Ten Years of Radical Thought and Punk Rock : PM Press
By Jordan Ranft
Since its inception ten years ago PM Press has been selling books at live music events, especially punk shows. At first glance it is a strange sight to behold. I was first introduced to them at an Adicts show in Sacramento, and the image of a book vendor selling essay collections on political theory some 30 feet away from a seething mosh pit cuts a sharp juxtaposition. As weird as it may first appear, though, it does make a lot of sense when you think about it. Punk as a movement was and is rooted in radical thought and action: politically, socially, and even regarding the traditional framework of rock and roll itself. It, out of any musical genre, fully embodies the ideals of the counterculture, of coming together as a community to dance and to rebel and to conjure forth a collective snarl of dissent.
Why not, then, utilize these spaces as a market for the exchange of radical ideas, revolution, musical histories, and good goddam writing?
Given PM’s success and persistence over the past decade (which in the world of independent print-publishing in 2018 translates to a staggering accomplishment), I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Ramsey Kanaan, co-founder of the press, notes that they sell more books overall at live shows and conferences than they do through any of their retail distribution. His philosophy is to “get ideas worth sharing in front of the people who need them.” It’s a simple mission and, given the million plus books they’ve sold since opening up shop, an effective one. It gives credence to the self-proclaimed ‘radical’ press, as I have never run into another book publisher selling books at a punk show.
“get ideas worth sharing in front of the people who need them.”
In terms of content, PM doesn’t shy away from the ‘radical’ either. They recently published a collective autobiography of the New York Panther 21, a chapter of the Black Panthers that was broken up by authorities and subjected to one of the most extensive trial processes in American history, called Look For Me In The Whirlwind. The Real Cost of Prison Comix is a collection of comics that investigate the insidious effects and implications of the American Prison Industrial Complex, and was so good it got a shout of from Howard fuckin’ Zinn. There are also books that examine environmentalism, gender and LGBTQ issues, and economics. Aside from revolutionary literature they also publish books on music (specifically punk) and historical biographies as well as fiction and creative non-fiction. One of my favorite, and perhaps strangest, entries in their library of works is Late in the Day, which is a collection of poetry written by the late, and legendary, Ursula Le Guin.
PM is Oakland-based and heavily involved in the literary and music scene in and around the Bay. As such they have decided to celebrate their ten year anniversary by throwing a party and inviting everyone. The show will be on Saturday, May 5th at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland. There will be performances by The Rawk Hawks, Street Eaters, and Jungle Cat, as well as entertainment from the sketch comedy troupe, The Mess. The show starts at 8 and it is a suggested donation of $5 for entry, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Kanaan is describing the event as “an excuse to hear music we like with people we like.” If you think you’re likable be sure not to miss out.
Aside from the obvious importance of disseminating radical thought and distributing high-quality writing, what fascinated me about PM Press is the strangeness of it all. I like the fact that, in this age of digital experiences and political tension, there is a group of people setting up what amounts to adult-oriented scholastic book-fair booths at punk rock shows. I like that I went to see the Adicts one summer night last year and left with a book on capitalism and its intersection with Global Climate Change. More importantly, though, I like that they can survive for ten years doing this, because it lets me know I’m not the only one who thinks these ideas are important.