Bob Suren (Microcosm Publishing, 2015)
We’re not supposed to have role models in punk rock, but there are always going to be those whose commitment to the ‘core serves as an inspiration to others. Bob Suren was one of those figures for me. He fronted the Florida hardcore band Failure Face during the ‘90s—their All Pain, No Gain EP is one of my favorites of the decade. Bob also ran the Sound Idea record store and mailorder distributor for over ten years. Sound Idea was more than a mere record store; it served a small community and music scene. Bob kept his prices as low as possible because outrageous music should be affordable to those who would benefit from hearing it the most. Places like Sound Idea are vital in unlikely locales like Brandon, Florida. I have known more than a couple people whose lives changed for the better thanks to time spent under Bob’s tutelage at Sound Idea. Personally, I think it is a crime that there is not a Sound Idea or a 924 Gilman Street in every small town across America.
Crate Digger is the story of Bob Suren’s 30-year punk rock love affair. Each anecdote centers on a specific record, from the obvious to the obscure. We all have stories of what we were doing the first time a new band opened another door to a new, exciting world. Bob tells his fair share here. I particularly enjoyed the stories about being a young small-town kid getting into punk in the early ‘80s. That was back when zines like MaximumRocknRoll were your primary information sources, the internet didn’t exist to tell you that Minor Threat broke up six months ago, and dinosaurs roamed the earth gobbling up young punk rockers at will. Punks were making it up as they went, giving themselves wacky nicknames like “the Reverend Mike Fucking Anarchy” and hoping that the local police didn’t shut down the show before the touring headliner showed up.
Bob’s interest in punk increases with each new addition to a growing record collection, becoming an obsession. His obsession leads him to playing in his own bands, starting a record label, and opening Sound Idea. While getting the store ready for the public, Bob goes to the hardware store across the street for supplies and meets his future wife. Things are awesome for a long time, as Bob lives the life of a record store owner, band vocalist, and show promoter.
However, there is the other side that Bob slowly begins to neglect after some time. I’m talking about the life that is lived when the store closes or the show is over for the night. Bob’s punk rock obsession costs him what matters most—his marriage. She breaks up with him the day before a particular record arrives in the mail; an old ’77-era punk single that had eluded Bob for 20 years. This moment puts 43-year-old Bob Suren’s life in its proper perspective. Collecting thousands of punk records had been the love of his life when his wife should have been instead. Bob proceeds to sell off his entire record collection, easily worth six figures and very likely not sold for its maximum value. Crate Digger ends with Bob starting over in a new town, broken but still hoping for the best.
Crate Digger’s story is fun, but also a heavy reminder of what happens when the hobby becomes all-consuming. I had been coming to realizations of a similar nature when I met Bob Suren briefly at a reading in Berkeley several years ago. Bob was a nice guy and even invited me to join him and friends for dinner afterward, but I had to respectfully decline. Too many emotions were running through my head as I thought about his stories and relating them to my own life. I didn’t want them to spill out at the dinner table that I was too broke to sit at anyway. I too had placed more importance on the wrong things and cost myself a lot in the process. I walked the long way back that night with a lot on my mind. Crate Digger affects me the most personally out of all the books on punk.