Staying hardcore in the land of the stripmall

The way we were
By MAX G. MORTON  |  December 1, 2011

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How to explain Live . . . Suburbia? Compiled and written by Max G. Morton and Anthony Pappalardo, the book is a collage of all the hardcore hopes and wasted dreams of a misspent youth in the suburbs of the 1980s and '90s. Skateboards and skinheads, dirt bikes and teased hair, strip-mall karate and heavy-metal T-shirts— they're all here, in a blurry mix of essays, photos, and found objects.

Pappalardo says that he and Morton wanted to explore the pop-culture engine that is the suburbs, and its symbiotic relationship with urban centers. "It's celebrating the fact that the kids in the suburbs are the creativity and the fuel behind the things that start in cities," he says. "Every subculture in the book — whether it's goths or skinheads — has to grow in a suburb."

The book came out last month. If you ever pored over a waterlogged Playboy you found in a ditch, if you thought it was cool to give the camera the finger when your friend took your picture, you might see a little of yourself in the following excerpt.

Some of us enter this world prematurely. After peaking on parent-approved science fiction, you find yourself with a pocketful of quarters pedaling your PK Ripper toward the inviting glow of a neon ARCADE sign. You feel invincible, adorned with a KISS iron-on from your most recent family vacation. Youth is enriched by voyeurism and impressionable minds warp like a record left in the back seat of a car. Perceptions change at lightning speed. Somewhere between dropping the quarter in and reaching the ominous game over, you learn that the bad, made-for-TV movie, disco record, and People cover have soiled KISS forever. Life has lost all meaning.

Joining karate is the next logical step for many subscribers of the unwritten manual to preteen survival. One might find himself kicking, chopping, and yelling kiiiiiyyyyyyaaaaa! at everything in sight. The utter determination to destroy might even catch the eye of an older dojo transplant who has an afro and spars in war paint. You have never made friends with someone that wasn't from your town, but pretty soon Motley Crüe is placed in your tiny palm and a new door—complete with dry ice — is opened. You are too fast for love and everyone else around you. When you pledge your allegiance to The Number of the Beast, Mother gets a little nervous. The monster materializes after devouring everything metallic, but unfortunately in suburbia you need wheels to go anywhere outside your head. While others are content with the same grip of records, your overactive psyche craves something faster and louder. You Can't Stop Rock 'N' Roll. . . or can you?

The initial shock value of "Fuck Like a Beast" is immeasurable. Sadly, it's as ephemeral as the India ink Pachuco cross tattooed on the hand of the dude who played it for you. Mercyful Fate has imported a new breed of evil to your town and before long you are hiding Witchfinder General records under your mattress. Hanging out in cemeteries is cool as shit, making new friends with Ouija boards brings you closer to being in league with Satan and your new idol is a man who smashes television sets over his head. For a moment it feels as if you could retire on goats and inverted crosses.

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