Either I had the good fortune or the great misfortune of being born in 1986—for some, the year of Iran-contra, and for others, the year Len Bias died. I was just in time for the first era of American hardcore punk rock to morph into the more complex sounds of post-hardcore and what would come to be called indie rock.
I missed that transition, but shortly after the turn of the millennium, I found myself—somewhat typically for suburban, white, male teenagers who, like me, felt somehow "different" from their peers—drawn to punk rock. Fueled by confusion, I had the requisite Mohawk (dyed purple) and the awful band; we were called The Doomsters, after a line from Thomas Hardy's "Hap." I also had a growing collection of CDs by Minor Threat, the Adolescents, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Agnostic Front, Agent Orange, TSOL and the Misfits.
I don't have a Mohawk or a band anymore, but I still have those records—and more. In fact, digging one's way into the sound of hardcore in the '80s has never been easier or as exhausting. From indie label reissues of nearly lost LPs to encyclopedic volumes and "visual histories," from video game soundtracks to well-publicized documentaries, the impact of that short period of time in American underground rock is being crystallized by a load of historians without fancy degrees, enthusiasts with passions and archives.
Paul Rachman's 2006 documentary American Hardcore—based on Steven Blush's book American Hardcore: A Tribal History—caught plenty of attention beyond small film festivals. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater introduced a new generation of wannabe skaters to the music of the Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion, among others. The Touch and Go fanzine, which spawned the now-defunct indie label, issued a coffee table compendium of the Michigan-based rag's 22 issues. Even Keith Morris, the 50-something frontman of bands Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, is riding a new wave of critical acclaim for his new outfit OFF!, showing the kids how it was and is done.
This evidence might convince you hardcore was an island-based phenomenon, limited to a few key centers of activity like California, New York, Washington, D.C. and, if you're extra thorough, maybe the Midwest.
Lucky for me, a few short months before I wriggled my way into the world, Brian Walsby moved from Southern California to Raleigh. He witnessed the peak and decline of first-wave hardcore in North Carolina. And as his new book, Manchild 5: Rabid Pack With Sirens Howling, attests, Walsby became one of the most comprehensive historians on punk rock in North Carolina. For that, I owe him thanks: Walsby's Manchild 5 is a curt interruption to revisionist simplifications.
For most, N.C.'s hardcore history largely starts and ends with Corrosion of Conformity. So does Walsby's narrative. Upon moving to Raleigh, he lived with the band's drummer, Reed Mullin, and became part of the social circle surrounding COC. Walsby ends his book with two photos: one of COC's reunited Animosity-era trio playing at Kings in October 2010, and one of the band playing in Baltimore in 1985. But while COC looms large throughout Manchild 5, they're not the only ones.
"I first read about the NC underground in scene reports of the then new Maximumrocknroll magazine," Walsby writes in his introduction. "A friend of mine, Ron Cerros, had the Why Are We Here 7" on No Core Records in 1983. It had No Labels, Corrosion of Conformity, Stillborn Christians and Bloodmobile on it. We listened to it constantly. It all kind of started there."
The first four entries of the Manchild series gathered Walsby's comic strips—generally autobiographical or based on memories of seeing various influential bands. They positioned Walsby as a sort of punk-rock Harvey Pekar. In Manchild 5, the comics are sidebars to a lovingly, thoroughly compiled oral history of underground rock in Raleigh during the last half of the 1980s. The comics follow Walsby's personal journey into and inside the Raleigh rock scene; a failed tour with his California-based band, Scared Straight, brought him to Raleigh for the first time. There was the messy party-house he lived in on Ashe Avenue. These days, he's behind the drums for Double Negative.
But mostly, Manchild 5 is a dialogue written by key players in the scene at the time. Members of Corrosion of Conformity, Angels of Epistemology, Superchunk, Erectus Monotone, Ugly Americans, Honor Role and others offer recollections and commentary that color the history Walsby traces here. Even Toney and Karen Weatherman, the parents of COC's Woody Weatherman, supply their memories.
The effect is that of a lengthy fanzine interview that demonstrates the cross-pollination of North Carolina's hardcore scene with its eventual outgrowths. "By the time I moved to Raleigh in early 1986, 'Hardcore' as I knew it, as a musical style and a subculture that went along with it, was pretty much dead," Walsby writes. "It just was. There was new stuff on the horizon."
Chris Phillips began playing drums for Subculture, for instance; he went on to play in Squirrel Nut Zippers. Subculture's singer, Kevin Collins, would later front Erectus Monotone and, now, Double Negative. Mac McCaughan—of Superchunk and Merge Records fame—appears here as the guitarist for both the Slush Puppies and another Walsby band, Wwax. Acclaimed jazz trumpeter Jeb Bishop is noted for his roles in the Angels of Epistemology and Stillborn Christians.
And though it isn't overlooked entirely, the focus here is far from Chapel Hill and its next-Seattle indie rock boom. Merge and bands affiliated with the label dot the latter half of Walsby's history, but so do bands like Confessor, Days Of ... , Second Coming and, of course, COC. Walsby largely chooses to ignore the contemporaneous jangle-pop of The dB's and Let's Active, as well as the soon-to-follow indie rock of Superchunk and Archers of Loaf. This is a history that doesn't fear self-definition.
Those remembered from the hardcore era seemed driven to leave a mark one way or another. Whether it was writing fanzines or cutting records without publishers or labels, there's a paper trail documenting the paths blazed by the genre's pioneering bands. What the Touch and Go fanzine did for the Midwest, and what Dischord Records did for Washington, D.C.—i.e., preserving for posterity and born-too-late kids like me, a record of the sound and significance of American hardcore punk—Manchild 5 does for Raleigh.