Another entry into the pantheon of books about the 80s USHC scene? Well not quite… Unlike many retrospectives of this era, Barile’s book is more a personal, biographical account of her formative years as a Catholic school girl in Pennsylvania and her journey into the apparent antithesis to that world – the developing Punk and Hardcore scenes in Philadelphia and surrounding cities in the late 70s/early 80s.
The advantage of an autobiography over the usual talking head format is that it provides a more coherent narrative; engaging the reader and allowing them to empathise with, and relate to, Barile’s journey and the reasons behind it – an increasing awareness of the hypocrisy and limitations of authority figures, a desire to express oneself while at the same time yearning to fit in, and the need to make a positive difference in a corrupt and unjust world.
Obviously there’s a lot of musical references, but again these are personal to the author; detailing her favourite songs and acts from her initial Glam Rock favourites through to the harder sounds of early 80s Pittsburgh, New York, DC and Boston. Barile recounts her tenure as manager of the band Sadistic Exploits and her friendships/exploits in the Punk/Hardcore scenes (which include some of the legendary tales from this time such as the Black Flag/S.O.A. gig in Kensington that resulted in a savage beating for the DC punks by local neighbourhood thugs, protesting against a KKK rally in Boston and splitting her head open stage diving at a Dead Kennedys show in City Gardens, NJ – one of the obvious events behind the book’s subtitle).
Family and politics are obviously as important to Barile as music and there are numerous references to her parents (who both seem pretty cool with Barile’s life choices considering the Catholic/conservative leanings of the family) and her relationship with her younger brother who she introduces to the Hardcore scene but remains fiercely protective of – something that I was able to empathise with as a younger brother introduced to the world of music by a protective older sister.
The book lightly touches on Barile’s position as a High School Teacher in Boston, but despite a plethora of awards, she’s more inclined to discuss the influence of Punk/Hardcore on her teaching style and attitude to her students than gloat over her achievements.
One of the most refreshing aspects of I’m Not Holding Your Coat is the fact that it’s written from a female perspective of the Punk/Hardcore scenes – a perspective often marginalised or trivialised in other accounts and Barile does much to dispel this, noting the part women such as herself, Katie the Cleaning Lady, Cynthia Connolly, Allison Schnackenberg and a host of others played in setting up shows, producing zines and playing in bands throughout the US Hardcore movement. Another positive aspect of approaching the scene from a female perspective is the lack of bitchy, score settling and gossip that have permeated many of the Talking Head books and films discussing the early 80s Hardcore scene from a male perspective.
If you’re hoping for some inside scoop on life with Barile’s husband, SSD guitarist/band founder Al or a multitude of SSD stories then you may be disappointed, as Barile only touches on the early days of her relationship with Al and mentions SSD little, apart from the effect they had on her from a musical perspective – because, as it should already be clear, this is Nancy Barile’s memoirs not Al’s (although as an SSD fan boy the pic of Al smiling on his wedding day was more than sufficient – this is THE only picture I’ve seen of Al smiling).
A welcome addition to the body of works reflecting not only the immensely important music/social phenomenon that was/is Hardcore, but also Nancy Barile’s personal journey as a woman within the Punk/Hardcore scene. Ian Pickens