We Got Power co-editor Jordan Schwartz stands in front of a realtor’s office against a stark white background on the cover of this new coffee table book. He’s junkie-thin, teenaged, pimpled, brace-faced, Jew-fro’d, and flanked by his battered skateboard. In a word, he’s punk — or, more accurately, he’s hardcore.
The hardcore scene in southern California in the early 1980s is exactly the kind of scene we’ll never see again. It was a living, breathing entity, fueled by the ambition of youth, constantly teetering on the brink of total anarchy, and totally out of step with today’s musical climate. We Got Power! (after the famed fanzine) is a gorgeously realized requiem for that fiercely tribal era, unabashed in its admiration for the best parts but unafraid to stare the nasty bits – addiction, death, and worse – straight in the face.
The book’s format is part of why it’s so successful. Its 300 oversized pages include more than 20 essays by people within the scene, hundreds upon hundreds of photos, and full reproductions of every issue of the original We Got Power zine by Schwartz and David Markey. It’s an approach that makes the book somehow feel both anecdotal and utterly complete.
The essays contribute mightily to the anecdotal feel, with clashing remembrances of the same events given by people who the years and the drugs have affected differently. But there’s a real sense of democracy within the essays; Henry Rollins is treated with the same amount of reverence as someone who occasionally wrote a blurb for a fanzine. There were no rock stars in California hardcore. Guys like Rollins and Jello Biafra went and got tacos with guys like David Markey and Jordan Schwartz. The us-versus-them attitude was so strong that almost everyone without a badge or a mullet could be considered part of the “us.”
The photographs do an even better job of revealing the nonexistent line between fan and musician. When Jordan Schwartz got his first 35-mm camera as his graduation present in 1981, he probably didn’t realize it would become the most important tool in documenting the rise of one of the most important heavy music scenes in American history, but that’s exactly what happened. His candid shots of bands and fans hanging out in the L.A. area and his shockingly polished concert photography provide an invaluable window into the scene that we’re lucky to have. Plenty of other amateur photographers have credits in We Got Power!, but it’s because Schwartz chose a camera over a guitar that our portrait of early L.A. hardcore is as complete as it is.