SNFU: What No One Else Wanted to Say, Chris Walter, 267 pgs, GFY Press, punkbooks.com, $20.00
Upon first glance, Edmonton-via Vancouver punks SNFU (Society’s No Fucking Use) are a strange choice for a band bio book; though hardly derivative, the band blazed few sonic trails and were only ever moderately successful. But for a certain type of punk — the kind that hangs around scummy bars regardless of who’s playing — Chi Pig and brothers Mark and Brent Belke were a rare bright light in lean years. That the band’s mid-’80s creative peak coincided with this period goes a long way to explaining their enduring charm and influence. After delivering similar collections on Personality Crisis and Dayglo Abortions, Chris Walter — a former zine writer who’s seen his subjects perform live more times than he can probably count — is the logical choice for such an endeavour.
Walter traces the story of SNFU back to the band’s early days, looking at their roots in working-class Edmonton families bonded by their outsider status. What’s amazing is that these kids had such a vision despite a relatively myopic worldview. The indie music machine we know today was non-existent in the early ’80s, which meant SNFU were making it up as they went along. That becomes a running theme in the band’s career, although their insular world is quickly shattered as the group hit the road hard and often. Walter writes about those tours in great detail, but after awhile descriptions of sweaty shows in shitty spaces across North America becomes as monotonous as sitting in a cramped van with the same group of people night after night. Fans still favour the band’s early run, prior to a temporary split, but what may be more interesting from a reader’s perspective is their short stint on mega- indie Epitaph in the ’90s — heralding a time when SNFU, like so many bands who slugged it out in the thankless ’80s, tried to capitalize on punk’s multi-platinum mainstream status in that decade.
Along the way we get a better picture of the group’s enigmatic lead singer Ken Chinn, fondly known as Chi Pig, a gay, half-Chinese front man whose wild onstage antics were in stark contrast to the troubled person he was offstage. On top of showcasing one of Canada’s most underrated exports, What No One Else Wanted To Say shines a bright light on the grueling toll life on the road can take on musicians. Anyone who thinks these bands are phoning it in for a quick payday needs to read this book. (Ian Gormely)