Burning Fight by Brian Peterson

A few years back one of my dear friends, Brian Peterson, put together one of the most important books written that explores and documents the ‘90s hardcore music community. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it features “commentary from approximately 150 people involved in the nineties hardcore scene as well as oral history articles about straight edge, politics, vegetarianism and interviews with a variety of influential bands” including Avail, Burn, 108, Inside Out, Integrity, Los Crudos, Spitboy, Strife, Texas Is The Reason, and many more. When I was looking through my interview archives this morning, I came across the below, never-before-published mini-interview I did with Brian and thought I’d share it with y’all.

BRIAN PETERSON: In hardcore or punk or any alternative kind of culture religion is such a controversial thing and I get why—you’re drawn to these scenes because you’re looking for answers, you’re questioning the status quo and you’re upset with the world. In organised religion there is so much corruption and I think when you’re a kid you have a kind of idealised view of what everything should be, which is great, but then you start to see the hypocrisy of it and you get angry with it and a lot of times you just reject certain things but without truly seeking the truth underneath all the problems. I think I mentioned to you the other day like if there’s someone who’s like, “All religion sucks,” it’s like they’re just as dogmatic as a fundamentalist Christian or whatever. There are always shades of grey.

Searching and question are two of the biggest things that brought me to punk and hardcore. After being a part of it for a while I started questioning that as well which prompted me to search inwards.

BP: My experience in hardcore is that you have the two camps of people, one of which is the people who are curious about spirituality. There’s the kids that maybe looked into the Krishna thing or even Christianity or Buddhism. Then there are the people that are, “Oh, I don’t have time for this stuff – it’s all corrupt.” I understood both sides to some extent. For whatever reason though I’ve always been curious about spirituality and religious traditions. A lot of my friends just didn’t really care about spirituality that much. But I’ve found people over the years though who have kind of got where I’m coming from; they are also looking for the deeper aspects of spirituality.

What is spirituality for you then?

BP: For me it’s sort of like a quest or a journey. It’s hard to explain because it is such a personal thing. I was raised Catholic. There are some really cool things about that tradition and there are certain aspects of that especially in terms of my traditional family/cultural heritage that I’m interested in. I get into the more holistic or more open-minded part of that culture and am really into the ideas of people like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. I grew up in a Catholic culture, but then as I continued to grow up I just had these questions that I’d asked my parents, relatives or friends and I guess they were tough questions because they would tell me it wasn’t appropriate to ask. [laughs] You just probe and question and try to understand the world around yourself. You’re raised with certain beliefs so it’s interesting when you start asking yourself, “What does it mean to be a Catholic?” Then as you get older you start to notice all this stuff you don’t notice as a kid like, “How come this person who claims to be a Catholic says one thing but they do another?” Isn’t it contradictory?

In my early teens I started to hit all these questions that I couldn’t find answers for or that other people couldn’t give me so I just started searching. That’s where it started for me. I read Malcolm X’s autobiography and here I am this white kid from a small town in North Dakota. [laughs] I was also into hip-hop. Somehow I heard Run DMC and LL Cool J in 1985 or 1986 and along the way I saw a video of someone and I thought it was kind of cool; as I got into that I noticed that the artists were questioning some kinds of political issues and social injustices. I’ve always been attracted to music with some kind of message or story behind the music. I felt kind of isolated because not too many kids listened to hip-hop in North Dakota at that time. I also had some friends that were getting into punk. I wasn’t really into it at that point because it felt like a lot of screaming. [laughs] I guess I just wasn’t ready for it. In a way hip-hop was kind of punk too… KRS-One has this definition of hip-hop that’s like, “It’s not just the music it’s the culture—the graffiti art, the breakdancing, it’s all the components that go with it.” It’s the ethics and ideas.

Brian Peterson photo by Brett and Rose Noble

I can identity totally with what you’re saying ’cause I was a hip hop kid too. So were many of my friends. I kind of went hip-hop to punk and hardcore to skateboarding.

BP: As I got a little older, I remember in junior high that I felt more isolated. I had a couple of good friends, but I was pretty quiet as a kid. I liked sports and things but I wasn’t a stand out athlete so I didn’t quite fit in with the jocks. I had glasses and was quiet so a lot kids thought I was a nerd. I just focused on music and learning about music and ideas from that. I mentioned KRS-One, I also got into Public Enemy, Erik B & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane. Hip-hop and eventually hardcore were like going to college before really going to college because they both opened up this whole world of ideas and thoughts. I became a vegetarian at the end of high school but the first time I seriously thought about the issue was the Boogie Down Productions song, Beef. It’s about the meat industry, and it blew my mind. That song still plays a role til this day, I still think about that song and how it opened my eyes to knowledge.

I love how music can do that, there’s something really magical about that. Sometimes you just hear a song and something inside you can just clicks with it.

BP: That’s a good way to describe it. It just clicked and made sense to me although it didn’t really make sense to my friends or my family. People made fun of me and told me I didn’t listen to “real” music… I’m trying to connect this all to spirituality… I’m slowly making my way to it. [laughs]

Around 1991 when Nirvana’s Nevermind came out—I also listened to some rock and metal—there was something cool about that album. Their music was kind of a transition for me. I started getting more curious about punk even though I didn’t really know what it was. Some people would even question whether Nirvana was a punk band or not because they became so mainstream. I could identify with a frustration that I found in their music and from the hip-hop scene. I got Nirvana’s records and started reading interviews and they said they were really into Black Flag and Fugazi. I developed a check-list from that of bands to check out. I remember my friend Dylan exposed me to a lot of these groups earlier, but I just wasn’t ready for them. But now it started to make sense. These bands I started really getting into were older bands so I kind of thought that the whole hardcore and punk scene must be dead now.

If you look at mainstream media they say punk died after the Sex Pistols. In the entire 1980s there was supposedly no punk or whatever and then suddenly Nirvana “brought punk back.” At that point in time I moved to Illinois and there were friends here that were interested in punk and I realised there was a scene happening still. From there I started playing in bands and got really involved in hardcore. I still love hardcore until this day but admittedly I’m not as involved because of work and what not. I guess that’s one of the reasons I tried to put together this book [Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound] to have kind of a role in something.

You can buy a copy of Burning Fight via Revelation Records.

Watch one of my favourite hardcore bands, 108’s full live set from the Burning Fight book launch.

And, check out Brian’s band Razors:

Punk love,

I heart you


*Brian pic by Brett and Rose Noble.