By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
While some folks think punk rock is long dead, Hillcrest author David Agranoff remains a stalwart fan, having come of age in the Bloomington, Indiana, 1980s punk scene.
He’s such a devotee of the genre that he has written a punk-themed trilogy, including “Amazing Punk Stories” and “The Vegan Revolution … With Zombies.”
The final book, “Punk Rock Ghost Story,” was published by Deadite Press last fall. With it, he hopes to resurrect what he calls a “punk legend.”
Agranoff said “Punk Rock Ghost Story” is a blend of “fiction and truth.” It theorizes about the mysterious disappearance of Frank Huff, vocalist for the punk band The F**kers, while on a typically low-budget, sofa-surfing tour in 1982. The novel also revisits the 1980s culture clash between punk and conformity, and contrasts that with the scene in 2006. It reveals the intimacy of the punk community. And it addresses the appropriation of punk rock by mainstream music labels.
Punk might not have rocked your soul in its heyday, but Agranoff believes it’s a misunderstood genre, and he is passionate about spreading the good punk word.
“Here’s a style of music that was meant to react to the mainstream,” he said, “loud and extreme. But what a lot of people don’t realize — they think it’s nihilistic — but the thing is with most punk rock, that’s not the case. Most punk rock, it promotes a better way of living. For example, punk rock is where I learned about living drug free. That was all spawned from one 45-second-long song by Minor Threat, called ‘Straight Edge.’ It was a song about why this guy would not drink and not do drugs and he was going to keep on a ‘straight edge.’ That was 1982. Thirty-plus years later, it’s a global movement and there are straight edge bands all over. Punk rock is how I learned about being vegan and an environmentalist and how I became political. And it’s why I wanted to be educated about history.”
It was Agranoff’s youthful immersion in, and now his abiding admiration for, punk culture that led to his trilogy and the framework for the final book.
“Punk rock changed with the popularity of Nirvana,” he explained. “Then Green Day happened. And suddenly it became like mainstream or a normal thing to be punk rock, which is very different from how it was in the ’80s. It was almost warfare — people wanted us dead. We’d walk down the street, and people were very hostile. Then I was living in Portland [Oregon] and there were a lot of kids into the old punk rock. They were normal and accepted in their schools. They didn’t have any idea what the [1980s] scene was like.
“I thought a really good way to bridge the gap was to tell a ghost story. A ghost story can transmit you immediately between two eras — 2006 and 1982. Getting into the heads of the characters from both time periods, in a ghost story, gave me a way to explore those two very different times,” Agranoff said. “It’s kind of like ‘The Shining,’ my absolutely favorite Stephen King novel, but instead of a hotel it’s a punk rock tour band. I was already into horror fiction in the seventh grade, so these two worlds always blended for me. Writing horror novels that take place in the punk rock scene was just natural, and no one had created a niche there before — there is ‘Green Room,’ which came out last year. It’s probably the best example of a punk rock horror story that’s been filmed.”
Punk rock has certainly suffered some failures, many of them self-induced, and Agranoff acknowledges those, including the many bands that started out with high ideals and failed to fulfill them. But he holds to the essence of punk rock as basically good, invested in an independent ethos that spurns the corporatization of music.
He cites one post-hardcore band as an example: “Fugazi got hundreds of major label offers and turned them all down.”
Like a loyal friend, Agranoff captures much of the essence of the old punk rock culture in his characters: profane, political and impetuous; repackaged by corporate marketing; discarded by mainstream music consumers, eager for newer genres and newer revolts; but still adored by those who knew the intimacy and passion of the movement.
Ultimately, the author brings the mystery of Frank Hull to conclusion with an unusual cunning that committed readers will find intriguing.
And what’s next for the author? There may be more to Frank and The F**kers than meets the eye, one more chapter, perhaps, that must be told. But that’s another story for the future.
—Kit-Bacon Gressitt writes commentary and essays on her blog, Excuse Me, I’m Writing, and has been published by Missing Slate, Ms. Magazine blog and Trivia: Voices of Feminism, among others. She formerly wrote for the North County Times. She also hosts Fallbrook Library’s monthly Writers Read authors series and open mic, and can be reached at email@example.com.