My First Time

Edited by Chris Duncan

AK Press

Grade: B+

With the constant, lionized exhumation of ’80s punk rock grit and splendor, a large number of iconic images emerge: the final And in all those images there are the fans, many of whom had never experienced anything even remotely like the live action of the punk rock world.

Hence My First Time, a collection of more than 40 loosely connected oral histories of the first concert experiences of people whose lives have been changed by punk rock. The overarching theme in these stories is that the perception of the experience is far different than the actual experience itself. And while these may, of course, be obvious observations in themselves, it is in the obvious that My First Time truly shines: the visceral and direct simplicity of storytelling that differentiates the individual adult human being from the catch-all reductionism of seeing someone merely as “punk.”

If there are any generalizations to be had in the book, editor Chris Duncan lays the primary out in the introduction: “I think youthful idealism is beautiful. No matter how silly or misguided they may end up being, the urgency and power that a group of humans with the same beliefs and ideas can harness is intoxicating and infectious.” While the strain of punk exhibited in the book tends toward the crust and the straight-edge, there are still the universal touchstones, pathways by which so many kids shed their inhibitions and fears and embraced the singular weirdness that has remained a relatively unheralded hallmark of punk in particular and adolescence in general.

And the stories come in from all across the globe: drainpipe pants and the communal empowerment of early punk inspire the kids in farflung Burnley, Lancashire; Naked Raygun fueling the fire of 1987 Chicago slam dancers; debating the wisdom of crowd surfing at a dilapidated theater 22 years ago in Sacramento while Circle Jerks preach against it.

The commentators — Blag Dahlia of bloody hardcore shockers Dwarves, Azerrad and Jawbreaker guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach, among others — articulate what countless tens of thousands have always wanted to and now, in the Information Age, are able to do via blogs after years of Xeroxed ‘zines and broadsides that came out of nowhere and rocketed straight back. There is also a palpable sense of kinship for whom these brief moments of communion are crucial both to a person’s spiritual health, and the dawning realization that, as slam poetry pioneer Anna Brown puts it, “I’m okay, you’re okay — it’s the world that’s fucked.”