Books - O

ONE CHORD WONDERS: Power And Meaning In Punk Rock - Dave Laing {224 pages, PM Press}
Over the years there have been a number of tomes that have attempted to analyze, quantify, understand, justify, decry and simply observe the phenomena that was Punk Rock. Recent years have seen these books branch out into Hardcore and other sub-genres, but still the resounding bulk are those about the UK 1977 explosion (and implosion come to that!). So, does the world really need another succession of prose that over-analyze something that was as organic, uncontrived (in the most part), vitriolic and physical as Punk Rock - something which was born of its time - as a reaction against the depression and mediocrity of late 70s England?
In this case, the answer is a resounding YES! Y’see Scannerites, this book is a reprint of what was the first of its kind. Originally printed in 1985, this has been out of print for many years and represents the very first in-depth critique of the thing we call... The Punk Rock.
Taking up six chapters, Laing analyses Punk from its Formation and continues through Naming, Listening, Looking, Framing and the Aftermath before a Conclusion rounds the main book out. He uses what are considered to be the first of the UK Punk albums as templates (‘The Clash’, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, ‘Damned Damned Damned’, ‘Rattus Norvegicus IV’ and ‘Pure Mania’) along with a smattering of the early UK Punk singles and places them against what was happening in the charts of the era. All aspects of Punk are analysed in those chapters, from the bands that acted as precursors, through to the names of bands and individuals, the acts of Pogoing and gobbing, fashion, politics and lyrical origins, mainstream music press and fanzines, major labels and the advent of independents and the removal of the breakdown between band and audience. There is also a look at what was coming in the wake of ‘77 Punk with mentions of CRASS, PUBLIC IMAGE LTD, EXPLOITED, SOUTHERN DEATH CULT and AU PAIRS. It’s a well researched narrative and, while definitely written from a deeply analytical perspective, it rarely becomes ponderous, pretentious or overtly highbrow.
The books is filled out with a Foreword by TV SMITH, an Introduction from the original book and an updated Preface for this print. There is also a reprint of the original picture section and a bounty of Appendixes including a 1976-1980 Chronology, select discographies and a look at the 1976 charts and chart positions of the original brace of Punk releases.
It’s interesting to juxtapose this, the first of its kind, with the plethora of similar books that have been printed since. I’ve read a few lately that come on like some fucking University exercise written by ‘graduates’ who wanna get a high grade but retain a ‘cutting edge’ for a job - no doubt as some overly-educated, under-experienced music ‘journalist’. One Chord Wonders, and Laing’s narrative has no suggestion of that. This reads as a genuine study of what Punk was in the late 70s and born from a desire to discover what created the monster and not shy away from the monster’s failings and hypocrisies.
Let’s face it, 1976 was 40 years ago; a lot has changed. A lot has become eulogized, aggrandized, bastardized and mythologized. Given this was written in the early 1980s, it should be viewed as a first-hand account of one of the most inspiring times in UK culture and, if not a defining text on 70s Punk, then certainly one of the most unbiased and articulate of its kind. (31.01.16)

OUT OF THE BASEMENT: Rockford, Illinois 1973 - 2005 - David Ensminger {96 pages, Microcosm}
Rockford, Illinois, might not register too highly on the horizon for most of us. Wedged between the metropolis that is Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, the town of Rockford appears to be little more than a petrol stop between the two cities. However, this excellent little book lifts the lid on the town; a town like many others across the States (and the world to a degree) that may not have the swing of those major cities but certainly had a scene worth noting. The fact the book is written by an author as knowledgeable and readable as David Ensminger already, for me, makes it essential reading.
Like all great reads that focus on a location over individuals, Ensminger introduces the reader to the history of the town, dating back to the 1800s and on through Socialism, political radicals and the industrial collapse of the city in the 70s/80s. This is also the period that saw Ensminger discover and jump feet first into the town’s Punk scene.
Before Punk Rock however, the town did birth a notable, and hugely successful band in CHEAP TRICK. I’ve always rated the band (the first four albums are killers if you’re interested in discovering their brand of New Wavey Power-Pop Rock) and it’s great to read that they were decent fellows too.
Of course, the focus of this is on the town’s Punk scene that kicked off with high energy Rock ‘n’ Roll and Power-Pop bands before mutating into the real thing. Ensminger takes us through the town’s scene decade by decade introducing the characters, bands, venues (including the Rotation Station that was a roller skating rink turned Skateboard Park turned venue and sounds fantastic) and zines that combine to make the core of what is a local scene. If it’s bands you want to know about, here you can read about such notables as WE HATE CAKE, FLAC, BLUDGEONED NUN, PINEWOOD BOX, MULLIGAN STU, HEADCLEANER and Ensminger’s own band, INSIGHT. Among the stories contained is an interesting one about GREEN DAY and a bit of rock star (before they were stars) petulance and a MISFITS gig at the Coronado Theatre that saw Jerry Only being another with the Rock Star ego.
The book is filled out with band photos, gig flyers and local notables.
Although at only 96 pages it may appear to be a brief read, Ensminger has managed to collate a lot of facts, characters, stories and historic detail into the pages as well as lacing the story with his own personal narrative and reflection lending it not just a gritty realism but a journalistic enthusiasm and passion that only a local (as opposed to a hackneyed journo) can muster. (27.11.16)