You’ve probably read enough stories of rock n roll underdogs’ slow rise to superstardom to last you a lifetime. In We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1998-2001, out now on Backbeat Books, author Eric Davidson celebrates the dozens of punk and garage bands from the last two decades that worked just as hard - and partied about three times as hard – as anyone, but never managed to achieve any level of mainstream success. That doesn’t mean they should be doomed to the 99-cent bin at your local record store – or on Amazon.com, as the case may be.
Davidson chronicles the lifespan of bands like The Dwarves, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Hellacopters, The Gories, The Candy Snatchers, The Lazy Cowgirls, The Mummies, Guitar Wolf, and his own punk band, New Bomb Turks. The Turks, out of Columbus, Ohio, toured with many of the bands in the book, so Davidson weaves in personal stories (often horrifying and disgusting but usually hilarious), making it clear he was a real contender, and not some stuffy journalist observing it all from the sidelines. The stuff that’s too good to retell, Davidson prints in Q&A form, the best being a conversation with the curmudgeonly Billy Childish who talks about nonchalantly dismissing one of his biggest fans, Jack White.
The White Stripes’ meteoric rise to fame from humble Detroit roots, Davidson notes, is certainly the exception here. The majority of the bands covered ended up with record deals on some of the bigger independent labels (Sub Pop, Estrus, In The Red, Crypt, Sympathy for the Record Industry) lasting long enough to make a couple albums, before imploding or incestuously forming other bands (Jon Spencer went from Pussy Galore to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Heavy Trash, Mick Collins went from the Gories to the Dirtbombs, and on and on). Some of the players inevitably left music in favor of more ‘respectable’ gigs, some are sadly no longer with us, and a few bands survived it all and are still around (The Supersuckers, The Dwarves, The Muffs).
For more on the book, plus all the dirt that wasn’t fit to print, check out www.weneverlearnbook.com.