Reviews & suggestions for punk rock fans.

Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. From Bad Brains – Book Recommendation

Get to Know the Walking Contradiction H.R., Frontman for Bad Brains

Ever heard of a “time machine show?” You know, when someone asks, “what show would you see if you had a time machine?” For me, hands down – Bad Brains – and that’s in large part due to their frontman, H.R. or Human Rights. To understand why all you have to do is read Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. From Bad Brains by Howie Abrams.

As the title mentions, it’s an oral history, therefore you read quotes from Norwood Fisher (of Fishbone), Chino Moreno (of Deftones), Kenny Dread (of Human Rights), and plenty more who described H.R. using sentences or phrases like “genius madman musical prophet,” “best vocalists ever,” “a performer who took the total rage and boundary-breaking of rock and roll, and the deep spirituality of Rasta reggae and molded it into one.” Damn, right?

Yet, to every compliment or uplifting quote about H.R. the performer and human being, there is another that shows an opposite side to the man like this one, “there’s the Joseph that walks in darkness, who’s utterly lost and apparently not willing to ask for help, and the contrast is heartbreaking.” Or even, “I was like man, I can’t be cooped up in a van with this guy. I’m gonna hurt him. I’m gonna hit him in the head with a hatchet or something, because he don’t know how to act.” Another – damn, right?

To go further, you can also see a contradiction in both his influence and his actions towards homosexuals in Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. From Bad Brains. It is clear that Bad Brains helped diversify the punk rock scene during the late 70s and early 80s. No better to prove this than Angelo Moore (of Fishbone) who said this within the book, “[Bad Brains is one of the] first bands that made me feel like it was okay to be black and play punk rock.” However, H.R. dealt with some homophobic issues. There are a few stories where H.R. speaks outwardly against gay people, and abandons a friend upon hearing he is a homosexual. Plus you have the song, “Don’t Blow Bubbles” which H.R. confesses is against gay people. I should also mention, there is a 2016 interview in the book in which H.R. states he wouldn’t write a song like that today and says, “I really never meant to hurt or upset anyone with the lyrics to that song.”

As I was reading, it was like riding this roller coaster of – “is this dude cool, or not?” And it wasn’t until I completed the book that I could sum up my thoughts on H.R. which is “it’s complicated.” Such is life. The same man who could be such an inspiration to so many also failed in his duties when he was younger to see the rights of other human beings when it comes to their sexual preference. And as the story unfolded for me, from his early childhood to where he is today, you find out there were things at work beyond his control that could affect his behavior like being diagnosed with a mental illness.

Therefore, it’s hard to tell what was the illness and what wasn’t. At its roots, I believe everyone should understand, especially after reading the book, that H.R. was struggling throughout his life. Once he asked for help, his life got better which you find at the end especially when he meets his wife Lori Carns Hudson. I believe I mentioned this in a previous post, if you are struggling – ask for help! Always. And if you want to know the history about one of the greatest punk rock legends, give Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. From Bad Brains a read.

So you know, there is a documentary of the same name available to watch. In fact, the writer Howie Abrams and filmmaker James Lathos worked together to bring both projects to life. Take a look at the trailer below.

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