We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001

January 01, 1970







(Dateline: the
Gather ’round, young ‘uns, ’cause Grandpa has a story to tell ya snot-nosed
little miscreants! Take those earbuds outta those pincushion lobes for a
minute, sit back in your officially-licensed MisfitsTM beanbag chairs, and
listen to what the doddering old fool has to say….


Now, I
know that you kids these days don’t have any proper musical culture of your own
to speak of, just that dreadful, droning muzak that Sony Universal Music downloads
to your sound implants at $20 a pop…which is probably why y’all have become obsessive
nostalgists genuflecting at the mention of St. Cobain’s name and eagerly buying
all that “collectible” grunge crapola on the Sony Universal eBay
auction website. Lemme fill you drooling cretins in on a dirty lil’ secret,
through…there was more to rock music in the 1990s than Nirvana, Sir Edward and
Pearl Jam, and those Soundgarden fellows (yeah, years before they were android
superstars, they were real flesh-n-blood musicians).


under the mainstream during the decade of the ’90s was an entire shadow scene
of honest-to-dog rock ‘n’ roll bands that had nothing at all to do with
Seattle, Athens, or Austin. Bands like the New Bomb Turks, the Supersuckers,
the Lazy Cowgirls, the Dwarves and others were too reckless, too raucous, too
filled with the spirit of St. Iggy to appeal to the hype-jaded ears of the flannel-clad,
unwashed masses. While Ruling Stooge magazine and other middlin’ mainstream music rags featured St. Cobain and his
evil transvestite bride on the cover, and a generation of dim-bulb
record-buyers fell for the hype, some of us oldsters were groovin’ to madcap
tunes like “Born Toulouse-Lautrec.”


Suzie Q, pull down that book with the orange spine from the shelf…yeah, We Never Learn by author Eric Davidson,
and published by Backbeat Books. Yes, I know that only canines and old geezers
like the Reverend still keep these wood-fiber antiques around anymore, but We Never Learn is an important tome, ya
know! Davidson, ya see, was a rocker, and a member of one of the underground
scene’s best bands, the New Bomb Turks. From his rare viewpoint at the
forefront of what we rockcrit types called “garage-punk,” and Davidson
terms the “gunk punk undergut,” the book documents the musical achievements
and failures of the era, roughly 1988 to 2001, in brilliant (and, often sordid)


We Never Learn works ’cause Davidson was there, riding
the ramshackle rollercoaster that was underground rock during the 1990s, and
the words here are written in his blood, sweat, and tears, and more than a
little spilt beer. Wearing his most erudite rock-writer hat, Davidson
interviewed dozens of musical fellow travelers from like-minded guitar-wielding
gangs, folks like Eddie Spaghetti from the Supersuckers, Mick Collins from the
Gories, Blag Dahlia from the Dwarves, and too many more to tell you bloody
test-tube babies about in one short sitting. He also talked to deal-makers and
scene-breakers like Crypt Records’ Tim Warren and Long John of the Sympathy For
The Record Industry record labels, as well as show promoters and zinesters and
other satellites that orbited the gunk punk planet.


While you
black leather-brained perpetual teens may deem your senile ol’ grandpa a relic
from another age, back in the day the one true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll continued
to thrive decades after its “sell by” date. Davidson’s We Never Learn chronicles the
wild-n-wooly era of a fragmented and marginally-popular music scene that was
never going to challenge Nevermind for chart hegemony, much less make even more than a slight imprint on an
increasingly corporate-dominated decade of music that would come to a crashing
close with clowns like the Backstreet Boys and Britney topping the charts.


Still, for
a short while, cold-blooded rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs stomped across America,
Europe, and even Asia with a disdain for the popular music of the day, and a
penchant for the absurdly reckless and self-destructive sort of behavior that
killed off the reptilian age in the first place (meteors my tired old ass!). It
was bands like the aforementioned that breathed new life and fire into a
moribund musical scene that, thanks to their efforts, managed to keep rock
music inspired well into the 21st century or, at least…ahem…until
President-for-Life Palin outlawed music.


does a fine job of collecting these dodgy stories from the scene’s participants,
and weaves them into an informative narrative that accurately sketches a
portrait of the grime and grit that personified the “gunk punk
undergut.” That Davidson downplays his own band’s experiences in favor of
those stories from other bands is admirable, but it is his firsthand knowledge
of the scene and its players, and his own stories that help shape the book into
more than a mere personal memoir.


So, the
lesson that Grandpa is trying to teach you too-young pinheads is this: instead
of pining for a long gone and tired ’90s music scene that was over-hyped and
under-criticized, take a damn nanosecond to check out We Never Learn and bring a little white light to your cerebellums.
You’ll discover a lost world of great rock ‘n’ roll that, if you give it a chance,
will have all of you strutting down the cyber-hallways of your virtual high
school like streetwalkin’ cheetahs with hearts fulla napalm!


Cryogenically-preserved Ed. note: We have picked
up a transmission from BLURT magazine circa 2010 in which author Davidson was
interviewed about his book. Go here to read part one of a two-part feature, and
then go here to view a photo gallery.


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