You might not like what Ian Svenonius has to say—or you might love what Ian Svenonius has to say—but I can’t be certain which kind of readers will be the most pleased by this erudite maven of punk’s new essays. Also, I can’t be sure how many are willing to go as far as he goes with his thoughtful, well-argued pieces, but suffice it to say, I don’t recall ever reading the sentence ”...but then, on the other hand…” throughout Censorship Now!!
Svenonius’ credentials include singing and performing with several avant-gardist punk bands, such as Nation Of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Scene Creamers and, most recently, Chain & The Gang. He’s also played talk-show host for Vice.com’s insightful Soft Focus online program, with guests from Steve Albini to Kim Gordon and more.
With Censorship Now!!, Svenonius is not necessarily taking that pundit-esque adversarial role of implying, with industry-grade vitriol, that “if you don’t agree with me, then you’re an idiot.” Far from it. Perhaps you should think of this review not so much as a disclaimer or a warning, but as taking “the chaser” before your shot of blunt whiskey.
But Svenonius’ true might with these written words is in his eloquence, his persuasive elucidation of his arguments and his convincing invocation of history as backing evidence. Topics (or targets?) of Svenonius’ choosing include IKEA, Capitalism, dance “crazes,” the hypocrisies of certain religiously-imposed moralities, NPR, music (and rock ‘n’ roll) as the ultimate cultural disruptor, the movie Heathers, immortality, Silicon Valley and much more.
Svenonius posits some rather radical steps concerning a remedy for censorship, takes a deep dive into the often unacknowledged cultural ramifications seeded during the earlier (and even earliest) days of the Internet and the corporate cooption of college rock that robbed it of its teeth, its vitality, its integrity. He also discusses the historical role of sugar in empire building, the potential corruptive powers (or misinterpretations) of backward-messages on vinyl records and, as we said, the 1988 film Heathers (concerning copycat crime sprees and the culpability of pop culture icons.) But there isn’t a shred of facetious snark or anecdotal wiseass-ery going on here. Each subject is thoroughly investigated and ruminated upon, scrutinizing some of the historical gunk that may have been disregarded from our more popular discourses and shrewdly polishing some ponderous interpretations to provide insight to the curious reader.
I could be fooled; this could all be satire. But I’d like to believe that Svenonius doesn’t sound like merely an upstart, even if some may cast him off as such. Reading this book, you can almost imagine the sound of his calming voice narrating it back to you with its careful articulation, perhaps whipping a bit of musicality into its cadence but never embracing histrionics. The fist is raised, but never with a quaked rage. In fact, be Svenonius a punk or not, he comes off as enticingly professorial.
Some (or even all) of this might be rejected out of hand by many readers. But I believe rewards will be reaped for the curious and open-minded reader. That said, some grains of your own sensible salt are recommended with these essays.
Think of this review as Roddy Piper, imploring you to put on those reality-revealing sunglasses. Svenonius, in this metaphor, is acting as the lenses. It’s quite interesting to view the world through his eyes, and he just might convince you to think more deeply.