I don’t know how I stumbled onto the existence of this book, but Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit and Sound is a new-ish book that attempts to tackle the monumental subject of ’90s hardcore. At just under 500 pages, the book runs the gamut of profiles on influential ’90s hardcore bands from 108 to Vegan Reich and anything that might fall in between those two bands throughout the alphabet. As is the case with any book that attempts to capture a music scene during a certain time frame, there’s going to be people that say, “Well, so and so should’ve been included, and there’s no way this band should be anywhere near this book.” But, I don’t see anyone else running out and assembling a 500-page book on the subject of pre-Internet, underground hardcore music, so take your gripes with Burning Fight somewhere else if that’s what you wanna do. Or just do as I do, and read the chapters on the bands you really liked (including Burn, Cave In, Deadguy, Groundwork, Rorschach, Swing Kids, Texas is the Reason, Unbroken), ignore the bands you never cared about (Disembodied, Earth Crisis, Integrity, Mouthpiece, Strife, Vegan Reich) and then regretfully read the chapter on the band you once thought was influential but now regretfully own up to liking (Shelter).
Does the book work? Hell yeah it does. But there’s also a heck of a whole lot of the same story being told over and over again, only in different parts of the country, to different sounds and in different basements. That’s not to say it’s unremarkable; it’s just that the life span and experiences of most of the bands profiled draw almost the same parallels throughout the book’s entirety. For lack of a better explanation, it was an intense growing period for a small but dedicated group of people who all ended up doing a lot of the same things despite different musical translations. That’s just what happened to most people in the 18-25 age bracket that owned ‘Start Today’ and started a band because of it. Overall, the book is an invigorating read that brings back a lot of classic memories, sounds, movements and “What the hell were we thinking?”s.
And that’s probably my biggest gripe with the book. It’s not the book’s fault at all, but a nod to the overly dumb and impressionistic 16 year-old I was in 1990.
Because I liked Shelter, the preeminent Krishna-core band of the ’90s and the present. It didn’t last long, maybe two to three years at most. But during that time, I paid money to see them live several times, ate whatever free food they gave out during the shows, wore the beads they handed out and even attempted (but thankfully failed) to read some of the literature they handed out between sermons and chants in the parking lot of City Gardens in Trenton, NJ.
It wasn’t the music I liked. Throughout the band’s career, the music was barely listenable. It was the allure of bearing witness to a religious movement/cult that was a complete 180 from my Roman Catholic upbringing. And like almost any puzzled 16 year-old would do, I attempted to rebel against what I knew and where I came from. Thankfully, that rebellion was relegated to simply listening to a terrible pseudo hardcore band and attending a few of their live shows. I never ran out and joined a temple (like several of the subjects within the book) and I never sold all of my worldly possessions to live as one with Krishna. Eventually, I even realized that the music stunk, and that it wasn’t worth the price of free parking lot halvah.
But I’ve got an in the past bone to pick with that whole Krishna-core movement of the ’90s, and it’s because I think the Hare Krishnas knew that they had stumbled onto an untapped wealth of impressionable kids searching for their identities but coming up empty. I feel fucking retarded even writing that last line, but it’s the truth. We were struggling, trying to find our own way, and we were duped by a cultish band of upper class hardcore kids from Connecticut that had ultimately sold out to an organized religion.
At least we got some free meals out of it.
Order Burning Fight, then please burn your Shelter records.