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D.C. punk

New book links music, lifestyle as local scene makes way into history

(Published March 26, 2001)


Staff Writer

"Punk" is an attitude, according to Mark Andersen, who has co-authored a new book that for the first time chronicles the Districtís local music and social scene of that genre.

Mark Andersen is helping to redefine the age-old definition of a "punk."

Gone are the negative connotations of a punk being a hoodlum, prostitute or catamite.

Today, being a punk is about "attitude" Ė a positive mental attitude.

Todayís punks are activists, even though their good deeds are sometimes over-shadowed by their punk rock music -- characterized by loud guitars, very fast tempo, shocking or outrageous lyrics and, often, musicians wearing what older folks might describe as somewhat disheveled clothing.

"Being a punk, itís not about a style of music, itís not about a style of clothing, or a hair cut. Itís an attitude," said Andersen, a 41-year-old D.C. resident who proudly calls himself a "punk."

"Itís an attitude that is very much about individuality, compassion and creativity, which can be expressed in shorthand as Ďfight bullshit and do something real.í"

Adhering to his word, Andersen is doing just that.

Andersen is an outreach coordinator for Emmaus Services for the Aging, a small advocacy group that assists inner-city seniors in Shaw Ė a neighborhood that is hampered by crime, drugs, gangs and poverty.

He is also the creator and co-author, with local arts critic Mark Jenkins, of the about-to-be published Dance of Days, a book that for the first time tracks the history the Districtís punk scene. According to Andersen, "the nationís capital gave birth to arguably the most fertile and influential punk underground of the 1980s and 90s." His book recounts the rise of trailblazing local punk artists such as Bad Brains, Henry Rollins, Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, Fugazi and Bikini Kill.

The book also examines the roots of Positive Force, an all-volunteer activism group Andersen founded. The Sheridan County, Montana, native is the last of the original members still active in Positive Force.

The group rose out of the D.C. punk underground in the summer of 1985. However, the organization is far more than just "alternative" music. The activist group works for radical social change and youth empowerment through artistic expression and political action. Members organize benefit concerts, protests, educational events and provide direct services for the Districtís neediest residents.

Often Positive Force has worked with Fugazi, an internationally known D.C.-based punk band. The joint efforts of both have resulted in benefit concerts, which draw anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 people and have raised over $200,000 for community organizations.

According to Andersen, the book also looks at PMA, or "positive mental attitude," which was coined by Bad Brains; straight edge, which is an anti-drug attitude; Dischord Records, one of the most successful and respected independent labels in the music industry; and Riot Grrrl, an all-girl band which inspired the feminist punk movement.

"This is a book full of words. But what it points toward is the reality of a community where folks like Fugazi and Positive Force have given of themselves in a very dramatic way for a long, long time," Andersen said.

"What I hope this book points to is that we have been doing more than talking. We have been creating things that show a vision of a society where money is not the God, but where people actually matter. And the way we do that is we give of ourselves and not for the money. And that strikes the essence of what it means to be a punk," he said.

Dance of Days is expected to come out in the first week of April with an expected 7,000 copies published in its first run. The book will be distributed to bookstores nationwide through Publishers Group West, an independent distributor.

The book will also be available online at Soft Skull Press, the bookís primary agent. According to Andersen, there were other publishers interested in his book, but he chose Soft Skull Press because, he said, "for me it was very important that this story not just be about punk and then benefit institutions outside of the community, but that it actually be an example of it. I want this to help an independent press, and bring attention to what they do, and hopefully bring resources to them."

Even though the book has not yet reached bookstores, fans are already anxiously awaiting its release. Currently, Soft Skull allows patrons to pre-order, with the perk of 35 percent off and a sneak peek at Chapter 5 of the book available though e-mail. According to David Janik of Soft Skull Press, about 200 pre-orders have come in through the Web within the last six months.

He also has high expectations for the book once itís released.

"I think there should be a lot of demand for the book. Itís a scene people want to learn about or they have nostalgia for," Janik said.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator