Libraries Are Hardcore / Goblin Mood

Black t-shirt with the printed message: WHAT'S MORE PUNK THAN THE PUBLIC LIBRARY???????
Mount Pleasant Library Friends original t-shirt

Today: Osita Nwanevu, a contributing editor at The New Republic, and columnist at The Guardian; and Tom Scocca, editor at INDIGNITY.

Issue No. 22

Check Out the Punk Scene
Osita Nwanevu

Cruel, Wicked, and Bad-Hearted
Tom Scocca

Check Out the Punk Scene

by Osita Nwanevu

All told, I’ve probably spent more hours of my life in libraries than any other kind of place save restaurants.  I like libraries because I like books, yes, but I also like them because I like music. 

One night my freshman year of high school, I caught an episode of Cold Case that featured tracks from Nirvana⁠—a band I’d heard of, and had maybe even heard in passing before⁠. But that particular evening, the music sounded radically different from anything I’d spent my life listening to up to that point⁠—the oldies and classic rock hits that were always playing in the car or in the house, the Top 40 I’d hear at dances or on the buses to and from school. I wanted to hear more. The library had Nevermind on CD; the next time I went, I checked it out. To date, it’s the most personally consequential item I’ve ever borrowed from a library. It fundamentally rewired me. No book touches it.

I took it to school in my CD player every day. I checked out a Cobain biography and read it three times. I checked out Cobain’s journals and hunted for information about the bands he mentioned. That led me to a website called Pitchfork. I discovered they’d published a book the library had—The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. I checked that out too and listened to every track I could find on YouTube. (I didn’t have an iPod at the time and knew better than to ask for one, or the money to download songs from bands with names like Suicide or the Sex Pistols.) Then I hunted for albums. The library system had a few, seemingly added to their collections at random—Sonic Youth’s first EP, for instance, featuring an amplified electric drill, but not Daydream Nation—and I requested that they order more, writing and submitting little essays about how important these records I’d never actually listened to were, based on what I’d read. And they bought just about everything I asked for, at the public’s expense. I was 14. It was incredible. 

One of my biggest regrets from the time I lived in DC, partially because it reminds me of all this, is not having taken the opportunity to explore the DC Public Library’s punk archive—a collection of books and other artifacts from the city’s deeply influential punk scene⁠—music, merch, photos, oral histories,  posters—that might otherwise have been lost to time. 

It’s a paywall, but a small one

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