Contributed by ben_conoley, Posted by Interviews

Last year saw the release of

When did you first come up with the idea and start compiling information for this project?

The first version was actually an academic book that came out in 2006. I teach at a college on Long Island. They were looking for people to edit books about music and I told them that I wanted to write the book myself, which I think initially struck the publishers as insane. I live and breathe punk rock I always love to write about it. I ended up writing the first version in about two and a half years. Then they said they wanted to do the paperback version, which would require some revisions because they sold the rights to another company. I didn’t think it would actually take that long but I added another 300 pages of material and it took two more years.

Altogether, it took five to six years of research, plus a couple of research assistants and a fact-checker. The first book, I got the photo rights myself and then the second book, they got the photo rights for me. And they did a really good job getting a lot of those pictures.

The book almost serves as a photographic history of punk as much as it is a resource of information. Was that your idea from the beginning or did it start to take on it’s own shape once you started going through archives?

Yeah, the first thing they did was they came over here. They took pictures of all of my zines, all of my fliers, buttons, and my vinyl - especially the 7"s. So every time you see a picture an album or a flier in the book, usually it’s mine. Occasionally, it’s someone else’s. They eventually went to John Holmstrom - he did Punk Magazine - he was very cooperative and he helped with a lot of stuff. I really wanted people to be able to see the energy of punk rock.

I look at this book as not only something for people who know a lot about punk rock, but for someone who has no idea, that’s just into Fall Out Boy or something like that and pick it up and say, "Oh my god, that’s HR? Holy shit, I need to go check out Bad Brains." I’m hoping this will turn kids on to a lot of obscure bands. Maybe they’ll see a picture of Murphy’s Law or Jawbreaker on stage. To me it was really important to capture some of that kinetic energy - people in motion; jumping off the stage; circling in a pit. I wanted to show the vitality of punk. That was the whole idea behind how we chose the photos.

How many of the photographs were actual pictures that you took at shows?

Very few were mine. A lot of them were taken from archives and have actually never been seen before. They did a really good job. They hired a photo researcher for me, which was big help. I don’t know if you saw it, but there’s actually a personal photo of mine in the very back with me and Dee Dee Ramone. I was 17 years old in that picture and I look like such a punk brat.

Was it much of a challenge to try to write in an encyclopedic, purely objective tone rather than let your feelings bleed into whatever band you were writing about?

I think it’s impossible to keep your feelings out. There are a ton of bands in there but the only band I did a real hatchet job on was Good Charlotte. Because I liked their first record and they kept getting worse and worse - and started dating Nicole Richie and stuff like that. The guys are such poseurs. Not that I’m not a poseur myself…

I mean, I really tried to be as objective as possible. There are some bands in there that I love and follow them around see them play whenever I get the chance. Then there are plenty of other bands in there that I could take ‘em or leave ‘em. I tried to leave out a lot of bands that I didn’t love, as opposed to saying something bad about them. For example, Fall Out Boy. I mean, a) they’re not punk, and b) I have nothing to say about them.

I guess it’s one of those, "if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all."

Yeah, like Blink 182 and Sum 41, they’re nice for what they do. But you can read about them anywhere. I’d rather talk about more obscure bands - a band like Egghead. They’re a great New York pop-punk band that almost no one knows about. They’re the kind of guys I want out there.

Obviously, there are hundreds of bands included in the book; however, I’d imagine there were tons of groups that didn’t make the cut. Are there any bands that stick out that you wanted to include but ended up on the cutting room floor?

It’s kinda interesting. Some bands I just flat out forgot to include. Like Dillinger Four. I love their band and I forgot to include them. Let’s see, I forgot about Crimpshrine. That was totally my fault. I forgot about this band The Unloveables, after I told them I was going to put them in.

Some bands did kinda get cut at the last minute. There’s this great sorta garage punk band called The Mummies. They dress up as mummies. I wrote a really nice piece on them and that got cut for space reasons. There are so many bands that aren’t there that I feel bad about. But I had to cap it at a certain number. It could be ten volumes - and I’ve already thought about doing another volume. I’m thinking about starting a website where people could send me candidates for the next revision of the book.

There are so many bands that should be there. And once again, Dillinger Four should be in there and my apologies go out to them, if they read this. I feel ridiculous about it. There are just so many bands. I mean, every band on Epitaph couldn’t fit. Every band on Fat couldn’t fit. Almost everyone that comes up to me that has read the book, they all say, "It’s a great book but where’s so-and-so?" Either way, I think this book is a good starter for people that are into punk. I hope this inspires people to write more about punk.

Do you remember J Church?

Oh yeah.

Lance, from J Church, was a total punk rock historian. I was hoping he would put out a book before he died. He would put my stuff to shame. He knew all about British crust punk and anarcho punk.

Penelope Spheeris [film director] handled the foreword duties. How exactly did that come about?

That was kind of set up through a friend of a friend. I always respected what she did. Especially The Decline of Western Civilization in Suburbia. We wanted to get someone for the introduction that was not only someone from the scene, but also someone that people would recognize her name from "Wayne’s World" or whatever. She is a walking fountain of information about punk. She was very sweet and it was really nice of her to write the introduction.

Did you happen to come in contact with many artists or icons throughout the process of compiling this?

Yeah, there were a lot of people I met and talked to via phone or email along the way. Some were really nice. Some were more guarded about talking to me. Some I couldn’t get in touch with at all. I couldn’t get in touch with Johnny Lydon and some other people. Some people died before I could talk to them: Joe Strummer and ¾ of the Ramones.

Richard Hell was a really interesting guy. I traded emails with him. He sent me one saying, "Why don’t you send me what you’ve written about me and I’ll tell you if it’s right or wrong." So I sent the chapter on him and the Neon Boys and Television. He writes back in all caps, "NO! NO! IT’S NOT VERLAINE AND I. I DID THIS!" It’s like, whoa. I don’t wanna open up old wounds here. I was like, "Ok. You’re Richard Hell and I’ll take your word on this."

And once again, a guy like John Holmstrom. He was so helpful and offered a ton of insight. I spoke to Legs McNeil. He didn’t have to talk to me and he spent three hours on the phone with me one day. Those guys were an inspiration to me and it was great to talk with them.

Let’s see, who else wouldn’t talk to me? I only got an answer from NOFX when I asked about reggae. Which was kinda funny. I was like, "Will you talk to me?" They were like, "No. Read our old interviews." Then I asked about reggae and they were like, "We like reggae."

I understand you have your PhD and teach at a university in Long Island. How tempting is it to throw your book on the syllabus just jack up your sales?

[laughing] I’m doing a class in the spring about the contemporary music industry. I thought for ten seconds that maybe I should put my book on there. Then I realized that everyone would think I’m a dick. I always thought it was funny when the professor would put their book on the syllabus, and then talk about himself in the 3rd person. "You know, Cogan says…" I promised myself that I wouldn’t do that.