- This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk
This Ain't the Summer of Love is not a new history of metal and punk, rock's two dominant examples of youth-based musical culture. Rather, Steve Waksman has written a book which enriches the cultural histories of both genres by considering significant signposts of metal-punk tension, contestation, and crossover. Stretching from the early 1970s, when both genres were essentially ideas about how rock music could avoid a stultifying descent into irrelevant artistry, through the mid-1990s when the phenomenon of grunge self-consciously fused the two, Waksman's work is engaging, thought-provoking, and an important contribution particularly for metal studies.
Indeed, the book offers a welcome extension of metal studies back into the 1970s, the genre's first decade although something of a "lost" decade in terms of scholarly attention. While later decades could adopt a self-consciously "heavy metal" identity distinct from something called "punk," Waksman demonstrates just how contingent that label was in the 70s. Moreover, Waksman considers metal and punk to represent genre and countergenre, both continually reframing rock's past through the revisionist tendencies of the metal/punk continuum itself.
Waksman's interest in the concert arena as a significant element in the forging of metal's cultural identity also helps explain the extended focus on Grand Funk Railroad in a book about metal. Though their music is hardly understandable today as "metal," Grand Funk's relevance resides in the way it used the power of crowd psychology in constructing a new segment of the rock audience. At the same time, Grand Funk's own power lay in the members' apparent ordinariness and accessibility, one pole in an important tension between artist and audience that metal and punk have negotiated differently.
Subsequent chapters continue the genre/countergenre motif by comparing artists who have, in whatever way, articulated something about the metal/punk continuum. The chapters on Alice Cooper/The Stooges, The Dictators/The Runaways, as well as the varied impulses behind three "independent" American record labels and their role as sounding boards for generic identity are mostly useful explorations of tensions between the two genres as well as being informative aesthetic introductions to their respective artists.
Especially successful are individual chapters on Motörhead and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the former for its detailed look at how the first significant and influential metal/punk crossover actually sounded, and the later for the important archeological work Waksman has done in order to systematically untangle the NWOBHM for the first time.
For Waksman, Seattle-based grunge represents "the first mass-oriented musical phenomenon . . . predicated on the interplay between heavy metal and punk." (301) His concluding discussion of the way grunge negotiated concepts like instrumental virtuosity was not an either/or proposition grounded in one's response to the model of heroic guitarist that arose during the 1980s. Instead, Waksman rightly notes, the question [End Page 302] for grunge guitarists like Soundgarden's Kim Thayil concerned "how virtuosity might be used and what sort of techniques best suited a given aesthetic end." (274) Ultimately, the contestations that have marked the metal/punk continuum are contestations about the values rock should portray with respect to the musical identities of its audience. This Ain't the Summer of Love provides compelling evidence for the lived history of those tensions.