PUNK FICTION (279 pages)
This is an interesting concept; a collection of short stories (30 to be precise) written by those who were inspired by Punk Rock but who had no (or little) part in actually making the original wave happen. Each contributor has named their piece after a Punk Rock classic, or written their story inspired by a Punk Rock classic.
It’s a mixed bag - some stories are genuinely so self-indulgent and convoluted that even in the short story format they rapidly bore. Generally though, the quality is high with particularly memorable stories coming from Cathi Unsworth with a structured, thought-provoking and continually entertaining Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, Martin Lloyd Edwards offers Oliver’s Army which is full of suppressed violence and suggestion, The Day The World Turned Day-Glo from Kate Jackson is an inventive, cyclic story with a classic should-have-seen-it-coming ending and Kate Pullinger gives everyone a chuckle or three with the dinner party from hell in Public Image. Joolz Denby’s West One (Shine On Me) and Billy Bragg’s Revolution Rock both focus on actual events - a live performance by both bands (RUTS and CLASH respectively in case you’re struggling!) with Bragg’s in particular venturing into the politics of the day. Other contributors tell of unity and a sense of placement instilled by Punk Rock, beatings for looking like a Punk, the adrenalin rush of shoplifting, unemployment, extreme personalities - there’s something for everyone.
A foreword is supplied by The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr while a fantastic afterword by John Robb highlighting the day DIY Punk was born with the release of Spiral Scratch clearly states why this whole Punk Rock thing never has and never should be part of the 'music business'.
It’s a well presented book too; good quality binding, hard embossed cover and a few graphics in between some of the stories. Also, for each copy purchased, £1 will be donated to The Teenage Cancer Trust.
The book’s strength really lies in its ‘coffee table potential’. The fact you can pick it up for 20 minutes, read something hugely affecting and feel satisfied must be the aim of every short story. The ability to come back to the book a day or two later and read something totally different but tenuously connected to the previous story gives the reader a distinctly heightened sense of anticipation.
If you can relate to that original wave of ‘77 Punk, you’ll find a great deal to connect with in this book. Even though many of the stories do not directly involve Punk Rock per se, there is always a subtle linage that can be traced back to the attitude of Punk Rock. (27.07.09)
PUNK RECORD LABELS AND THE STRUGGLE FOR AUTONOMY - Alan O’Connor (160 pages)
I’m always skeptical of books about Punk Rock that are written as part of an on-going series of Media Studies. Too often the author says the right things, but lacks the sincerity and/or the experience of having actually lived through them in order to authenticate the words. On the most part, O’Connor has come up with an intelligent and insightful analysis on what makes a DIY Punk Label not just something that exists as a counter-culture venture residing outside the recognized music industry, but something that is the epitome of the Punk movement; a movement that still has (or should have) the desire to smash the music industry rather than be a part of it.
Rather than use the old axiom of differentiating a major label from a DIY label, or act as a ‘how-to’ guide to DIY record production, the book takes an original and inspired direction by analysing the social structure of a label and it fits into a self-imposed, social Punk Rock network. O’Connor’s findings are worked out via graphs based around such questions as parents’ occupation, method of distribution, years in operation, education etc.
The book goes back to Punk’s first wave with the RAMONES and that era’s ties with major labels before progressing onto DEAD KENNEDYS and BLACK FLAG and their respective labels. The DIY ethos peaks as the book looks at USHC and its total unmarketability thus eventuating the necessity for a DIY network of global proportions. There are then comparisons between labels that are rigidly DIY, and those that have become a ‘business’.
The chapter on distribution is, for me, the book’s highlight. Research for the book involved interviews with over 60 labels ranging from big hitters like Dischord, Alternative Tentacles, BYO and Revelation to respected mid-sized operations such as Deranged, Recess, Havoc and No Idea and onto the smaller but no less important labels like Rat Town, La Idea and Tankcrimes. The disparities between how the labels operate and their own social science (a term coined by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and adapted by O’Connor to relate to where any one label fits into the social scale of Punk Rock) brings to the fore many conflicting ideals and opinions. Ebullition’s Kent McClard is particularly damning of the effects of Mordam; McClard’s comments throughout are notable reading no matter the subject.
Each chapter is rounded out with an exceptionally informative notes section. Finally there's an interview with Martin Sorrondeguy (LOS CRUDOS/ LIMP WRIST) and his label Lengua Armada.
The book’s fault is that it submits to the paradigms set by Maximum Rocknroll above all others. Without a doubt, MRR was a major influence on DIY culture during the 80s and early 90s – as it still is today. A lot of the labels featured come from an age where the likes of Flipside, Suburban Voice, Slug And Lettuce, Razorcake, Punk Planet, Profane Existence, HeartAttack etc are equally as influential, yet these bastions of DIY Punk culture are only mentioned peripherally. This is a big over-sight. I also feel the subject matter has suffered from a slight over-intellectualisation: the graphs, suggestions of some Marxist theory, parallels between Punk’s autonomy and 1800s
I did enjoy the book; it offers a new perspective on the nature of DIY labels and I applaud O’Connor for his in-depth analysis on the DIY culture. However, just how often I will come back to the book (beyond research purposes), will probably be counted on one hand. (18.10.09)
PUNK ROCK SAVED MY ASS: An Anthology - Edited by Terena Scott and Jane MacKay (150 pages, Medusa’s Muse)
A compendium of pieces written by poets, writers and musicians all of whom - in some way - think that Punk Rock saved their ass. That’s a big statement and, in most cases, it’s clear these stories are NOT about Punk Rock saving the individual’s ass. Without a doubt, most of the stories are about how Punk Rock changed the individual - but saved? Highly debatable.
In total, there are 26 pieces in the book, plus a rather excellent introduction from Terena Scott, where she questions whether she has Punk credentials herself but her text displays an understanding that you do not need a green mohawk and a nihilistic attitude to claim the title of ‘Punk’.
An international cast of writers follow and generally most are interesting, many heartfelt and a few witty. Highlights would have to be Matthue Roth who writes his piece as a story and gets the reader thinking; Rick Wismar almost steals the book with an excellent piece that brings in religion, Martin Luther King and also confirming that Punk is more than image; Ryan Cooper’s closing piece sums up, in one sentence, what a lot of the tales here journalise: "Punk Rock saved me from mediocrity,"; Jessica R. Williams writes with a clarity and made me realise a band as average to me as STRUNG OUT can affect someone in a massively positive way; Barcelona’s Silvia Escario is both witty and energetic; and Jennifer Blowdryer - who is the only writer in the book who could be considered a ‘name’ - has more attitude and writes with more urgency than any other in the book.
The book is filled out with some photos and a closing soundtrack listing which, among the bands listened to include Anti-Knowledgeable League and Propaganda!
While the book is an entertaining read - especially in short bursts - it really lacks writers with a verve as virile and provocative as Jennifer Blowdryer. All the pieces listed above make excellent reading, but many others just told a familiar story which you can hear in any local scene in any town. The stories of Squall and Chestnut read over sympathetically while Christian Dorn’s flits from a camp, to motel and back again in a bemusing, unintelligible way. It would have been beneficial in many ways had there been a few older writers also, possibly someone who experienced London in ‘77 or LA in ‘82 and really ran with it.
The greatest asset the book has as a whole is a sense of positivity. With Punk being a medium that essentially thrives on negativity and anger, it’s refreshing to read of the constructive aspects that come from the dawning of a Punk addiction.
The cover charge for the book is only $10 - and a dollar of that goes toward the Gilman Street project - and that is a fair price for an admirable effort that many readers will identify with. (28.10.10)
Hit HERE for material reviewed prior to 2009 including: