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Books - P

THE POLITICS OF PUNK: Protest And Revolt From The Streets - David A Ensminger {248 pages, Rowman And Littlefield}
The dual trajectory of Punk and Politics have, from day one, not just run parallel with each other but constantly entwined to the point of becoming inseparable. Go right back to those that were cited as the key influences on Punk as we know it - MC5 and THE STOOGES. Both bands, particularly the former, had a political bent not seen outside of the protest Folk singers and the failure of the Hippies (albeit in THE STOOGES’ case it was rather minimal). By the time of SEX PISTOLS, CLASH et al, politics, dissent and disruption walked hand in hand until the likes of CRASS, DEAD KENNEDYS and MDC made the political rhetoric as important (if not more so) than the actual music.
Many authors, scholars and theorists have analysed this link, but none have had quite the first-hand experience or written with such deft aplomb as David Ensminger.
Ensminger’s approach to the subject matter is a little more lateral than literal, thus bringing in subjects as diverse as San Francisco’s The Deaf Club, PLASMATICS’ vocalist Wendy O Williams, non-PC bands and the sex industry, US zones of influence, his theory of liminality, the influence of money and how that in turn inspired more community involvement via benefits, and identifying the enemy. His narrative goes beyond the simplistic sloganeering rhetoric to explore positive activism, questioning the media, supporting minorities and proving that yes, Punk does indeed have a conscience.
While both MDC and writer Jennifer Blowdryer get a whole chapter, others interviewed or quoted include CHEETAH CHROME, JOEY SHITHEAD, IAN MACKAYE, JELLO BIAFRA, various Maximum Rocknroll columnists... It could appear that he has gone to the same old tried and tested sources, but without them the narrative would be lacking. Ensminger has cast his net wide though, and has the benefit of many years of active involvement in the Punk scene to draw on, so there are many more less obvious names mentioned throughout the narrative.
The text is filled out with 16 pages of photos (many taken by Ensminger himself) and flyers.
I have to confess, I find these over-analytical, intellectual dissections of something as organic and immediate as Punk to be rather tiresome - even when coupled with something that requires intellectual dissection such as Politics. Too often they read like some fucking Ph .d thesis paper laden with read-about speculation and legend. Ensminger, on the other hand, has a Punk pedigree to match his literary qualities and has written a book that is both intelligent, engrossing, through-provoking and genuine without being pious or pretentious. I doubt I’ll come back to this too often, and I did spot a few little errors that a good proof reader should have picked up (although, I have to say that The Indian Queen is in Boston, England not Brighton as is stated in the book), but generally this has the substance and sus to lift it above most others of this ilk. (08.06.17)

PRODIGAL ROGERSON, THE - J Hunter Bennett {Microcosm Publishing, 108 pages}
Fourth instalment from Microcosm of what is becoming a rather fascinating series documenting scene histories. These are moderately brief reads, at 96 pages of narrative with a large font and just 5.5" x 7" in size. This time it’s predominantly Los Angeles, circa 1979 through to the mid 90s. The subject is the late Roger Rogerson, better known as the bassist on the early albums by the legend that is CIRCLE JERKS.
We go back to Rogerson’s time pre-JERKS when he was a regular at the infamous Masque club and played in a short-lived, little documented band called RED ARMY and then another short-lived project with Metal Mike of ANGRY SAMOANS (whose ‘Gimme Sopor’ Rogerson stole for the CIRCLE JERKS’ ‘World Up My Ass’ - apparently). He then became a CIRCLE JERK, playing on the band’s first three albums. He then decides to steal the band’s van and disappears from JERKS horizon for about 13 years.
During this time, Rogerson played in various bands including SECRET SERVICE BAND and ROXX OFF (with Kevin Clark, the younger brother of BYRDS’ Gene Clark), got married twice, became an impressive father figure, truck driver and developed a serious drug habit along the way, before trying to get the CIRCLE JERKS back together to "become bigger than THE BEATLES." He ODs, then does it again - this second time being fatal.
Rogerson certainly comes over as hedonistic and unpredictable, but witty and popular at the same time. He also comes over as decidedly self-contradictory, employing multiple different surnames and eulogising himself and his past. He claims to be AWOL from the US Army Reserve where he was employed on a covert mission in the Philippines, he also claims that he was a classically trained musician, should have been the guitarist in the CIRCLE JERKS and could play Beethoven’s Fifth with his dick tied to a fretboard.
It’s not just Rogerson who is contradictory, however. With regard to the CIRCLE JERKS meeting with him in 1996 guitarist Greg Hetson claims the whole band was there, but vocalist Keith Morris says he wasn’t. There is debate about the physical ability of his mum and of his own physical condition following hospitalization from his first overdose. While there is a lot of incredulous and hilarious moments in the book, ultimately it’s a depressing read of someone who was a genuinely mixed soul.
The narrative of Bennett, while jumping moments in time a bit haphazardly in parts, is excellently researched and concise. He gives voice to all of the main players from the music scene and of Rogerson’s private life and presents them in the oral history style. He injects small, linking comments but never lets his own opinion dictate the direction the book takes. He has also found a number of previously unpublished photos.
Needless to say, this is obligatory reading for the CIRCLE JERKS fan, and more so for any fan of LA Punk Rock in general. Given the Keith Morris book, My Damage, and the My Life As A Jerk film are already out there, it’s near miraculous the Bennett has uncovered more facts and insights. This book also acts as the perfect accompaniment to those, filling in a few holes and raising a few smiles, frowns and tears along the way. (16.05.17)

PUNK LONDON 1977 - Derek Ridgers {164 pages, Carpet Bombing Culture}
So, 40 years on from the infamous Summer of Hate and the 100 Days Of Punk as signified by the duration of the original Roxy Club comes another photo book from those revolutionary, polarising days. This, however, doesn’t feature tried and tested (and tired) pics of Sid Vicious gurning like a buffoon, or Joe Strummer sneering and spitting for all his worth. Instead, this high quality book features photos of those who made up the audience at the likes of The Roxy, The Vortex, The Music Machine and others. They are photos of the original UK Punks, long before Mohawks and studded leather; the Punks who fought the battles on the Kings Road (of which there are also photos) and most importantly, many of these have not been published before.
The photos are all monoc
hrome and printed on high quality gloss paper (kudos to Carpet Bombing Culture too for such high quality image reproduction). Given this was way before the days of digital photography, it’s amazing that Ridgers managed to get so many perfectly focused, dramatic photos that actually have a life and poignancy of their own. Some bands are featured, as listed below, but the real heart of this lies in the images of those attending the gigs. The fashion, much of which was home made - HAD to be home-made - is still captivating in this modern era where the safety pin through the cheek or ear has been replaced by horrible fucking great holes. There is still a sense of shock-value here but what sets these Punks apart is both originality and the fact that, in general, they looked fantastic.
Of the bands featured you get GENERATION X (3 pics), ADAM AND THE ANTS (2), WIRE, CORTINAS (2), SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES (6) SLITS (6), WAYNE COUNTY (2), DAMNED (3), PENETRATION (2), CHERRY VANILLA (3), HAMMERSMITH GORILLAS, BLONDIE (2), ADVERTS (4), EATER, MASTERSWITCH, UNWANTED, X-RAY SPEX, CHELSEA, REZILLOS, Toyah, Gary Holton and Shane MacGowan. Some of those are stunning - DAMNED, SLITS and PENETRATION in particular.
Of the audience members, there is a bounty of images that hold the attention and raise a chuckle in parts, including one of a particularly smug looking copper arresting a young Punkette on Kings Road who’s a fraction of his size. Elsewhere we get plenty of tortured looks, grimaces and smiles. A few approximate stats include wearing shades (12), skinny ties (34), button badges (27), razor blades (2), safety pins (41, of which 12 are in the face), Bowie-esque make-up (Male - 6, female - 34), dog collars (38), zippers (6), smokers (24), swastikas (6), mohair jumpers (7) and mohicans (0).
A few of these photos will be familiar; some appeared in the recently reprinted 100 Nights At The Roxy and Paul Marko’s The Roxy London WC2 books but generally most are unseen and collated here as a stand-alone collection for the first time.
The book is filled out with a brief introduction written by Ridgers and a longer foreword by Patrick Potter which includes a small pic of The Roxy as it is in 2016 - a retail store.
As a single tome, this really does crystallize the energy, vitality and, yes, the degradation, of the original UK Punk scene. It documents a time when society really did feel threatened by the people photographed in this book; when these kids literally risked their own lives to look the way they did and attend these gigs; it was a time that will never be recreated as rebellion and consumerism now walk hand in hand wearing pre-ripped jeans brought in the Mall along with the wash-in-wash-out crazy colour hair dye. It was a time that will always be revered by many and loathed by even more and this captures it all.
I have no doubt that during the course of 2017, a plethora of books and ephemera about the genesis of UK Punk will see light of day. Much of it will be trite, cash-in rubbish rehasing those aforementioned pics of Sid Vicious. However, amongst of the insubstantial shite will be some absolute shining jewels fit for repeated looks over many years to come. Ridgers’ Punk London 1977 is most likely the first of such jewels. (18.04.17)

PUNKS ON SCOOTERS: The Bristol Mod Revival 1979-1985 - Michael W Salter {196 pages, Tangent/ Bristol Archive}
Anyone who grew up in the 70s or the 80s will remember what can only be described as Youth Tribes. These tribes often had a focus around music and branched off into clothes, style and, more than often, went to war with other tribes. There is a parallel with the gangs of today, but the tribes of this era didn’t have any initiation rite of passage; instead you just had to align yourself and look right. Teddy Boys, Skinheads, Rockers, Disco Kids, Metalheads, Rude Boys, Punks and Mods - these were the tribes that had a unity, a solidarity, a camaraderie and usually a bitter hatred of other tribes. This book recalls that era, as author Salter discovers Punk before aligning himself and becoming entrenched in Mod Culture.
Before Salter starts telling his story, he sets the tone perfectly with a graphic description of Britain in the mid-70s. It was a depressing time for the entire country, the spectre of Thatcher was on the horizon, unemployment was rocketing - the sense of No Future was tangible. But for Salter, come 1976 and his last year of school, he had a plan....
His plan was to get into the sixth form of his high school at Winterbourne, Bristol. Unfortunately for Salter, his previous five years at the school, which were spent causing much disruption and culminating in poor exam results, went against him and he was out of school and into the adult world. So, he signed on the dole. Then, things get interesting.
A chance purchase of the debut 7" by SEX PISTOLS lead Salter to Punk obsession and resulted in him seeing most of the original big hitters, and a wealth of local Bristol talent. Joining the tribe of Punk, Salter also got his first taste of tribal violence thanks to Teddy Boys and general hatred of Punks.
By 1978, Salter was looking for the next thing, and found it in the Mod Revival of 1979. He openly admits that he felt more comfortable as a Mod than a Punk. He enjoyed the better clothes, the better lifestyle, the increased attraction of women and writes enthusiastically of the music also. Among the stories are a lot of violence with Skinheads, Bikers and rival pubs - some of it is brutal, elsewhere little more than a punch-up - but which ever it was, Salter writes about it with a reality that, while reveling in it, doesn’t glamourise it. We get tales of scooter runs, nights at the Locarno and Steamers night clubs, and a great deal of searching for the elusive ‘right’ clothes at a decent price.
Salter dropped out of the Mod scene when it became more popular and mass marketed, homogenising the original vibe and unity of those who experienced the Mod Revival first hand.
Salter’s narrative has a clarity and authenticity about it that can only be mustered from someone who was actually there, liviing the life and fighting the fights. It has energy and more often than not, raises a laugh - along with a few grimaces. He recalls with fondness a lot of his associates of the day, some of whom are written about with such enthusiasm it gives the reader a sense of knowing them also.
The book is completed with some photos and graphics of Mod fashion before 50 pages of excellent appendices. These appendices are written by fellow Bristol Mods of the era, including the DJ at Steamers night club, MAYFAIR vocalist Jon Andrews and more from Salter as he tells us of his tenure as a musician in a few bands. These appendices give the book added depth, particularly the one written by Andrews.
Although grammatically there are a few errors within the book, it really doesn’t matter. The energy of the writing, the vivid memories and the sincerity of the writing captivate - even to someone who was never a Mod (like me). Anyone who grew up as part of a tribe in the 70s or 80s, be it Mod or not, will relate to a lot in this book and will get a great deal of pleasure from Salter’s narrative. (23.06.17)

 

PUNK USA: THE RISE AND FALL OF LOOKOUT RECORDS - Kevin Prested {196 pages, Microcosm Publishing}
Of all the Punk record labels that have sprung up and collapsed over the years, perhaps none is as significant or as enthralling as that of Lookout! Records. I’m mean, how could a label that released the first GREEN DAY albums and the OPERATION IVY album possibly fail? Well, it did. This book has been lovingly compiled by Kevin Prested charting the label’s origins, through to it becoming a veritable empire and onto its ultimate, bemusing collapse.
Fusing the recognised oral biography style with some in-depth linking passages, Prested goes back to the summer of 1984 when Lookout Magazine founder, Lawrence Livermore, moved to Laytonville, California and created the debut issue. It was greeted with a distinctly disgruntled response from locals and, following the discovery of Maximum Rocknroll’s radio show, the magazine morphed into a band, called THE LOOKOUTS. From there, the band released the debut record on the new Lookout! Records imprint. The label took another step forward when Livermore hooked up with David Hayes who had released the double 7" comp ‘Turn It Around’ via MRR Records. Interestingly, neither founder members contribute much to the book in terms of quotes; it’s not until Chapter Six that we first see something from Livermore.
Instead, the ‘Voice Of The Label’ is left to Chris Appelgren, who was an early volunteer, close friend of Livermore’s and eventual owner/manager of the label. He comes over as a likeable and enthusiastic guy, always trying to do the right thing and, inevitably, failing in certain areas. Other notables include Ben Weasel, Joe King, Jesse Townley (who contributes an introduction also), Frank Portman and just about some form of representative from every band and associate of the label.
It’s clear Prested has conducted a massive amount of exclusive interviews and research for this book and isn’t writing it as a form of in-depth discography nor as an example of picture-perfect record label that got stiffed by a few bands. He does focus, quite rightly, on a number of important releases and it’s clear he is a fan of most of the label’s output, but he also highlights the warts ‘n’ all complexities of the Livermore/Hayes relationship along with friction between parties including Ben Weasel, FURIOUS GEORGE (including a hilarious tale of them pissing through the label’s letter box) and GREEN DAY producer Andy Ernst.
Prested has also struck the perfect balance between the oral biography style and his own, concise yet informative narrative. His linking paragraphs certainly give the quotes a great depth of meaning.
Aethetically, within the bright paperback casing, the text is printed in a deep green colour. That may sound odd, even a bit pointless, but it lends a very original feel to the book. The mix of photos (including shots of the FURIOUS GEORGE letter box pissing), flyers, record sleeves and other paraphernalia and all printed with the same green hue replacing the usual grey monochrome, lending a graphic continuity.
Ultimately, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear to see where Appelgren went wrong with the label - unnecessary new offices, too many below-par releases, not enough financial accountability. However if life were that easy, we’d all be millionaires. I think it is fair to say he conducted himself with the label in mind 90% of the time. He also receives little criticism from those interviewed in the book.
This is pretty hard to fault; Prested has created something that is easy to read but packed with information, that is gripping yet not slanderous and that is distinctly independent at its core. If another biography on Lookout! Records is ever to be written, I cannot imagine how it could be better than this. (27.07.15) 

Books - Q

QUEENS OF NOISE: THE REAL STORY OF THE RUNAWAYS - Evelyn McDonnell {350 pages, Da Capo}
It’s without a doubt that THE RUNAWAYS was a band that shoulda, woulda and coulda - and to a certain extent did. They toured the world, had relative sales success and left a legacy but, somehow, still failed to live up to their potential. Maybe the band was just a bit too ahead of its time, being five young females playing heavy duty Rock ‘n’ Roll in the mid-70s - an era that was still very male-dominated. In Joan Jett they had the embodiment of pre-Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll cool while Lita Ford had the Heavy Rock background and guitar-shredding capabilities way above many of her counterparts. The band also had a manager in Kim Fowley who stunted progress as much as enhanced it. This book is the first to be published that attempts to recount the band’s full history.
Author McDonnell takes us right back to 1975 when the then Joan Larkin (Jett) boards a bus to travel across LA to meet drummer, Sandy West. From there we get a comprehensive telling of the band’s history, from fledging forays into the Los Angeles music scene to mass stardom in Japan; from multiple bass players to the departure of original vocalist Cherie Currie; from acclaimed record releases through to the tedious final album. The book culminates in looking at what the ladies did post-band - it’s a well known story in the case of Jett and Ford, but a very depressing ending for Sandy West who took to drug addiction and crime. She really did seem to embody and live THE RUNAWAYS dream and it appears that the band’s collapse hit her incredibly hard.
An over-riding presence in the book is that of Kim Fowley who, quite simply, comes over as a warped, twisted, megalomaniacal arsewipe. Many of his quotes and actions in the book were simply depraved. Sure, he may have been some kinda industry mogul and it’s no doubt he aided the band initially, but the abuse he subjected some band members to was appalling. Not only that, he comes over as stunningly pretentious.
McDonnell’s narrative is concise and clear, but a little lacking on accuracy in her research. Talking of the band’s 1976 gig at London’s Roundhouse, it’s stated they supported, "legendary Metal band, Metallica"! Even the smallest amount of research would prove that a) the band headlined with SUBURBAN STUDS in support and, more importantly b) Metallica didn’t even form until 1981! Furthermore, while writing of Jett’s association with THE GERMS, it’s stated the Pat Smear was the drummer; within two paragraphs McDonnell gets it correct and states Don Bolles. These may be small errors, but it makes me wonder how many more exist. AND - was a proof reader employed? It also brings into question the sincerity of the author when such simple, basic errors exist. As McDonnell is a journalism teacher in LA, I hope she is instructing the basic rule of all biographical writing - check and double check your facts and then check them again.
The book is filled out with some photos, a detailed discography and some source material the book uses. It is pleasing to see the McDonnell carried out a lot of new and exclusive interviews in her research of the band.
Definitely a book worth reading. It evokes a very different era of music from which we now know and McDonnell’s words brings that era into a vivid reality. The films about the band are assessed impartially and you get a sense from the text that this could be as close to the real story as is likely. (31.07.15)