We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, by Marc Spitz and

for Prof. John Fenn
Oral History Project Review

Who Owns Punk History?

Now that punk history itself has become an umbrella expanding over thirty years, multiple academic disciplines, and the mohawk-rigged mammoth known as pop culture itself, I realize that any history is likely to be partial, riddled with gaps, and rendered almost instantly obsolete, though certain “tomes” have been authored, such as Greil Marcus selected writings found in collections like In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk In Pop Music, 1977-1992, also known stateside as Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music 1977-1992, and the well-known England’s Dreaming Sex Pistols and Punk Rock by English critic Jon Savage. Other accounts, such as Punk in the Present Tense by noted female writer Gina Arnold have lapsed into relative obscurity. Meanwhile, the closest partner to We Got the Neutron Bomb, and likely the catalyst for the undertaking of a West Coast-based oral history of punk, stems from the publication, since revised, of Please Kill Me, by the former PUNK fanzine editor Legs McNeil, who was helped by co-editor Gillian McCain. This oral history has proven quite popular since its publication in 1997, and its approach, featuring “talking heads” on the page — key players reminiscing about their roles and experiences in East Coast punk culture – is emulated in We Got the Neutron Bomb and smaller pieces, like an oral history of hardcore punk in the Carolinas compiled for my own magazine by Brian Walsby, cartoonist (7 Seconds, Scared Straight) and drummer for Scared Straight, Polvo, and Double Negative. The formula is usually quite readable – both breezy and anecdotal – but exhibits some traits likely to stir concern among oral history traditionalists. More recent Do-It-Yourself texts, such as the hardcore punk historical reference book American Hardcore: A Tribal History and Going Underground, both written by 1980s scenesters or promoters, attempt to survey the vast landscape of suburbanized punk but also have been heavily critiqued for their shortcomings; for instance, Randy “Biscuit” Turner told me that the section on the Big Boys in American Hardcore blurred details, relied on gossip, and misrepresented the band. Hence, no account of punk is bound to be error-free, without gaps, or even fully democratic.

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