My So-Called Punk is a hard book to critique, mostly because there isn't an idea or central figure to weigh in on. Perhaps author Matt Diehl's biggest sin is that he casts his net too wide and lets the important details get away. From what I can tell, My So-Called Punk is about Green Day's rise and fall and rise, the awesomeness of the Warped Tour, that taking off their clothes to reveal tattoos and piercings makes the Suicide Girls revolutionary, that punks just repeat stuff from other punk bands and use the Internet a lot. Duh.
Oh, and the Distillers are quite possibly the most important punk band since the Clash. Whaaaa?
So much of the book is Brody this and Brody that. If Diehl wanted to write a Brody Dalle biography (and according to an interview with slushpile.net, this was the publisher's original intention), he should have renamed it that and moved on. To sucker everyone else into thinking that this book would be a comprehensive look on the post-Green Day punk world and how we got here is at best extremely misleading and at worst deliberately deceitful.
Given My So-Called Punk's origins, it's too bad that Dalle doesn't have the record sales and influence to match her outsized personal life. Most of the other bands with smaller profiles in the book have sold more records -- NOFX, Fall Out Boy and hell, even Simple Plan. Worse still, Brody and whomever her back-up band haven't done anything since 2003. My So-Called Punk was published in 2007 and Dalle hadn't put out a record in four years at that point. Currently, we're at five years and counting. Not the best ride to hitch your wagon to.
As window dressing, there's lots of filler that doesn't really offer up any reflections, critiques or theories about these modern day phenomena. The Suicide Girls? The founders think it's great! The Warped Tour? Kevin Lyman thinks it rocks! Simple Plan? Hey, their drummer says they're totally punk, so they must be! A few of the chapters have no basic form, either. Chapters 5 through 7 could probably be one uber-chapter about something, instead of three chapters aboutâ?¦well, whatever they're supposed to be about.
The big, BIG questions about "neo-punk" (and sweet Jesus, I hate that term) go unexplored. Whether it's Commercialism vs. Conformity, Sexism and the Legacy of Riot Grrl (Bikini Kill is barely mentioned), the homogeneity of the current punk sound, the all-around cultural conservatism that seems to surround punkâ?¦. None of these issues are at all adequately examined. The fact that sexism is essentially glossed over in particular is a glaring omission, given the book's focus on the plight of Brody Dalle. When Diehl actually addresses the bigger issues, it's mostly shallow cheerleading about how punk is so tolerant and diverse.
As an added cherry on top, My So-Called Punk offers up a litany of typos, factual errors and just plain lazy reporting. Bad Brains are referred to as "Bad Brain's," Hellcat is sometimes HellCat. Hermosa Beach is not in Los Angeles County as Diehl states (I think he got it confused with Huntington Beach), Social Distortion is credited with having their first hit in a song called "Bad Habit" (that's the Offspring, dude -- SD's song is called "Bad Luck" and it wasn't their first hit), and the Sex Pistols were managed by someone named Malcolm McClaren, apparently. However, perhaps the most glaring omission of all is the absence of Rancid from the story. While Lars and Tim are prominently featured on the cover, Diehl never interviewed any member of Rancid. Given the Brody-centric view of the book and the importance of Rancid to her story, would an interview with one member of Rancid be too much to ask for?
Maybe I've got this all wrong. Maybe My So-Called Punk is just filthy lucre. Maybe Matt Diehl just grabbed the advance for hookers and blow and threw the publishing house this pile of formless words. I fear, however, that the truth is much, much worse. The truth is that My So-Called Punk is written by someone who just doesn't "get it" and didn't make much of an effort in the first place. Throughout the entire book, Diehl barely skims the surface of his topics. The whole thing just serves as a great big pep rally for the punk scene and reads like a collection of fluff pieces strung together with the life story of a B-list punk singer. Because who cares about anyone's motivations? It's just punk, maaaaaaaaaaaan! In the end, My So-Called Punk fails because it says so little about a subject that is much more important than its author is willing to admit.