Reviews

The American Historical Review, Vol. 117, No. 1, February 2012 (excerpt)

Punk rock is finally getting its due attention from historians, much as the 1960s counterculture got its treatment earlier. Dewar MacLeod’s fine book tells a story about punk’s development and changes in Los Angeles over a short period of time, from about 1977 to the early 1980s…. [T]he book makes an important contribution to understanding a vital if contested subculture in U.S. history. – Kevin Mattson, Ohio University

Southern California Quarterly,Vol. 93, No. 4, Winter 2011-2012 (excerpt)

MacLeod provides a comprehensive and balanced history of a punk scene that has not received as much attention as its New York or British counterparts but still represents an important and influential moment for this music and subculture…. MacLeod’s writing style is accessible and lively, and it should satisfy fans who are looking for a book that captures the energy and fun of the scene instead of just another academic treatise. – Ryan Moore, Florida Atlantic University and author of Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis

Journal of American Culture, September 2011 (excerpt)

MacLeod hits the mark. … MacLeod’s story-telling ability, coupled with archival images, interviews, anecdotes and a good dose of easily accessible theory, has wide audience appeal. This history of LA punk and the So Cal music scene offers something for everyone—student, professional, and fan alike. —Anne Cecil, Drexel University

Choice, August 2011

Part historian and part music critic, MacLeod (William Paterson Univ.) charts the origins and transformations of southern California’s punk scene in vivid detail. He describes bands, fans, record stores, and underground magazines, and takes readers into the clubs and homes where Los Angeles punks lived out their rebellion against mainstream values, the record industry, and the false glamour of Hollywood. Punk, with all its performative angst and growing violence, was a cure for the boredom of everyday life in the decentralized landscape of the LA region, he argues. Drawing on press accounts, oral histories, and lyrics, MacLeod shows how LA punk derived from predecessors in London and New York, but developed its own unique expression as a rejection of LA’s geographical sprawl and cultural emptiness in the 1970s-80s. MacLeod nicely intertwines an emphasis on local conditions and expressions of punk with a theoretical exploration of the tensions and conflicts within all countercultural groups. He does an excellent job of capturing the lively debate within the punk scene–familiar within other outsider movements—about how to define authentic identity while the community and the music evolved. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. — J. H Jackson, Rhodes College

Reason, May 2011 (excerpt)

[T]he book is fascinating when it talks directly about what punks said and did. MacLeod drifts far in his attempts at theorizing, which makes sense: No one sociological or historical theory can explain the sudden emergence of a variegated subculture. (And one big explanation is just that young men feeling free from rules will do some crazy shit.) But MacLeod’s best summation is that “punks attempted to become producers instead of consumers, combining romantic and individualist ideas with a do-it-yourself anarchism.” —Brian Doherty

Scanner Zine (excerpt)

This isn’t exactly ‘easy’ reading – parts frequently display MacLeod’s scholastic Professor Of History traits that could alienate some readers – but the extra effort it demands is ultimately rewarding. His telling of the rise of youth culture through films and music in the 50s, that progressed onto mass consumerism and its decline as the Hippie generation matured makes excellent reading and certainly gives some sense of historical placement to the dawning of the Punk era. This is a thought-provoking book that, while slightly over-analytical, ultimately succeeds in documenting youth culture and its ideals during a tumultuous and inspirational period of LA history.

Beatroute (excerpt)

Kids of the Black Hole straddles academia and popular history effectively, providing an accessible account of an often difficult punk scene in California. MacLeod does a good job of tracing the geographic, political and social influences and implications of the scene all the while keeping one foot solidly in laced-up combat boots. He never gets too technical nor uses jargon to make his point, though his arguments do have enough depth to them to serve as an entry point for those who wish to explore further. Kids of the Black Hole deserves a place on any popular music bookshelf, preferably right next to Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces.

Generally Eclectic Review (excerpt)

For those of you who get a bit edgy when you see a word such as “Postsuburban” in the subtitle of a book on a subject such as punk-rock, rest assured that this is not some dry, dull, academic textbook. Yes, it is academically sound, and certainly is worthy of being published by a University Press. Nevertheless, author Dewar MacLeod generally, and refreshingly, keeps jargon to a minimum. What it is, then, is a lively, readable, and at times quite personal account of the rise and spread of punk rock in the L.A. area in the late 1970’s, and the subsequent development of hardcore in the outlying areas as the world greeted the 1980’s. …

… As a whole, I find this to be a well-balanced look at a phenomenon that is too often treated superficially, subjectively, and with such flagrant prejudice that it quickly becomes clear that most writers (on both sides of the discussion) are more interested in stirring up emotions through a screaming diatribe than offering an impartial examination of events as they occurred. Does Dewar MacLeod have his prejudices? I’m sure he does. But he manages to keep things on an even keel by interviewing many people who were there, and letting the story unfold as it happened. This is the way the writing of the more controversial aspects of popular music history should be approached, but too often is not.

410 Media (excerpt)

…a pretty good read and would serve as a great primer for someone who is just starting to explore the L.A. scene.

Solitary Kitsch (excerpt)

MacLeod’s book makes for an excellent narrative introduction to L.A. punk as well as a thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis of the underlying causes of both the music itself and the social context of the music.  I’m particularly excited about his analysis of the role of contention in punk.

Book Soup Holiday Hits 2010

If you devoured We Got the Neutron Bomb and are obsessed with the Los Angeles punk scene, you will appreciate this gem. It is a brutal examination of the late 70s-early 80s in Los Angeles, and goes above and beyond in tackling the hardcore/Orange County scene, the Art Damaged movement, and the record stores, labels, and publications that nourished/encouraged the bands we love so much. It is also a love note to our sprawl of a city and its disenchanted denizens.

January Magazine

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho

In his perfectly rendered look at the emergence of the punk movement in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 80s, Dewar MacLeod borrows the title of a song from the era and the area. The song “Kids of the Black Hole” was recorded by The Adolescents in 1980 and released on their debut album the following year. Both the reference and the title itself seems to perfectly capture the mood of MacLeod’s book while setting the stage for the story he’s telling in Kids of the Black Hole.

MacLeod, an associate professor of history at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, was part of the early punk scene he writes about in Kids of the Black Hole. Both scholar and survivor are perfectly represented here, with MacLeod writing from the trenches with the advantage of 30 years of distance. The very beginning of Chapter One sets the tone:

There was nothing going on. If you were young and looking for something to do, looking for stimulation or adventure, you might as well have been in Kansas as Los Angeles in 1977. But the young people who lived in L.A., natives and others who came from all over the country, expected something we might call culture, even in this town.

While the Los Angeles punk scene never enjoyed the notoriety of those of London and New York and historically has always been overshadowed by the surf music movement, MacLeod points out that there was more going on in L.A. in the late 1970s than a lot of people realized. He describes his own first encounter with the form with a sort of delighted poetry. He was 15; young enough that his friend had to drive:

We stepped into the Whiskey and found ourselves standing right in front, leaning on the stage …. Then the Ramones hit the stage. 1-2-3-4, and the sound just exploded against my face as Johnny Ramone thwacked his guitar not five feet from my head.

MacLeod introduces the “stars” that emerged — The Germs, X, Black Flag and others — but also the mood the city at the time and what it created:

L.A. punk music spoke to the city of L.A., to its vastness, its amorphousness, its racism and segregation, its inhumanity.

Kids of the Black Hole is a fantastic portrait of a story seldom told. | November 2010

The Gonad’s Blog, October 2, 2010

And while we’re talking great works of punk literature, Dewar MacLeod’s Kids Of The Black Hole has just come out. Subtitled ‘Punk Rock In Post-suburban California’, it tells the story of how the L.A. scene half-inched ideas from London and New York to become a distinct and inspirational subculture in its own right.

Library Journal, October 1, 2010

Appropriately titled for an Adolescents song that describes an apartment for homeless punks in Fullerton, CA, this book explores a pivotal moment in both youth and punk culture. A bricolage of political British punk, art school New York punk, and Hollywood, the Los Angeles punk scene famously produced the Germs, X, and the Dils. While he highlights the emergence of this new musical style, MacLeod (history, William Paterson Univ.) also dissects the cultural fragmentation taking place as 1960s counterculture slowly morphed into mass culture. The industries of culture, music, and cinema constructed youth as boppers in the 1950s and hippies in the 1960s. In the 1970s, youth culture responded by creating the cultural industries that had historically capitalized on their existence. Punks in Southern California continued the do-it-yourself ideology while, at the same time, navigating the ever-expanding metropolis of Los Angeles. The punk ethos mixed with increased suburban isolation gave rise to a much more desperate sound: hard core. VERDICT MacLeod interweaves numerous historical trajectories into a seemingly benign moment in punk history. Readers who enjoy Greil Marcus and Simon Frith should make room on their bookshelf for him.—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

NewPages Book Reviews September 1, 2010
Review by Caleb Tankersley

As a member of Generation X, I’ve often wondered what happened culturally in the mid-to-late 70s. Our society went from peaceful, late-60s hippies to the mass-market and watered-down kitsch of the 80s. Dewar MacLeod’s new book can explain it all.

Kids of the Black Hole: Punk Rock in Postsuburban California delivers what the title promises; multiple chapters hash through the slow rise of and major players in Southern California’s punk rock scene. Readers are given a plethora of interesting bands – along with their insane onstage exploits – to look up. (Some of the bands covered include X, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and The Middle Class.) The book follows the ever-changing minutia of a local music scene to such an extreme degree, the message almost drowns in the details. However, MacLeod is careful to point out that the anger and aggression of punk music does not rise out of a vacuum:

In its pursuit of “true rebel music,” [L.A. punk magazine] Slash articulated a hatred of the established music business. Anchoring its definition of punk in a “war” against the record industry . . . the “punk revolution” embraced the “dirty, primitive music that has little to do with the stuff music stations have been pouring in our ears for what seems to be an eternity.”

But I think MacLeod’s title does not match the ambitions scale of his work. More than just a treatise on SoCal punk rock, this book explores and explains the wider youth culture of the time, the reasons punk rock emerged from the perfect storm of soft, acoustic hippie culture and remnants of the wholesome, prosperous, and suburban 50s. The disillusionment that characterized young people of the 70s manifested itself in punk music and reflected a darker and grittier American society. MacLeod gives a superb explanation of this transition:

In contrast to the idealism and socially oriented thinking of sixties youth, youth in the seventies embraced a radical individualism that was critical of pretty much everything. “From getting up in the morning to trust in government,” even “everyday existence” was “difficult to tolerate.” In the view of seventies youth, all social institutions lacked legitimacy, and arbitrariness seemed to be the natural order of things. . . . Punk [music] in postsuburbia did not recreate the youth culture revolts of earlier generations, but reflected instead the fragmentation, isolation, and individualism of the 1970s.

Kids of the Black Hole is a detailed insider’s perspective of the collapse and aftermath of youth culture in the 1970s, analyzing how this collapse manifested itself in a new and intensely energetic form of music. As a Gen X reader, I greatly appreciate the historical elements of this work. MacLeod is analytical, methodic (note the 20+ pages of sources), and starkly truthful about the past. Younger people could benefit from reading about and studying foregone generations, especially when that generation’s fragmentation and isolation so resembles our own. Given all the cultural relevance, Kids of the Black Hole could have just as easily been written about contemporary society and music. If you want to know where the youth of America have been and are headed, pick up this book.

Rock Star Journalist

In his book Kids of the Black Hole: Punk Rock In Postsuburban California, Dewar MacLeod brings together elements of Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me and Teenage by Jon Savage to argue that as well as being an aesthetic of youth culture, punk is art, not just music.

Kids of the Black Hole traces the evolution of SoCal punk from the art-damaged rock of the Germs and the power-pop championed by Bomp’s Greg Shaw to the hardcore that the region became known for. It’s an artful examination and looks just as closely at the societal implications of sprawl and the growth of the suburbs as it does at the “scene.”

Sadly, MacLeod’s book ends abruptly, with an analysis of Black Flag and then a wrap-up, with those who followed given lip service. The slim tome does an excellent job of charting the rise of SoCal punk, but stops right before OC and SoCal becomes the sound of punk. Green Day, Blink 182, Epitaph, Kung Fu, et al defined the sound of punk to a new generation of kids, and their absence from Kids of the Black Hole means that it’s not as complete as the book could have been.

It’s a damned shame that the analysis of postsuburban life and the “four walls / home as fortress” idea wasn’t further explored into the modern era. The rise of MySpace and the signing of bands to contracts that hadn’t ever played a single show would have provided an interesting cap to a story that started with bands playing live shows before they ever practiced a lick.