Punk Rock Ethos & Self-Publishing

This post, from Daniel "Dust" Werneck (aka Daniel Poeira), originally appeared on his Empire of Dust site on 9/4/09. The majority of it is reprinted here with his permission.

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

– Old proverb

I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to cover this subject for a while. Now, thanks to April Hamilton – a.k.a. @indieauthor – and a link she just posted on Twitter, I think it’s the right time to talk about punk rock and self-publishing.

Since I halted my career as an independent animator and started to focus on my writing, I’ve been reading everything I can find about the current state of affairs in the world of book publishing. One of the ugliest feuds right now is between the publishing companies and professionals, and the self-publishing companies like lulu.com that print and sell books without editing.

The link Mrs. Hamilton twitted pointed to an article by Rose Fox, a professional reader and book analyst, criticizing people who self-published books. Her article, entitled “I Don’t Want To Hate Self-Publishers”, starts with two quotes; phrases she hears all the time coming from people who publish their own books. One of the sentences read:

“I’d love to see self-publishing have a similar vibe to it as punk rock – anyone can do it.”

And then she adds her view of that statement:

I know next to nothing about punk rock and I’m still pretty sure that that “anyone can do it” line is not only wrong but offensively wrong to people who do know anything about punk rock.

I also can’t see how it promotes self-publishing in any way at all, as the idea of “anyone” attempting to play punk rock only makes me want to cringe and cover my ears, much like the idea of “anyone” attempting to publish a book.

There’s plenty to criticize in both the recording industry and the publishing industry, but there’s also a lot of value in putting your raw creative endeavors in the hands of people who do things like produce albums and edit books for a living.

I am glad that she started her comment by confirming she knows ‘next to nothing’ about punk rock. Being born and raised in punk rock, I feel in the position to enlighten her shadowy views on that remark about ‘anyone’ being able to do it.

This assertion is not by any means offensive to punk rockers. Quite au contraire, it is one of the pillars of the entire punk rock experience.

Black Flag always did everything by themselves. After leaving the band, Henry Rollins became a writer and... book editor!

When punk rock first appeared with this name, in mid-1970s New York city, it was basically a bunch of amateur unsigned rock bands who wanted to make music. Back then, Disco music was the norm, and studio execs didn’t care much about rock, unless it was something gigantic and popular like Peter Frampton, or elaborate and complex like progressive rock. If you were just an average lower-middle-class bored kid with close-to-none access to musical education, making music was not a realistic option for you.

But even so, punk rock was born. It didn’t start like an organized movement, but more like a philosophy of how to do things. Bands like the Ramones, the Dead Boys and the Talking Heads had to play in an almost abandoned music venue called CBGB (an acronym for Country, Blue Grass and Blues) simply because no other place would accept them. But they did, anyway, and a lot of people loved them.

After the Ramones toured the USA and the UK in 1977, hordes of bored kids who wanted to rock bought or stole whatever instruments they could grab and started making their own rock music. They had no musical education, no media training and no producing values–but they sure had a lot of fun, and ended up creating timeless and enduring pieces of music.

The trick behind the success of punk rock back in the late 1970s and 1980s was simple: besides it being fun, thought-provoking and stimulating, you didn’t have to spend a lot of money or a lot of time to become a punk rocker. Clubs, tapes, instruments, magazines, records–everything was cheap, and felt very true to the soul. And also, at least in the beginning, on those long lost days of punk rock Alcion, you didn’t have to follow any rulebooks, or please the masses. It was a raw and free art form, and no matter what you were looking for (artistic expression, free beer, making new friends) you could get it out of punk rock.


Self-published punk zinesWhat does all this has to do with self-publishing books? Well, first of all, the very name of this thing called ‘punk rock’ came out of a self-published magazine. “Punk” was created by a cartoonist, a publisher and a journalist in 1975. All of them were independent, self-employed, eager and curious. Their fanzine went on to become one of the most important artistic statements of the late XX century, and is still imitated, revered and plagiarized.

Fanzines in general have also become a staple (no pun intended!) of the punk rock subculture, and thousands of them have been printed since then. I have been personally involved in many a punk zine, and my entire career as an artist [was] spawned from my amateur experiments with self-publishing those little pieces of folded A4 paper I gave out for free or sold cheaply at concerts, clubs and gatherings. I am not an exception, and have met dozens of people who [followed] the same path as I did, not to mention the literally hundreds of visual artists I’ve heard or read about who first became interested in graphic design and printing through punk or geek fanzines.

The thrill of it all? Exactly the same as with the punk rock bands. We did everything by ourselves, for ourselves, with no restraints other than the financial and technological. This led to extremely experimental solutions that became part of modern design language, xerox art, etc.

Read the rest of the post at Empire of Dust.