it was Reagan running for president on TV and REO Speedwagon on the radio. While the CBGB crowd in New York and the Masque denizens in Los Angeles were establishing what was going to be remembered as the punk movement, it was the kids in the sticks who were the real punks, the Lost Generation sprinkled among the Lacoste generation.
Such is the plight of the kids in Small Town Punk (IG Publishing, 184 pages, $13.95), John Sheppard's fictionalized memoir of growing up in a nowhere town, post-Woodstock and pre-Wham! Less a novel than a series of interconnected short stories, it tells the tale of Buzz Pepper, his sister Sissy, and their friends Dave and Albino moldering away in Sarasota in the early 1980s.
Not much happens in Small Town Punk, but, then again, not much ever happened in real life, either. Buzz and his friends work at Pizza Hut, drink beer, smoke cigarettes, kype a few pills from a few medicine cabinets and hang out. Along the way, Buzz gets laid for the first time, falls in not-quite-love, ruins a screening of E.T. at the local 99-cent theater and plots to get out of Sarasota at the first opportunity.
None of this is new, or even inherently interesting (except, perhaps, to Gus Van Sant), but Small Town Punk has a few things going for it: a fine sense of detail, a raggedy-ass charm and the best-friends relationship between Buzz and Sissy. They're not at each other's throats; they're not thrown together by tragedy; they're just best friends who get a kick out of each other, and we get a kick out of them.
Reflecting on his friends, Buzz says: "We didn't know what to call our little group or ourselves. Ten, fifteen years later we would be labeled 'alternative' by jokers our age who just didn't get it, and by the ex-hippies who mass-marketed the outer gloss of our lives for the global mega-merger corporations." In other words: The bands and the clothes have changed, but the song remains the same. KEVIN ALLMAN. John Sheppard reads from
Small Town Punk at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4631. 7:30 pm Thursday, March 8. Free.