Q&A w/ Anthony Pappalardo, author of Radio Silence

As an avid fan of both books and In My Eyes, I obviously paid attention to news of a book written by Anthony Pappalardo.

Radio Silence – A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music , a book co-authored with Nathan Nedorostek, documents the look, records, photographs and feeling of hardcore from the ’80’s and ’90’s. It has everything from a letter to Ian MacKaye to photo rejects from “The Earth if Flat” cover shoot.

Anthony took some times to answer a few questions for us:

1. With all of the books on hardcore out there, such as American Hardcore, All-Ages, Out of Step, Straight-Edge, etc., what made you feel the need to write Radio Silence? What sets it apart from these other books that document the scene?

– Despite the fact that there are really only a handful of books out about hardcore, we’ve encountered this question a lot which as a fan and author surprises me. From the first note I heard of punk and hardcore I wanted to absorb any information I could get my hands on, first it was analyzing every inch of Thrasher Magazine, from the ads to Puszone, then zines, then finding Hardcore California and Banned in D.C. There was something so legitimate to me about seeing a book on hardcore, it crystalized this thing as valid and real. Anyone can make a zine and part of zine culture is how immediate they are but making a book seemed like such a massive undertaking, a huge commitment and that really carried a lot of weight to me and made a huge impression on me. Every time a hardcore related book is released I buy it immediately to digest it, analyze every image and word. There should be hundreds of books on hardcore because it’s lacking documentation. We had to set up parameters just to be able to have the book make sense and fit in the 200+ pages we were given to tell a story. There could be a 200 page book on one faction of hardcore. We’ve been asked about our feelings on Burning Fight and other books that are going to be released soon and the answer is always a big “fuck yeah”, with everything living online it’s nice to have hard documents that can you can hold, that you can save and show to people. The more that are done the clearer the picture becomes. Imagine if there were only five books on Vietnam or two books about space…that’s fucking crazy. More the merrier.

With Radio Silence we were trying to document a period that we felt hadn’t been given it’s due and was screaming to be immortalized on paper. We were kicking this around prior to American Hardcore and that really spurred us to make our own book because there was so little other than photography books that cover anything past 1985. If you look at the time line it makes sense because it was the first waves that were growing up and had the ability to get a book published so they were looking back not forward, they had a distance between punk then and now. Nathan and I didn’t see it that way. We felt that hardcore is a serious topic that needed to be treated seriously, that needed to let the art speak for itself. We didn’t want to manipulate images, or use distracting fonts, the art is the art not our take on it, the images and music are commented on by their creators or people who were inspired by them, people with a deep understanding. Who gives a fuck what I think of the Bad Brains or what bands inspired me, it’s about documenting these bands and this aesthetic and grounding it in culture and history. If you look at the history of American music and youth culture in particular there is this massive void in the 1980s and 1990s, punk is this little blip, it’s on the radar like hula hoops or some trend to most and then it’s gone, there wasn’t any mainstream music really telling the story of the world as you had in the 1960s and 1970s, there was grunge but that was just a bunch of bands being branded, hip-hop was the only form of music that was actually telling the story of the world, of youth culture of the political climate. Thanks to hip-hop breaking into the mainstream it led to it being documented. Hardcore never had a hit, it never had the same attention so it was never treated as valid or a threat. We know that hardcore explicitly documents the 1980s and 1990s and continues to do so and we wanted to present that and give it some weight.

2. What was more difficult – writing the book or collecting the memorabilia?

– Collecting can never stop, we found it to be an endless chain. Once we’d show someone what they were doing they’d have 10 more names of people we should contact, it was endless. Initially hardcore was just about output, nothing was thought of as precious, sure there were collectors as there always are going to be but buzz was based on how incredible something was not how rare it was. There were so many collections dumped at the Salvation Army, sold by Mom at a tag sale or sold for a few dollars. Negatives were lost, reels erased, it’s a big puzzle and we didn’t even know if the pieces existed to even create an outline. Photographing collections and meeting people wrote the story, every single person we met with had a unique story that put a new spin on things. Everyone knows the story of Dischord assembling sleeves by hand with scissors and glue now and it’s rad to learn why that happened, with every person we spoke with we discovered something similar. Even though there wasn’t a time or budget to over think the production of a record it didn’t mean the people creating hardcore weren’t skilled. The fact that they were so resourceful was inspiring. I was always a fan of Amenity and Forced Down but it was really interesting to talk to Matt Anderson (Gravity Records, Heroin) and learn that he was really inspired by how Mike Down printed those records. Matt took that experience and it completely influenced the aesthetic of Gravity records. There was a lot of personal experience and feeling from the bands as well that drove Gravity’s direction but the idea of the hand stamping and using unique stocks were from the Forced Down releases. The whole Gravity thing really went off and changed hardcore and it was important to document one of Gravity’s influences.

3. What was your biggest or most enjoyable discovery made while putting this book together?

– I live for trivia for the story behind the story and every trip and interview unlocked something new for me like a new level of a video game or some shit but trivia ultimately is a sugar high. You’re blown away for a second, you tell other people “Dude..did you know that the original name for…” and then it’s just cataloged in your brain next to the name of your 5th grade teacher and a line from your favorite movie. The biggest discovery was learning everyone’s story and really understanding that no matter how much distance anyone had from hardcore they wanted to see it shown in a new way, in a way that was respectful and mature. The real discussions we had, the things that made a huge impression on us were the people and personalities. People who let two weirdos into their homes with cameras, lighting kits, bags of stuff and print outs to document a t-shirt they haven’t worn in 25 years. When we were talking about hardcore to people it never had that “remember when” vibe, it was always just people talking about something they loved, people getting to expand on a time and a place knowing that we cared so much. We knew this was a big responsibility but the weight grew and grew with each interview. It was a big enough task to show the world by Jeff Nelson is an incredible graphic designer and how important his work is but in meeting Jeff you instantly realize what an amazing person he is and that’s another side you want to show. We weren’t some reporters just collecting data and spitting it back we were really connected to this and the connection grew as we met everyone.

4. What one piece of memorabilia do you most wish you owned?

– Al Lethal Barile’s Ninja shirt, think about that fucking thing. It would probably fit me really weird because he’s diesel and I’m certainly not but that would be the ultimate grail. What the fuck happened to ninjas? They were top dog in the 1980s and then when turtles became ninjas the whole shit was never the same.

Radio Silence – A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music will be available October 28, but is up for pre-order now.

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