Tag Archives: punk


I’ve been a fan of Billy Bragg for years. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live a number of times as well. He’s one of my favorite artists and I feel lucky to have seen him often. The mix of punk and rock, with folk and soul sensibilities strikes a great balance. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has number of albums by Bragg available and I highly recommend them all. Specifically:


Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. This album, released in the fall of 1986, is a fantastic snapshot of where Bragg was during this time in his career as a musician (as the bottom of the cover of the album states this is “The Difficult Third Album”) and of the larger world. There are plenty of anthems calling for change in the face of a Thatcher government in the UK (see “Ideology”) and songs that delve into relationships on every level. Some classics from this album that still get time in Bragg’s live sets include “Greetings to the New Brunette”, “Levi Stubb’s Tears” (which, co-incidentally I got to see him perform the day Levi Stubbs died…it was a heart wrenching rendition), and “There Is Power In a Union”. A sleeper hit on this album is “The Home Front”. Beautiful, sad, thought-provoking and wonderful. This album is a classic.


A newer album in the CLP collection worth checking out is Mr. Love & Justice. Released in 2008, this album is a bit more of a rounded venture, including some full band numbers that are quite worth it. The opening track “I Keep Faith” is a fantastic rally cry for folks who try to change the world. “I Almost Killed You harkens back to Bragg’s punk roots inside of a love song. It’s loud and angular and excellent. “Sing Their Souls Back Home” is a beautiful take on a secular hymn for a hurting world. This album is very different from the early stuff, but it’s still excellent.

Also check out:

Billy Bragg: Volume 1

Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg

As one final note, I have to mention the recent death of one of my favorite authors. Eduardo Galeano, who I have written about previously on Eleventh Stack, died on 13 April of this year. Rest in Power.


– who is happily ushering spring in with his old-guy soccer team

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Aural Histories


Our outreach collection on 8/10/2013 in Arsenal Park. All items were available for check out!

This past week I was lucky enough to attend Lawrenceville’s Rock All Night Festival (R.A.N.T.) on behalf of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Music, Film & Audio Department. In addition to providing the opportunity for patrons to make their own harmonicas, we also had a well-curated selection of music documentaries, CDs, and books available for check out. While pulling books for our outreach table, I discovered just how many interesting oral history books we have about music–there’s one for just about every genre or interest. The following are a few gems I’d like to share with you today, arranged by genre:





















Andy Warhol & The Velvet Underground


And Punk, again


Happy reading & listening all,



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Midnight in New York?

Have you seen Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris?  In it, the main character (a writer) visits present-day Paris with his fiancee, and while roaming about the city at night suddenly finds himself in 1920s-era Paris and meets up with all of his heros of that time period: Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Dali, and Picasso all figure prominently.  It’s the type of movie that you can’t watch without thinking about a time that you’d like to visit.  Paris in the 1920’s?  Yes, please!  But another, more recent, time and place combination that I’m also intrigued by is New York City in the 1970s.  New York hadn’t yet turned into the high-rent, glossy city that it is now; in fact, the city was in bad enough shape that it inspired this infamous headline.  Artists, writers, and musicians were still able to afford to live in the city, and came from all over to do so. These are three books that I think really capture the energy of the time:

Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York, by James Wolcott: Starting off his career with a letter of introduction from Norman Mailer to then-editor of the Village Voice Dan Wolf, being taken under Pauline Kael’s wing, and hanging out with the likes of John Cale, David Byrne, and Patti Smith at CBGB’s, Wolcott vividly describes New York as it was at its grittiest and most creative. The thing that charmed me about this book is Wolcott’s air of innocence about the whole thing.  He writes as someone who was at once part of the scene and just outside of it, making it a very relatable story. 

Just Kids, by Patti Smith: This short memoir tells the story of Patti Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.  It is at heart a love story, but Smith’s memory includes so many little details of New York at that time that it feels as much like a love story about the city as it does about her relationship.  Like Wolcott, Smith was part of a circle of rising luminaries in the art and music world, and she writes intimately about her relationship with Mapplethorpe and the other rising stars in New York at the time. 

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain: This book is one of the best oral histories out there, piecing together the memories of lots of different people to tell the story of punk’s heyday.  It covers cities from Detroit to London, but New York is, of course, one of the main locales, and the one that I think of when I think of this book. 

Where would you like to visit, if you could pick a time and place to travel?  I think San Francisco in the 1950’s and 1960’s would be another place on my list, and I wouldn’t mind a trip to England in the late 18th century to visit with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth either.  I’d love to hear about those times and places that intrigue everyone else! 



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Disco Sucks!

I grew up on Long Island in the late 70s/early 80s, when one could see that slogan in graffiti everywhere. My friends and I were firmly in the “rock” camp, although this did not preclude me from surreptitiously seeing Prince’s Purple Rain or purchasing an Adam Ant record. One friend was a Rolling Stones fan, another, a Jimi Hendrix aficianad0, and still another was constantly blasting the Doors from her HUGE boom box. My favorites at first were Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and later Frank Zappa and King Crimson, which I listened to through my headphones on my stereo system in my room.

Ah, those were the days of the vinyl record, when you could lie on the floor and study the relatively large album covers. I use the adjective “vinyl” before the word “record” so that you, the reader, would know what I mean; in those days we just said “record” and knew what that referred to. We were all so righteously against anything “pop.” We deplored the Studio 54 club scene and its clothing style. Yes, I felt this way too, even though one of my very first record purchases was the seminal Saturday Night Fever, when I was twelve.

Then the music video revolution came along. I still remember the very first videos I ever saw. I slept over at a friend’s house to watch the movie Woodstock on HBO.  Right afterwards two videos from Devo aired: “Satisfaction” and “Jocko Homo” (Are we not men?).  We were dumbfounded. Not only did we not have the words “music video” in our vocabulary, but we had never heard music like that before; we talked about how weird it was for weeks. MTV exploded all over America, even making its way to a TV installed in our local deli/hangout, “Eat Joe’s Hogie” [sic]. A clever friend dubbed it “MTVoid” and thought up alternate lyrics to songs we were subjected to over and over, such as “We got big feet!” for the Go-Gos’  “We Got the Beat,” and other less blog-friendly quips.

While disco evolved into MTV new wave, we anti-pop-rock kids were developing a taste for hardcore punk or prog rock. Your high school years are often the ones in which the music you listen to defines you as a person. While I enjoyed going to CBGBs in the city with my punk rock boyfriend to see his band play with bands like The Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front, I retained my own musical identity by keeping my hair extremely long, wearing deliberately unfashionable clothes (hip-hugger elephant bell bottoms), and listening to jazz fusion and prog rock bands like Return to Forever, Gentle Giant, and Gong. I was always amused that a group of people so adamant about saying how non-conformist they were actually conformed just as much to their punk style as any other adherent of any other musical style. The girls in the bathroom didn’t talk to me until I let my friend’s sister’s boyfriend give me a mullet.

A good twenty or thirty years later, I am nostalgic to hear any disco, new wave or classic rock song that comes my way, regardless of the genre, and I happily sing along to old songs to which I mysteriously know every word.



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The Day After Thanksgiving

This is the biggest shopping day of the year.  And yes, I know the U.S. economy is largely driven by consumer spending.

Instead of going to the mall like a zombie, though, you should go to the library’s CD collection and check out some classic anti-consumerist punk such as Crass and Conflict from the U.K. or the U.S.’s own Dead Kennedys.  I can’t repeat much of the lyrics of Crass’s “Buy Now, Pay As You Go” song here, but let’s just say that it’s a strong message to “consumer slaves.”

We’re living in a material world, but I appreciate those who try to avoid the incessant cycle of buying stuff and throwing it away.  Let us give thanks to those who craft, grow, and fix things.

A picture to promote the U.S. Department of Agriculture's WWII era "Share and Repair" program.

The library caters to them and, it logically follows,  so do my fellow library bloggers.  For example, Julie helps your garden grow, Dave shows you how and where to fix your bicycle, Leigh Anne would like to help you find the resources to make and do just about anything, and the same goes for the rest of the blog team.

And even if you just want to passively protest the shopping frenzy by quietly reading, Melissa will help you dive into a good book amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

I am thankful for all of that.

— Tim

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The House of Tomorrow is Inspired by the Punk of Yesteryear

Peter Bognanni’s novel The House of Tomorrow is a writing lesson in the right way to create a difficult character.  Sixteen-year-old Jared is a foul-mouthed jerk, but not only does he elicit our sympathy, he’s likable, much like a lot of punks I know.  It’s no wonder that the naïve protagonist, Sebastian, falls under Jared’s spell and agrees to be in his band.  I also personally fell under the spell of this book because of two of its subjects: Buckminster Fuller, about whom I am somewhat informed, and teenage punk bands, with which I am fondly familiar, having played in groups in the Colorado punk and hardcore scene in the 1980s.

Not only does the book namedrop classic punk bands like the Misfits, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, and Minor Threat, but researching punk is one of the ways Sebastian discovers the world outside the geodesic dome where he lives with his sheltering grandmother.  Punk rock is an integral part of the story but the subject headings for the book’s catalog record don’t mention it.  They do mention that one of the book’s subjects is “social isolation,” which for lots of teenagers leads to the welcoming communities of punk and metal.  Social isolation, or at least annoyance at the prevailing social order,  did that for me too (and still does over twenty years later).  I’m glad it also lead me to this charming book.

— Tim


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Serendipity for a Friday Afternoon


 One of the things a librarian might tell you, if you managed to ply her with a preferred libation or two while off duty, is that serendipity is one of her favorite forms of searching.  Similarly, for customers, one of the favorite ways of searching is browsing our extensive shelves.  Hardly a day goes by when a person or three doesn’t say to me, “Just get me to the section, I’ll take it from there.”  When you browse in the stacks, you sometimes find the most unlikely things.  Ask any librarian, most of whom have piles of books at home unearthed while looking for something for someone else, and, yes, some of those books are overdue because, well, librarians are regular folk, too.

Regular folk who have to pay fines like everyone else, I hasten to add.

While doing some background research recently, I noticed that today, June 19th, is the anniversary of what is reputed to be the first ever game of modern baseball, played in 1846 in Hoboken, NJ, on the lyrically named Elysian Fields (pictured above).  Hoboken is a popular northern New Jersey city just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, a small but delightful place where I spent a fair amount of time in my younger years.  I was born nearby in Bayonne, which is another small city that took a lot of good-natured ribbing from Jackie Gleason on the TV show The Honeymooners, a 1950’s sitcom that, remarkably, is still airing over 50 years later on WGN, Chicago. 

Hoboken itself has a storied history.  Quite a few punk rock, neo-punk, emo, and independent bands have emerged from the Hoboken scene over the years, a scene that is still thriving today.  Many of those bands got their start in Maxwell’s on Washington Street, Hoboken’s main drag, and still a very active music venue. 

When it comes to music, serendipitously enough, the Dutch musicologist, Anthony van Hoboken, a descendent of one of the families the city may have been named after (there are at least two other possible origins of the name: the Flemish town of Hoboken and a phrase from the Lenni Lanape Unami language), is most famous for his catalogue of the works of Joseph Haydn.

When you shake the Inter-nets, lots of info on Hoboken falls out, including some interesting tidbits from Wikipedia.  Though I’m not sure about the veracity of this little niblet, it’s said that the Hoboken Public Library CD collection of works by favorite son, Frank Sinatra, is so large, they’ve given him his own classification (Classical, Jazz, Rock, Sinatra etc.) and if it isn’t true it should be.  Famous folks hailing from Hoboken are about as varied a bunch as you can get: Bill Frisell, the band Yo La Tengo, Alfred Kinsey, G. Gordon Liddy, Eli Manning, Anna Quindlen, Dorethea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, John Sayles, Willem de Kooning, Daniel Pinkwater, and Arti Lange, to mention the more famous.

Hoboken was supposedly the site of the first brewery in the United States, but I’ve found some conflicting information on that (and even more conflicting information on that).  The zipper, thank you, Lord, was invented there.  One of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” the first mystery story to be based on a real crime and something of a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was set there.  Like Manhattan, Hoboken was first seen by Europeans when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that took his name and, again like Manhattan, it was purchased from the local Native American tribe for a pittance by Peter Stuyvesant.

A serendipitous search of the library catalog for Hoboken produces some interesting results.  There is last year’s cookbook cum memoir bestseller, the delightfully titled “The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.”  Novelist Christian Bauman’s “In Hoboken” is about musicians, rock and roll, and the simultaneous charm and despair that is Hoboken.  In fact, there are 7 novels set in Hoboken in the catalog.  Hoboken’s Union Station is featured in “Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Station Design.”  There are dozens of music CDs either recorded in or referring to Hoboken in our collections.  “Gritty Cities: A Second Look at Allentown, Bethlehem, Bridgeport, Hoboken, Lancaster, Norwich, Paterson, Reading, Trenton, Waterbury, Wilmington” captures the ambiance of an earlier, less auspicious time (pre-1978), something we Pittsburghers can readily relate to.

As the mills were to Western Pennsylvania, the waterfront was to Hoboken and so it would be accurate to say that not only was one of the greatest movies of all time, “On The Waterfront,” filmed there, it was lived there.

Finally, here’s one for the final Jeopardy category of “Musicals” and you don’t even have to be from Hoboken to answer it:

“The Little Sisters of Hoboken.”

And the question is ….

– Don


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Out of town reading list

Being a committed pedestrian means that I get to escape thinking about rising gas prices most of the time. When I travel outside of Pittsburgh, though, my concern rises right along with the rest of the country. Airfare is too pricey for this librarian these days, which means that as you read this I will be very economically taking the Greyhound out of town. Unlike my nearly 20-year old car, the bus is air-conditioned, and gives me nearly 8 hours of uninterrupted reading time. Below is a short list of what I will be listening to and reading to pass the time.

  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris: I love pretty much everything that has ever come out of David Sedaris’s pen, and have been impatiently waiting to read this book for a while now. Fortunately, my hold and my trip coincided, and I’m anticipating that this book will be as hilarious as his past books have been. In a starred review Publishers Weekly said that Sedaris “triumphs in this sixth essay collection.” As a recent ex-smoker, I’m particularly looking forward to the essay “Smoking Section,” in which Sedaris chronicles his own experience of quitting smoking in Tokyo. If you haven’t read anything by Sedaris yet, check out the library’s holdings of his work here.
  • Twilight Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko: My fellow blogger Leigh Anne introduced me to Lukyanenko’s urban fantasy series, and by the time I was a few pages into the first book (Night Watch) I was hooked. Living undetected among humans are Others– vampires, shape-shifters, magicians, witches and all manner of supernatural beings– who have all chosen to either be Light or Dark. The Night Watch is made up of Light Others who police the Dark, and the Day Watch is made up of Dark Others who police the Light, all while trying to maintain the precarious balance between the two forces. Instead of a cliched good guys vs. bad guys plot, Lukyanenko manages to instill the characters with a complexity that goes beyond easy categorization. I read the first two books in the series (the aforementioned Night Watch and its sequel, Day Watch) over the course of a weekend, ignoring phone calls, hockey playoffs, and loved ones in favor of reading. It’s been a while since a book hooked me that completely; I’m hoping the third in the series is equally good.
  • Once Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman: Pullman is another writer that I am completely addicted to. I’ve read the His Dark Materials series a couple of times, and have also enjoyed Pullman’s other novels and critical work. Those familiar with The Golden Compass will already know the characters of Lee Scoresby and the armored bear Iorek Byrnison, who are the focus of this story. As two of Pullman’s most vivid characters, I’m looking forward to learning about how they met.
  • No Thanks: The ’70s Punk Rebellion: This box set has the usual suspects (The Ramones, New York Dolls, The Clash), but what I really like about this CD collection is that often-overlooked bands of the ’70s punk era– like Suicide, Magazine, and the Modern Lovers– are also featured. This set segues nicely from punk to post-punk, and with four CDs will give me good music to listen to for a good chunk of my trip.



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