Since first appearing on wax back in the early '80s, Bad Brains' frontman H.R. (born Paul D. Hudson in 1956) has remained one of the most enigmatic figures in the punk and hardcore scene. A unique vocalist and songwriter with a commanding stage presence, H.R.'s musical legacy was cemented decades ago, but along the way, a lot of what has been written about the musician has centered around his unpredictable personality and sometimes erratic behavior.
Written by former record label A&R executive Howie Abrams (Madball, Shelter) and filmmaker James Lathos, Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. from Bad Brains works to dispell many of the many rumors about the Bad Brains legend by telling his life story through not only the singer's own words. In addition to interviews with H.R.'s family and bandmates, Finding Joseph I also includes members of such bands as Guns N' Roses, Cro-Mags, Dead Prez, Black Flag, and Fishbone, all offering their insight on the vocalist and his music.
H.R.'s musical journey is a fascinating one, but admitedly, the aspect I was most intrigued about before reading the book was anything that could cut through the legend constructed around the hardcore icon. Finding Joseph I does just that, chronicling H.R.'s struggles with mental illness, and all the fallout that came along with that. Reading about that side of his life has changed much of what I thought I knew about the singer. What I might have chalked up to eccentric rock star nonsense before, I now look at through a different lens. That's the biggest takeaway I got from the book.
It was also interesting to read what people outside of the punk movement thought of H.R. and his art. Questlove, in particular, hooks the book up with some punchy copy. The portion of the book that covers Bad Brains' ill-fated time at Maverick Records is juicy, with former label boss Guy Oseary providing all of the messy details. Finding Joseph I is also lined with many rare and never-before-seen images, which are really just the cherry on top here.
*H.R. photo on homepage courtesy of Facebook.