I Wanna Be Literated #257

I Wanna Be Literated #257

Friday, 03 June 2022

Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records
by Jim Ruland

I’m going to start calling Jim Ruland “Jim Rules-and” or “Jim Rules Land.” By the time I came to punk rock  in the late 90s (and it really is a calling), SST was already going “dormant.” It a took a few years of dedication to realize I had to go back to the source to truly understand modern music and that inevitably led me to SST Records. But, by that time it seemed more like a museum, keeping its back catalog in print and not releasing any new music. I always wondered why that was…until now.

It’s been said that Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records is the book everyone had been waiting for but no one had been brave enough to write. Being a zine and Razorcake fan, I was familiar with Jim Ruland and his previous book on Keith Morris, which was so well-written that it was able to go deep while keeping the reader engaged. Memoirs don’t often do that. And, as Ruland himself will admit, Corporate Rock Sucks is the final entry in his LA punk rock trilogy – The Rule Land, as I like to call it. Its also the current high point. Again, I had known SST Records to be the starting off point in punk rock and post punk LA music and that Greg Ginn was the engine for it, but what I didn’t know was that it was one of the most (if not THE most) revered indie rock label of its time: bands would have given anything to be part of it.

Corporate Rock Sucks is loaded with interviews with band members, label operators, and friends who paint a very colorful picture of what it was like being in a band around that time and coming under the gravitational orbit of SST.

Of course, you can’t talk about SST without talking about Greg Ginn, and one of the most revelatory things about this book is that instead of being the asshole everyone portrays him as, he’s in fact a very complex character. The way Ruland lays it out is that, in the 70s in LA, when bands were popping up everywhere, being targeted by the police, with nowhere to play, Ginn was basically the engine to give bands a break. Surrounded by fuck-ups (more or less), he was the only who got his shit together (more or less) and figured out how bands could play local venues, how to record music, how to press records, and how to plan a tour. Also, using his finance knowledge (dude got his degree!), he was able to lay the groundwork for what would become a successful label, with headquarters and all. That speaks volumes for Ginn’s legacy. Where things become murkier is when his priorities start to shift, which would have been fine, if he weren’t also an alpha micromanager. Simply put, he’s a man on a mission, and when he puts his mind to something, there’s nothing that will stop him from reaching that goal. If you’re not on the same page as him, he’ll find someone who is. With that trajectory, there are plenty of people who get lifted up and burned along the way, and as Ginn’s priorities get more and more personal, really no one is left BUT him. That’s because he is Black Flag and he is SST and everyone else can only ever be reduced as a facilitator.

On the other hand, Greg is someone who under difficult circumstances, was able to build and maintain an engine that brought progressive, risky, and highly influential music to the world. For every story about Ginn’s petty selfish behavior, there’s one about his kindness and generosity.

Ruland has put together one the most interesting books this year that’s a must-read for both music and non-music fans. It’s masterfully researched, fun, informative, revelatory, hilarious, and highly introspective. It went deep and left me wanting more.

Find more about Jim Ruland here.

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