Monday, June 28, 2010

Keith Rosson - 'The Best of Intentions: The AVOW Anthology"

It’s weird reviewing a print zine for an online one, but here goes. Microcosm’s re-release for Keith Rosson’s The Best of Intentions: The AVOW Anthology covers the zine’s finest essays. It collects issues #11-16, as well as highlights from the first ten issues. It is 288 pages and it is a lengthy beast, detailing bar brawls, politics and, occasionally, punk rock ideals versus punk rock actualities. It’s not something that can be digested all at once (Those stories about drankin’ get repetitive real quick), but it details the thoughts of a thoughtful punk better than most.


There are certain concessions that need to be made upfront, though. In true zine fashion, the book is riddled with typos. Rosson often uses words incorrectly (“then” when he really means “than,” or “insure” when he should have used “ensure”). And some of his essays seem antiquated – I found myself agreeing with his essay “Punk Consumerism or John Mellencamp rocks harder than some of you apathetic fuckwits out there…” until I remembered the issue it originally ran in probably came out in the late ’90s, when albums like The Shape of Punk to Come, Hello Rockview and Half Fiction were dropping. It’s a matter of perspective, and the essay, for me at least, no longer serves as a criticism of “the scene” so much as a reminder that finding good music takes work. Even in the Internet age, it still doesn’t just come to you. And the criticisms about emo kids being crybabies seem a little played out.


Despite these problems, the collection is still an invigorating read overall. Rosson isn’t afraid to make himself look less than heroic, like when an attempt to hang out with his crush results in her grandfather scaring him so much that he runs away. There’s also a quick story about a stranger who asked him to help her move a couch that ends him accidentally dragging dog poop all over her carpet. Sometimes our failures make the best stories.


The book also offers insight into the punk ideology, like in the essay “Westport Rats vs. the Portland Cultural Elite.” Rosson caught the tail-end of punk’s creative low during the ’80s, but he juxtaposes the senseless violence from that period with the aimless kids he sees today. He questions what it means to be an anarchist. And takes time to observe that going to basement shows is a little ridiculous, with these lines: “…Our scene is so funny sometimes…how [can there] be any room for hipsterism, for elitism in a scene where just about all of us were the kids that got picked last for kickball, we were all the kids who, you know, read books for fun, who were picked on and pushed down and snubbed. How can there be any room for any of that shit when the one unifying theme, the lowest common denominator amongst about all of us at shows is that we’re all social retards?”


Intentions also includes samples of Rosson’s artwork – line-heavy and sarcastic – but the essays are the focus. The layout gets awfully text heavy at times, but taken as a whole, the collection shows where punk has been and where it can go pretty well. It calls America out on its bullshit (Man, remember freedom fries?). Even when the stories don’t necessarily have an ending or a point, Rosson tells them with such a self-deprecating yet poetic language that they become worth reading anyway.

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