Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene

Spoke - Book

Scott Crawford took what he worked on with Salad Days and brought it to a nice coffee table book format. He compiled a list of influential punk bands from the 80’s DC scene. Each entry gives the perspective of the band members, concert goers, photographers, and more. It’s a thorough look at the history without being overwhelming. The format works well since it focuses a lot on the images and sometimes those can tell stories better than words can.

I wouldn’t say I’m in tune with all of the punk bands from the 80’s era, let alone all of the ones around Washington D.C., but I’d like to think I know at least a little about punk music. This book has the bigger bands you’d expect with Fugazi, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat, but it’s the others that will surprise you if you haven’t done your homework. Ian MacKaye sprinkled his talents around in more bands than I had thought, so he’s a prominent feature in this book.

Twenty five bands are given their own sections in this book, but that by no means covers the entire D.C. punk scene in the 80’s, it’s just a look into the ones that seemingly had the most impact. The book takes you through the twists and turns of the band members’ lives – what led them to start the bands, who they knew, who they played with, and more. Including himself, Scott Crawford put together the stories and photos of 90 different people. For a book that comes in at under 130 pages, that’s a lot. To trim it down and make it a story that flows chronologically and gives you the pertinent information is amazing.

If you’re a punk fan by any stretch of the imagination, then reading this book may have the same effect on you as it did me: I instantly wanted to go listen to all of the music from all of these bands. Not all of them made it past a release or two, but it’s still worth diving into if you really want to understand what you’re reading about.

I want to shy away from the words in the book for a moment and touch on the photos. These tell a story all on their own and they’re the piece that make this book as great as it is. It’s absolutely something you’ll want to put on display somewhere in your living space. You don’t necessarily need to read the book to know how much hard work and emotion a lot of these people put into these bands.

I will note that if you’re looking for a book that emphasizes the ladies in punk, this is not it. Is that disappointing? A little. But, there are photos in here from women, chapters on Jawbox and Fire Party (an all ladies punk group who technically predated the Riot Grrrrl movement), so there is no intent to leave women out of this book. It focuses on a very specific scene and a very specific time period, so there’s that to keep in mind when you make your way through this.

All in all, this is a must read for punk fans. It will give you an insight you likely won’t get elsewhere. It’s concise and won’t take up too much of your time to read. And as I mentioned earlier, you could even just look at the photos to get something out of it.

Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene is out now via Akashic Books.