In Crate Digger: An Obsession with Punk Rock Records, Bob Suren attaches the story of his life to 50 of his favorite records. Punk records, to be precise. For music geeks like myself, it is an interesting idea. I imagine that everyone has that certain song or album that defines a period in their life. The only problem with this method would be in choosing the records. Perhaps a bigger question is who would read such a book, unless they knew you.
Suren lays out his credentials as a player in the Florida punk scene, and it sounds like he has accomplished a lot. He formed a band, started a record label, organized a distributorship, wrote for magazines, started an Internet radio station, and much more over the past 30 years. It sounds as if you were a Florida punk, chances are good that you ran in to Suren somewhere along the line.
His record-nerd credentials are readily apparent in the setup of the book. Rather than tell the story chronologically, and mentioning the music he was listening to along the way, he flips the script. The music is presented alphabetically, and he fits his life story around his list of albums. The list of records provides a skeleton, although it does get a little hard to follow at times.
I own a number of music books and refer to them often. Back in the days when there were record stores, I would note an album that caught my eye, then look it up in the Rolling Stone Record Guide, or something along those lines. Crate Digger does not work that way at all. When I first opened the book, I looked at the titles Suren had chosen. He went deep too, because half of these titles I had never even heard of before.
The Misfits are a band who seem to gain new fans every year, and Suren includes both Die, Die My Darling, and Walk Among Us. I flipped to them to get an idea of what his take was, and what his writing style is like. The two-page Die, Die My Darling entry tells the story of a local mom-and-pop record store called Confusion Records. The Walk Among Us piece tells the story of a guy named Dave Rat. Nothing wrong with that of course, and if you know the author, then this is probably stuff that you would want to read. If you were looking for a fresh take on the Misfits however, you are reading the wrong book.
I flipped around a bit more, and ran in to the same situation. In the chapter devoted to It’s Alive by the Ramones, he talks up the album as being the first Ramones and first punk record he had ever heard. It became very clear very quickly that this was not going to be anywhere near the traditional “favorite albums” type of book I had anticipated.
If you know the author, then I am sure you will get more out of Crate Digger than I did. The stories he tells are about people in a small regional scene, and a lot of the records he mentions are pretty obscure. There are quite a few entries about one-shots, and even his own band’s self-released titles. After reading this book, I felt like I had accidentally landed on a stranger's Facebook page. I now know everything about this person, but I have no connection to them whatsoever.
Crate Digger is intriguing more for the way that the author tells the story than the story itself. I am sure that he is a great guy and all of that, but I just had no frame of reference to care about any of the events that he writes about. He does have a way with words though, and if you are someone who is invested in the Florida punk scene of the past 30 years, then Crate Digger: An Obsession with Punk Records is probably right up your alley.
Although Crate Digger was not exactly what I expected, I would like to put in a little plug for the publisher, Micro-cosm. As their name implies, they are small, but they have other titles that may have a broader appeal. With the hard times that publishers are having these days because of everything being available online, I wish them well.
Crate Digger is available on June 9th in trade paperback