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Brian Peterson

Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Brian Peterson, am: 30.10.2009 ]

Bisher gab es kaum historische Aufarbeitungen zur Hardcore-Bewegung der 90er Jahre. Das mag unter anderem daran liegen, dass noch nicht allzu viel Zeit ins Land gezogen war, um das Ganze mit etwas Abstand zu betrachten. Doch jetzt liegt dieses Buch endlich vor. Geschrieben hat es Brian Peterson, der die Szene noch aus eigener Erfahrung kennt. Über sechs Jahre lang hat er in mühsamer Recherchearbeit unzählige Interviews geführt und Informationen zusammengetragen, um ein möglichst umfassendes Bild der Szene zu zeichnen. Herausgekommen ist dabei nichts weniger als die erste „Oral History“ der Hardcoreszene der 90er Jahre. Wir sprachen mit dem Autor Brian Peterson über das Zuhören, das Schreiben und das Leben danach.


Musicscan: When did it first cross your mind to write a book on the 90’s hardcore scene?

Brian Peterson: After I read American Hardcore. That book was really cool, but I didn’t like how the author states that hardcore died in 1986 or whatever. Sure, that initial era ended, but hardcore is still alive and strong to this very day. Anyway, I remember reading the book and thinking, “It would be cool if someone wrote a similar book on the nineties hardcore scene.” That era was the era I was primarily involved with and it changed my life in innumerable ways. The more I thought about it, I started to think that I maybe should try to document some of this era.” So I did. I didn’t know how to approach it at first, but I just started talking to people and little by little it all just came together.

Musicscan: What was the hardest part about finding an appropriate publisher?

Brian Peterson: The hardest part was just getting people to consider putting it out. I’ve been writing for several years, but I’ve never published a book. I’ve found that it’s difficult to get anyone to publish your work unless you have previous published experience. The key for me was to find a place that would have some knowledge about hardcore and know how to get the book out to that audience. Revelation is pretty much the perfect place for both of those things.

Musicscan: How did you get in touch with Revelation and was that your first choice as far as possible publishers were concerned? Did you also think about presses that are more specialized in popular culture and cultural studies?

Brian Peterson: I knew that mainstream corporate publishers probably wouldn’t be interested in the book, so I just started asking around. I actually talked to Revelation early on and they were really supportive and told me to keep them in the loop. I spoke with a few other places, but in the end I think Revelation made the most sense. I’m just happy that Revelation believed in the project and helped me see it through. They had previously put out two really cool books about hardcore (All Ages and The Anti-Matter Anthology) and I thought they did a good job with those. A specialized press would have been cool, but I didn’t have any contacts at any of them. Like everything, it seems one needs to be well connected to get things to happen.

Musicscan: What was the initial print run of the book?

Brian Peterson: The first run was about 2,000 copies.

Musicscan: What were the release shows like with so many bands being a part of it? Please tell me a little bit about the whole experience.

Brian Peterson: They were amazing and humbling. I never thought that all these bands would be willing to reunite in celebration of the release of the book. It was amazing to see all the bands, but it was even more amazing to see the diverse groups of people who came from all over the world for the shows. There was also such a positive vibe all around. People were engaged with each other in a deep and emotional way.

Musicscan: I believe all the money generated by the concerts was donated to various charities. What kind of charities did you pick for the proceeds of the events?

Brian Peterson: We donated some of the proceeds to Rock for Reading at the Chicago show. I’m an educator and a I love reading and writing so I felt it would be a good fit to help promote a cool organization that encourages kids to read through music. Rob Moran of Unbroken set up the charities for the Pomona show and there were several that received proceeds.

Musicscan: What were some of the early conceptions of the book? Was it always structured to mainly consist of quotes or did you contemplate different, perhaps more narrative structures as well?

Brian Peterson: I considered other narrative approaches, but I felt that the oral history method was the best fit. It allows everyone to have a voice in the process. I wanted to just present a picture of the era and then allow the various voices to share their various perspectives. I think it then becomes more like a “discussion” instead of an author attempting to dictate how one should feel about the ideas being presented.

Musicscan: The book actually reminds me of Studs Terkel’s work at times, which I think is a very good thing. However, I was wondering why you chose to focus on rather abstract yet undeniably valid themes such as straight edge, animal rights, spirituality and politics and social awareness instead of focusing more on the individual stories?

Brian Peterson: Wow, thank you! I chose those themes because they were the ones that popped up the most in my conversations with people. In my first interviews, I would just have general conversations about peoples’ memories of the era. Interestingly enough, these were the topics that kept surfacing. Noticing that, it made sense for me to focus on the things that were naturally appearing. I’d love to see some more personal perspectives about hardcore in book form, but this was just the way I felt most appropriate to document what I wanted to document.

Musicscan: What were some of the biggest difficulties that you encountered when working on the book?

Brian Peterson: Transcribing interviews and editing. [laughs] Interviewing people is fun, but transcribing is often a long process. Editing is extremely important but challenging in a number of ways.

Musicscan: Were there any bands that did not want to be part of the book, although you would have liked to have had them included?

Brian Peterson: Pretty much every band I approached had at least some members who wanted to talk. The hardest part was narrowing things down. I had to cut several band articles out of the book because the book was getting to be too long and I didn’t want to create a cumbersome read. There were some people who I would have loved to interview but in some cases I just could not get a hold of them. Also, at a certain point a person just has to be comfortable that they are doing the best they can to paint a broad picture. I could have kept interviewing people until 2022, but then the book would never come out. [laughs]

Musicscan: Was there anything that particularly surprised you while interviewing the various people?

Brian Peterson: Nothing was really surprising. Like anything in life, sometimes people change their mind about things they believed when they were younger. Or maybe they just take those beliefs and polish them or spin them in a slightly different direction. It was a great experience to talk to all these people about their memories. Every conversation was insightful and illuminating in some way.

Musicscan: Did any new real friendships evolve through the work on the book with some of the people you interviewed?

Brian Peterson: Yes, I corresponded with some people for nearly the entire six years I worked on the book, some of whom have become friends over time. It’s interesting how a dialogue with anyone can really help you get to know a person.

Musicscan: Please tell me a little bit about your own engagement with hardcore in the 90s and today? Do you still follow what’s currently going on in the hardcore scene?

Brian Peterson: I played in some bands in the nineties, met kids from all over at shows and fests, and even put on some shows in my town. For several years, I lived and breathed hardcore and almost nothing else! My favorite parts of the scene are the communication and community aspects. I learned so much about the world from so many people in hardcore – it was really quite the amazing experience. I’ve continued to go to shows over the years and try to stay as involved as I can, but being a high school teacher and writer takes up most of my time. Still, I’ve encountered some amazing bands the past few years – bands like Cipher, Sick Fix, Have Heart, Coliseum, Soul Control, Liberate, Coke Bust and many others. It’s inspiring to see how these bands play great music but also continue to integrate a message into their sound.

Musicscan: Where did you grow up and what led you to get involved in hardcore?

Brian Peterson: I grew up in a small town called Minot in the state of North Dakota. I was really into hip-hop as a young kid. Artists like KRS-One, Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and many others blew my mind and opened my eyes to the world. One of my good friends growing up in Minot was a skater and got into hardcore and punk in grade school and junior high. He turned me on to bands like Black Flag, The Misfits, Minor Threat, Youth of Today and many others. But it wasn’t until Nirvana’s Nevermind album came out that I really “got” heavy music, finally. I’ve always loved artists that bring a message to the table and the more I found out about hardcore, the more it reminded me of the amazing hip-hop artists I loved. As I got more into Nirvana, I’d read interviews with them and they’d plug hardcore and punk bands, many of the ones my friend introduced me to years before. But this time after checking out the lyrics and opening up my mind a bit, I was ready. Eventually, my family moved to an area on the border of Illinois and Iowa and I met other hardcore kids and really got immersed in the scene. They turned me on to so many other bands and ideas and I owe so much to them for educating me even further.

Musicscan: What did a normal day of yours look like while working on the book?

Brian Peterson: I don’t know if there was a “normal” day. The book was just a constant in my life for six years that somehow played a role in nearly every day in some capacity. As amazing as the experience was, it also probably delayed other aspects of my life due to the amount of time I had to invest. It was intense!

Musicscan: How has the work on “Burning Fight” changed your own perception of 90’s hardcore and perhaps your relation to music in general?

Brian Peterson: It didn’t really change my perception. But it did remind me of how important that dialogue and discussion was to so many peoples’ lives, including my own. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without hardcore, and I think the same could be said for thousands of others, too.

Musicscan: I believe you are currently an English teacher in Chicago. I was wondering what led you to become a teacher and do you see still see yourself teaching in about 20 years from now?

Brian Peterson: I had some professors in college who, like many amazing people in hardcore, challenged me and pushed me to think in different ways. In junior high and high school I felt like an outcast. I was quiet and didn’t wear the “right” clothes and wasn’t friends with the “right” people. I never really fit in. Looking back, this was just as much my fault for not speaking up, but adolescence is a really tough time for many, including myself. So, like these professors who opened my eyes, I felt inspired to hopefully do the same for others. I know I’ll never reach every student, but they all have so much potential. When I was young I was often made to feel worthless. This happens to kids everywhere. I hope to be a positive influence and try to encourage kids to expand their horizons and believe in themselves, as tough as it can be in those teen years.

Musicscan: In what way do you think your experiences in hardcore might influence your teaching?

Brian Peterson: Hardcore challenged me to question norms and be an active participant in the pursuing of your own learning and your own life experiences. Hopefully some of my experiences from hardcore rub off in my classroom.

Musicscan: What were your three favorite zines back in the day? Do you still read zines nowadays?

Brian Peterson: Zines are amazing and a vital part of hardcore. They were just as influential for me as many records were. Anti-Matter completely changed my outlook on writing and, in fact, played a big role in giving me the confidence to want to write. HeartattaCk was, for a time, literally the pulse of the scene. Kent McClard and everyone else who helped him put it together did such a great job documenting that time! Simba was a very unique fanzine that offered personal ideas about political and ethical issues and day-to-day experiences. Rumpshaker was an amazing zine with great interviews and a great message. Second Nature was the same. Man, I could go on forever. [laughs] I still read zines, but sadly I don’t see as many at shows anymore.

Musicscan: What led you to become a writer and what are some of your future projects?

Brian Peterson: I wrote because I felt the need to express myself in a written form. I’ve sometimes had trouble sharing my thoughts in conversations with people. I often feel the need to think about things before giving my perspective. And in some cases people like to be quick witted and try to make a joke as opposed to develop a conversation or express a feeling. Writing gives me the chance to think about things, process them, and express them in a way that feels right for me. I’ve got several projects in mind – a couple of them are hardcore related, but I’d also like to publish some fiction I’ve been working on, too.

  Burning Fight