According to Matt Saincome and Bill Conway’s new book, The Hard Times: The First 40 Years, Saincome conceived of The Hard Times punk zine in 1976 while at a Ramones rehearsal. He and Conway were high school dropouts squatting in New York’s Lower East Side. They sold copies at CBGB. It was considered a must-read for punk fans.
“Punks didn’t believe in the Bible, they believed in The Hard Times,” Lester Bangs said. Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry and Darby Crash wrote letters to the editor. The Beastie Boys were interns. The zine turned into a magazine and eventually a media empire that included international offices, books, radio shows, movie scripts and even plans for a theme park. The owners were so rich they paid for prostitutes. There was a third co-founder, Saincome’s brother, Ed, but he was beheaded in a mosh pit accident.
Of course, none of the above is true. The Hard Times is a hugely popular parody site Saincome and Conway launched in 2014 as a way to poke fun at the raging man-pile that is punk and hardcore music. The website has been so successful — receiving roughly five million views a month — the two have written a similarly satirical book about its mythical history.
Both straight edge, Saincome and Conway were raised listening to punk. Saincome, who lives in the Bay Area, had a punk zine in college and sang in a few bands. He was the music editor for S.F. Weekly and also wrote for Vice and Rolling Stone. Conway, who’s originally from Boston but lives in Silver Lake, has been a stand-up comedian for the past eight years. After meeting on a podcast, Saincome posted on Facebook that he wanted to start a comedic punk website. The two merged their writing and comedy skills and punk culture know-how, and created The Hard Times.
“If The Onion’s everyman has a lawn, a white picket fence, kids and a day job,” says Saincome, “then The Hard Times’ everyman has a band, a shitty roommate and depression.”
The website took off instantly thanks to early headlines, like “Breaking: Singer Billy Joel Quits Green Day,” “GG Allin Hologram to Throw Feces at Coachella,” “Rachel Dolezal Now Claiming to Be Founding Member of Bad Brains” and “Crust-Punk House Made Entirely Out of Patches.” “We have people who’ve claimed that they’ve seen a house made entirely out of patches,” assures Saincome. And yes, there’s a Hard Times patch available on the merch section of his site (see lead photo).
“The Misfits are just ripe for satire,” says Conway. “They’ve done it to themselves.” Other perennial targets include Black Flag and, of course, Morrissey (sample headline: “Morrissey Adds Extra Ribs to Prevent Self from Sucking Own Dick”).
Like any good parody, readers are often duped by the articles. After running a post that read “NOFX’s ‘Linoleum’ Wins 25th Consecutive ‘Song of the Year’ Award from Floor Trends Magazine,” Saincome and Conway received a cease-and-desist email from the actual Floor Trends magazine.
The Hard Times’ more than 400 contributors are also writers, musicians and comedians, some whose credits include The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Like Saincome and Conway, they understand the nuances of the scene they’re spoofing.“The writing has to be from the perspective of people who grew up going to shows in basements,” says Saincome.
But The Hard Times doesn’t just spoof fans of punk and its related metal, goth and alternative genres. It mocks the entire music industry, from tour managers to concert promoters to the way people behave at concerts. What woman doesn’t hate standing behind a tall guy at a show? “Most of them are in some way based on real events,” says Conway. “If people can’t relate to the headline, then it’s not funny.”
The website inevitably spawned a sister site about gaming, The Hard Drive, and a podcast network featuring Saincome and Conway’s own podcast, where they’ve interviewed the likes of Fred Armisen, Keith Morris, CJ Ramone, Lars Frederiksen, Harley Flanagan and Donita Sparks. The two host live music and comedy shows, including an upcoming date at the Hollywood Improv in December. And they recently filmed a pilot for a possible web series about a Vice-like newsroom, also called The Hard Times, which was directed by Jonah Ray and starred Kyle Kinane.
The book, co-authored by Krissy Howard, is essentially a collection of their best stories; the title is a riff on Black Flag’s compilation album, The First Four Years, and a nod to 1976, the year punk was born. But it also features sections on fake punk history and illustrations on “How to Shoplift with Wendy O. Williams,” and chronicles the website’s supposed rise, downfall and resurgence across four decades, which, although fictional, perfectly resembles the humor that’s made The Hard Times such a comedy goldmine.
“In order to be a successful brand, your band has to be taken very seriously,” says Saincome. “The Hard Times is the comic relief to that. I hope readers laugh and see some of themselves and their friends in it. I hope they put the book on their coffee table and it tells people that they used to have an exciting life.”
The Hard Times: The First 40 Years is out today. See more at thehardtimes.net/.