Like the welts and bruises that bloom in a mosh pit, the Boston hardcore band SSD left quite a mark in its brief four-year existence. One of the first bands considered to be “straight edge” — drug- and alcohol-free — SSD needed no stimulants to whip up a frenzy.
Beginning in 1981, the band tore up punk clubs and gallery spaces before latching on with fellow hardcore acts outside New England, such as Washington, D.C.’s Minor Threat and Bad Brains and New York’s Agnostic Front. According to “How Much Art Can You Take?,” a new photo book that doubles as an oral history of the band, they only played the Rat, Boston’s infamous dive bar, once.
“I always associated the Rat with the old guard,” SSD (Society System Decontrol) founder and guitarist Al Barile says in the book, “and my job was to blow that old guard up.”
Mission accomplished. With ferocious, warp-speed songs that rarely cracked the two-minute mark, the band carried out a scorched-earth campaign on the classic rock — and even punk rock — of the ‘70s. The photographer Philin Phlash, whose brother, David Spring (universally known as “Springa”), was the band’s aggressively jabbering vocalist, took hundreds of photos of SSD’s kinetic shows and the slam-dancing they inspired. Those photos, including many never before seen, bring the book to life.
“Phil was basically embedded with the band like a photographer in a war zone,” explains Barile, who will be on hand from 6-9 p.m. Saturday at Aloft Hotel in the Seaport District for a book launch and signing event. Barile’s wife, Nancy — a North Shore high school teacher who credits her punk-rock background with her success in the classroom — organized the event (and conceived and edited the book).
It’s the first book for Philin Phlash (Phil Spring), who moved to Chicago in the late ‘80s after documenting Boston’s music and nightlife scene through the decade.
“I want my work to be looked upon as social documentation,” says Phlash, who grew up admiring the photos in his mother’s copies of Look and Life magazines. “I was social media before social media.”
To him, hardcore slam-dancing was just another form of youthful expression, not that far removed from, say, the jitterbug. To capture the leg kicks and body checks of the “Boston Crew” — SSD’s most devoted followers — he had to be attuned to the “energy field,” he says: “You basically had to take the picture before it happened.”
“How Much Art Can You Take?” is the latest product from Radio Raheem, an indie publishing house and record label co-founded by Chris Minicucci, who also co-owns Big Dig Records in Cambridge. Over a decade, Radio Raheem has reissued about 30 hard-to-find hardcore albums, many of which are not available on streaming services.
“These old Boston guys are a tough nut to crack,” he says.
“The book looks great,” says Philin Phlash, though he admits he hasn’t made his way through all of the text just yet.
“I’m not big on all the word stuff,” he says. “The pictures should speak for themselves.”
Barile, who defined the band’s physicality, has endured several back surgeries and other health issues in recent years. Time has tempered his feelings toward Springa, with whom he has publicly clashed on occasion.
“I’ve been feeling my mortality the last few years,” says Barile, who will attend the book launch (as will Philin Phlash, bassist Jaime Sciarappa, and drummer Chris Foley). In November, Trust Records plans to reissue SSD’s long out-of-print debut album, “The Kids Will Have Their Say.”
“The band has not been in the same room in 40 years,” Barile says. There’s talk that the entire band — even Springa — may show up for the record release party in November.
Anything is possible, as Barile says in the book.
“My father instilled the belief in me that you could be anything that you wanted to be,” he says. “I am almost positive that he never meant playing guitar.”