browsing all posts in "reviews"
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.
title: Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture
author: Lauraine Leblanc
other shit: 1999, Rutgers University Press. 231 pages + appendices (including a hilarious punk glossary!), notes, index.
rating: 3/5 safety pins
According to my records, I have apparently been working on this post since the beginning of April. I kept starting it, and then I’d realize that I’d written a few thousand words about combat boots. About the first pair I ever got, at 13, about the years of fighting I had to do to get them, because “you can have combat boots when you go into combat.” I think that’s a thing people say as a brush-off, but I come from a military family; my father meant it. Which is to say that wearing combat boots was never about wearing combat boots.
At any rate, I sometimes wish I’d hung onto that first pair. I can still picture them by the door in the last apartment they were ever in, patched with duct tape. I can feel them on my feet, lopsided but comfortable, the outside of their soles worn noticeably lower than the inside. I remember when I finally replaced them, putting the old pair next to the new, realizing that the new pair was a full inch taller than the old. I believe this is my fourth pair.
tsol @ reggie’s, 2011-05-14
When I try to talk about the TSOL show I went to last week, I usually resort to repeating stories I’ve read in books. Early LA hardcore, I love it to distraction, but I wasn’t there. I don’t have first-hand knowledge; I have legends, anecdotes that have been passed down and which show up in old zines and new oral histories. I’ll say I went to see TSOL, and the person I’m talking to gets this look on their face, like they know that band but they don’t know why. To catch them up on the band, and on the show, I tell them this story:
In the early 80s, in LA/OC, TSOL was drawing bigger crowds than Black Flag. There was this one show, early in 83*, somewhere in Hollywood**. Like all other LA hardcore shows of the time, it was oversold, maybe 3000 kids there, maybe only 2000.*** Regardless, the cops showed up in riot gear, because that’s what cops did in 1983. TSOL’s frontman, Jack Grisham, said, “hey, everyone sit down, the cops won’t fuck with us if we’re all sitting down.”
…and they all sat down.
Hey, sometimes I read FICTION about punk rock! Short reviews of two and a half books: Salad Days, Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing, and the Taqwacores. I wanted to finish all three of them before I put up the reviews, but it’s not going to happen.
On the surface, they’re very different books, but actually they are all about young straight dudes who are confused by the things every young straight dude in the history of ever is confused about, and so they turn to punk rock to save them and then they have a coming-of-age experience that we get to read about. I just now — after writing all three reviews and hitting the “preview” button to read my post — realized this.
So I clearly need [fictional!] books about something else. Help?