Bob Suren is one of the most recognized individuals in the history of Florida’s punk rock scene. A longtime fixture of the “lifestyle” in too many capacities to mention in one breath, Suren’s hand has been in a record store, radio show, bands, promotions, distribution, writing and running a record label.
A little while back, due to personal issues, Suren decided to trade it all in and embark on the road of reinvention. After many years of publishing articles for fledgling publications and fanzines with little if any compensation, he’s decided to take the craft by the horn and is poised to publish his first work, a punk rock memoir, in the spring of 2015.
Bob made a little time for us to discuss his life in punk rock, his life out of it and how the journey has taken him to Austin, Texas.
Tuff Gnarl: You were a very busy man for a long while there, with the store, Burrito Records, doing shows, radio, pretty much everything and with a very old school, DIY mentality. Can you give us an idea as to what led to the end and what kind of toll did it take on you?
Bob Suren: I spent about thirty years of my life in punk rock, playing in bands, running a label, writing, shooting pics, running the store and distro, putting on concerts, doing the radio show and of course, collecting records. As soon as I found punk rock, I realized it was a lifestyle and not just a form of entertainment. It felt like a mission and I wanted to fully commit. I laid awake many nights with ideas for new projects running through my head and ways to do things better. It felt vital, so I became fully invested. About twelve years into the thirty year mission, I met the most important person in my life. And this is about the time that the mission became way more intense for me.
So, a lot of times, she was left on the back burner so I could run the shop, go on tour, work on the radio show or write an article or whatever. My full on dedication to punk rock blinded me to her needs and this drove a wedge between us. We drifted apart and neither of us realized it until it was too late. After 17 years together, we separated. And a year later, we divorced. In short, I put music ahead of my wife and that was fucked. I am proud of all the things I did in music, but they came at a heavy cost. When my wife and I separated, I sold all of my records and instruments; I closed my business and wound the band down. By the time we played our last show, May 25, 2013, I was ready to close the door on that era and start a new era.
If I can remember correctly, a while back you embarked on a long trip to Costa Rica, right? How was the “pura vida” life and what experiences there can you regale us with?
Four days after the last show, I moved to Costa Rica with six pairs of clothing, a camera and a laptop computer to start over with a clean slate. I wanted to go where nobody knew me and there was no punk rock. I wanted to reinvent myself and find a new life, but nothing happened. I spent half a year traveling around Central America and found nothing to make me happy. I didn’t even make any friends. So, some friends in Austin, Texas invited me to check it out. I bought a one way ticket to Austin, showed up with my six pairs of clothing, camera and laptop and so far it has been pretty good. I am really trying to not fall back into the punk rock rut that was my niche for so long. I am trying to broaden my life in Austin. I am trying to do new things, but my friends are punks and I find myself heading to punk shows now and then.
I can’t say that I am enjoying them but at least I have a social life here. I am working on writing and I may soon start doing standup comedy. I have a guy helping me with that. I’m trying to pick up some acting jobs, too, but so far no luck there. As much as I loved and lived punk rock, I feel it is time for me to step away from it and explore new territory. And I am not going to be a jaded old dickhead and put punk down now. No, I want people who enjoy punk rock to keep enjoying it. Keep playing in your bands and keep buying records and whatnot. I wish you all the best but I am a little soured on the stuff now. I’m not saying punk rock ruined my life. I am saying that my obsession with punk rock ruined my life. It is sort of like when a druggie or an alcoholic goes clean, he really doesn’t want to be around that element anymore.
When did you decide to write the book?
A little after I started selling my record collection, I began writing my book. At first, I didn’t know I was writing a book. Let me explain. In October 2012, I wrote a story just for fun about my late guitar teacher, Glenn Weaver, and posted it on my Facebook page and people loved it. A few days later, I wrote a funny story about getting free tickets to a Meatloaf concert, posted it on Facebook and people loved it. Then I wrote a story about discovering the Dictators and I got all kinds of positive comments. Someone said, “Please put all of your awesome stories in a book.” And I thought about it for a while and then one of my writer friends gave me the inspiration and told me he’d help me with the business end of things. So, in Nov. 2012, I actively began writing a book. I finished on Easter Sunday in May 2013, six months later. My editor friend says that six months for a 225 page book is incredibly fast, especially for a first book. I had no idea. I mostly wrote at a leisurely pace, whenever an idea struck me. Eight months after completing the writing, I found a company that wants to publish it.
What kinds of challenges did you encounter while working on it? I always like to ask writers about their “process” without being too intrusive but if you could give us an idea of how you tackle the work, that’d be great!
The book is a memoir as told through my record collection. Each chapter is the title of a record and a story that relates to the record. It is like sitting in a friend’s living room and flipping though his vinyl and he tells you funny or sad or interesting stories, triggered by the records as they pop up. I tried to write the book as honestly as possible. I wrote each story to the best of my memory. I didn’t embellish anything. I didn’t need to. But I did find myself pulling a couple of punches. There are a couple of details I omitted to spare feelings. But very few, maybe three small details. I wanted this book to be a tell-all about my 30 years in punk. It is almost a tell-all. It is a 99% tell.
Failure Face’s All Pain, No Gain EP is one of my favorites and seeing you perform with Murder-Suicide Pact in Miami many moons ago was an awesome experience… I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem like performing is factoring in your life right now? Any reason to that? Will living in Texas change your mind?
No, I have no interest in playing music anymore. I did it. I know I can do it. I am not saying that I “did it all,” but jumping around with a microphone is really my comfort zone and I want to get out of the comfort zone. I’ve been asked to start new bands and no, please. I would rather build some new skills. Also, I am 45 now and just maybe two or three times I have felt a little silly jumping around with a microphone. I think the last time we played Miami, it seemed like the crowd was 20 years younger than me and they were looking at me like I was some lame old uncle or something. Did you see that Rain Wilson movie, “The Rocker”?
Will you consider starting a country band? Or what about getting in on the serialized murder/mystery game and writing a series based in Texas but with Floridian flair?
I’m not a country fan with the exception of a little Johnny Cash now and then. I think modern country is as terrible as Justin Beiber. I am working on two other books now. One of them is about the crazy year I spent separated from my wife and traveling in Central America trying to rebuild. The other is a book of romantic poetry. I’m not kidding. I gush this cornball stuff.
You’ll be taking the book on the road once it publishes, do you have your itinerary ready? What towns will get the “Suren Treatment?”
The book won’t be out until May 2015 so no itinerary has been set. I want to do some shows in the home state, Florida, and I want to hit the west coast. My publisher is in Oregon, so I’d like to do California, Oregon and Washington and who knows where else.
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