SST Records Legend and Music Scribe Joe Carducci on His New Book and Throwing Sonic Youth's Cassette Into the Demo Pile in 1985
By Brad Cohan
Joe Carducci not only played a monumental role in helping run and co-own SST Records in its glorious 1980's heyday when Black Flag, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü and Meat Puppets were the reigning kings of the Amerindie underground, but he also famously penned the lyrics for the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime classic "Jesus and Tequila," and later on, wrote tunes for Mike Watt.
But above his legendary SST Records pedigree is Carducci, music scribe figurehead and film and political pundit. He penned the definitive manifesto sprawl of the history of rock music called Rock and the Pop Narcotic (originally released by Henry Rollins' 2.13.61 imprint in 1991) and recently authored Enter Naomi: SST, L.A. and All That, an inspirational yet gut wrenching account of his SST friend and punk rock photographer Naomi Petersen, who tragically passed away from liver failure in obscurity in the mid-90's.
Since 1995, Carducci has lived in Wyoming, banging out screenplays, short stories, keeping an extensive blog that hardcore godhead Keith Morris love and running Redoubt Press, his own DIY-operated publishing company. He just self-released Life Against Dementia: Essays, Reviews, Interviews 1975-2011, the comprehensive Carducci collection righteously on par with that of Richard Meltzer's A Whore Just Like the Rest and Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs.
Sound of the City sat down with Carducci to talk about his new book, the SST days and the false reportage that he was averse to signing Sonic Youth to SST. He reads tonight from his latest book Life Against Dementia: Essays, Reviews, Interviews 1975-2011 (Redoubt Press) at BookThugNation at 7:30pm in Williamsburg (100 N. 3rd Street; between Berry St. and Wythe Ave.)
Did keeping your blog The New Vulgate serve as the inspiration to compile the content for your new book, Life Against Dementia?
I was thinking about the collection before we started the blog. But the Vulgate made me get productive and wound up providing about half of Life Against Dementia. It also allowed me to chop down the interview sections to just a short piece of the older interviews that haven't been posted online.
For someone who seems to be a proponent of old media, you are certainly engaged in social and new media. You are on Facebook and running The New Vulgate blog is use of a new media contraption.Is engaging in new and social media done reluctantly on your part? Was putting out Life against Dementia your way of keeping the printed page alive?
I like doing the NV and fishing around Googling for images is sometimes the most fun part of it. But I really regret it can't be a publication, even as an annual. I only stopped thinking about that when Tower (Records) went under. After that it seemed impossible to believe it could be in print. My next book, Stone Male, is the end of these run of titles. After that I hope to be getting screenplays produced and have reason to write new ones. That's really what my writing is geared for, and probably why my nonfiction essays and critiques don't read like most others in that game.
Looking back at Rock and the Pop Narcotic, is there anything in it you got wrong? Do you have a desire to write a "sequel" for it?
I did want to revise it slightly before reprinting it, but I had the 2.13.61 film ready to go and there weren't material changes, just typos and a few informational mistakes, where this or that band was from, etc. I do feel I understand several things much better than I did. In my essay, "David Lightbourne & Outlaw Folk in '70s Oregon," the relationship of parts of the folk music scene and acoustic country and blues music going back to the turn of the century to rock and roll is featured, whereas there's almost nothing of that in R&TPN as I didn't know enough to care back then. A lot of what might have been improved or added to R&TPN is in LvD; in the title essay I write about the way the repression of punk in the '70s by radio, even major label punk, proved to be a kind of oxygen deprivation which has retarded the music culture in ways that can't be repaired. I start the collection by talking about a certain oxygen deprivation leading to retardation, culturally. It's what happened when the punk bands on the major labels were rejected by Lee Abrams' radio consultancy. His judgment, backed up with Jann Wenner's at Rolling Stone, meant that the majors stopped trying. Thereafter we got the rock culture Lee Abrams and Jann Wenner determined. That we hear the Ramones at baseball games now can't undo that 15 or 20 years of oxygen deprivation.
Where does the title of the book come from?
The title refers to Norman O. Brown's book, Life Against Death, which with Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd and a few others, was one of the books that started the '60s. Those were the intellectual sociological paperbacks that were littering the bookstores. I think my title works, and that was its title when the earlier version ran in the first issue of Arthur Magazine. In a way, it's a more accessible book because you can pick the film stuff to read, or the music stuff, or my take on the CIA in Tibet.
On to the SST Records days. Do you keep in touch with any of the SST folks?
Henry (Rollins), the most consistently. He put the Rock book out at one point. It's not every year but if I go out to L.A. I'll usually see if he's in town or maybe (Raymond) Pettibon. With (Chuck) Dukowski, it's mostly email. When I first saw Chuck's Sextet, they didn't have a guitar; they had a saxophone. I had just seen Thurston Moore and a percussionist at The Stone and I thought "Man, Chuck's band as it was then would have fit into an artier thing in New York." I'm glad Chuck is happy. He looked like he was under a lot of strain back in '83 [laughing]. When the strain was only the LAPD, he was happy. He loved that fight. But when it was him versus Greg, that was really, within the band, rough on Chuck.