(See a photo gallery at the end of the story)
By Jonathan Perry
As a teenager growing up in Salem, N.H., in the late '80s, Anthony Pappalardo began sneaking out to metal shows - in Boston, Lowell, Framingham, anywhere - every chance he got. The music was loud and aggressive, and it spoke to him - but not nearly as loudly or aggressively as hardcore did.
Like punk, its immediate antecedent, hardcore is brutally loud and fiendishly fast, but boiled down to something more dark, dense, and primal. The fact that the band members thrashing away on makeshift stages weren't much older than he was resonated with the teenage Pappalardo.
"When I started going to shows, I got the sense that something was really happening," he says. "That dude singing was just a few steps from me and [the band] was right there, and I felt that this was real, it was tangible."
In the ensuing years, Boston hardcore outfits like SSD, the Big Boys, Slapshot, Gang Green, and Only Living Witness would become the soundtrack to his life. In fact, he says, during the mid-'90s Pappalardo played guitar with several Boston hardcore bands - the most notable being Ten Yard Fight and In My Eyes.
Now Pappalardo, 33 - a Brooklyn-based writer who moved to Boston during the mid '90s to attend the Massachusetts College of Art and Design - has sought to document hardcore's history. He and co-author and art director Nathan Nedorostek have compiled the book "Radio Silence/ A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music," with more than 500 photographs and text chronicling what its authors describe as "the ignored space between the Ramones and Nirvana."
An accompanying photo exhibit, "Radio Silence/Selected Photography," has come to the Fourth Wall Project, 132 Brookline Ave. in Boston (it runs through Feb. 19). The black-and-white images suit hardcore's gritty aesthetic particularly well; grainy grays of shadow and light capture tattooed singers all but self-combusting amid tangles of microphone wires, torn T-shirts, and sweat-plastered hair. In one photo, a young man soars high above the crowd, having presumably leapt from the stage. For that one frozen mid-air moment, he appears totally free of everyone and everything, including gravity itself.
Merchandise, including T-shirts and limited-edition prints, will be on sale at the show, and Pappalardo admits that it's somewhat ironic to commodify, and codify, a defiant strain of music that stood in stark contrast to the big business of pop music and rock radio. "I'm not gonna lie," says Pappalardo, who will be at tomorrow night's opening with Nedorostek. "It is a little absurd and funny when you're using a $10,000 lighting rig and camera to take a picture of a record that cost $3 to make. It is totally ridiculous." But, he adds, "people may have taken 15 minutes to design a cover, but they really cared about it. It was artistic, but it was never art for art's sake."
Ultimately, Pappalardo says the book, which took more than four years to finish, gives the music its long ignored due. "Even punk rock had a mainstream moment, but hardcore was kind of like the last dog in the kennel, the runt of the litter, and it never got that moment," he says. "But I think because it was so limited in its resources, it forced people to be really creative, and that's what drove it."
Indeed, the hardcore scenes that sprang up in places like Los Angeles, Washington, D.C, New York, and Boston (which Pappalardo affectionately calls "an underdog city," ideally suited to the music's outsider status) shared information and music via homemade cassettes, mail-order underground record labels, and fanzines. "Hardcore wasn't the only subculture that was networking in this way in the 1980s," he says. "But I really think it was the best at it."
How else to explain the photographs on display at the Fourth Wall Project, depicting masses of kids communing to hear and cheer bands that were all but invisible to the mainstream rock press or radio? "No one taking the photographs was a 'professional,' " Pappalardo says. "These images were taken for the love of the bands, to give them exposure."
When the authors began researching "Radio Silence," the online social networks that now instantly connect fans were still in their infancy. "We were still digging it out by finding letters, cold-calling people, e-mailing," he says. But every musician, fan, writer, or photographer the two got in touch with gave them more phone numbers, more addresses, more connections.
"Everyone who saw what we were doing gave us a list of 10 more people," Pappalardo says. "We'd go on a trip and we'd soon find ourselves in someone's basement, going through their stuff. It was pretty nuts, but it's a testament to that community."
Click on the "Full-screen" link to see larger versions of the photos.
JOIN THE RAW DAWGS
Life and wildlife in Madagascar