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Gabriel Kuhn (ed), Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge and Radical Politics

PM Press, 2010; 352pp; £16.99

At first I thought that Sober Living for the Revolution was about historical, successful “sober” anarchist collectives and how they organised. The first part of the title misled me. Then I read the rest of the title which went on as “Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics”. Second thoughts: “Oh no! Interviews with a bunch of straight-edgers!” To be honest, being into hardcore punk, I never got into the whole straight edge scene in the same way that Ian Mackaye didn’t (whose song the whole thing started from), because it always seemed like a macho, merchandised religious cult.

Thankfully, most of the people interviewed have distanced themselves from that particular self-righteous, conservative strand of being sober in the music/activism world and often stray from the straight edge question altogether, confessing that activism is more important than this personal issue – to the point where even Kuhn has to get his questions back to his title and say “Since this is a book about Straight Edge, we have to start talking about that...”

Nick Riotfag is the most coherent in the book and writes an excellent critique on how often social action groups can totally ignore the feelings of sober folks, and offers practical suggestions for safe organisation. His was the only piece that came close to causing me to say to my partner: “See, you should quit drinking”.

There is a strong theme that suggests less substance abuse equals less oppression, however one womyn states: "Some, like me, long ago stopped going to typical straightedge gigs since they had nothing to offer that one couldn’t get from a violent mugging by an anti-abortionist."

Clearly, you can take the alcohol out of the man, but you can’t take out “man”, period. Roughly 65% are male, hetero voices (the back photo is also misleading), however the need for more sober, all-age, non-sexist spaces in the scene is highlighted and this issue needs support! We need a queer, third world revival. Hey ho, let’s go!

By Sareena, the boring punk womyn who doesn’t get drunk.

PS For anyone who wants to use this book to tell their nearest and dearest: “See, you should quit drinking”, or smoking, or whatever, this isn’t the book to do so. That’s going to take a revolution.