This Ain't the Summer of Love
Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk
(University of California Press)
Author Steve Waksman addresses what he describes as ‘two scenes that arose and crystallized at different points in the 1970s to address a shared conundrum: how to keep rock young’. Heavy metal and punk weave simultaneously in and out of a narrative that straddles rock criticism and rock journalism. Waksman’s book has a double-layered form that echoes the duality of the subject matter, though this echo is presumably unintentional. It is presented as an academic text, having all the footnotes and references and setting out of scholarly aims that this entails, but lends itself to being read as a more journalistic chronicle. This is a pity, not because it detracts from the academic analysis, but because the book is worthy of a wider audience whom its scholarly appearance will hopefully not deter.
The account begins on the cusp of the ‘70s with the colossal arena performances of Grand Funk Railroad, setting up the relationship between performer and (in this case, enormous) audience, which is an ongoing point of reference. From here, Waksman uses subsequent artists to deconstruct the rock concert, moving through the performative stage antics of Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop, to the metal and hardcore bands of the early ‘80s and their often more diminutive club audiences. By the close of the book, the music, values and audiences of metal and punk are seen to have reached a synthesis that provokes an ever greater diversity of genre. Waksman’s narrative thus follows a smooth and logical trajectory that effectively reflects the organic nature of musical genres.
The artists Waksman discusses at length are generally well chosen. There will be those who take issue with his decision to place Grand Funk Railroad at the head of the metal/punk crossover, but a starting point has to be pitched somewhere, and their story is told interestingly and with insight, introducing the main arguments effectively. Such figures as Alice Cooper, The Stooges and Motörhead are of course essential to this text and consequently feature prominently. Of the bands whose significance has been slightly less enduring, the only two considered at length are The Dictators and The Runaways. Their stories are edifying enough, but the purpose of their presence seems to be to open up a tangential and perhaps self-evident strand of Waksman’s argument; that rock and its requisite subgenres are preoccupied with youth.
When the main argument is developed in the second half of the book and Waksman considers the myriad ways in which metal and punk have met in sometimes accidental, sometimes intentional circumstances, colliding rather like music fans in a mosh pit, the discussion seems far more significant. However, the latter half glosses over the histories of many of the minor players, and as a result it is in some respects weaker than the more focused first half. Throughout, there are numerous in-depth analyses of specific songs which probe their subjects to the point of detailing the chords and guitar tunings used. These are hit-and-miss passages: at times the narrative segues into them pleasingly and they add to the interest, but on several occasions they come across as unwarranted and overly technical distractions.
Many of the anecdotes contained will no doubt entertain, such as Iggy Pop’s response to being pelted with eggs and bottles, and the account of a party once thrown by The Dictators’ singer Handsome Dick Manitoba. Indeed, some of the taunts traded by sparring metal and punk fans in the letters pages of music magazines, which are quoted in the introduction, paint a fascinating picture of the audiences to which these bands played. But diehard fans will already be familiar with many of these stories, and they are likely to be superfluous to the more academic reader. However, these examples demonstrate the overall tone of the book, which, to Waksman’s credit, is kept from being too highbrow or scholarly.
The greatest strength of This Ain’t the Summer of Love is that both the metal and punk sides of the story are portrayed evenly, with equal verve and passion, and the number of fanzines and interviews cited is evidence that this is a comprehensively and enthusiastically researched book. As a critical study it provides an original critique of both the genres involved, and of genre itself; the only flipside is that this ends up playing second fiddle to a damn good story.