Sober Living For the Revolution on PMR

Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics
by Simon Czerwinskyj
Tue, Jun 22, 2010

The contemporary vision of straight edge is a highly westernized one, focusing on plodding metal music and alpha male attitudes, with politics largely subtracted from the equation. This widely-accepted stereotype of straight edge is roundly contradicted by Sober Living For The Revolution. Editor Gabriel Kuhn conducts a series of interviews with a wide spectrum of politicized and intelligent straight edge musicians and activists, shedding light on a whole different side of the subculture.

Kuhn has compiled a far-reaching collection of interesting and active individuals who recognize the inherent political implications of straight edge, going beyond the ego-driven, solipsistic version of straight edge that dominates in America.

On its face, straight edge is a set of rules, proffering its adherents to live drug-free and avoid casual sex. By taking an international bent, Kuhn is able to transcend the superficial face of straight edge. He talks to a woman named Tanja from Sweden, who speaks to how straight edge was a natural, and common, progression for radical communities in Umea, “I believe, for example, that living drug-free is seen by many – in particular by many women – as a form of solidarity with underprivileged social groups because these groups often seem to be affected the most when it comes to alcohol and drug addiction…The idea that living drug free might allow you to do more effective work for other people really spoke to me.”

This line of thinking extends to other individuals embedded in situations where politics are less a choice than a way of life: Kuhn talks to Jonathan Pollack in Israel, who is a straight edger, anarchist, and supporter of Palestinian resistance and Robert Matusiak in Poland, who runs a record label and talks of witnessing the ruination wrought by alcohol abuse in Polish culture.

If I were to wedge an overarching theme into this book, it would be that the ability to focus, organize, and carry out resistance to any oppressive force is undermined by the use of drugs and alcohol, as Sober Living For The Revolution also includes an entire section of manifestos that tie straight edge to anarchism.  “Wasted Indeed: Anarchy and Alcohol” explores the idea of indulging in and getting drunk off of life and its pleasures rather than controlled substances, and by extension, eschewing the version of straight edge that preaches purity, abstention, and control. Kuhn has gone above and beyond in his attempt to include all voices; Nick Riotfag’s essay “My Edge Is Anything But Straight” analyzes and critiques the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol in gay social circles. Kelly Leonard, founder of, speaks of the female experience and struggle within the straight edge community.

The book’s success stems from the articulate and insightful interviews, thanks to Kuhn’s probing, evocative questions, and the well-written, contrarian essays that all redefine straight edge as a  liberating belief system and aid in the struggle. The only glaring weakness is the interview with Andy Hurley, drummer of Fall Out Boy and Anarcho-Primitivist advocate, whose inclusion in the book seems to be a result of his high-profile status rather than his ability to engage in a meaningful discussion.

Sober Living For The Revolution begins with an interview with Ian MacKaye, member of the seminal straight edge band Minor Threat and the ultra-DIY Fugazi, who always has a lot of acerbic and educated insights on nearly any subject. Although he would most likely hate the title, he’s become an authority on straight edge, as he was instrumental to its inception and wide-spread popularity in the 1980′s. And as he’s had many years to ruminate on what straight edge and its applications mean, he has a unique, wizened perspective that I believe encompasses the spirit of the book and straight edge itself:

“There have been so many times when I would read something like, ‘Ian MacKaye is a practitioner of the straight edge lifestyle.’ A few years ago it finally hit me what was so annoying about it: it’s no fucking lifestyle! A lifestyle is something that one chooses. Like, if you choose to live on a beach and go surfing all day, that’s a lifestyle. But being straight is the base, that’s what’s underneath all of this! We’re born that way!”

Back to Gabriel Kuhn’s Author Page