We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America
Kevin Mattson (Author)
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DescriptionMany remember the 1980s as the era of Ronald Reagan, a conservative decade populated by preppies and yuppies dancing to a soundtrack of electronic synth pop music. In some ways, it was the "MTV generation." However, the decade also produced some of the most creative works of punk culture, from the music of bands like the Minutemen and the Dead Kennedys to avant-garde visual arts, literature, poetry, and film. In We're Not Here to Entertain, Kevin Mattson documents what Kurt Cobain once called a "punk rock world" --the all-encompassing hardcore-indie culture that incubated his own talent. Mattson shows just how widespread the movement became--ranging across the nation, from D.C. through Ohio and Minnesota to LA--and how democratic it was due to its commitment to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tactics. Throughout, Mattson puts the movement into a wider context, locating it in a culture war that pitted a blossoming punk scene against the new president. Reagan's talk about end days and nuclear warfare generated panic; his tax cuts for the rich and simultaneous slashing of school lunch program funding made punks, who saw themselves as underdogs, seethe at his meanness. The anger went deep, since punks saw Reagan as the country's entertainer-in-chief; his career, from radio to Hollywood and television, synched to the very world punks rejected. Through deep archival research, Mattson reignites the heated debates that punk's opposition generated in that era-about everything from "straight edge" ethics to anarchism to the art of dissent. By reconstructing the world of punk, Mattson demonstrates that it was more than just a style of purple hair and torn jeans. In so doing, he reminds readers of punk's importance and its challenge to simplistic assumptions about the 1980s as a
one-dimensional, conservative epoch.
Oxford University Press, USA
August 06, 2020
5.9 X 9.2 X 1.4 inches | 1.55 pounds
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About the Author
Kevin Mattson grew up in the suburban sprawl known as the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area. It was here that he first experienced the punk rock world that fuelled his formative years. He played in bands, wrote for zines, and became politically active, helping to cofound the organization PositiveForce. He now teaches American history at Ohio University and is the author of numerous books that explore the intersection between culture and politics, including Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century and What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?
"Mattson looks at American punk of the early 1980s through excellent scholarship. His work reveals more than a music scene--which itself produced outstanding bands. He also examines anarchist thought, with roots in the nineteenth century, put into practice by youth creating their own way of life. This is a guidebook to a future for people who want it."
--Krist Novoselic, founding member of Nirvana and author of Of Grunge and Government
"Historian Kevin Mattson trains his eye on the US Hardcore Punk underground during the Reagan years and digs deep into archived fanzines and recordings of the era to shed light on a bunch of kids, scattered around the country, who were disaffected by the predominant culture and desperate to make their own. The good news is that Mattson grew up in this scene and he has a clear understanding of it. We're Not Here to Entertain is a great read that focuses on a vital and largely overlooked time and place in music history. When my friend and fellow Punk Rock War Veteran Steve Turner saw the galley of this book on my kitchen counter, he said, 'It's high time someone wrote that book'--a comment that sparked a discussion about Mr. Epp playing with Really Red at the Metropolis in '83, or was it Savage Republic at the Ground Zero Art Gallery, maybe it was Solger opening for Black Flag with Dez on vocals in 1980..."--Mark Arm, lead singer of Mudhoney
"Firmly establishes American hardcore in the politics of the moment and the economics of the music industry at the time. An essential read for anyone wanting to understand the cultural history of the 1980s."--Vic Bondi, founding member of Articles of Faith
"Authored by a co-founder of the D.C. 'political punk' organization Positive Force, this valuable book sheds light on the dynamics underlying the complex interrelationship between a mostly oppositional 1980s punk counterculture and the more conservative mainstream (including the corrupt corporate music industry). The punks may not have won their cultural battle against such a powerful Goliath. But by creating a viable underground alternative that still persists in various forms today, they didn't exactly lose, either."
--Jeffrey Bale, Middlebury College; author of The Darkest Sides of Politics and former co-editor of Maximumrocknroll and Hit List
"Among the many virtues of Kevin Mattson's book is the way it shows how millions of American youth found each other in their local punk scenes and contested President Reagan's 'Morning in America' bullshit. This was not merely political posturing; as Mattson demonstrates, early 1980s punk political thinking was serious and sophisticated. Mattson--a punk politico himself in Washington at the time--takes seriously the political potency of punk dissenters in that era. And guess what? In this new age of political polarization, they still have something to teach us."--Michael Foley, author of Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
"Consistently fascinating... Fans of T.S.O.L., Fargo Rock City, Scratch Acid, and their like should rush to this invigorating history."--Kirkus