Sometimes listening to music from the people we find interesting just isn’t enough. We want to know more about them, so we scour the internet to find informational tidbits that we use to imagine their beginnings and backstories. Sometimes we don’t always find information that we like or that fits our narrative of what we think it should be. Other times that information fits like a puzzle piece to rumors that have been swirling over the years. Whatever the case may be, the fact that we thrive on information is important; it helps keep us moving.
Enter author to the punk rock stars, Jim Ruland. He started listening to punk rock while he was in the Navy. After that, a friend of his got him a job with the popular punk rock magazine, Flipside. Being the music historian he is, Ruland wrote album reviews only nurturing his writing skills and love for punk. He has since spent the better part of his life seeking information on punk rock and its contributors to write about in zines, newsletters, newspapers, and most recently, some amazing books. Not only did he co-write a book with old school punk legend, Keith Morris, but he also co-wrote the 2020 book, “Do What You Want; The Story of Bad Religion” with Bad Religion themselves.
Now he has a deeply detailed unauthorized biography to add to our shelves: “Corporate Rock Sucks; the Rise and Fall of SST Records.”
You may know SST Records as a hugely influential SoCal punk label that Greg Ginn, founding member of the punk band Black Flag, created but did you know that SST Records signed names like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Meat Puppets, Screaming Trees, and Soundgarden? And that’s just the tip of the punk label iceberg.
Ruland leaves no stone unturned when it comes to ironing out all the historical details of Greg Ginn and SST Records in this unauthorized biography. The extensive research that went into this book took Ruland upwards of three years. Not only did he search out many different voices – like previous label employees – but also label photographers that had photos of SST bands that had never seen the light of day. Ruland added it all in this book.
As told by his book publicist, “Featuring never-before-seen interviews with the label’s former employees, as well as musicians, managers, producers, photographers, video directors, and label heads, Corporate Rock Sucks presents a definitive narrative history of the ’80s punk and alternative rock scenes, and shows how the music industry was changed forever.”
With such a deep dive into SST Records, you’d think that Ruland was a huge fan of a particular band on their roster, but this isn’t the case. A fan of the bands, yes, but it wasn’t the label that drew Ruland to this story; it was living in Manhattan Beach for a time and being awestruck by the local stories of the South Bay. He told us, “If you live there and you’re interested in punk, you just kind of absorb these stories. If you consider all the amazing musicians that passed through Mariposa High School in Manhattan Beach from Greg Ginn (Black Flag) and Raymond Pettibone (artist and Black Flag cover artist), Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), and Bill Stevenson (Descendents), Earl Liberty (Saccharine Trust) to the guys in Pennywise and on and on, it’s a very real thing.”
Ruland went on to say, “When I learned that Black Flag played a popular show at Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach on July 22nd, 1979, that really stuck with me because July 22nd is my birthday. Although I was only 11 years old and wasn’t there, that show has always stuck in my mind. Even Jay Bentley (Bad Religion) and Tim Gallegos (Bad Religion, Wasted Youth) were at that show.” He beamed with pride when he told us, “Maybe it was walking that beach, skating those streets and breathing that Hermosa Beach air that made me really curios about the story.”
I’ve listened to Black Flag for more decades than I care to age myself with and love all the past and present members. I took my kids to see them when they toured through Orange County days before the world shut down due to COVID. I even stood in line with my family just so we could get a shot of my kids with Ginn, so it’s safe to say I’m a fan. Reading, “Corporate Rock Sucks…” and getting the inside scoop on not only Black Flag, but Greg Ginn and his historic punk label, was something that I never would have been able to do on my own.
Ruland shares these pieces of punk in an easy-to-understand way that keeps you turning each of the 400+ pages. The book is meticulously thought out and gives the most thorough background on each band/person/place/thing.
Ruland told us that Ginn was asked for an interview as a part of his extensive and thorough investigation, but Ginn declined saying that he “is retired from giving interviews.” But the show must go on, and so did Ruland.
The book is now available, so get your copy and dive deep into the world of SST Records.