Interview with Tony of the upcoming book: "Why Be Something That You Are Not!"

OK...OK...I know I'm really slow with the site...

Here' s a new interview with Tony Rettman that I did for his upcoming book, "Why Be Something That You Are Not!" I am personally really looking forward to reading it. See all the links below for more information on how to get it!

What made you want to write a book about the Detroit area punk scene?

The book started out as an article that I wrote for the now sadly defunct Swindle magazine; the issue came out in the summer of ‘07. A few months after the magazine came out, some people were telling me how good they thought the article was and I should try to expand it into a book. And for some reason, I listened to them! So, I would like it to be known that the initial spark to write about this scene came from Roger Gastman (then editor of Swindle) giving me the go-ahead to do it, so thanks to him.

The Detroit Hardcore scene of the early 80's that revolved around the early roster of the Touch& Go label is something that’s interested me since I was very young. I have an older brother who got into that scene early on in the 80's and he brought home all those releases as they were coming out. He also brought home issues of the Touch & Go mag which really threw my young brain for a loop! As I got into my teens and became a nerdy hardcore trainspotter type, I started to check out some of the more obscure Michigan bands mentioned in the pages of Touch & Go, like Violent Apathy, Bored Youth, etc. and I was blown away. I really became infatuated with finding out more about this area at this certain point in time. Through all the musical phases I went through in my life, that early 80's Touch & Go stuff was always a touchstone. I guess I just hit a point in my life where I was confident enough as a writer to do up a book about it.

It is well known that you are from the East Coast, how did you know that you were the right person to write about an old punk scene that you had no direct involvement with? Did the people you interviewed for the book question you on that?

I never really thought of myself as the ‘right person’ for the job or anything like that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong or weird with writing about something that I never witnessed in the flesh, but have a lot of enthusiasm for. Throughout time, people have written biographies on people who were dead one hundred years before they were born. Does that make their efforts any lesser? All the people interviewed for the book were just happy someone wanted to document this place in time. They had no time for any kind of omnipotent horseshit and could see my genuine enthusiasm for the project.

How did you approach this book? Did you find it difficult to contact and convince the people involved to be interviewed for this project?

I tried to talk to anyone and everyone I could find. If someone I interviewed on the first batch of interviews said ‘You should talk to...’, I tracked that person down the best I could. Some were impossible to find, some were right there on Facebook. Maybe one or two people needed some goading into speaking with me, but it wasn’t that difficult. Steve Shelley (drummer for Crucifucks, current drummer for Sonic Youth) took some time to convince, but he was an excellent fountain of info when we finally sat down to talk. The only person who flat out said ‘No’ was Corey Rusk.

The book covers one of the most classic hardcore and punk scenes to come out of the USA, but it's never been truly covered before. Some things though are common knowledge in the punk/hardcore scene. Did you uncover things never known or see before?

I would like to think I uncovered a lot of ephemera that hasn’t been seen before, but who knows. These days, you could probably get John Brannons’ birth certificate on eBay for the right price. Know what I mean? I got a lot of information thrown at me in the interviews that was pretty mind blowing. Some of it is in the book and some was left out for the sheer sake of respect to the people involved.

What were some of the most interesting things you never knew before that are in the book? Were you surprised by some of the answers given to you?

Prior to being the Don Rickles of Punk, Tesco Vee was a huge collector of Progressive Rock records in his teens. The first time we sat down for an interview, we ended up talking about bands like Amon Duul, Caravan, and P.F.M before the words ‘Hardcore’ even came into the picture. In the book, he tells the story of how he sold off all these records in the early 80's to get as many Punk singles as he could. I pretty much did the opposite in the early 90's! I sold off my whole Hardcore collection to get as much weird prog rock as I could! We both guffawed about that! There’s also the mention of all these bands some of the people had prior to the ones that recorded for Touch & Go. John Brannons’ glam band Static, Rob McCulloughs’ Punk band The Dead Reagans, etc.

What do you hope the readers pick up from this book? Do you feel it'll be understandable to people who have no clue about this music?

I hope they get both a general history and a feel for the scene back then. If I picked up anything from the interviews I did with people who lived it, it was this feeling of the excitement of having something all your own and building it from the ground up. Hopefully that conveys in the book. I would like to think the general tone of enthusiasm these people had for all they did will carry the book for those out there who don’t color coordinate their Touch & Go 7" collection.

Where do you feel this book will fit in with the books written thus far on punk and hardcore music?

I don’t really know and frankly, I don’t really care. All I know is I tried to do good to the people who were involved in this scene by letting them tell the story as much as possible. I hope the respect that I have for what these people did comes through and they think I did a decent job. If Brannon or Danforth or Henssler give it the seal of approval, that’s all that really matters.

Thanks for answering what is your next project? Or did the book publishing process totally scare you off from doing this again?

I have a few loose ideas for books floating around in my head, but nothing concrete. Let me see where this one goes, and then I’ll move on from there.

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