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Writer-musician Jon Fine (ex–Bitch Magnet) celebrates a new memoir

By
Hank Shteamer
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Already worked your way through our lists of 10 New York authors to read right now and the most anticipated books of early 2015? Good, because we've got another choice read for you. Jon Fine, local journalist, guitarist and ex-member of fearsome, innovative post-hardcore bands such as Bitch Magnet and Coptic Light, has penned a great new memoir, Your Band Sucks, reflecting on his 30-odd years in the indie-rock trenches. LCD Soundsystem chief and wine-bar entrepreneur James Murphy loves the book; so do we. That's why we think you should check out the release party, which goes down at Soho's McNally Jackson on Tuesday, May 19, at 6:30pm. Go pick up a copy, and listen to Fine read and swap lore with fellow indie-rock flame-keeper Ted Leo. (Go here for more info on the event.)

As he describes in Your Band Sucks, Fine has led several lives. Business-y types might know him as the current executive editor of Inc. Magazine, but the writer of this blog post first became aware of Jon around 2003, roughly a decade into his still-ongoing NYC period, which he recalls in the book with equal parts nostalgia and bitterness. At that time, Fine was playing in Coptic Light, one of the strangest, and best, underground bands this city has ever produced. Coptic Light married a rumbling, roiling free-jazz-inspired rhythm section—bassist Jeff Winterberg and drummer Kevin Shea—to Fine's ecstatically melodic, loop-driven guitarwork. They were as loud as any metal band you could name, but they sounded nothing like one. "Some nights the music gave me a buzz so strong, I wanted to leave my loops running, unplug my guitar, and pirouette," writes Fine of Coptic Light in Your Band Sucks. (As I recall it, he often did pirouette onstage, sans the unplugging-the-guitar part.)

But Your Band Sucks, which chronicles Fine's lifelong obsession with playing and listening to loud, abrasive underground rock, isn't a starry-eyed account of a man's love affair with music. It's really the chronicle of a dysfunctional relationship between an obsessive artist and his art—the story of how, time and time again, Fine sacrificed stability and normalcy in exchange for the rush and catharsis of live performance, only to find himself spent and struggling.

But as anyone who's ever been in a band can attest, you never really lose that drive. Fortunately for Fine, he got a second chance at a kind of glory he refers to as "just-enough"—wherein peer respect means infinitely more than riches and fame—via an extremely well-received 2011–12 Bitch Magnet reunion run. And through that experience, he gained the perspective necessary to write a barbed manifesto such as Your Band Sucks, which simultaneously portrays rock music as a force that takes years off your life while investing that same life with real meaning.

To whet your appetite for Tuesday's event, here's an excerpt from one of my favorite sections in the book, a rant about enduring clueless inquiries from co-workers about one's secret musical life:

"I wish you'd seen, and heard, the amazing things I did because I was in bands.

I wish you'd seen, and heard, the amazing things I did because I spent all those years in punk rock clubs.

I'm sorry you never had a moment in which the dim candle flare of discovery suddenly became apparent to a few musicians locked away from the rest of the world in a soundproofed practice studio…

I wish, at least once, you'd known how it felt when people pulled you aside urgently to tell you how much they loved your records. I wish you knew what it was like to stumble on a stage, stoned with exhaustion, congested and sluggish and woozy from a mid-tour flu, and then feel some switch flip, and take you from earthbound to flying. I wish you'd been there and we'd run around together in our little underground—punk rock or indie rock or whatever we called it—because it was, you should know, one of the more important cultural movements to happen in your lifetime."

Tell it, Jon.

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