Interview with author Bob Suren | By Hutch
On June 9, Microcosm Publishing released Crate Digger, a collection of ex-Burrito Records boss Bob Suren’s recollections and idiosyncratic allegories spurred by classic punk records. Suren spent many years rocking in bands, collecting and selling records, and promoting shows through the ‘80s and ‘90s for the punk and indie scene. The book’s tone is casual and makes you feel as though you’re hanging out in your friend’s living room, talking about the records stacked around you.
Your mission with Burrito Records was “making titles cheap and easily available.” How important was it for you to succeed?
It was very important to make the music available to anyone who wanted it. I always pressed as many records as I thought I could sell. In a few cases, I pressed a few too many, which is OK, because they’ll be in dollar bins for years. In a few cases, I could have pressed more. I think I did a good job with spreading my titles around. In 2001, I saw one of my 1994 releases in a record store in Gent, Belgium, for about three dollars and I thought that was excellent.
Did that attitude come from the frustration of chasing down rare and expensive records?
I hate the idea of a record being rare. If the music is so good, make sure there is enough to go around. I owned many rare records, but because I wanted to hear the music. MP3s and digital trading have made almost everything accessible to hearing. The artifact isn’t as important as the sounds.
One of the stories in “Crate Digger” is about Bad Brains’ Rock for Light, but you don’t actually talk about the music. Did you assume people already know the record well enough?
The original title of the book was to be “Recollections of My Record Collection,” but the publisher convinced me to change it to “Crate Digger.” I think the original title is more accurate, because the chapters are about memories much more than the actual records. The actual music is not really all that important to the stories I wanted to tell. I wanted to write about punk rock in a very human way that any person on earth could enjoy, not just punks. My mom never heard Bad Brains, but she liked the book. That’s what I wanted to accomplish
Yet with 7 Seconds, you run through their early discography. Did you write with any real map or intentions?
The 7 Seconds chapter was one of the first I wrote. I felt that, in that case, it was necessary to describe some of the band’s progression. The chapters in the book were not written in order. They were written as they occurred to me. When I felt finished, I just alphabetized the chapters by record title. The book was written in spurts, over six months. It was a bunch of independent parts that came together as a whole, sort of like a great compilation album.
Did you struggle with your writing style?
No. Writing has come very natural for me. I write like I talk. My friends told me that they heard my voice as they read the book. Some of the chapters were emotionally draining. There were decisions I had to make, some things that got cut, some names that got changed to protect privacy. That required some thought, but it was not hard. I am shooting for an everyman thing.
What do you want a reader to take away from “Crate Digger”?
The big picture stuff, important events, the people, places, and things that made me who I am. Everyone has stories like these. I was just able to articulate them. I have had so many people get in touch to say they identified with certain parts. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what all those epic blues artists like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters did. That’s why that music is so timeless. I also had a few fucking weird stories that I just had to get out there.
You included Raw Power, Rattus, Toxic Reasons… Did you feel a push to expose lesser known bands?
As soon as I discovered foreign hardcore, I became a supporter. I like telling people about good stuff. Maybe you’d never get to hear Rattus if someone didn’t tell you about it. A lot of people have told me that they are searching for the music in the book. But that is not why I included those chapters. The chapters were written to tell specific details of my life and the music is just incidental. I told the stories to the best of my memory, as truthfully as I could.
How has your relationship with punk evolved?
Punk rock is still kicking and screaming. It always will be. The sounds will mutate and then recess once in a while. That’s not important. The methods of hearing music will change. Also, not that important. The ethos is important. There are people keeping the ethos real. There probably always will be. I myself have taken a big step back and don’t follow the music that much. I don’t pick up records or demos. I will flip through a zine, because I like the printed medium. But, I don’t want to own a zine. I don’t wear band shirts. I will go to a show if some of my friends will be there. I can talk to them between bands, but I’m not paying much attention to the stage.
Not that I am jaded, it’s just not as much of my home as it used to be. Part of that is age, part of that is what I have been through. I’m tired. I also want to try new stuff. I know what is going to happen at a punk show. I don’t know what’s going to happen at an opera, because I have never been to one. So, yes, I would rather go to an opera these days. It would be fresh. I dislike hearing older people say that punk is dead. If it is dead for you, go home. Other people are having fun. Don’t ruin their party. If I feel like I am being a bring-down at a show, I bail.
Will there be a “Crate Digger Pt II”?
I have more punk stories that didn’t fit the first book. I have about 15,000 words down. I am not working on that as diligently, but it is coming. Most of those stories are about the record store. I think I want to call it “True Stories of the Record Store.”