A delete bin’s worth of autobiographies released over the past decade by ex-punkers who have settled into memoir age hasn’t necessarily made for collective appraisal beyond a garage-tinged look at the sex, drugs, slam-and-roll counter-culture of their youth. Love Minus Zero, Lori Hahnel’s 2008 novel based on her role in Calgary’s first female punk bank, The Virgins, is poignantly different. Set in the late 70s/early 80s First Wave of punk in which fictional all-female Calgary band Misclairo briefly rise, it is a sombre exploration of the personalities that drive counterculture and what happens when the initial energy fades.
Misclairol and associates quickly experience the smoulder-out of their own movement as it provides the kindling for a more violent and less-inclusive hardcore scene. Subsequent forays into reality and adulthood for the band and scensters means an uncomfortable normalcy for some, or following the nihilism to its logical end for others.
Hahnel’s writing style is suitably punk rock, in the First Wave sense. Rather than an anarchic hack at narrative that draws more attention to technique than substance, she uses straightforward, unadorned prose that, like the music, is all about getting to the throbbing heart of the matter.
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(An occasional series in which we dust off some slightly older but relevant material that has been sitting on the shelf, metaphorical or otherwise)
The (notionally) youth-oriented King Dork series is an example of art imitating art. Author Frank Portman is (slightly) better known as “Dr. Frank” of long-running punkers MTX (aka The Mr. T. Experience), a band (mildly) famous for blending romantic angst, pop culture references, witty wordplay and breezy, loudly anthemic music. King Dork and King Dork Approximately feature angst-ridden young rebels who favour anthemic music told via a snappy mix of pop culture references, witty wordplay and breezy prose. These are entertaining stories that also happen to be smart interrogations of youth culture and the art it is based in. Throughout the books, our anti-hero, Tom Henderson, tries to make sense of his world and Western youth culture while looking at, but not necessarily using, best practices from classic rebellion-based books (Catcher in the Rye, Brighton Rock, Naked Lunch), and a large ‘desert island disc’ list of music (from at least AC/DC to Nirvana). It all sounds ordinary enough, but Portman brings just the right mix of irony and earnestness to the production to offer something to those of the younger demographic who are navigating adolescence (a bit too seriously), and those of the older set looking back at those days with some (undue) nostalgia.