'Our Band Could Be Your Life'

An indie/alternative rock biog

by Michael Azerrad

Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 is a history of the particular strand of American music that briefly ruled the world as “alternative rock.”

Azerrad’s beginning and ending points are somewhat arbitrary, based partially on the author’s personal tastes (he cops to this in his introduction), and partially on his desire for the neat symmetry of covering a ten year period, from the early days if L.A. hardcore pioneers Black Flag in 1981 to the explosion of the scene following the release of Nirvana’s paradigm-shifting Nevermind in late 1991. Nonetheless, this is a very impressive book.

Along the way he covers Sonic Youth, The Replacements, Fugazi, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, The Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Minor Threat, The Butthole Surfers, Big Black, and Beat Happening (Nirvana appears in this book only as a stopping point—for Azerrad’s take on them check out his earlier band bio Come as Your Are). As the title suggests, the author is interested in these bands mostly as phenomenon of the American indie scene, so bands that went on to sign with major labels—The Replacements, Husker Du, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., and the Butthole Surfers—are covered only up to the point they inked the deal.

While it definitely leaves out some of the crucial figures in the development of indie/alternative rock, these omissions are more than made up for by detailed portraits of such indie luminaries as Henry Rollins, Greg Ginn, D. Boon, Mike Watt, Ian Mackaye, Bob Stinson, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Gibby Hayes, and Steve Albini.

For fans of this type of music, reading Azerrad’s book is like watching a lit fuse burning down to the detonation that was 1991. Along with Charles Cross’s Heavier Than Heaven and the newly-published 4th edition of the All-Music Guide, I recommend 'This Band Could Be Your Life' as essential reading for any fan of contemporary music.

Matt Parks

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