I Wanna be Literated #224

I Wanna be Literated #224

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk
by Sam McPheeters

This, in the business, is what we call a “headscratcher.” On one hand, there is a ton to enjoy in Mutations, but I’m not sure what the goal of this book was or if it tries to accomplish anything. If you were to ask me now what it’s about, I’d say it’s several stories and observations from a minor (?) player in the 90s hardcore scene. But if you were to ask me what the book thinks it’s about, I might say it’s about “The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk.” I know it’s written right there on the cover, but I don’t think that’s what it’s really about.

Before I forget, let me just point out that, artistically, this book has it going on. The cover is cool, the font choices are great, and the publisher has an awesome distressed grindcore design. I thought about that every time I picked it up. But the book itself? It reads like a giant zine put together by one person. It by no means does an exhaustive catalogging or documenting of Hardcore Punk. It’s more like one man’s experience through the scene and what he chooses to highlight. What’s obvious to me, at least, is that Mutations is kind of boring when Sam McPheeters talks about other bands or band members and infinitely more interesting when he talks about himself, which is about half of the book. I honestly don’t care about the scene described in the photography of Frozen Pits, or Aaron Cometbus, or 26, but find his stories about clashing with Sick or it All, Tim Yo of Maximum Rocknroll, his critique of Discharge’s career (which is hilariously unobjective), rescuing plates from a bankrupt record pressing plant, and being an extra in a punk music video for an Australian pop star far more entertaining. Basically, I’m into the gossipy parts of this book and maybe that makes me a bad person. Also, it’s clear reading that McPheeters has dominance with the language and the sentences roll beautifully into one another. It’s all a pleasure to read. NOT something you encounter in most zines (or the one I read frequently, anyway).

So, Mutations chronicles one man’s life through the scene, and anyone looking for something more meaty might be disappointed. I know I was. But I quite grew to like McPheeters towards the end, so I guess I did enjoy this book. The guy has been inside the belly of the beast and has some interesting observations now that he’s out. At least, I think he’s out. Whatever the case, he seems like a guy I would love to sit down with and talk about music for hours until we run out of beer, and I’m sure he’d hate me and every second of that experience.

Get it from Rare Bird.

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