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Tim Mohr in conversation with Penelope Houston
November 5, 2018 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm UTC+0
Cosponsored by Rock ‘n Roll Book Club in conjunction with City Lights and Algonquin Books
celebrating the release of
Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
by Tim Mohr
Published by Algonquin Books
It began with a handful of East Berlin teens who heard the Sex Pistols on a British military radio broadcast to troops in West Berlin in 1980, and it ended with the collapse of the East German dictatorship. Punk rock was a life-changing discovery. The buzz-saw guitars, the messed-up clothing and hair, the rejection of society and the DIY approach to building a new one: In their gray surroundings, where everyone’s future was preordained by some communist apparatchik, punk represented a revolutionary philosophy—quite literally, as it turned out.
But as the East German punks became more numerous, more visible, and more rebellious, security forces—including the dreaded secret police, the Stasi—targeted them. They were spied on by friends and even members of their own families; they were expelled from schools and jobs; they were beaten by police and imprisoned. Instead of backing down, the punks fought back, playing an indispensable role in the underground movements that helped bring down the Berlin Wall.
The story of East German punk rock is about much more than music; it is a story of extraordinary bravery in the face of one of the most oppressive regimes in history. Rollicking, cinematic, deeply researched, highly readable, and thrillingly topical, Burning Down the Haus brings to life the young men and women who successfully fought authoritarianism three chords at a time—and is a fiery testament to the irrepressible spirit of resistance.
Tim Mohr is an award-winning literary translator of authors such as Alina Bronsky, Wolfgang Herrndorf, and Charlotte Roche. He has also collaborated on memoirs by musicians Gil Scott-Heron, Duff McKagan of Guns n’ Roses, and Paul Stanley of KISS. His own writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, New York Magazine, and Inked, among other publications, and he spent several years as a staff editor at Playboy magazine, where he edited Hunter S. Thompson, John Dean, and Harvey Pekar, among others. Prior to starting his writing career he earned his living as a club DJ in Berlin.
Penelope Houston is one of the pioneering women of American punk music. As the lead singer and songwriter for the seminal San Francisco Punk band The Avengers, she trailblazed the first wave of American punk influencing many future musicians. Music critic Greil Marcus described The Avengers as “San Francisco’s best punk band – in their moments, they were, you knew, better than any other band playing that night anywhere in the world.” Penelope’s later solo forays into acoustic and electric music blended the influences of punk, folk, rock, blues and americana leading to the release of over 11 albums. She makes her home in San Francisco.
Advance praise for Burning Down the Haus:
“The Best Punk Book since Please Kill Me.”
—Legs McNeil, author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
“Burning Down the Haus is not just an immersion into the punk rock scene of East Berlin, it’s the story of the cultural and political battles that have shaped the world we live in today. Tim Mohr delivers the soundtrack for the revolution that we’ve all been waiting for.”
—DW Gibson, author of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century
“In East Germany, where non-conformity meant jail time, punks’ ripped clothes and spiked hair were a show of courage and defiance. Squatting in derelict apartments and burning their lyrics before the secret police could get ahold of them, these teenagers wrote the soundtrack for a rebellion that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Tim Mohr tells the story of their DIY revolution with the thoroughness of a historian and the panache of a cultural insider. Burning Down the Haus is a riveting cultural history that also serves as a rallying call against authoritarianism everywhere.”
—Ruth Franklin, author of the NBCC Award-winning Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
“The true story of how teenage kicks turned into political opposition. With meticulous research and impassioned prose, Tim Mohr brings to life the saga of a bunch of East German punk rock kids who broke the state that wanted to break them. A book to warm an old punk’s heart.”
—Claire Dederer, author of Love and Trouble
“Equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, Burning Down the House is a fabulously alive history of punk rock behind the Iron Curtain, where simply dressing like a punk could get you hauled in by Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police. Mohr ties the fearless music-driven resistance to authoritarianism and mass surveillance in the 1980s to our current fraught times, showing how even the most formidable forms of oppression can be shaken by highly motivated, creative kids with riotous rage and a driving beat. A thrilling, inspiring read.”
—Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House and author of All Tomorrow’s Parties
“An appealing, lively cultural history worth reading in an era of corporate punk nostalgia.”
“You say you want a revolution? Tim Mohr’s spellbinding Burning Down the Haus reveals how a bunch of young East German punks in the 1980s made their wild music into a clarion loud enough to topple the Berlin Wall. With a sharp eye for the prosaic brutality of the repressive state and an ear locked on the furies in the music, Mohr has crafted an unforgettable story that is part cultural history, part political thriller and entirely true.”
—Peter Ames Carlin, author of Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon
“Berlin has always been a crazy city, and a dramatic stage for the epic struggle between powerful ideological forces and the individual desire to be free. In case you weren’t sure just how political music, fashion, and a certain attitude can be: read this book. Burning Down the Haus is wonderful.”
—Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed
“This is a crazily inspiring, strange, beautiful story that deserves to be remembered, and Mohr is a wonderfully compassionate writer. What a combination!”
—Johann Hari, NYT bestselling author of Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections
“Tim Mohr’s book details a fascinating period of time in the history of punk music. I am so glad he documented that moment in history for punk rock and for the world.”
—Greg Gaffin, singer/songwriter for Bad Religion and author of Population Wars and Anarchy Evolution