Books - D
DAY THE COUNTRY DIED: A HISTORY OF ANARCHO PUNK 1980-1984 - Ian Glasper (480 pages, Cherry Red)
This is the second in Glaspers trilogy of books about 80s UK Punk and, where the first book detailed the No Future, boots and braces brigade, this - as the title states - features bands that embodied liberty, revolution and a desire for change. These bands formed their own labels rather than attempting to sign to a label; these bands craved change rather than merely singing about it; these bands went out and got what they wanted.
Little in the way of aesthetics has changed. As with the first book, the bands are listed in geographical regions with the more important bands getting the bigger page count. Also mirroring the first book is the selected discographies and suggested starting points for the curious.
The first thing that is noticeable about every aspect of the book is the spectre of CRASS. Just about every band in this book either formed after seeing CRASS, or hearing Feeding Of The 5,000, or at the very least having their whole world and perspective turned upside down by the political acerbity of CRASS. While Burning Britain had no single defining act that galvanised the genre, CRASS undoubtedly became Anarcho figureheads, leading a charge for independence, protest and clearly marking your territory.
The other main difference between the bands in this book and those in Burning Britain is their mind set. While many bands in Burning Britain sort managers and labels and focused on boozing, nihilism and basic adrenalin, the bands in this book did literally want to detach themselves from the music industry and create a viable alternative. The lyrics and ideas reflected a deeper unrest, much of it pointed at pacifism, animal rights and vegetarianism, the nuclear threat, capitalism and complete and utter embitterment of a Thatcher-led society. This polemic is reinforced when reading much of the interview material in the book. The likes of Dick Lucas (SUBHUMANS), Penny Rimbaud (CRASS), Mark Wilson (THE MOB), Deek (OI POLLOI), Tez Turner (INSTIGATORS/XPOZEZ), Boff (CHUMBAWAMBA) and a myriad of others certainly make much more pointed comments than the likes of EXPLOITED, GONADS and ANWL.
Thats not to say that this is all dour politics - far from it! There are more stories of extreme violence, decadence, drug and alcohol abuse, good times and living a life genuinely on the edge that many of those in Burning Britain could never aspire to. What this book does hammer home, and its something that is absent in todays sanitised Punk Rock environs, is just how violent those Anarcho shows were thanks to the mindless thuggery of too many mindless, show-crashing skinheads.
Like the first book, Glasper makes the bands accessible and the enthusiasm in his writing is equally evident. There are plenty of pics filling out the pages too, many of them from a live environment. Oddly, there is no section on POISON GIRLS, a band that undoubtedly suited the subject matter, had close ties initially to CRASS and was active within the time frame.
The additional chapters here feature complete discographies of the main Anarcho record labels (Crass, Bluurg, Mortarhate, Spiderleg etc) plus a listing of associated websites, including political/ radical sites alongside the bands.
The greatest compliment I can pay a book of this nature - as with the first volume - is whether it taught me anything that I didnt already know. Well, this sure did! A lot of the bands in this book I was already familiar with, possessed their records and had viewed live but the wealth of information contained here really is a testament to Glaspers research.
The third and final chapter will focus on UK Hardcore; it will have a lot to do to live up to the strength of Day The Country Died.
DIARY OF A PUNK: LIFE AND DEATH IN THE PAGANS - Mike Hudson (160 pages, Tuscarora Books)
Of all the bands in Cleveland, Ohio in 1977, few could claim to have such a riotous and interesting history as THE PAGANS. The band was a contemporary of the likes of PERE UBU, DEVO and most significantly, DEAD BOYS. Here, vocalist Mike Hudson gives us a warts n all exposé of the decadent, driven and combustible history of THE PAGANS.
Hudson sets the scene well with his description of a mid-70s Cleveland, how he and his brother Brian developed extensive records (and I dont mean a vinyl collection) before the PAGANS existence, and the NEW YORK DOLLS show that lead directly to the formation of the PAGANS. From there Hudson draws you through the bands break-ups, drug usage, recording sessions (interestingly, he states that the Not Now No Way sessions represents the bands peak) and the turmoil of his own personal life with his chaotic marriage to Mary, infidelity, the birth (and untimely death) of his son Richie, the virtual mental breakdown he suffered when his brother Brian died and ultimately the sobering experience that was his liver failure - the result of a life of alcohol abuse - which resulted in his now complete abstinence from the stuff.
In between there are some classic anecdotes that mix revenge (defacing local radio station WMMS wall mural with PAGAN Pink paint twice), misfortune (getting stiffed by record labels, the entire run of the Six Of Change 7" being buried for months under a snow drift and having his car impounded by the cops with a lb of prime drugs stashed under front seat) and general opinions on the Punk contemporaries of the time (a fight with HUSKER DU, citing X, DILS and DEAD KENNEDYS as pedestrian, Cheetah Chrome of the DEAD BOYS shooting up between his toes, being banned from the dressing rooms when sharing a show with The Police and sharing a dressing room with THE RAMONES which resulted in Dee Dee main-lining in the loo).
Hudsons career as a journalist has severed him well here also. Often hell analyse issues but not to the extent of coming over like a fucking shrink - a great example is his paragraph or three given to his observations on the difference between playing live and writing.
Unlike other autobiographies, where the author either eulogises one self to the point of superhero or plays on the readers gullibility to gain sympathy, Hudson relies on raw reality rather than sensationalism. He realises that THE PAGANS was a great hard-drinkin hell-raisin Punk Rock band that never quite lived up to its potential while never accessing the right kinda breaks that were afforded to many others of the day. And the reason? The impulsive nature of the band members themselves. He also realises that he himself has been a less than savoury personality in the past. He is not apologetic about any of it, nor does he write with a suggestion that the reader should sympathise (or even empathise).
Hudson is aware of his own failings on every level and that - along with the history of a hugely underrated shit-kickin' rock 'n' roll band - is what makes this one of the most honest, blunt and engrossing autobiographies youre likely to read.