Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (but Can No Longer Hear)

By Novara, Vincent J. | Notes, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (but Can No Longer Hear)


Novara, Vincent J., Notes


Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear). By Jon Fine. New York: Viking, 2015. [xviii, 302 p. ISBN 9780670026593 (hardcover), $27.95; ISBN 9780143108283 (paperback), $17; ISBN 9780698170315 (e-book), $12.99.]

Jon Fine's debut book serves multiple functions: it is an entertaining memoir, it offers a case study of the complete life cycle of an indie rock band, and it is an effective (if not biased) primer on the genre. Fine is currently the executive editor of Inc. magazine and a regular columnist on media for BusinessWeek, and his work appears in several other publications of note. As a musician, Fine was a member of seven bands, most notably as a founding member and guitarist for the regrettably-named Bitch Magnet (1986-90, 2011-12). This book, in its multiple functions, is centered on what caused Bitch Magnet to exist, rise to some degree of consequence, unceremoniously fall (as is the indie rock way), and then eventually and predictably reunite (also the indie rock way).

Absent his participation in Bitch Magnet, Your Band Sucks would not exist. The band was formed by Fine with Sooyoung Park while both were students at Oberlin College (neither majored in music). Eventually joined by drummer Orestes Morfin, they released two well-regarded LPs and several EPs, and toured the U.S. and Europe numerous times prior to disbanding for the first time in 1990-remarkably, all preInternet. They played moody and aggressive music that employed a complete dynamic range, and occasionally explored longer song forms and odd meters. During the intervening years Park went on to have much greater success with the band Seam, and Morfin also enjoyed better fortunes with Walt Mink. Fine did not achieve the same level of recognition with his subsequent projects, which preceded his work as a columnist. When the acclaimed label Temporary Residence approached Fine about reissuing Bitch Magnet's recordings, the band elected to reunite to promote the releases. This afforded the band the opportunity to enjoy an increased profile due to the influence they had on many bands that followed in the 1990s, as well to make the most of social media. Their reunion tour featured select appearances throughout Asia, Western Europe, and on the East and West coasts of the United States.

Divided into three large sections, the story unfolds chronologically. Book 1 is devoted to Fine's early life through college, concluding with Bitch Magnet in midcareer. Book 2 advances the band's story through its first demise. The section continues with Fine's subsequent band efforts, descent into bacchanalian misadventures, and challenges with maturing. Book 3 focuses on Bitch Magnet's reunion and Fine's settling down into stable employment and marriage.

Concurrent with his personal story, Fine provides ample context-cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic-and here this work is at its best as a primer for the musical genre. Your Band Sucks is instructive about American indie rock's roots in the late 1970s, ascent in the 1980s, and embrace by the mainstream in the 1990s; the music industry's chaos in the 2000s; and this music's quest for relevance in the 2010s. These portions are greatly enhanced by interviews that Fine conducted with colleagues and associates prominent in that community (Laura Balance, Andrew Beaujon, and Jenny Toomey, in particular). The book's lack of an index is unfortunate, given the important artists, subjects, labels, movements, places, and other notable persons covered throughout that are relevant to the history of the genre. Musicians who have lived this life (or still are living it) will read many anecdotes that are familiar-at times, painfully so. For the uninitiated, these accounts are highly informative, with sufficient self-awareness and sporadic humor. Fine's prose is that of an experienced author and it strikes a balance between intelligence and naturalness, while maintaining a steady pace. …

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