Although this is a slim 95-page book, it is essential reading for anyone who cares to explore the roots of the DIY (do it yourself) movement in music. The author sketches the odyssey of the town, which he describes as a rust belt remnant with high unemployment, and a large number of foreclosures. As he puts it, “punk rock became a soundtrack to a place fraught with people and places that evoke both a triumphal spirit…and a scary ugliness.”
What is striking about this book is the way the author chronicles the connections between its history as a socialist stronghold of the early 1900s, and how this hidden history has provided a background for the rootless youths of the 1970s and later decades, when the American dream of good-paying factory work had evaporated into an endless need for stimulus and entertainment. Because Rockford is “half way between Madison and Chicago,” it became a brief stopover for even some fairly well-known bands to play as they toured across the mid-west. The author is a veritable encyclopedia of local and regional bands, and he paints a colorful, if bleak, picture of musicians carving out a living while they release seven inch records and struggle to make a living. Ensminger chronicles puck and metal bands, many of which most readers will never have heard about.
As the author tells the story, clubs and bands come and go. Musicians move from one band to another, and many continue to lead some version of the live style that they pursued in their youth. The reader may be a bit overwhelmed by the number of bands and musicians listed who will be unfamiliar to them. However, this small failing is overcome when it becomes apparent that it isn’t the names that are important, it is the lifestyle and the continual shifting landscape of the bands, the venues the play in, and their audience. Without throwing in too much political jargon or laundry, Ensiminger underlines the connections between the music, the lifestyle, and the social world pop punk youths. If you want to know what the rock and roll lifestyle is like, where it came from, and how its practitioners survived, even if they didn’t thrive, this book is a fine guide to a scene that has been replicated, paralleled, and repeats itself in today’s DIY world of music.
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