Book Review: Love Rock Revolution by Mark Baumgarten

Mark Baumgarten’s new book, Love Rock Revolution—K Records and the Rise of Independent Music, expertly renders one of the most important stories of the early days of independent labels, employing a narrative structure that makes Baumgarten’s nonfiction read as easy as a novel. He’s benefitted by the fact that Calvin Johnson, K Records founder and the man at the center of it all, emerges as a character so intriguing that he could be found among the pages of any number of great literary works. Johnson’s fearlessness and brazen ambition set the pace for the story that begins before his senior year of high school and takes the reader through the present.

Writing a story that spans three decades is no easy feat, but Baumgarten’s meticulous research and dedication to the task make it seem like a breeze. Baumgarten possesses an ability, difficult to pinpoint, by which he is capable of packing enormous amounts of information into a paragraph or even a sentence, without overloading the reader. He is informed and writes intelligently, but never approaches elitism or condescension—a balance that fits perfectly with the mindset of his subject, K Records.

Within the pages, Baumgarten covers it all—Beat Happening, The International Pop Underground, Riot Grrrl, Fugazi, Built to Spill, punk rock, DIY touring, the infamous Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, and the deepest inner workings of K Records. Johnson and Beat Happening do constitute a good amount of the story, but Baumgarten recognizes that there are many more players in the mix and addresses each accordingly, avoiding getting bogged down on one topic.

At the end of many of the chapters, Baumgarten has included peripheral informative blurbs such as “A Brief History of the Cassette Tape,” “A Brief History of Hardcore,” or “A Brief History of College Rock.” These page-and-a-half inserts go a long way in terms of providing outside knowledge to the reader, acting as tiny intermissions in the narrative structure. Rather than disrupt, they enrich the reading, never overstaying their welcome, and have you back to the page-turning narrative in no time. The book wraps up just over 250 pages, which is impressive. It’s a testament to the fact that Baumgarten addresses, in-depth, the story of K Records, but wisely avoids penning a tome so epic that only the most fastidious of insiders could approach it. Instead, the book is the literary equivalent of the two-minute-pop-song, powerful and carefully crafted, whittled down to the essentials.

What remains is a touchstone piece of music journalism. Baumgarten has already seen wide praise by critics and other journalists both before and within the first couple of weeks of the book’s release. And rightfully so. Love Rock Revolution isn’t just a story for K Records fans, or even fans of independent music, punk, or music history, though it should be required reading for a 101 course on any of the above. Love Rock Revolution is a story for anyone, anywhere who loves stories. Here is one that possesses hallmarks of the American spirit, one about a lynchpin of contemporary culture, crafted by a promising young author.

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Mark Baumgarten lives in Seattle, and his work has been published in Willamette Weekly, The Village Voice, Seattle Weekly, Lost Cause, and City Arts magazine where he is currently editor at large. You can keep up with what he’s working on by visiting his website at MarkSBaumgarten.com.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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