"Punk Rock Ghost Story" Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by Deadite Press
Written by David Agranoff
2016, 276 pages, Fiction
Released on September 23rd, 2016
Deeming whether something or someone is or isn't "punk rock" since its inception nearly 40 years ago has turned from a genuine question into a kind of absurd litmus test for both the young and the old. More so than any other musical style, claiming something is "punk" has gone beyond labeling it because it fits within decisive parameters, and has instead become a subjective definition of the person describing, and what they're referring to. It could mean a style of music, yes, but it could also refer to clothes, actions, inaction, political leanings, processes of thought, lifestyle, you name it. And because it's such a subjective claim, it's a slippery devil of a label that can vary wildly from person to person, yet somehow maintain the veneer of righteousness by claiming to be static, but in reality is anything but.
Confused yet? I don't blame you. Let's try to break it down with some examples: Hot Topic? Not punk. A band signing to a major label? Not punk.
The spirit of a murderer possessing a tour van and carrying out his bloody revenge nearly 30 years later? That's pretty fucking punk rock.
That's the premise of Punk Rock Ghost Story, David Agranoff's newest book: a group of teens in a punk band from Indiana called "People's Uprising" are preparing for their first interstate tour, but are missing a critical component – transportation. Nate, the lead singer, happens upon an old van owned by a weird guy on the side of the road, and is shocked to discover it belonged to one of his favorite bands, The Fuckers, who flourished before their lead singer mysteriously disappeared. After obtaining the van from the weird guy - a washed up former member of The Fuckers – Nate finds it loaded with ephemera, including a handmade tour journal made by the vanished Frank Fucker. Deciding that fate has intervened, Nate convinces the band to follow The Fucker's tour path through the US. But little does he know that he's stirred up much more than the dust on the moth-chewed fabric seats of the old van.
As their tour progresses, his band members catch him acting erratically and engrossed in reading the old journal. Nate himself starts to lose blocks of time, hears voices, and makes statements he would never make before. His crush in the band, Ericka, knows that Nate would never speak out so aggressively and militantly about punk rock before the tour, but it does sound more like someone she's heard of – Frank Fucker, and the few glimpses she's been able to glean from the old tour journal. As the road trip continues and Nate's behavior keeps changing, she realizes there's more going on than he's letting on. She hopes to find out why he's behaving so bizarrely and get the old Nate back, but she may already be too late...
Story-wise, this book is classic horror with a unique twist. Agranoff is clearly well-versed in the names and minutiae of the punk & hardcore music scenes, and is able to guild the plot with rich, authentic detail. I love that he was able to take something of an old trope, the idea that fanaticism of a person's punk rock ideals would be so absolute, and have it lead to an ultimate conclusion – murder and supernatural possession. The characters are varied and multifaceted, each with a unique voice and back story, something that too often gets left out of horror novels. Agranoff writes about the hardcore past as well as he writes the more complex present, never feeling too nostalgic or preferential to either one. He acknowledges the flaws of punk rock on both ends of the spectrum, understanding of the "magical thinking" of the past and the inevitable acceptances that need to be made for change. Agranoff even goes as far to make physical marketing for the fictitious band The Fuckers, having a band record an album for them in real life, making flyers, demo tapes, and phony listings for them at record stores.
If you like punk rock and you like horror, this book is made for you. If you just like one of those, try giving this combination a chance, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.