A Bitch Magnet’s Ode to Boston, When Indie Was King

In this excerpt from his new memoir Your Band Sucks, editor of Inc. magazine and former punk rocker Jon Fine remembers Boston’s indie-rock scene’s founding godfather, Billy Ruane. With a forward from Mission of Burma’s Clint Conley.

There was a time, not so long ago, when indie rock still mattered, sort of. On certain nights, one could be persuaded that Central Square, in Cambridge, was so named because it was the center of the indie rock universe. And that was true not just for the Boston bands and fans who seemed to live there around the clock, but for visiting enigmas from other weird scenes. The writer, editor, and guitarist Jon Fine—now executive editor at Inc. magazine, and formerly of such infamous post-punk ensembles as Bitch Magnet and Don Caballero—has written a memoir called Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear). Tucked in the middle, we found a passage that reminded us how much we loved the Middle East Downstairs and, of course, its late, lamented spirit animal Billy Ruane. It takes place in the summer of 1988, as Fine and Bitch Magnet frontman Sooyoung Park arrive to meet drummer Orestes Delatorre for their first Boston performance in Fine’s mother’s Toyota Camry, “as we listened to a tape I’d made from a bunch of new 7’s and compilation tracks: Green River, Rapeman, Honor Role, and Spacemen 3’s seventeen-minute-long cover of the 13th Floor Elevators’ ‘Rollercoaster,’ which no one else in Bitch Magnet liked at all.” So we’re excerpting that passage here, with a brief intro by Mission of Burma’s Clint Conley (also a producer at WCVB’s Chronicle), who’ll be appearing with Fine for a reading on May 21 at the LilyPad. For what it’s worth, Conley told us that he’s “more nervouser of this book event than I am of singing in front of a Foo-full Fenway Park.” So be nice to him, okay? – Carly Carioli

Your Band Sucks book cover

Your Band Sucks book cover

Jon Fine makes for an entertaining and intelligent guide through the demi-monde of the ’80s-to-aughts rock underground. Tracing the arc of Bitch Magnet’s rise, fall, and brief and unexpected reprise, Fine offers a fine-grained account of indie rock’s conflicted mind-mess—the mix of boundless idealism and cynicism, lofty aspirations and defeatism, absolute conviction and constant doubt, flashes of transcendence and abject embarrassment. Best of all, Your Band Sucks captures the delirious fun of joining up with a small group, finding your way into a small scene, connecting to a larger family of internationally networked and like-minded misfits, and taking on the world knowing you’ve already lost. This book makes me feel lucky to have played a small part in this grand, doomed endeavor. – Clint Conley, May 2015.

Read the excerpt »