Tony Rettman - Straight Edge [Book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Tony Rettman

Straight Edge [Book] (2017)

Bazillion Points

The smartest play that author Tony Rettman makes in his new oral history, Straight Edge: A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History is to neither lionize nor demonize the movement (it’s done that for itself enough already!) While Rettman is obviously a fan of the genre- he pops up here and there in the audience across the wealth of photos included herein- for the most part, he steps back and lets the main players, and a few sideline players, do the talking.

All the heavy hitters get their fair say in the development as Rettman meticulously traces straightedge hardcore from its foundation- Rettman and co seem to unanimously agree that it began from the big bang moment of Minor Threat’s “Straight edge” and “In my eyes”- through its late 80s halcyon days, to is mid-90s mutation, through to the current day. Important players of Youth of Today, Chain of Strength, Gorilla Biscuits, Judge, Insted, Vegan Reich, Shelter, Slapshot, and many, many more get their say. Even Minor Threat appears throughout the book, and to my great amusement, they are always somewhat cautious, ambivalent, and concerned about the child that they had born. Jeff Nelson’s shining moment comes when he talks about the uncomfortable position of having invented a religion when one didn’t want to invent a religion in the first place.

From there, things get rollicking along. People are united by the genre. Then, tension builds and competition becomes unhealthy. There’s fistfights over things as silly as what brand is the right brand of sneaker to wear. People convert to religious fundamentalism. The scene rises and falls and rises and falls.

Primarily, the book serves as a valuable resource for those that are knowledgeable in the punk scene, but, like myself, know little about the sxe scene. Through demonstration, the book traces the history of the movent and lets us know who the important players are without having to lecture. Frankly, the book is an educational resource while it reads like a magazine.

But, perhaps the books biggest value is the way it serves as a case study. Frankly, the guys in Minor Threat come off as having a sense of observation and contemplation. Most of the other actors- not so much. Throughout the book, the figures dance around the question- “is not wanting to drink and smoke an strong enough platform to build an entire movement off of?” As people fall by the wayside, and as some of the people find the scene ultimately empty, only to search for higher meaning from conservative direction, the answer is hinted at but never revealed. One bizarre moment crops up when an especially cruel sxe hardcore singer goes off the deep end, turns to reactionary Islam for an answer, and when asked about his anti-choice stance, can only answer by quoting scripture, utilizing none of his own critical thinking whatsoever- comparing this to the original messages of Minor Threat is baffling! How did we get to this strange land? The results are nearly the same for the many Krishnacore and reactionary Christian members, too.

That being said, other band members come off much better. Toby Morse of H20, Damian Abraham of Fucked Up, and Ari Katz seem to take a more measured, less judgmental approach. And that’s really the hook of the book. There is no one definitive “straight edge means XYZ.” There are loads of individual thoughts that leave the reader with a better understanding of the scene and a better of understanding of how the scene went to extreme, so quickly. Doubtlessly, the importance and value of the scene is up for the reader to decide- that being said, as an impartial, informative, entertaining document of a movement, Straight Edge is about as good as it gets. Highly recommend for clean cuts, party boys, and psychologists.