Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide to Your Favorite Music Scenes - From Punk to Indie and Everything in Between


A snarky, fact-filled look at the people and places that made the indie/punk scene what it is today

The American underground music scene is exploding everywhere—not just in New York City and L.A. (although we've got those cities covered too!):

In Washington, D.C. . . . Ian MacKaye and Fugazi inspired the straightedge culture, which had kids everywhere drawing black X's on their hands in magic marker.

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Wish You Were Here

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A snarky, fact-filled look at the people and places that made the indie/punk scene what it is today

The American underground music scene is exploding everywhere—not just in New York City and L.A. (although we've got those cities covered too!):

In Washington, D.C. . . . Ian MacKaye and Fugazi inspired the straightedge culture, which had kids everywhere drawing black X's on their hands in magic marker.

In Omaha, Nebraska . . . A young Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, started writing and performing gut-wrenching love songs at the tender age of thirteen.

On Long Island, New York . . . Taking Back Sunday and Brand New battled for emo supremacy and the fragile hearts of a million teenage girls.

From the coauthor of the cult-worthy Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture comes Wish You Were Here—a combination travel guide and tortured history covering everything from what constitutes proper rock critic etiquette in Minneapolis to why pop-punk bands in Chicago have so much suburban angst, to how freegans in the Bay Area can feed themselves on a budget that would make frugal Rachael Ray's face blush.

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Editorial Reviews

Hayley Williams
“This book was really fun to read and I actually learned a lot. Wait a minute... Does giving a quote for this book mean people will know that I didn’t actually already know this stuff? Lame.”
Tim McIlrath
“Wish You Were Here knows way too much about the history, minute details, and inner-workings of these 11 punk and indie scenes. I don’t know how Leslie figured out all this stuff, but I’m changing my locks and checking the phone for bugs.”
NeuFutur Magazine
“In what has got to be the best guide book on punk rock… well ever, rock journalist Simon answers a slew of questions never asked about punk rock and indie scenes across the U.S.”.
Sacramento Book Review online
“Simon ensures there’s never a dull moment...Rob Dobi’s spot-on illustrations appear throughout the book as the perfect complement to her enthusiastic and hilarious voice.”
Alternative Press
“Anything you ever wanted to know about your city’s indie scene (plus plenty of snark) is packed into these pages.”
Publishers Weekly

Simon, coauthor of the emo culture guide Everybody Hurts and an editor at buzznet.com, set out to write an ethnography of sorts about the "most cherished music scenes" in the country. It's a promise only partly delivered. The selection of indie music-centric cities is spot-on, ranging from the obvious (Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Twin Cities) to the much less so (suburban Florida). In each section, Simon delivers a capsule "Music Primer" on that scene's history, what kind of bands populated it, during what time period and what happened to them. Other sections include essential album guides and a helpful "Mapping Out" list that includes travel guide-like notations on local scenester hangouts and record shops. There's helpful information, to be sure, but it's all a bit too slight, made cuter with ink illustrations by Dobi. Simon's text is knowledgeable, and when she actually talks about the music itself the book serves as a helpful jumping-off point for readers looking to learn more. But all too often she resorts to unfunny snark-sniping about categories of scenesters or celebrity rockers. There is too little information here for those who actually know something about the subject and insider-overload for those who don't. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Simon and Kelley (coauthors, Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture) provide postcardlike snapshots of alternative, punk, emo, hard-core, straight-edge, and other music scenes in diverse locations such as New York, L.A., Seattle, and Lawrence, KS. Simon's descriptions, assessments, and guide to styles, clubs, and record companies are quite brief and written in the language of the scenes themselves; this is a self-described ethnography, filled with irreverent humor. Readers who are part of one of these scenes and fans of a particular genre who will be visiting one of the locales will find this a quick and useful read. Those who aren't won't get it: Simon presupposes an intimacy with the music and associated lifestyles. Her book gives an entertaining glimpse at nonmainstream music of today and the recent past. Because it's so focused on contemporary pop culture, it could become obsolete fairly quickly, but the price is forgiving. Contains some strong language. Recommended for all public libraries and academic pop culture collections.
—James E. Perone

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061573712
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/7/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,456,426
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Leslie Simon is the author of Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide to Your Favorite Music Scenes and co-author of Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture. Her work has appeared in Kerrang!, Alternative Press, metromix.com, and MTV.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Wish You Were Here
An Essential Guide to Your Favorite Music Scenes-from Punk to Indie and Everything in Between

Chapter One

Washington, D.C.


Though they disbanded the year before, Embrace releases its self-titled debut on Dischord Records and posthumously becomes one of the first emo bands on record. The same year, former Embrace and Minor Threat guitarist/vocalist Ian MacKaye forms Fugazi, which is widely embraced by fans and critics alike and eventually sets the standard for what we now consider the musical genre of post-hardcore.

When discussing the scenes that helped shape the underground as we know it, there's no better place to start than Washington, D.C., the birthplace of "emo" and the current home to a whole lot of crotchety scene vets.

Music primer

When you're talking D.C.'s long and storied history, you have to start with the hardcore movement that began there in the early '80s. Most locals will agree that this particular sub-faction kicked off with Bad Brains, hands down one of the best, weirdest, and most dangerous punk bands ever to play hardcore music. (For example, when they were recording their third album I Against I, Paul "H.R." Hudson was in jail and ended up recording the vocals for "Sacred Love" through a pay phone near his cell.) Understandably, this was the kind of band that either scared the crap out of you or inspired you to form a group just like it, which explains why a slew of hyperactive punk bands began popping up in the D.C. scene not long after Bad Brains formed.

One of the most notable acts to follow in their footsteps was Minor Threat, anothergroundbreaking hardcore band whom many credit for bringing attention to the underground "straight edge" scene and for inciting, well, a whole lot of suburban middle-class teenagers to beat the snot out of each other anytime the band played locally. Seeing as how most sane people prefer to perform without some dude's elbow lodged in their esophagus, it wasn't long before Minor Threat singer Ian MacKaye and many of his contemporaries began experimenting with genres of music that were less likely to incite a riot. Whereas the members of Bad Brains became Rastafarians and released an album full of reggae songs, Minor Threat broke up, sparking MacKaye to form Embrace, a new post-hardcore group that became known for combining melodic rock structures with lyrics about such masculine topics as, uh, playing dress-up and crying.

These days, most people would consider Embrace to be an emo band. But at the time, MacKaye and another early D.C. emo band, Rites of Spring, were actually paving new ground, and they continued to do so in the late '80s when MacKaye—along with two members of Rites of Spring and a bass player who looked like Christopher Walken—formed Fugazi, quite possibly the most fiercely respected D.C. punk band on the planet. The band quickly earned their rep by employing a number of strict band policies, which included playing only five-dollar shows, discouraging fans from slam-dancing, and refusing to sell any merchandise (except their infamous "This Is Not a Fugazi T-shirt" T-shirt).

Considering that these days most mainstream punk bands have their own clothing line, brand of energy drink, and Proactiv endorsement contract (cough—Cute Is What We Aim For—cough), this was a pretty altruisticway of doing things. However, over the next few years, many in the D.C. scene rebelled against it by signing to major labels in order to pay for lavish things like heat and rent. Two local and experimental post-hardcore bands, Jawbox and Shudder to Think, both signed to majors at the time, but neither of them exactly connected with a larger audience—although, the latter of the two did turn up on an episode of Beavis and Butthead in which the cartooned couch crusaders referred to the flamboyant lead singer Craig Wedren as a "butt munch."

After a few years of middling record sales, both Jawbox and Shudder to Think broke up and the D.C. scene went through yet another musical transformation. This time, the locals started churning out a unique style of angular rock that was somehow danceable. But what else would you expect from a bunch of pasty white dudes who looked like they spent the better part of their teen years sequestered to their bedroom, eagerly studying for the AP calculus test or fearful of a polymorphic light eruption?First came the Dismemberment Plan, a group of guys so nerdy that they once wrote a song about getting it on while watching CNN. (That'd be "Ellen and Ben," off their 2001 album Change, in case you were wondering.) Later, they were followed by Q and Not U, a quasi-dance punk group that named itself after an obscure Scrabble rule.And, more recently, Georgie James entered the scene, playing the type of hyperactive indie-pop that your typical yuppie thirtysomething would listen to on the way to Sunday brunch at First Watch.

Since the turn of the millennium, the D.C. scene has evolved into something a little less under-the-radar. Sure, you still have mainstays like MacKaye churning out new bands (like the Evens, an indie-rock duo he formed with his wife, former Warmers drummer Amy Farina), but fans seem to be more impressed by accessibility these days. Self-centered pop-rock bands like Army of Me and You, Me, and Everyone We Know seem to be the order of the day, followed by death-metal enthusiasts Darkest Hour and the sunny Christian rockers in Mae (which hail from neighboring Arlington, Virginia). That said, if there's one thing that's remained consistent in the D.C. music scene over the past thirty years, it's got to be diversity.

Label conscious

Ah, Dischord Records—linchpin of the D.C. punk and post-hardcore scene. Started by Teen Idles bandmates (and former Wilson High School classmates) Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson, Dischord was originally created as a way for the teens to release their band's album Minor Disturbance. However, it wasn't long before other local acts, impressed by the label's DIY ethic, also wanted to put out their albums through Dischord.

Wish You Were Here
An Essential Guide to Your Favorite Music Scenes-from Punk to Indie and Everything in Between
. Copyright (c) by Leslie Simon . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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