Almost since the inception of punk rock, various forms of fictional media have misrepresented the genre. Sure, there have been a few films, books, etc. over the last four decades that have gotten it right, but there are many, many more that miss the mark completely. Almost without fail, the fiction that gets it right succeeds because the creator is someone who actually has a stake in the game. Enter David Agranoff, a writer who is not shy about the fact that he’s been deep in the trenches of punk rock and hardcore for a very long time. Aside from a couple of rookie mistakes that I promise to give Agranoff a slap on the wrist for next time I see him, such as claiming Toxic Reasons were from Indiana when they were actually from Dayton, Ohio, and the strange phonetic misspelling of Die Kreuzen (I realize most people mistakenly pronounce this band’s name “Die Krusen,” but that’s no excuse!), the details and the vibe are authentic. Anyway…allow me to move away from the nitpicking and onto the story.
Punk Rock Ghost Story blends two eras together, the first in 1982, when hardcore punk was still raw and fresh and bands were attempting their best Lewis and Clark impressions across America, and the second in 2006, long after punk had gone through many different forms and become commercialized to a sickening degree (despite the best efforts of those committed to the hardcore underground). A young band from Bloomington, Indiana, named People’s Uprising, set to go on their first cross-country tour, purchases a van that once belonged to a semi-legendary local band from the early 80s called The Fuckers, whose vocalist vanished in the middle of their only tour and was never heard from again. Oh yeah—did I mention the tour van is now haunted? Because that definitely throws a major wrench in the gears of the People’s Uprising tour. Things eventually go very wrong, but you’ll have to read the book to find out the details.
Arguably the greatest strength of Punk Rock Ghost Story is Agranoff’s ability to zero in on the ups and downs of being in a small, virtually unknown band on tour (something I can speak about from experience). Sometimes being on the road is wonderful and humbling, while other times it’s possible to come close to the brink of despair. Every new town promises wonders, but many do not deliver. If I am to offer criticism on the book (aside from the many typos throughout that I promised myself I wouldn’t mention…oops), I will say that I wish there had been deeper insight into the lives of the members of People’s Uprising. I can relate to the fact that, at that age and at that level of involvement in the punk rock scene, it can consume most of your life. However, I would have liked a little more information about their individual lives outside of punk. We get a glimpse of this with some of the members of The Fuckers, which I appreciated, but I wanted more.
Agranoff’s pacing is brisk, the story is a fun ride, and I think every modern touring band should probably carry a copy of this book in their van and read it at their darkest moments, if only to remind themselves that things could always be a hell of a lot worse.