Let’s Dance

Written by Editors on . Posted in Books, Posts.

Dance of Days, Mark Anderson and Mark Jenkins’ two-decade history of punk rock in Washington, D.C. was first released in 2001 and quickly became a touchstone in the realm of such books. Now, almost nine years later, the duo has updated the book for the second time (another edition was published in 2003 and this one is out on Brooklyn’s own Akashic Books) with new chapters and updates on the city’s punk rumblings since the book’s original release.

New York Press: How did the original idea for Dance of Days come about?

Mark Anderson: The original idea came from the fact that I moved to Washington, D.C. from Montana in 1984 and I had first gotten into punk in the ‘70s through Patti Smith, Sex Pistols, The Clash, etc. I was following punk closely, and I began to hear about the D.C. scene—Bad Brains and Minor Threat—and was quite fascinated by it. That was part of why I chose to move to D.C.

As I got to know the people in D.C. and just by happenstance participated in the creation of Positive Force D.C., which was the first organized political voice from within the D.C. punk scene and one of the first anywhere. Positive Force became part of something called ‘Revolution Summer,’ and I got to know a bunch of really inspiring, passionate, thoughtful people and started to learn more about the D.C. story. By 1986, I was convinced of two things: one was that this community was the center of my life, that I had stumbled into something really extraordinary. And the second was that this story needed to be told. Being a punk rocker I volunteered, because for me and a lot of my peers the idea was that if you see something that you think should be done but isn’t, go do it. This was in 1986, there was still plenty of the story to unfold. I started doing interviews in ’86 and did them thru ‘93 or ‘94 and then it sat for a few years and I returned to it with Mark Jenkins and we carved a more coherent and lean narrative from what was twice the length of the final book.

And how about the stuff you’ve added?

There have been a couple of extra chapters written, one for the 2003 edition, and a new one in this edition called “Reverbations/Reignition.”

What occurred to me to write was something in very personal and shorthand terms to update the D.C punk story from 1995 to 2003, which meant there were a lot of names but not a lot of great depth. It’s valuable as something that highlights some significant bands and events that happened in that 8-year period. There are two big points that were made well. One is that the D.C. punk story continues, it’s not over now, and the second was that for those people who felt like we hadn’t told the whole story, they were right. We knew it better than anyone.

With this new chapter, I wanted to look at the meaning of all of this because it is now over 20 years since I started work on the book. It’s close to a decade from when the book was actually finished and the reverberations of the punk scene continue to spread, sometimes in the craziest places and oddest ways. It was a chance for me to reflect on what might be the meaning of punk in an era where you have a president who counts punk rock performance poets as part of his radical crowd in college, or the single image that is most remembered from that campaign is by someone who came straight out of the punk scene. In all of the other things that continue to develop as this energy and explosion from the underground filters out into the world. Straight edge, emo, all of these things came out of the D.C. punk scene whether they’re more glorious than silly.

Did you feel like D.C. punk was ‘cool’ when you started out? Was the cache of the scene obvious even 20 years ago?

Positive Force if anything was a club for the misfits. We were not the cool kids, we were the ones who wore our hearts on our sleeves. I’m this goofy farm boy and when I came to D.C., I was still wearing bell-bottom trousers, partly because I wanted to fuck with people, and partly because I was oblivious. I didn’t get involved in punk rock because I was a cool kid, I got into punk rock because I was a fuckup.

How is your book different than a Please Kill Me for D.C.?

I could easily have written a Please Kill Me about D.C. because, if you didn’t get the sense already, I was a fuckup and I am in certain ways still a wounded person. Most people in the punk scene came from that. We weren’t there because we had it all together and we were so happy. We were trying to find a way to make our piece of the world make sense and to try to somehow become more whole. Maybe someone will write that book some day, but I don’t care to get into that stuff except to the extent that it advances the story. I’m not interested in creating more spectacle, I’m hoping that we can transmit a spark. It doesn’t mean that we turned away from the ugly stuff, but that’s not in the spirit of the D.C. punk scene.