The Birth of Against Me!: An Excerpt from ‘Tranny’ by Laura Jane Grace

The Birth of Against Me!: An Excerpt from ‘Tranny’ by Laura Jane Grace

In Laura Jane Grace’s debut memoir, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, the provocative transgender advocate and lead singer of punk rock band Against Me! provides a searing account of her search for identity and her true self.

It began in a bedroom in Naples, Florida, when a misbehaving punk teenager named Tom Gabel, armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a headful of anarchist politics, landed on a riff. Gabel formed Against Me! and rocketed the band from its scrappy beginnings-banging on a drum kit made of pickle buckets-to a major-label powerhouse that critics have called this generation’s The Clash. Since its inception in 1997, Against Me! has been one of punk’s most influential modern bands, but also one of its most divisive. With every notch the four-piece climbed in their career, they gained new fans while infuriating their old ones. They suffered legal woes, a revolving door of drummers, and a horde of angry, militant punks who called them “sellouts” and tried to sabotage their shows at every turn.

But underneath the public turmoil, something much greater occupied Gabel-a secret kept for 30 years, only acknowledged in the scrawled-out pages of personal journals and hidden in lyrics. Through a troubled childhood, delinquency, and struggles with drugs, Gabel was on a punishing search for identity. Not until May of 2012 did a Rolling Stone profile finally reveal it: Gabel is a transsexual, and would from then on be living as a woman under the name Laura Jane Grace.

Tranny is the intimate story of Against Me!’s enigmatic founder, weaving the narrative of the band’s history, as well as Grace’s, with dozens of never-before-seen entries from the piles of journals Grace kept. More than a typical music memoir about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll-although it certainly has plenty of that-Tranny is an inside look at one of the most remarkable stories in the history of rock. 

Below, enjoy an exclusive excerpt from the book, telling the story of the band’s inception. You can pre-order Tranny here – available November 15 on Hachette Books.

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By 1997, I was 16 going on 17, and was falling deep into the English peace-punk scene—the Mob, Zounds, Poison Girls, and, of course, Crass, who remain my favorite band to this day. I also took an interest in Profane Existence, a Minneapolis-based anarcho-punk collective which was associated with smaller, more politically vocal bands like Man Afraid, Civil Disobedi ence, Destroy, and State of Fear. I was going to shows, reading fanzines, and collecting records.

My interest in these bands had as much to do with their sound and their look as it did with their do-it-yourself, or DIY, ethos and anarchist politics. It wasn’t about money for them. They sought revolution and freedom, and they approached making music as an act of political protest. These bands wanted to empower their audiences. I studied their lyrics, and, like them, I was fine with starving for my ideals. Fuck MTV and fuck major labels. Fuck commercial art. Fuck the whole capitalist system! I wanted nothing to do with any of it. All of these new records and cassettes I was discovering made music seem accessible in a way it had never been before.

I’d had some experiences playing in bands here and there. Dustin had a guitar and a basement we could practice in—a rarity in Florida due to the state’s high water table—and my mother had bought me a Fender P Bass from a pawn shop for my birthday. We started a band called the Adversaries, playing our biggest out-of-town show in Gainesville, Florida, at the Hardback, a legendary punk dive bar that would close within months. After the Adversaries dissolved, I played bass in a grindcore band called Common Affliction, which was really just an elaborate excuse to eat tacos with friends.

These bands were always just for fun and weren’t intended to go anywhere. But I wanted to take writing music seriously. I realized that since no one else was going to do it for me, I should just take it into my own hands. So I set a simple goal for myself: I would write and record 10 songs.

At the time, I didn’t have an electric guitar. If I remember correctly, I had traded it to my old drummer for weed. So I recorded the songs in my bedroom using my acoustic guitar and an electric bass with a four-track my mother had given me and some stolen microphones. I designed the cover of the cassette, too: a cut-and-paste job of a Vietnamese prisoner of war with his arms bound behind his back. Across the top, I scrawled two words capturing my teen angst; words that would map out the next two decades of my life, words that would set the tone for my career in music and become inseparable from my own name. I called it Against Me!.

After mastering the fine art of scamming free photocopies out of the local Kinko’s—a rite of passage for any DIY punk—I folded each up and inserted the booklets into the plastic cases of the cassettes I had dubbed until I had a small stack of Against Me! tapes. All my former bandmates hated the songs, and with good reason: they were fucking terrible. But I loved the process. I loved creating something. I loved putting something I made out into the world and being in full control of the art. This was mine alone. So on the high of this success, I set the next logical goal for myself: I would play one show.

From my experiences with the Adversaries and Common Affliction, I already knew that performing in front of people with a band was nerve-wracking enough. The thought of doing it alone was downright terrifying. I figured I’d play one show and get over it. So I got myself booked at a vegan café in Fort Myers called Raspberries, a daytime show on an open-air patio. With a five-song set list, in front of 20 disinterested people comprising mostly the staff and other performers, no stage to stand on, one shaky chord after another. . . very unceremoniously, Against Me! was born.

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