Book Review: TVOR 1980-1985: Storia di una Caoszine Hardcore Punx

Maximum Rocknroll
280, September 2006

TVOR 1980-1985: Storia di una Caoszine Hardcore Punx
Stiv “Rottame” Valli

Although The Sex Pistols were the most well-known band to remove “talent” from the list of professional requirements for making great music in the late ‘70s, England’s Desperate Bicycles were the ones to give this revolution its best name: “xerox music.” Hardcore punk was the true heir to this revolution, even though its practitioners were on the whole not even dimly aware of the Desperate Bicycles. What they did understand, however, was the idea behind “xerox music”: cut it, press it, distribute it. That’s all there is to it. Anyone can do it. Go and join a band.

This ethos applied just as strongly to the world of fanzines, which documented the new music. And just as there were “xerox” bands that stood out among the rest, there too were zines that stood out. The one that stood out the most was Italy’s early ‘80s answer to MRR, Teste Vuote Ossa Rotte (“Empty Heads Broken Bones”)—TVOR— “caoszine.” This book collects all five issues of TVOR, and includes unpublished artwork, ads for TVOR, and preliminary material for an unpublished sixth issue, as well as recently written introductions to each issue by Stiv Valli, the primary author and designer of the zine.

The xerox ethos was certainly enabled by a confluence of technological and economic factors (yes, the “xerox” machine), and the aesthetic that accompanied it has now largely disappeared from the field of cultural production along with other pre-PC, analog technologies and expertise. There are still kids all over the world cutting and pasting together zines today, but the artisanship demonstrated by the best practitioners in the old days is mostly gone. There simply is no current zine that looks as cool as TVOR yet manages to similarly avoid any pretense of being “artsy.” Stiv Valli was a graphic artist, so he perhaps had an advantage in the aesthetics department over other zinesters, but we can be grateful that he applied whatever formal training he had to the world of hardcore punk. The visual aspect of this book will be the most important one to non-Italian readers, but I highly encourage anyone with even a passing interest in Italian hardcore history to pick up this book.

TVOR zine was characterized by a sense of humor, which is evident even to one who cannot read the text. Comics and drawings are interspersed with band information. Another characteristic of the zine is an interest in politics, which is often combined with the humorous stuff. More on this in a moment. Finally, and most importantly, in addition to being the definitive Italian hardcore zine, TVOR, like MRR, was consummately international in focus. Detailed coverage of American bands is present throughout, with lyrics translated into Italian—a nice touch, rarely seen today—as well as interviews and copious photos, many of which are reproduced in this book with better quality than their original appearance in the zines. There are many rare and exciting action shots of both Italian and US bands included in the zines. Other European scenes like UK, Denmark, and Sweden get their due as well (Hello, Shitlickers!). Particularly impressive is coverage of the Chaos Days in Hannover, Germany, when punks and skins took over the part of the city and clashed with riot police.

On politics: With the exception of Northern Ireland, Italy had the most turbulent political situation of any Western democracy in the ‘70s. Italy was on the brink of a proletarian revolution, with disaffected youth and social disintegration rampant. Both the Italian Communist Party, probably supported to some degree by Moscow, and the myriad anti-Communist forces, from the US CIA and State Department to the mafia, the Vatican, and the Italian secret services, wanted to maintain the instability, which benefited those who valued the perpetual response to it—repression and authoritarianism thwarting any actual economic, political, and social revolution. The notorious radical left, anti­-Communist Red Brigades, who assassinated Italian leader Aldo Moro, were almost certainly infiltrated and manipulated by the Italian secret services, so this assassination is seen by many as having had an effect desired by the various anti-Communist actors on the right, such as the United States. Whatever the explanation, which would take too much space here, the political situation in Italy was grim in the late ‘70s. By the time hardcore exploded in Italy, as ‘70s punk rock had not (with a few notable exceptions), the instability, violence, and repression of the so-called “years of lead” had mostly come to a close.

Nevertheless, the Italian hardcore scene made great use of the radical infrastructure (squats, social centers, collectives, printers, etc.) and knowledge developed during these years. Simply put, more so than any other scene at the time, Italian hardcore was more overtly political and radical, and also deeply savvy about the false promises of radical rhetoric disconnected from radical action. When Shotgun Solution gave themselves that name and skulked around the dirty quarters of Rome previously inhabited by the Red Brigades, they weren’t just trying to be provocative. And the music? Let’s just say that anyone listening to Wretched, Negazione, or Underage will instantly appreciate the desperation, anger, confusion, and resilient hopefulness that characterized the early ‘80s period of reconstruction after the political violence of the ‘70s had shattered the lives of so many.

TVOR zine managed to cover the political situation without being heavy-handed. For example, after the suspicious “suicide” of the extremely powerful and politically connected banker Roberto Calvi in London in 1982, TVOR ran a satirical spread featuring photos of him decked out as a punk, complete with drawn-on mohawk and studs. The accompanying text purports to uncover the role of hardcore punk in his death: TVOR discovers that after going from skinhead to punk, Calvi wanted to move to Washington, DC, because the punk scene was better there than in Italy, and so he was murdered. Great stuff!

The zine’s perspective on punk itself was equally irreverent (though much more loving). The additional material included in the book demonstrates this attitude. For example, one of the few bits of English in there is a recent quote from Henry Rollins, presumably contacted by Stiv for a comment on how great TVOR zine was. His response? Basically, “I’m too old and important to remember you and your little zine.” Also, an interview Martin Sprouse did with Stiv, published in this magazine in 1986, is quite humorous. This book is hefty. As such, it is expensive. Shipping from Italy costs almost as much as the book itself, but I believe anyone who buys it will find it quite enjoyable. Published by a group of Italian punks who run the website, this book is one aspect of their impressive and comprehensive effort to document the history of Italian hardcore. They have also released an excellent double LP compilation, organized reunion tours of classic bands such as Impact, and made available online many artifacts of Italian hardcore, including some songs as .mp3 files and other zines as .jpg files. They are also apparently at work on a documentary film. There should be more books like this: by punks still involved in the punk scene, for punks, done in a noncommercial and DIY fashion, making great use of primary source material. The book is so great it might inspire you to learn to read Italian. And if you aren’t already listening to Wretched and Raw Power on a daily basis, what are you waiting for?

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