“Drug-addicted gambling cowards,” Conway says about the fictional Matt and Bill, who launch a New York fanzine during the late ’70s and transform it into an international rock-journalism juggernaut in the ’80s and ’90s. At one point they even own a racehorse. Then the 2000s hit, as do the horse tranquilizers.
“We go from nothing to everything and then come crashing down, basically,” Saincome says, citing such inspirations as the 2007 movie “American Gangster,” where protagonists “have it all ... and they blow it all.” Mock-serious flashbacks about brawls, benders, sketchy Russians and desperate decisions appear alongside fake exposés like “Corrupt Grunge Band in the Pockets of Big Flannel.” (Saincome and Conway will discuss the book and more at a Politics & Prose event Nov. 7 at Union Market.)
In real life, the San Francisco-based Saincome, 28, and Los Angeles-based Conway, 35, adhere to the no-drugs-or-alcohol straightedge lifestyle. Neither was alive at the birth of punk, but they both grew up in the culture. Along with Conway’s brother Ed, they founded the Hard Times in late 2014 with only a few hundred dollars. Now they have a full-time staff, multiple podcasts, live events and a network of freelancers who skewer punks, metalheads, videogamers, scenesters, politicians, suburban dads and more.
All of that work has been DIY, but “The First 40 Years” required some corporate allies. Saincome and Conway say they long considered making a book but never followed through. Then the publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stepped up.
“They came to us. We didn’t have a literary agent,” Saincome says. Their contact at HMH, editor Kate Napolitano, “grew up in the punk scene and understood about the Hard Times ... and she wanted to communicate our value to this large bureaucracy of a traditional publisher, and she told me she could pull it off, and she did.”
Saincome and Conway half joke that the final product — including countless hours of work by Hard Times staffer Krissy Howard — is a testament to the benefits of strategically selling out.
The first half of the book is new content with painstakingly researched historical flourishes. The four-page spread “How To Shoplift With Wendy O. Williams,” for instance, expertly parodies the Plasmatics’ wild frontwoman. The book’s back half basically represents a “greatest hits” package of existing Hard Times content, from takedowns of familiar archetypes (“Man Transforms Into Music Historian While Talking To Women”) to deadpan insider gags (“GG Allin’s Grave Desecrated With Flowers, Candles”).
D.C. legends such as Bad Brains and Henry Rollins inevitably appear. Minor Threat/Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye, in particular, is a recurring character. Woodrow Wilson High and a notorious Georgetown Häagen-Dazs shop also have cameos. (Mark Robinson, who founded the indie label Teen-Beat and is an art director for HMH, designed the book.)
In real life, MacKaye is well aware of the Hard Times. One headline from the website — “Fugazi to Reunite and Criticize Audience in Its Entirety” — has occasionally duped overzealous European fans who are pining for a reunion. MacKaye himself told the Hard Times guys about the phenomenon.
“We made his life a living hell,” Conway says. “We’re the reason he doesn’t smile in photos.”
If you go
‘The Hard Times: The First 40 Years’ book reading
Thursday at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose Union Market, 1270 Fifth St. NE. politics-prose.com. Free.