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The Satire Continues With 'The Hard Times: The First 40 Years'

Oct 30, 2019
Originally published on October 30, 2019 9:07 am

Matt Saincome and Bill Conway are co-founders of The Hard Times, a satirical punk rock website established in 2014. Together with colleague Krissy Howard, they published a book of their favorite articles and some new material called The Hard Times: The First 40 Years.

Punk rock can mean different things to different people, but there are some ideas that are central to the genre. Punk is anti-establishment. Punk is emotional. It is raw and for the most part, it's pretty serious, which makes it ripe for a good comedic grilling.

"There's a lot that is funny about punk when you take a step back and actually look at how ridiculous it can be sometimes, because people are so protective of it in a weird way," Conway says.

NPR's Rachel Martin spoke to Bill Conway and Matt Saincome about the punk community's initial reaction to the website and issues of masculinity in the scene. Conway also read an excerpt from the book. Listen in the audio player above and check out an edited transcript of their conversation below.


Interview Highlights

Rachel Martin: Clearly both of you have a sense of humor; you have a facility with satire, especially when it comes to punk. Matt, before you did the whole website, you were a satirical punk singer. What does that even mean?

Matt Saincome: There's a whole element of punk and hardcore about extreme masculinity and being macho, being the toughest guy in the room, you know, you take your shirt off. And then there's also specific phrases that they all say.

Bill Conway: There's something always about how, "We're all the misfits and the rejects." That, "We're all here" and "This one's for them." Every song is for the kids in the back, and all that.

Saincome: There's this thing in the punk scene where we're all supposed to be equals, the bands and the fans, and we just kind of flipped that on its head and pretended like we were rock stars. Like one time I demanded the crowd mosh and stage dive before we even played, otherwise we wouldn't play.

I understand your friends were a bit skeptical about this idea of creating a website dedicated to poking fun about punk.

Saincome: When I was growing up in the punk scene, I had a zine, which is just a printed out little bootleg magazine. I sat down and I wrote four or five different Hard Times stories — this is in college. I showed them to some of my friends and they blank, stone-faced read them: This isn't funny, you're going to get beat up, why would you do this?

They convinced me [not to] do it for several years until I met Bill. Bill really believed in the idea and it took off from there.

Wait, why were you going to get beat up?

Saincome: Well the punk scene is naturally kind of a violent place.

But it was because you were making fun of people? And your friends were worried you could come away with some broken bones?

Sometimes when you confront those ideologies with a bit of humor, the reaction is explosive. -

Saincome: Well, that was my expectation, too! I was surprised that we didn't get beat up.

Conway: We've only had one or two threats of physical violence, which is much lower than I had thought when we first started. Matt and I don't have any bylines on the site. Everything we write is just under "The Hard Times Staff," under the impression we were going to get sucker punched at a show.

So that was the bar — as long as I don't get sucker punched, and so far, so good.

Saincome: There's a lot of radical beliefs in the punk scene, some of which Bill and I have — we're kind of weirdos, we don't smoke, we don't drink. Sometimes when you confront those ideologies with a bit of humor, the reaction is explosive.

I'm going to draw attention to one that resonated with me, personally. This is "Man magically transforms into music historian while talking to women," and I'm going to have you read the first three paragraphs for me.

Conway: Seattle — Local man Brian Reynolds embarrassed himself again thanks to his unique skill of transforming into a historian of any music genre while in the presence of a woman, friends and associates completely fed up with his crap confirmed.

"It really comes out of nowhere — you never expect it," said Erik Felix, a witness on more than a few occasions. "Brian's usually pretty mild-mannered, but he will suddenly change into this giant a**hole of a music encyclopedia whenever he meets someone he's attracted to."

Felix first noticed Reynolds' uncanny ability at a downtown loft show in March.

Saincome: I'm really glad you related to some of the articles in the book. You don't have to be the kind of person who goes to DIY basement shows, it's just the satirical perspective from people who [do] go to DIY basement shows. But they also exist in the real world and have takes on all sorts of other stuff.

There is, as you describe it, "a real preciousness" in the culture. A culture where, you said at the beginning of the conversation, that's always like, "This one's for the kids in the back, this one's for all the misfits who always felt excluded." It's supposed to be a safe space for everybody that sort of becomes intolerant.

Saincome: Rachel, you've figured it out! This is the whole premise of the website.

Can people in the punk world take a joke?

Saincome: There is a sensitivity level in the punk scene which I think is elevated. But at the same time, I think The Hard Times comes from a place where it really is a celebration of punk and hardcore, too. It's not that mean-spirited and we've actually grown to the point where 99% of the time when people get covered in our publication, they are ecstatic. Even really large musicians who we cover will sometimes retweet it and say "We finally made it, we're in The Hard Times."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLITZKRIEG BOP")

RAMONES: (Singing) They're forming in straight line. They're going through a tight wind. The kids are losing their minds. Blitzkrieg bop.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Punk rock - it can mean different things to different people. But there are some ideas that are central to the genre. Punk is anti-establishment. Punk is emotional. It is raw. And for the most part, it's pretty serious, which makes it ripe for a good comedic grilling.

BILL CONWAY: There's a lot that is funny about punk when you take a step back and actually look at how ridiculous it can be sometimes because people are so protective of it in a weird way.

MARTIN: Bill Conway is co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Hard Times. It's a satirical punk rock news website. Think of it as, like, The Onion for the cool kids. They've got a new book out called "The Hard Times: The First 40 Years." And it's a collection of the website's funniest articles. And it also reaches back into punk's rich history to make fun of the scene's biggest stars, which is really how co-founder Matt Saincome got his start. He was the lead singer in a hardcore band, and his whole shtick was to mock his punk peers.

MATT SAINCOME: There's a whole element of punk and hardcore about just extreme masculinity and being macho, being the toughest guy in the room. You know, you take your shirt off. And then there's also specific phrases that they all say.

CONWAY: There's something always about how we're all the misfits and the rejects, that we're all here and this one's for them sort of thing. You know, every song is for the kids in the back and all that.

SAINCOME: Exactly. There is this thing in the punk scene where we're all supposed to be equals, the bands and the fans. And we just kind of flipped that on its head. And we pretended like we were rock stars. Like, one time I demanded that the crowd mosh and stage dive before we even played, otherwise we wouldn't play.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAINCOME: You guys may or may not know, but we're the greatest band in hardcore. And we usually play bills that are a lot bigger than this. That's why we're headlining tonight. We're not going to play until you mosh.

(LAUGHTER)

SAINCOME: You're all lucky to see us tonight.

I just started talking about how we weren't going to play unless they started stage-diving. A kid just jumped right up on stage and...

CONWAY: (Laughter).

SAINCOME: ...Off he went.

MARTIN: I'm sure he was fine.

SAINCOME: Nope - RIP.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAGE DIVER")

ZERO PROGRESS: (Singing) Jump in the crowd. Run and go ahead. Jumped on a stage. Don't be afraid to dive (ph).

MARTIN: I understand your friends were a bit skeptical about this idea of creating a website dedicated to poking fun about punk.

CONWAY: Oh, yeah.

SAINCOME: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SAINCOME: When I was growing up in the punk scene, I had a zine, which is just a printed out little bootleg magazine. So I actually sat down and I wrote, like, four or five different Hard Times stories - this is in college. And I showed them to some of my friends. And they just blank, stone-faced read them. This isn't funny...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SAINCOME: ...You're going to get beat up. Why would you do this? So they convinced me, pretty much. And I didn't do it for several years until I met Bill. And then Bill really believed in the idea. And it took off from there.

MARTIN: Wait, why were you going to get beat up?

SAINCOME: Well, the punk scene is naturally kind of a violent place.

MARTIN: Right. But it was because you were making fun of people and your friends were worried that the response would be you could come away with, like, some broken bones?

SAINCOME: Well, that was my expectation, too. I was surprised that we didn't get beat up.

(LAUGHTER)

CONWAY: We've only had one or two threats of physical violence, which is much lower than I had thought when we first started. Matt and I don't have any bylines on the site. Anything we write is just under The Hard Times Staff, under the impression we were going to get sucker punched at a show.

SAINCOME: Right.

MARTIN: So that was the bar - like, as long as we don't get sucker-punched. And so far, so good?

CONWAY: (Laughter) Yeah.

SAINCOME: There's a lot of radical beliefs in the punk scene, some of which Bill and I have. We're kind of weirdos. We don't smoke. We don't drink. And sometimes when you confront those ideologies with a bit of humor, the reaction is sometimes explosive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN MY EYES")

MINOR THREAT: (Singing) You tell me you like the taste. You just need an excuse. You tell me it calms your nerve. You just think it looks cool. You tell me...

MARTIN: Is there one you guys want to read that you're particularly pleased with?

SAINCOME: I have a little bit of a story behind one headline. It's "Lucky Airline Passenger Wins Free Five-Hour Spoken Word Concert By Jello Biafra." Jello Biafra, the singer of the Dead Kennedys, is well-known for his long-winded explanations of things. And the band members in his new band even found it funny. And they were on a plane with him one time. And they were all taking photos with him with the caption being this headline. And you could see how much he didn't like it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA UBER ALLES")

DEAD KENNEDYS: (Singing) California Uber Alles, California Uber Alles, Uber Alles California, Uber Alles California.

MARTIN: I'm going to draw attention to one that resonated with me personally. This is "Man Magically Transforms Into Music Historian While Talking To Women." And I'm going to have you read, like, the first three paragraphs of it.

CONWAY: Ah, yes. (Reading) "Man Magically Transforms Into Music Historian While Talking To Women" by Hana Michels, Seattle. Local man Brian Reynolds embarrassed himself again thanks to his unique skill of transforming into a historian of any music genre while in the presence of a woman. Those completely fed up with this [expletive] confirmed. It really comes out of nowhere - you never expect it, said Erik Felix, a friend who witnessed this obnoxious behavior on several occasions. Brian's usually pretty mild-mannered, but he'll suddenly change into this giant [expletive] of a music encyclopedia whenever he meets someone he's attracted to. Felix first noticed Reynolds' uncanny ability to mansplain at a downtown loft show in March.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SAINCOME: I'm really glad that you related to some of the articles in the book. You don't have to be the type of person who goes to DIY basement shows. It's just a satirical perspective from people who go to DIY basement shows. But they also exist in the real world and have takes on all sorts of other stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REBEL GIRL")

BIKINI KILL: (Singing) Rebel girl, rebel girl, rebel girl, you are the queen of my world. Rebel girl, rebel girl, I think I want to take you home. I want to try on your clothes.

MARTIN: There is, as you describe it, a real preciousness in the culture, a culture where, you said at the beginning of the conversation, it's always like, this one's for the kids in the back. This is for all those misfits who always felt excluded. It's supposed to be a safe space for everybody, except it becomes sort of intolerant.

SAINCOME: Rachel, you figured it out.

MARTIN: Woohoo.

(LAUGHTER)

SAINCOME: You've got it nailed. This is the whole premise of the website. Yeah.

CONWAY: Yeah.

MARTIN: This is the whole thing.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: But I guess my question is - besides just trying to sound smart about my insights into punk music - can people in the punk world take a joke?

SAINCOME: There is a sensitivity level in the punk scene which I think is elevated. But at the same time, I think The Hard Times comes from a place where it's - it really is a celebration of punk and hardcore, too. It's not that mean-spirited.

And we've actually grown to the point where 99% of the time when people get covered in our publication, they are ecstatic. Even really large musicians who we cover sometimes will retweet it. And they'll say, we finally made it. We're in The Hard Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF TITLE FIGHT SONG, "FROWN")

MARTIN: The book is called "The Hard Times: The First 40 Years." Matt Saincome and Bill Conway, thank you so much for talking with us.

CONWAY: Thank you, Rachel.

SAINCOME: Thanks for taking our time.

(SOUNDBITE OF TITLE FIGHT SONG, "FROWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.