Books - P

POST PUNK THEN AND NOW - Gavin Butt, Mark Fisher and Kodwo Eshun {302 pages, Repeater}
There’s an interesting, and really quite innovative premise behind this book. Obviously it’s about Post-Punk - that era where Punk mutated and progressed beyond the rhetoric and bar chords of the likes of SEX PISTOLS, CLASH et al and into a new arena with the likes of GANG OF FOUR, ADAM AND THE ANTZ, MEKONS and even CRASS. Bands that eschewed the thrash in favour of texture, angles and more focused politics but remained resolutely independent and anti-corporate. From around these bands sprung artists, film makers, zinesters and writers. This book also eschews the traditional oral biography and/or historical narrative in favour of transcribing nine lectures/ public conversations with notable Post-Punks and, in most cases, includes questions from the audience following the lecture.
Of those featured, two of the most interesting are a wonderfully out-spoken LYDIA LUNCH interview which is simply excellent reading, making the reader laugh out loud, squirm and marvel - often all within one question - which opens the book, and the closing interview with Tom Vague of Vague zine in which each issue of the zine is analysed and discussed along with his personal situation at the time and his thoughts given the benefit of hindsight.
Other notable extracts is a chat with artists Gee Vaucher (CRASS) and Laura Oldfield Ford (whose work provides the cover of the book). This, probably more than any other part of the book, highlights the difference (and similarity) between someone from the 70s and another from the current era. THE JAM and the band’s importance get an insightful discussion from Mark Fisher, and Gavin Butt analyses bands that formed in Art School. Elsewhere there are looks at scenes in Poland and Brazil.
Of course, a danger with this kind of book, and particularly when those who compile it are authors and university lecturers, is that it can come from an over-educated and slightly pretentious perspective. The Preface states the origins of the book were anything “but academic” and generally it avoids that academic stuffiness. However, the contributions from Kodwo Eshun (including an interview with Green Gartside of SCRITTI POLITTI), bored me with a rather pompous narrative and contributed the only parts of this book I couldn’t read due to tedium.
Where appropriate, the book is filled out with graphics, a brief biography of each contributor and another innovative masterstroke as an Introduction that sees a round-the-table discussion with the three main contributors.
The spontaneous audience contributions certainly added a new and engrossing dimension to the chapters and could’ve been utilised to a greater degree in many cases.
Without a doubt, this was an enjoyable read. It takes the reader back to an era that spawned a great deal of innovation and originality and gave birth to a number of individuals whose work still resonates today - and in many cases are still productive today. It would’ve been beneficial to the book in general if the burgeoning Positive Punk/ Goth scene of the time was featured - especially if it the interview would have been conducted by Dominic Johnson who was responsible for the Lydia Lunch piece.
So, does this offer any new, 21st century perspectives on Post Punk? Without a doubt it does, although some take more work to find than others. For those who were too young to ‘be there’, this is a valuable tool for reflection, while providing enough reminiscences to captivate those who were. (07.02.18)

PUNK AVENUE: Inside the New York City Underground 1972-82 - Phil Marcade {290 pages, Three Rooms Press}
It’s often said that truth can be stranger than fiction, and so it is with this memoir of how Phil Maracde, who was born in France, ended up being at the epicenter of the mid-late 70s New York City Punk explosion, and fronting the scene’s foremost exponents of 50s-esque Rock ‘n’ Roll - THE SENDERS. 
The story kicks off in 1972 with Marcade (whose dad was a drummer and bought Phil his first kit at the age of 13) having already left France for Amsterdam where he meets a life-long friend in Bruce and together they travel to the US. There is an early mention of New York City which, at this stage, was viewed as dark, with the pair’s van being broken into. Come his 18th birthday, Marcade finds himself in Phoenix - and in prison.
By 1973, he is back in France and evades National Service. While living on a barge with his girlfriend, Bruce returns and is ‘Punked’. Suitably impressed, Marcade gets a month’s Visa and returns to the US - and somehow stays for the next 35 years!! He stays in Boston for a while, sharing a joint with pre-fame icons BOB MARLEY and AEROSMITH before seeing the NEW YORK DOLLS where he strikes up another life-long friendship with one JOHNNY THUNDERS - and the subject of their conversation? Real Italian tomato sauce!
On moving to The Chelsea Hotel in New York City, a party is arranged, which the RAMONES attend. From there, we get Marcade’s story of the next eight years in the city.
Needless to say, for anyone with even just a passing interest in NYC Punk, this is a gripping read. Among the copious stories are how Marcade got addicted to Heroin, became a roadie for THE HEARTBREAKERS, transcribed the French part of ‘Denis’ for Debbie Harry, got to know Nancy Spungen (and claims responsibility for sending her to the UK to chase Jerry Nolan), formed THE SENDERS, got married, joined GANG WAR with Thunders and MC5’s Wayne Kramer, had a jaunt in Los Angeles with The Senders and got to hang out with the GO-GO’s, shared a rehearsal building with both Madonna and SWANS and supported THE CLASH, all of whom were cool bar Mick Jones who comes over as totally prissy Rock Star of the worst kind. I’ve not even mentioned face vomiting, Spungen’s junkie cat, the ‘77 blackout or the spider. You’ll have to get the book for those - and many, many more.  
Come the book’s final year, things take a dark turn as Bruce’s ODs, Senders gigs in Paris are cancelled after the band loses its management, AIDS appears resulting in several deaths, he gets divorced and is consumed by increasing Heroin addiction. It’s a bleak chapter that’s starkly written but one that has a welcome result as, after a 12-hour OD, Marcade finally kicks the habit.
The book is filled out with a selection of great photos, a foreword by Legs McNeil, a preface by Debbie Harry and a welcome list of the book’s characters.
Marcade’s narrative is quite addictive. He doesn’t go for the long, drawn-out chapters that eulogise his own coolness nor does he let any ego get in the way of his story telling. Instead, much of the book is written as a chronological series of incidents and laden with humour - just like the reader and Marcade are hanging out in a bar talking - and in that sense the book is stunningly engaging. If you are looking for scandal, or bitching, or some salacious story about Dee Dee Ramone (c’mon - there’s enough of those already!) then you are out of luck. What Marcade has created is something genuine, conversational, intimate and enthralling.
Naysayers may suggest that Marcade was only a bit-part in the NYC Punk scene. How wrong - and stupid! He was there, jamming with Thunders, partying with Dee Dee, hanging with Stiv, buddies with Debs and playing Max’s. Of all the books about that formative NYC Punk scene, this ranks right up there with the best and is the perfect accompaniment to Please Kill Me. Yep - that good. (17.08.18)