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Book Review: A Punk Photographer Finds Truth in Slang

“Dirty Birdy Bible” by Hiro Tanaka turns a language barrier into a poetic memoir of life on the road.

  • Dirty Birdy Bible: Notes From the Road, Hiro Tanaka
  • 2019, Daylight Books


Road stories can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes they’re redundant, because you’ve toured before and have absolutely no desire to relive the experience just for fun. Other times they amount to a catalog of reasons your favorite band is cooler than you will ever be, you sad thing.

Japanese photographer Hiro Tanaka’s Dirty Birdy Bible: Notes From the Road is something different. It’s not just the foreword by Jeff Rosenstock, who I promise I won’t mention again because I need you to stay focused. With its minimalist style and NSFW content, Tanaka’s book escapes the confines of the travel diary to chronicle the honest intricacies of underground life — mostly irreverent, sometimes horrifying, and usually filthy.  

The result of 10 years touring with artists like Cursive, Alkaline Trio, The Lawrence Arms, and Mike Park, Dirty Birdy Bible consists of handwritten definitions and crude drawings, chronicling the colloquialisms and jokes heard during tour. In an afterword, Tanaka explains that these notebooks were born from his frustration that, barely speaking English, he was missing out on all the fun everyone else was having. So he started writing down every new phrase he heard, amassing a comprehensive guidebook to slang, road life, and the in-between essentials, like “Genitals: Secret part of human” or “White people problems: complaining for no reason.”

There are sometimes poignant observations about life on the road to be found in these definitions:

“Rents: family. Cause they are paying your rent.”

“Empathy: you can feel the emotion of peeps around you. It enters your body.”

Tanaka helps us all become multilingual, too, with key Spanish phrases like “Mi nombre es Hiro” (my name is Hiro) and “La tiene de burro” (you have a donkey cock).    

There are also pick-up lines, but with no record of their success, it’s hard to know if you should try out “I love you so fucking much I could shit!” on your crush. I say go for it. Tanaka also helps readers identify what is and isn’t real kobe beef and includes a diverse collection of “screw in a lightbulb” jokes that target hippies, emo kids, straight edgers, skinheads and more.

Is Dirty Birdy Bible a poetic memoir of Tanaka’s time on the road? Or is it a deeply immersive and weirdly compelling guide to slang for depraved punks across the globe? Yes and yes. More than anything else, it’s the sacred vessel that gifted me the phrase “turd degree burns” and the revelation that Chris Head of Anti-Flag only eats Japanese food made by honkees.

Whether or not you’ve experienced the “blueberry fist” (masturbating with a broken hand), this book accomplishes the task of any great song: it takes a deeply personal experience and makes it about everybody. Even you. Or, in Western Pennsylvania parlance, “yinz.”

Appropriate bonus: it’s travel-size.