Thursday, December 15, 2016

Punk never dies

Punk Rock Ghost Story

By David Agranoff

Publisher: Deadite Press 

Pub Date: September 23, 2016

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


I like books that evoke an era. I like horror novels. David Agranoff does both quite well at the same time. He likes to write about the punk rock era of the 80s and beyond. He does it very well. Other authors may incorporate punk rock in their fiction but Agranoff does it with a wistfulness coupled with a realism that our memories of an era can be more harmful than helpful if we don't recognize the realities of today. It is not that different than the struggles I had in the sixties and onward with the "hippie" movement. Both evokes memories and conflicts that are ripe for exploration in literature, even horror.

Punk Rock Ghost Story (PRGS)seems to be about that struggle. As we begin the novel, Frank and his punk rock group The Fuckers are touring across the country in 1982 dreaming of a possible concert with Black Flag once they reach Los Angeles. The tour is a disaster and just out of Houston, the band members decide they want to return home to Indiana. Frank forces them to continue and seems to be on the verge of an unreasonable and violent obsession.

Fast forward to 2006. Nate and his band People's Uprising is about to go on tour. They are a struggling punk band in Indiana that dreams of breaking out of the locals and into more renown with their tour. Nate loves the punk scene but wonders if it has lost something from its start in the 80s. While looking for a tour van, he stumbles across a beat up van that was used for the Fuckers' last legendary tour where Frank disappeared and was never seen again. People's Uprising goes on tour but the van has a hold on Nate as he listens to eerie voices and visions while the rest of the band becomes concerned with his memory losses and personality changes.

So now we have a ghost story coupled with a mystery. Is the van haunted,? What happened to Frank on his last tour? What is happening to Nate? Everything is eventually revealed but not without a number of scares and some violence. As a ghost story, PRGS is very successful and kept me enthralled with the mystery and strangeness of the tale. But what really makes it memorable is Agranoff's blending of time and culture. Punk in the 80s was indeed a golden time. But it was not the nirvana that memories may make it. Reality never is. Outside the cities, punk were subjected to suspicion and often violence. They were misunderstood as anything unusual or new is often misunderstood. Frank's anger became part of that and, with Nate, the van recognizes a similar anger and longing and exploits that. The author's evoking of the punk culture seems real in both its contemporary and 80s incarnations. I am not sure it is a coming of age story or a returning to another age story and I like that. Nate's relationship to band member and girl friend Erika is also a central part of the plot and become essential to how it plays out.

It is said that writers should write about what they know and Agranoff certainly knows his punk rock culture. But there is more than that. He is able to communicate beyond the punk rockers and make that scene a reality for those who do not identify with it. He may write in the horror genre but the theme goes well beyond just the scares and that is why we should read his works. He is still in his prime so we can expect more like this. That is definitely a good thing.

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