browsing all posts in "books"
It is July of 2013, but I wrote this in June of 2011. I am cleaning out the drafts folder on this blog, and so here we are. This post has been done that entire time, but I didn’t get around to finishing the soundtrack — I had been posting soundtracks with book reviews. But if I’m not going to get to it, I’m not going to get to it, so I might as well throw this out there.
title: Punk Rock: An Oral History
author: John Robb
other shit: 2006, Edbury Press. Ed. Oliver Craske. 539 pages plus an index and a handful of pictures.
rating: 3.5/5 safety pins
I get that the Clash is the only band that matters and all, but the thing is that I don’t care about pub rock. I like listening to pub rock, and I particularly enjoy it in pubs, but I just cannot give a shit about chapters in books that tell me which bands played in which pubs. This is important because before he was in the Clash, Joe Strummer was in a pub rock band called the 101ers, and a lot of the first-wave UK punks were hugely influenced by pub rock (Eddie and the Hot Rods come up a lot, for example). Therefore, when you read books about British punk, you end up reading about pub rock. Which is to say that this book, which aims to be an oral history of the UK punk scene and covers 1950-1984 with varying degrees of depth, started off really slow. The first three chapters were spent on pre-punk and protopunk and pub rock and glam, 1950-1975, and it took me a month to get through them. It took me two days to get through the rest.
The more oral histories of punk I read, the more impressed I am by Please Kill Me, the great book about the NYC scene. It gets progressively harder not to compare these other, later books to that one, which had a really cohesive narrative and really gives you a sense of the music and the people involved. By contrast, this book felt sort of scattered and splintered, jumping around from city to city and scene to scene. Yes, punk rock itself splintered, but while reading, I found it difficult to keep track of who was who and what the hell was going on, or even when anything happened. And with the exception of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), who’s so distinctive and surly that two sentences out of his mouth give you a pretty good idea of where he’s coming from, I didn’t get much of a feel for the people and personalities who were around. The book felt light on the anecdotes and gossip and was almost entirely focused on the music. Nothing wrong with that, really — it’s a book about music! — but it’s odd to have read a 500-page book comprised of people talking and come away with no real sense of who those people are.
That aside, I mostly enjoyed the book. It did manage to convey how small the early scene was, how there were only ever 20 people around and one day four of them would have a band, and the next day, all four of them would be in bands with entirely different people until everyone found something that worked. It also did a good job of conveying how life-changing a force punk rock was in 1977 Britain. I found that really fascinating, because here, it was a lot more spread out and kind of slow-moving. Over there, though, there was this machine-gun attack of punk singles, and the Sex Pistols went on television and swore a lot, and it exploded all over the place. There was this media frenzy, and the labels were crawling all over the early bands hoping to sign them and make a quick buck. In the States, that didn’t really happen; punk didn’t go mainstream for reals like that until 1991, whereas in the UK it came aboveground overnight, caused some sort of mass social panic, and then went back underground. I still do not agree with anyone claiming that punk rock died in 1978, but at least I now have a better idea of where they’re coming from.
The book wound down and lost me again toward the end, when it started delving into the various factions like oi, ska, goth and post-punk. It all felt very perfunctory, maybe a page or two and a handful of quotes and then Lydon hating everything, and after something like 200 pages on 1977 alone, ten pages to cover 1980-1984 felt like a cop-out. I sort of wish the book had just stopped in 1978.
Still, the highest praise I can give a book about music is that it makes me want to listen to the music in question, and this has had me blasting 77 punk for a while now and loving every second of it. So much classic, classic stuff.
In 2013, when I am finally posting this, I see that I actually DID make the playlist. I got stuck on the commentary, because I can’t post anything by the Ruts without talking about my Rut-related Feelings. Maybe I’ll get over that and just put the damn thing up without comment. This will mark my growth as a person.
title: Dirty, Drunk, and Punk: The Twisted Story of the Bunchofuckinggoofs
author: Jennifer Morton
other shit: 223 pages. 2011, Insomniac Press
website: Dirty, Drunk and Punk
rating: 4/5 safety pins
I wish this book were bigger. I wish it were longer. Shinier. More expensive. And it cost me a pretty penny to begin with, seeing as how I had to order it from Canada and their dollar is up and shipping is expensive and I think Canada Post has Godot.
Aside: Today is my birthday. Tonight I’m going to see X. I imagine I will weep through their entire set, but I’m going to try really hard not to.
title: What We Do Is Secret
author: Thorn Kief Hillsbery
other shit: 346 pages. 2005, Villard.
rating: 2/5 safety pins
I was skeptical of this book for a lot of reasons, most of them relating to my distaste for reading about Darby Crash. The title is a Germs reference; the cover blurb starts by talking about Crash. But then my local library redid their online catalog, and —
title: My First Time: A Collection of First Punk Show Stories
editor: Chris Duncan
other shit: 181 pages, plus (short) author bios. 2007, AK Press.
rating: 3.5/5 safety pins
I will admit it, guys: There is not a lot I love more in the world than stories about How Punk Rock Saved My Life, and this book has many such stories. Most of them are pretty short, only a page or two, and they’re mostly by people who Do Stuff in punk. They’re in bands (Blag Dalia, John Poddy, Blake Schwarzenbach) or they write books (Michael Azerrad, Chris Walter, George Hurchella), something like that, but some of my favorite ones are by regular joes.
Reviews of books about heroin! But the thing is that when you are a junkie, you care about one thing: junk. You wake up. You get well. You spend the day trying to get enough money to get enough dope with enough time left for you to do it before you get dopesick. That’s it. That’s what you do. Every day. It’s repetitive and boring (albeit brutal and difficult and demoralizing and a lot of other things), and no matter how many quirky characters come and go from your life, no matter how many trips you make to the methadone clinic or how many band tours you go on, how many times you kick or try to go cold turkey in Jamaica, how many stints you do in rehab or jail, that’s the life of a junkie. And that’s why these books do not tend to be very good: It is very, very difficult to write a book about a boring and repetitive life without the book being boring and repetitive. All heroin books need 75 percent of their contents to go away, and the world would be a better place. Even you, William S. Burroughs. 75 percent fewer words.
…and yet I keep reading them.
More short reviews of novels: A Cool Breeze on the Underground (mystery), Ten Thousand Saints (…literary?), Punkzilla (epistolary)
Book reviews, punk rock fiction edition. Three novels: two YA and one mystery.
As a follow-up to my last post, 25 awesome music books that happen to have been written by women, here are like 30 more. Some are ones I just plain forgot about, some are recs my friends sent that either came too late or I chose not to include for my own weird reasons, and some are culled from comments in various places.
Earlier this week, Pitchfork published a list of their 60 favorite music books. It is pretty wide-ranging and there are many good books on the list. (And some I really hated.) But only one was written by a woman, and two had lady coauthors. Come the fuck on.
This pissed plenty of people off, and lists have been sprouting up. This amazon list has 50 music books by women, but it’s a straight-up list with no commentary and some books I do not think are very good. Flavorwire’s ten great books about music by female writers does a more thorough job, and includes many of the books on my own list (and one I hated). Their list of 33 female music critics you need to read is also pretty good.
So I also made a list! You can find it below. Min was kind enough to write a few sentences about the books she loved, and I did the rest. There are a few books on here that neither of us has read but which have come highly recommended by several people I trust; in those cases, I have provided a synopsis, but they’re not blind recs. Her paragraphs are marked with [asd] and mine with [pez].
TWENTY-FIVE (ISH) AWESOME BOOKS ABOUT MUSIC
that happen to have been written by ladies
or at least co-written in a few cases
I went to see Verbal Abuse and Dayglo Abortions over the weekend, and the last time I tried to write a concert report, it turned into this other thing instead, so now I am trying again. We’re also going to pretend this is a book review.
The afternoon of the show, I finished reading “Argh Fuck Kill: The Story of the DayGlo Abortions,” by Chris Walter. I’m a sucker for stories about tour shenanigans, and there were many in this book, so I mostly enjoyed it. The one currently sticking out is the time the guitarist, Cretin, got hit in the face with someone’s headstock, and it damn near ripped his nose off. The obvious answer here was to pack the wound with cocaine, cover it with duct tape, and finish the show. Amazing. (There’s a picture, even.) It was also really cool to get a feel for the early Canadian punk scene — the old clubs and crowds and bands that just aren’t around anymore. That was very, very good stuff, and Walter (as much as I complain about his use of epithets) can be a very evocative writer when he’s writing what he knows. So a lot of the book was very well done, and I’m glad I read it.
It is, however, one of those books that has this kind of tee-hee Boys Will Be Boys approach to violence. You know: “Now, kids, violence is really bad, and I would never ever condone it, but I’m going to spend the next three pages describing the blood dripping from this guy’s head wound in graphic, loving detail. So you know it’s bad. Very, very bad.” There were many, many passages devoted to the blood spilled at Dayglos shows. And I let that fuck with me a little bit, frankly; I figured there was a non-zero chance that the show was going to be a horrifically violent mess from which I’d be lucky to escape alive. I rationalized my concern a bit, too: As with any deliberately offensive band, there’s always some small element that takes them seriously, and there’s the usual gender balance at a hardcore show to think about. So, yeah, I was worried. I actually said to a friend before I left, “well, worst-case scenario is that I get cut. I think that’s acceptable.” I was trying to be positive and upbeat.
Thus fortified, I set off to the Cobra Lounge.
…where everyone was very friendly, I got hugged many times by strangers, had a fantastic time singing and dancing and shouting, and still somehow emerged a bruised and bloody mess.