Punk and hardcore were alive and well in America in the mid 90's but perhaps nowhere so much as New Jersey, a scene that would give rise to punk and hardcore mainstays such as Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, The Bouncing Souls, Thursday, and numerous others. "New Brunswick, New Jersey Goodbye" is a memoir of sorts by writer, teacher, musician Ronen Kauffman during his years living in and around New Brunswick and being part of the DIY punk and hardcore scene of the time. What starts out as a high school obsession with punk music, leads Kauffman to create his own zine "Aneurysm" and become more involved in the burgeoning punk and hardcore scene of the area, ultimately culminating in his moving to New Brunswick to attend Rutgers Univesity as a Political Sciene/Journalism major. Ronen tells stories that will be all too familiar to anyone who didn't have the cookie cutter MTV version of the college experience. For people who were more DIY, artistic, indie, or just plain anti, there are likely a number of touchstones here that will bring back memories from college or before. From flophouse appartments, basement shows, drunken skinheads, and the naivete of believing that punk music can change the world, Kauffman paints a picture that while specific to the punk scene in New Jersey at the time, is emblematic in a more universal way of the punk, harcore, DIY experience at anytime and in any place. As a fan of punk music, especially the NJ scene of that time, I found myself grinning uncontrollably when Kauffman spoke of the first time he met Dan Yemen (Lifetime, Kid Dynamite) and how the guitarrist enthusiastically purchased a zine from him.
This isn't just a book about punks bands though and Kauffman doesn't spend 200 pages just tossing out names for the sake of credibility, in fact most of the bands he mentions were so scene specific as to likely be unknown most anywhere else. It's a book about the the thoughts, feelings, comraderie, and community that comes with organizing, playing, and going to punk shows. In the end though the real focus of the book is as a coming of age story, wherein a DIY youth with socialist tendencies ultimately has to come to terms with life in the real world, but finds a way to still hold true to his ideals in the end. For me personally this struck a chord. I know all too well what it's like to hit that wall of the "real world" after college and how hard it can be to stay true to one's ideals while still making your way in the world.
While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I don't think this is a book for everyone. But if you were ever part of a scene that existed just (or waaaaay) outside the mainstream when you were young, I'm betting you can find something to latch onto here. For me personally Kauffman's stories conjured up memories not only from my own life, but of stories from my friends as well and that's well worth the price of admission.
New Brunswisk, New Jersey Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements, and the Search for Self by Ronen Kauffman is published by Hopeless Records and available at finer bookstores everywhere.