Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bradford Martin's "The Other Eighties"

Bradford Martin is an associate professor of history at Bryant University in Rhode Island. He is the author of The Theater Is in the Street: Politics and Public Performance in Sixties America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Other Eighties: A Secret History of America in the Age of Reagan, and reported the following:
Of course p.99 is representative of the book—though not in entirely obvious ways. On this page, I sketch the boundaries of what I call “post-punk” rock, the marginally commercial, independently produced music in the 1980s that germinated underground, far from the MTV music videos that were the decade’s signature cultural product. Post-punk blossomed from a vast network of subterranean roots. In hundreds of dive bars and clubs, scores of local independent record stores, and dozens of dedicated fanzines, musicians honed an authentic sound drawn from diverse and often whimsical influences, and communities of fans created a distinct shared identity.

So who do I include? My discussion ranges from the Dead Kennedys, to the Minutemen (“America’s Most Conceptual Bar Band”), to R.E.M. Then I claim: “What tied these disparate bands together was less a shared musical aesthetic than a set of influences from 1970s punk, including a do-it-yourself production ethos emphasizing authenticity rather than technological perfection; aural dissonance that consciously challenged mainstream popular music; transgressive subject matter in lyrics and associated visual imagery; and live performances that attempted to bridge the distance between performers and audience.”

This is what ties the page to the rest of the book. Post-punk’s determined opposition to mainstream 1980s popular music parallels the oppositional nature of many of the other movements I discuss from the nuclear freeze movement to the Central America Solidarity Movement to gangsta rap to ACT UP. The focus on do-it-yourself and authenticity rather than relying on a culture of experts and technical perfection, parallels nuclear freeze activists who took on a high priesthood of defense intellectuals, Central America activists who exposed Reagan’s “secret war” in Nicaragua, student divestment activists who shone a searchlight on a tangled web of college and university investment policies that helped sustain South Africa’s apartheid regime, and ACT UP’s self-taught expertise mobilized to pressure pharmaceutical companies and the FDA for faster development, testing, and approval of promising anti-AIDS drugs.

Post-punk voiced opposition to the era’s dominant cultural and political life—Reagan militarism, social conservatism, rampant materialism, and the veneration of corporate America--and so do the movements profiled in the rest of the chapters in The Other Eighties.
Read an excerpt from The Other Eighties, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue