“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature is dumb, science is crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”
The last few months I have been working in a very awesome bookstore. There are many good aspects to the job, except for one thing: I work nights on Thursdays and Fridays, which means I lose a lot of killer shows… On the upside, I am reading more than ever and every time I clock in I look forward to the new dimensions about to open up for me—with every stack I shelf, every book I look up and every page I excitedly turn. Bookshelf upon bookshelf, every corner of the store is occupied: from philosophy, physics and architecture to sociology, literary criticism, history and political science. Books on books, special dictionaries and general miscellany, belles-lettres, metaphysics, anarchism, pirates, humour, graphic novels, mathematics, chess, military history, gender studies, graphic design, typography, counter-cultures, ornithology… you name it!
Never before have I enjoyed going to work so much. I actually go to work to relax and clear my brain! After all, what better way to escape this world than by sinking into one of thousands waiting there on the shelf? It’s like stepping into a parallel world; where time stands still, the books are constantly replenished and the jazz playing softly in the background lets the words spring from the pages with rhythmic vigor and playful excitement.
There is much to be said of physical artifacts that are created, passed on, chucked, then rediscovered, then passed on again, only to be thrown out, discarded, then unearthed, etcetera etcetera etcetera. People will often come in with half a dozen boxes of books and when I go through the process of looking each one up for its price and availability, I often find these boxes have a theme: they all obviously belonged to the same person. Dozens of books, often with underlining, or an inscription, newspaper clippings… I wonder, whatever happened to the original page flippers? Did they die? Perhaps get evicted? Are these books the result of a breakup? Such questions arise and before long some Bill Bryson, or a Cousteau photobook, or a Birds of Africa book will come along and I’m traveling yet again.
Books, like zines, tapes and records actually travel through time and space; they cross many hands and maybe even borders; they are read and heard by people who may never meet, but share this very tangible outcome. This zine you hold right now, this very copy, will be read by another four punks at least. Why? Because it is there, waiting for you to pick it u; it’s not floating around somewhere online, behind some chatroom avatar.
So, to paraphrase the misses above, I’ll say that without zines, punk history would seem faded and one-dimensional, punk theory would be restricted, aesthetic evolution and practical advice at a halt, punk thought and speculation stifled.
Also, now sounds like a good time to tell you how I feel about the Green Taping tradition at MRR. I’ve had the discussion with many people and heard different opinions. Some people disagree with green-taping because the tape can damage the records (they can stick together on the shelf—it’s a tight fit: 50,000 records and counting!) and also because the tape devalues the possible selling price of a record (we have a lot of very rare, now expensive records). However, at the same time, the very fact that they are green-taped MRR records makes them more valuable to some punk record collector freaks (it’s a legendary archive which has been pillaged from in the past) but the fact that these rare records are green-taped means they are also not in mint condition, and so can’t be sold for hundreds of dollars. Which is, correct me if I’m wrong, kinda turning DIY efforts into a luxury. I am not against fanatic collecting, but with punk records I just find it rather ironic.
Until You Are the King of Fools
A couple days ago I watched a documentary made about the Greek punk scene. When I first heard about this project I thought, wow, someone is going to put in all that work to do that? That’s great! Greece had, and still has, such a vibrant scene, it’s about time it was done. A couple of teasers had circulated online about a year ago, and they looked promising, so I was naturally very excited to finally see it. I have done some minimal video editing and it’s no easy task. To collect all the materials, compile them into a coherent storyline, edit and sequence the video, with the sound…it demands some work.
So, first off, this movie doesn’t looks like an amateur job, it’s not cheaply produced and it appears to have a professional production company behind it (I still remember those swirling lines that sprung out from the centre of the screen into an S, for Stefi Prodcutions, shown on TV before chocolate milk commercials from when I was I kid). The quality of the sound is also good, sans for a few live video sequences that are rather loud and blown out, but thankfully overall there is no mumbling or noise to drown out the voices. The photographic material is also interesting and goes beyond the standard pictures found within record sleeves or online. But it is the speakers interviewed who mainly carry out the narrative, which is a basic coverage of the evolution of punk in Greece.
The camera work during the interviews also looks efficiently done, with different angles and close ups, however there are a few times when the camera sticks to a group shot uneccesarily. Seeing four people fidgeting, scratching their nose, or staring into space while one person focuses on answering a question can be rather distracting. I think better emphasis would have been made if the camera zoomed in on the speaker at hand and stuck to group shots where and when needed.
This seems to be an attempt to cover the history of Greek punk by interviewing bands from both the past and present, reflecting on both the past and present. It’s very cool to listen to people’s stories but I feel like more time was spent reiterating a few standard points, than going into further detail about certain topics, getting the scoop on particular periods, or showing more video and photo footage. Then again, given that there aren’t that many other documentaries about the Greek punk scene, this one attempts to cover a lot of ground, and that’s probably why it failed in depth. But it’s definitely cool to see some of your friends and favourite bands talking about what they love.
The selection of bands is a mix: it’s mainly older bands that were around for the first wave at the end of the ’70s and are still around today in some form or other, plus a smaller selection of newer bands that formed more recently. They are all mainly from Athens, plus some from Thessaloniki, Kavala and Patra. And only three women: two of them were in a band ages ago, ad one of which is also a long time promoter at An Club in Eksarhia (a rather dubious establishment really, it has been in cooperation with punks and Eksarhia underlords for decades and has hosted many rock, hardcore, punk and metal bands—better the devil you know sorta deal). These two chicks were definitely not my definition of active punks and mainly reflect on their teenage days, and I think they probably know very, very little of what is actually going on today in the DIY scene. The other woman interviewed briefly is the drummer of Hibernation, Yianna, and is definitely one of the people who has been around for a long time and has a lot to say, but was not given the appropriate time or questions. Also, only one person mentions that it was nice when finally more women started going to shows during the late ’80s. Oh, also, there are a couple of completely random takes of Jello Biafra who gives his view on “the spirit of punk”. It is known that Jello was in Athens last summer (and likes to poke his head wherever possible) and the director must have snagged the opportunity to get his bit of international punk cred. I find it completely unnecessary and don’t think it adds anything to the final outcome. It’s like we have to have the Rollins or Jello stamp pf punk approval—fucking ridiculous! It ends up looking more like a “featured attraction” gimmick than anything else. But that’s just me…
They mention how back in the ’80s there were not many places to play shows and so they were usually organized in universities and squares, but not much more information is given about the squats and collectives that went on to organize many, many shows during the ’90s and ’00s. There is also not much mention of the various labels, distros and zines, whether past or present. There is also a number of bands, both old and new, from Athens and elsewhere that were not included. I don’t know if these are accidental omissions, or if certain people just declined to contribute their opinions. (I can very well see some people I know not wanting to be included in a documentary that takes an outsider view on the subject and makes it more appropriate for people who need to be introduced to the concept of punk.) Sure, the basic history of the scene sounds like it could be similar to that of many other scenes, but what makes the Athens scene special or unique or different does not seem to come through. But like I said, this documentary doesn’t set out to do that, it sets out to give an introduction to what Greek punk is and how people define(d) it.
The movie is broken down into five parts, each one with a subtitle, quotes from what people say throughout the movie, every time accompanied by a small clip-art-looking crown, the logo of sorts for the movie. The overall graphic aesthetic is not overly punk and that crown just brings to mind an ad for an energy drink, or a hip nightclub or something. Not into it. The questions posed to the speakers go through the subject in a chronological/thematical fashion and I can easily image people who haven’t a clue what punk really is, seeing this and enjoying it more than the actual life act of being a punk. Serve. Chew. Digest.
The first chapter starts of “The King is Dead, Long Live the Kind” and discusses the end of the military dictatorship (1967-1974), the style and attitude the “rock” groups had up until then in Greece and how punk was a reaction to the conservative, scared society of the time. They talk about the social reactions to the long hair rockers sported and how back then walking around with a mowhawk as a punk was a sure way to get beaten up or at least interrogated by the cops.
The second chapter titled “Fuck Art” (typed out in Greek) discusses the expression of punk and how it came about in Greece and why people were drawn to it. It covers the binary creative/destructive aspect of punk and how it was an alternative for those who didn’t feel like they belonged to, or even liked, society very much.
The third chapter is called “Let’s Pogo” and discusses the violence in the pit; how outsiders found it scary and thought it was the audience fighting amongst themselves. When asked what punk is and how they define punk, some of the answers were rather generalized, vague or even cliché (“going against the status quo,” “we put a lot into it”), others were rather more romantic and some contained a more complex notion of what punk actually means to them. People recognize that for some it is just music, and for others it is an outlook on life, and I like the fact that none of them try and strictly define it and instead absorb its mutative quality and go with it. They also all pretty much agree that you have to think for yourself and that what you do is what really defines whether you are punk or not: not just your message, but actually living up to what you say.
The fourth chapter is called “Do it Yourself” and here is where they reflect upon the organizational aspect of it: no one expects to make money from it and the value of punk is in its underground quality, and the very fact that its members don’t depend on LP sales and shows to make a living. Someone rightfully says that it would be embarrassing to see a punk try and make a profit from punk. Some stated that they were DIY, others didn’t as they believed it was pretty evident and self-explanatory. There is also the debate over whether making music as a professional musician—outside of punk—is considered selling out. A couple people mention zine making, handing out demo tapes at shows and making and putting up posters. There are mentions of how doing things yourself can be extremely difficult, but that overcoming the odds is what it’s all about. Someone mentions that people should overcome the bickering and differences and just agree upon some basics to set more solid foundations for stronger scenes.
The fifth chapter is called “Until You Are the King of Fools” and discusses punk as fashion and the fact that punk has already been marketed and commercialized, so wanting to look like the punks did in the ’80s is rather pointless. “Doing it three decades ago meant something; nowadays it doesn’t—there’s a market for everything!” It also tries to stress the many different definitions people have of punk, as well as the many reasons people are driven or led to it. It ends with the irony of trying to avoid the rockstar system and ending up being the rockstar of your own bubble, proving that punk is not isolated from societal vices.
The sixth and final chapter is titled “Passion before Fashion” (meh…). It is interesting to see what people answer when they are asked if punk will survive. Everyone says yes, but that it mutates and morphs and evolves. They also say that it never stopped being relevant and that it’s been around infecting people since its very inception—and people will continue to write songs about the fucking cops because they’re still doing the same shit they did when punk broke. As long as society is fucked, punk will be relevant.
So… This obviously isn’t a documentary exclusively about the “DIY” scene in Greece, as there are a couple people interviewed who would not be considered DIY by other members and/or factions of the scene, plus the focus is on the evolution of the scene, not the DIY aspect of it. The angle seems to be that of a newcomer, which can be a good thing, as added excitement and curiosity often heighten dedication, and I assume those elements actually helped make this documentary possible. Like I mentioned above, almost no other documentaries have been made about Greek punk, so to see anything at all is encouraging. It can be a slippery slope: on the one hand punk is portrayed in simple terms for the uninitiated, making it lose some of its force and sheer power and perhaps forgetting or not crediting people who really made a difference, yet on the other hand… there’s a fucking documentary about Greek punk so check out!
And now, the end is near…
You probably heard by now, but Mariam is leaving. Her time as coord has ended. She did it for three-and-a-half-years and might I say, that’s no easy shit! She is the definition of hard ass (in all ways possible) and has definitely taught me the most here at MRR. She has determination and guts and is never afraid to speak her mind—if you’ve ever met her you’d know this. And even though work here is demanding, and we all try and have lives outside the compound, we all go through rough and bad times, and maybe sometimes we get a bit cranky, or crazy, or sad, or mad—all emotions aside, the important thing for me is that she showed me how to get the job done well. Overall it has been an honour knowing her and working with her this past year! She will no doubt keep herself busy and I’m sure you’ll hear from her again soon: true punks never die!