My hands were shaking a bit as I sent the message. Was I really going to ask THE Steven Blush for an interview? I had to remind myself that despite the fact Blush has been such a prominent and powerful figure in rock n’ roll journalism, he has always been a really cool guy. But years have passed since I’d last spoken to him… years that resulted in him rising in the ranks from music journalist and founder of Seconds magazine, to published author and filmmaker. Would he agree to the interview? Would he return my message? Would he even remember who I was? Well, it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Blush is just as awesome as ever.
A New York native, Blush spent much of his childhood hanging around with his dad, who worked on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when “it was still a crazy, fucked up place,” according to Blush. He would stumble into bars like CBGB and the Lismar Lounge and rock n’ roll landmarks like Trash and Vaudeville, witnessing the rise of bands like The Talking Heads and later White Zombie and Circus of Power. Blush also lived in Washington, D.C. for a brief stint and got involved in the hardcore explosion out there. He began booking shows and deejaying.
[Steve in D.C, 1981, Photo courtesy of Steve Martino.]
Although Blush had virtually no experience as a journalist, his activity in the local scene granted him his first assignment, an interview with The Cro-Mags. From there, Blush would go on to write for magazines like Spin, Interview, and eventually start his own, Seconds magazine.
But unlike many music writers who look to cover big names, Blush was all about the underdog. “When I was a kid, I went to see Led Zeppelin, but I didn’t really enjoy myself. It was supposed to be fun, but I didn’t really feel like I was part of the fun.” Blush goes on to explain how much more he enjoyed watching bands in the intimate settings the Lower East Side offered and the energy he found there. “I wasn’t really geared for the mainstream, and that’s what living below 14th St. was all about. There’s a lot of famous musicians I have no interest in. A lot of New York bands are way too intense for the mainstream, like The Ramones singing ‘Beat on the Brat,’ in the days of Journey and Styx.”
Blush ran Seconds magazine for about a decade when he found himself in a rut. In the final three years, he was about to release his second or third Marilyn Manson cover and he was being approached about writing up bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn. Blush reflects, “There was no market for what I wanted to do. I felt like it was time to move on.”
[Steve Blush displays American Hardcore at Little Big Horn, photo courtesy of George Petros.]
And so Blush took a gamble which paid off in spades. He decided to focus his attention on what would become his first published book, American Hardcore. The book focused on his time in D.C. working with bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag, who he described as “Bands who wanted to change the world in non-economic terms.” This was a mind-blowing concept to Blush and one he adopts to this day. Blush was approached by friend and famous videographer Paul Rachtman, who suggested they make the book into a movie. The film got a positive response from Sundance and it eventually got picked up by Sony Pictures, who featured it in movie theaters around the country. (It’s available now to stream on Amazon Video.)
[Steve Blush poses with the band Wicked, photo courtesy of Tony Mann.]
Blush’s second book, American Hair Metal, blew some of his friends out of the water. “A lot of my punk friends are still mad at me for that,” laughs Blush. The book, meant as a follow-up to American Hardcore, didn’t quite go the way he had planned. “When I went to interview the Don Dokkens of the world, it was all about hanging out, getting laid, rockin’ out, but there was no story behind it. It wasn’t like tongue in cheek, it was like tongue in buttocks,” he reflects. At the same time, Blush embraces it. “It’s my fuck you to conformity. When I went to L.A., I always wore my satin shirts and made sure my hair was as long as possible to fuck with the punk rock dudes. I’m blowing it up. I know what I’m doing. Sometimes it just takes the world a little while to catch up.” Blush plans a sequel to American Hair Metal, which should be coming out next year.
Blush is currently plugging two books that came out this year. The first is New York Rock: From the Rise of the Velvet Underground to The Fall of CBGB. Using the benchmark of the rise of the Velvet Underground in 1966 to the closing of CBGB, which occurred 40 years later, Blush explains why he chose these as milestones. “The Velvet Underground were artists, they were poets, they worked with Warhol.” Blush goes on to describe them as the first rock n’ roll band to appeal to adult sensibilities. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the palpable fall of New York City’s CBGB, which marked the end of an era for many rock n’ rollers. He plans to release a book called L.A. Rock as a sort of sequel to New York Rock, which should be coming out in about two years.
[Steve Blush with photographer Frank White displaying New York Rock, photo courtesy of Joe Alvarez.]
The release of New York Rock coincides with another one of Blush’s books that came out this year, Lost Rockers: Broken Dreams and Crashed Careers. An admittedly heavy subject, Blush reflects, “It’s a difficult subject to talk about. It’s about what happens on the way to stardom. They [the lost rockers] played with everyone you ever heard of, but you have no idea who they were. It’s like what the hell happened? But I feel like I saved a few lives here. I see lost rockers as a new genre. It might mean something that these people played with someone.” Blush is also working with Rachtman to make Lost Rockers into a movie.
Blush reflects on his career. “I have really gnarly, nasty people who I was intimidated by hugging me, thanking me for validating their lives. It’s kind of cool… what a teacher does for kids, I do for fucked-up artists. Rock was an art movement of the 20th century and New York was the vanguard for that. I’m here to protect history.”
To buy Blush’s books and learn more about his career, check out his web site: StevenBlush.com
You can also buy his books at the following Amazon links:
New York Rock: From the Rise of The Velvet Underground to the Fall of CBGB
Lost Rockers: Broken Dreams and Crashed Careers
American Hardcore: A Tribal History
American Hair Metal
Marissa Bergen is a Los Angeles-based musician and writer. “Spotlight On Local” focuses on independent underground artists in the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk genres.