Author, Indie Rocker Jon Fine Tells His Story At Reckless Records Saturday
By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 5, 2015 7:25PM
photo credit: Gary He
Jon Fine spent more than 30 years entrenched in the indie rock scene. Although none of his bands came close to reaching fame or fortune, Fine managed to play shows on three continents, play on some influential albums and land on MTV with his first band, Bitch Magnet.
Fine chronicles his rock 'n' roll journey in his new book, Your Band Sucks: What I Saw At Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear) released last month. It's a very personal story which he will be discussing at Reckless Records' Wicker Park location Saturday afternoon.
"This is the only book that I could write," Fine said. "Most are by famous people, because, let's face it, it's kind of neat to hear what Keith Richards' life was like in the '70s—which, by the way is a great read. But we went out there hustling, trying to make this happen. We did everything ourselves, and as a result I understand how to book a tour. We loaded and unloaded our own van at every show, unless maybe there was a fan there to help you if you were lucky. But I'm grateful I got to tell it."
Fine found himself in a math rock outfit made up of other misfits who rejected the mainstream sounds they heard over the airwaves. And through this journey he realized there were a lot more out there looking for something similar.
"Finding someone into this outside music in our hometowns was kind of like finding a coke dealer," Fine explained. "He was kind of creepy and weird and you'd have to hang out with him for hours and hours for him to finally tell you about the album you needed to have."
Although Fine's book is a rather personal story, he talked to many other musicians in the same scene around the same time he was performing, many with Chicago and Illinois connections. They include Ed Roeser of Urge Overkill, David Yow of Jesus Lizard, Rose Marshack of Poster Children and Doug McCombs of Tortoise. What he found in these conversations was that his story wasn't all that different from most others who were doing something similar with their bands.
"Everyone is an individual and each story is different," he said. "But in talking to them, I realized we all were kind of the smart misfits in our hometown driven to this music that was hard to find. We were all outsiders to the mainstream culture and this is the lily pad we all landed on. So there is a commonality to it."
Fine's story is pretty interesting. After recording an EP and two full length albums as Bitch Magnet's guitarist, the band split and Fine went on to form other bands—Vineland and Coptic Light—and had a cup of coffee playing with a few other bands like Alger Hiss and Don Caballero. More than 20 years after Bitch Magnet split, Temporary Residence Limited remastered and reissued the band's catalogue, which led to a reunion and a few more tours. The band played its last show at Empty Bottle in October 2013.
That arc became the catalyst for Fine's book.
"I went to an editor I knew at Viking Press, Rich Kot, with a different idea for a book," Fine said. "We went to lunch and I gave my pitch and he was completely underwhelmed with my idea. He said, 'What else are you doing?' So I said 'I used to be in this band and all our records are going to be reissued and we're invited to get back together to play All Tomorrow's Parties in England and I think we're going to do it.' He said, 'Really?' and started asking me all these questions about '80s indie rock. Then he said, 'That's the book.'"
Fine will talk about it at Reckless Records Saturday afternoon with Rose Marshack. Fine said he will do a quick reading, have a discussion with Marshack, take questions and sign copies of the book.
"I'm literally going to read for like five minutes," he said. "I really want something else than me sitting there stiffly reading from my book. Usually readings like that are really boring."
A book release party will be held at Empty Bottle Saturday night.
Fine said holding his book tour events at record stores was his idea, as record stores are germane to his story.
"These are places where it all happened, where people got together and found out about this music," he said. "Record stores were the nodes of transmission, which is probably hard to imagine now. But back then, you were lucky to find a fan zine to hear about this music. And if you were really lucky, you knew someone at the record store who would tell you about the new Mudhoney 7-inch that was going to be release on this date and tell you that you should probably be there that day because they were going to sell out quickly. That was fucking important."
Although it was a fun and interesting way to find out about new music and get the word out about his own bands, Fine said he would have appreciated modern technology to help back in the day.
"There were a few bulletin boards and stuff like that in the '80s, and there were about 10 nerds in my high school on the Internet early on. I was not one of them," he said. "Digitization has done a lot of damage, especially to record stores and book stores. But I will not argue that access to information is a bad thing. Anything to make it easy to find weird music and build a community around it is OK with me."
Fine no longer performs, but said he still finds himself at the record store now and again. Although he doesn't have his pulse on the current independent music scene, he's convinced there are bands producing great music today.
"The Empty Bottle is still there," he said. "And you know what? There's an Empty Bottle in every city. The clubs are still there giving these bands a home, which is an amazing thing if you think about it."
Jon Fine will be discussing his book at Reckless Records, 1379 N. Milwaukee Ave., at 4 p.m. Saturday June 6. A book release party will be held at Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western Ave.) at 9 p.m. on Saturday. $5. 21 and older.