Essential Resources on the History of Punk Music

punk history scrapbook image

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The history of punk rock is as wide and diverse as any genre that’s lasted over half a century.

From the Detroit scene of the ’60s and ’70s featuring MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges; to the UK scene involving the Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Slits, and The Clash; then back to New York and The Ramones; through DC and the political hardcore movement with Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Dischord Records; out to California with Black Flag and The Minutemen, and later on, NOFX, The Offspring, and Green Day; up to Washington State with Riot Grrl acts like Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney; and back East to the New Jersey scene that birthed bands like The Gaslight Anthem and The Dillinger Escape Plan; yeah there’s a lot to talk about…

But that’s a lot to take in all at once, so we wanted to provide a “Punkie Almanac” of sorts — a list of some of our favorite starter resources to learn more about the storied history of punk music through the participants’ own stories. Enjoy!

And of course, if you’re reading this you’re probably going to truly dig Ben Weinman from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s online course with Soundfly, The Business of Uncompromising Art. So check that out, too.

Book: Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad (2001)

Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad - Audiobook -

Named after a legendary lyric from Minutemen and for the spirit of DIY, Our Band Could Be Your Life chronicles the ’80s independent scene that started in America and soon changed the music world forever. Loved by Kurt from Nirvana, Thurston from Sonic Youth and Carrie of Sleater-Kinney (who gets her own spot further down this list), it’s an all-time music tome and a must-read for anyone interested in this period.

Documentary: Punk’s Not Dead dir. by Susan Dynner (2007)

Most documentaries about punk, and there are many great ones, tend to focus on one era and scene to keep things easy. Punk’s Not Dead is one of the few that credibly tries to capture the full picture, from the genre’s inception right up until the mid 2000s. A must watch.

Podcast: This Was the Scene with Mike Doyle

Mike Doyle’s acclaimed podcast, This Was the Scene, now into the 200s of episodes, covers the much-coveted New Jersey punk and hardcore scene of the ’90s and ’00s, through interviews with an absolutely staggering number of the artists present in it.

Check out the above episode (#95) with Ben Weinman, one of the pioneers and a mainstay of the indie math and hardcore spirit as it exists in the 21st century. He goes deep into his perspective and values on this episode. Nothing beats hearing about the ethos and practice of punk musicianship and lifestyle from someone who’s kept it real for us all.

Audiobook: Get in the Van by Henry Rollins (1994)

Once upon a time, there was a young Haagen-Daaz manager called Henry Garfield. This is his story of joining his favourite punk band, doing it out of love and rage and probably never suspecting he’d be a cultural icon. Candid, gripping and intense, it’s a great way to pass hours driving between shows. Hear Henry read his entire book at the link above.

Book: Please Kill Me: The Oral Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain (1996)

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk: McNeil, Legs, McCain,  Gillian: 9780802142641: Books -

Built entirely from edited interviews, mostly with luminaries of the New York punk scene of the ’70s, Please Kill Me is as outrageous and wild as its title. Strap in history-making big-shots like Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith laying out wisdom, telling war stories, trading barbs and settling scores. It’s raw, mean, often hilarious and totally unmissable.

Film: 24 Hour Party People dir. by Michael Winterbottom (2002)

Both a brilliant film and a historical tribute to the crucial Manchester scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Winterbottom captures both the hardship that the music came from, and the gritty, rebellious character of the main players. Above is a clip from the film chronicling legendary (and legendarily canktankerous) producer Martin Hannett recording Joy Division with his distinctive approach.

Podcast: Turned Out A Punk with Damian Abraham

Hosted by longstanding podcaster Damian Abraham, a bonafide musician in his own right as a founder of the band Fucked Up, Turned Out a Punk features tons of sit-down interviews with interesting humans from all walks of life to find out how their world was influenced and changed by the discovery of a novelty genre that (supposedly) died out in 1978!

The above episode (#430) is with Tobi Vail of the essential bands Bikini Kill, The Frumpies, and Girlsperm, and more importantly a central figure in the critical subgenre and ethical punk movement, Riot Grrl. Vail was there to see it all, and this interview is well worth the listen!

Documentary: Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard dir. Lynn-Maree Milburn & Richard Lowenstein (2011)

Punk is as much about the cult artists as the heavy-hitters. This poignant and acclaimed film covers the life, music, trials and death of Rowland S. Howard, a collaborator of Nick Cave and a journeyman musician who influenced many while finding mainstream success elusive. This film has a real atmosphere, is deep with feeling, and helps you imagine that you were really there for these moments when the new style was being discovered.

Book: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (2015)

reading is my hustle's review of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

I like her best as a member of the incredible ’90s punk act Sleater-Kinney, but many would know her as part of the talent and creation of the TV smash Portlandia. This finely-written memoir tracks Carrie Brownstein as she moves from indie musician to multimedia icon, with thoughtful reflections on punk values, how to keep them or maybe even change them. It’s a very modern take on a way of life that can sometimes seem like a relic of history, and for that a fine way to conclude our little list.

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