Punk Rock Book Reviews!

Rotten, England's Dreaming

Written January, 2002: I've read a load of good books over the last six weeks. That's why the site hasn't been updated too much! So here we go:

England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, by Jon Savage. Faber and Faber. This is an exhausting look at the Sex Pistols life as a band, and the infinite influence they had on fashion, western pop culture, and music since their inception in the mid-70s. England's Dreaming details the lives of the five members prior to and until after the bands demise in 1978, as well as the other players in the punk rock hall of fame/shame: Malcolm McClaren, Vivienne Westwood, Don Letts, Bill Grundy, etc. Full of discussion and disagreement, Savage's account is quite complete, and makes for a very interesting read, if sometimes too full of minutia. I found the chapters on the early days of the band--especially playing live--and the recording of the album quite compelling, although the entire book kept my interest through nearly 600 pages. Not for the timid, but a very good book.

Now Playing: Fugazi, Instrument Soundtrack

Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, by John Lydon. Picador USA. After reading England's Dreaming, this much lighter fare by Johnny Rotten (he's legally allowed to use the name again) is just as compelling, although nowhere near as complete as Savage's book. Told in a very informal and personable tone, Rotten goes through many of the same stories we've already heard, but from J. Lydon's unmistakable viewpoint, and it actually makes a complementary counterpart to the previous book. There are numerous quotes from associated parties, and Lydon's biting humor and sarcasm run rampant. Although he seems somewhat bitter, Rotten is able to laugh at himself and at the world, and this translates well and makes for a good book.

Now Playing: Gang Of Four, Peel Sessions

Ramones, An American Band, by Jim Bessman in association with the Ramones. St. Martins Press. I think this is a reissue in new shape--it's got a faux-leather jacket cover with silver foil Ramones lettering and "seal"--and I haven't seen it on bookstore shelves in a long while. My friends Mark Holder and Saecha Clarke got this for me for Christmas, and it's a great read. After reading this I went out and bought three of the reissued CDs that I only had on vinyl a long time ago. The book goes through the life of the band, with all their changes, dramas and roadblocks, until 1993. Because it is in association with the band, there's the definite feel that we're hearing what the band wants us to hear. But despite this, Ramones is a compelling view into one of the great punk bands, and is well recommended.

Now playing: Youth Brigade, Remember '86

Make the Music Go Bang: The Early L.A. Punk Scene. Compiled/Edited by Don Snowden with photographs by Gary Leonard. St. Martins Press. This is a fairly pointed collection of stories about different specific aspects of L.A. punks early days. Subjects range from general impressions of the scene/time in general (roughly '76 to '82) to the Elks Lodge Massacre, the East L.A./punk cooperation, the invasion of hardcore from the suburbs, as well a detailed account of all the famous/infamous locales. A good book for the serious fan, but if you want something really good about the same subject, you should check out the next one.

Now Playing: The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Survival Sickness

Written October 2002: One of the things I enjoy writing about occasionally is books that I've read. I read a ton--I spend too much time reading, actually--and although a good portion of it is novels that aren't considered fine literature, I read a lot of books on other subjects: documentaries, non-fiction, biographies, histories, etc. Because I've bought every book I've written about here, I'm able to avoid the uncomfortable position of having to write about a book, and feeling a responsibility to write more than opinion. In other words, I've been free to do whatever I want without experiencing looming guilt about it.

In September I received a book entitled "Coloring Outside The Lines: A Punk Rock Memoir," by Aimee Cooper. It was the first book I've been asked to review, and I must admit I'm feeling awkward. Had this book been an amazingly good read on punk rock life during a certain era, or an amazingly bad read, I'd feel more apt to write. But I've been procrastinating...

"Coloring Outside The Lines" is a series of short anecdotes and stories which occurred successively in the life of Aimee Cooper primarily during an 18 month period in 1979, 1980, and 1981. The stories are funny, sad, poignant, and express the author's personality well. However, that personality is what gets to me. Ms. Cooper, in life and in her writing, consistently fails to ask the question why. This constantly left me hanging. She tells a story in which her friend Emil, (who apparently at some point played drums for Black Flag) ran and jumped in her car and gave loud, panicked directions to "Go!" So she went, and fast, and as they escaped she saw a menacing sight that appeared to be a kidnapping in the background. But not only did the author, at the time, not ask what the hell had happened, and what was her friend was doing there, and who were those people, and what was it all about; she fails to acknowledge that those questions are important, and does nothing to even expound upon what might have been the source of the short-lived turmoil. Instead, she takes it in stride and ignores the questions that would scream in my head.

And it continues throughout the book--she never asks why the experiences are what they are, and she never questions her friends, never asks any of the tough questions, but instead just exists, almost in other people's worlds. Indeed, this is Aimee Cooper's path through life. I'm not sure if it's her chosen path, one that she does realize she needs to alter, that bothers me, or if it's the nonchalance with which she presents the stories with regard to that path, but I found myself exasperated with her: I wanted to tell Aimee of twenty years ago to stand up for herself, to be tougher, to ask why and to question things. And I wanted to tell Aimee in 2002 that I wanted to know more: more about what she was thinking, more about what she guessed was going on, more about her and her friends and... I just wanted to know more!

Perhaps, if looked at as a portrait of the mundane, "Coloring Outside the Lines" could be considered a worthwhile snapshot of the life of a punk rock girl in the midst of the LA punk scene during a very interesting era. She rubs elbows with Exene, John Doe, Greg Ginn, Johnny Thunders; she works at Slash Records, and is there at a time I would love to have been there. But perhaps the best way to consider "Coloring" is as a simple document, and a very worthwhile one, of how punk rock is one way for people to learn life's lessons. Some learn those lessons through team sports, some learn them by travelling and interacting with people while skateboarding, some work their way through college, and some live a punk rock life, or at least part of one. Aimee Cooper spent a very interesting two years learning a lot about people and life while she was submerged in an emerging culture, and she doesn't try to glorify it, alter it, or make it more than it was. And that honesty is perhaps one of the best lessons that punk rock may have ever been able to provide to anyone.

While I wouldn't recommend "Coloring Outside The Lines" to everyone--there are far more attention-grabbing books about punk rock and punk lifestyles out there, although I've seen none that have such a personal scope--it is an interesting read, and presents for the first time (to my knowledge) the story of LA punk rock without the trappings of the "stars" involved in that scene. For someone like me, who devours everything he/she can get their hands on about punk rock, especially during that era, this book is a very worthwhile addition to the collection.

The author, Aimee Cooper, can be contacted at possumwp@aol.com The book is published by Rowdy's Press, P.O. Box 847 Elgin, TX 78621 and can also be purchased online at amazon.com

We Got The Neutron Bomb, Make The Music Go Bang
All Ages, Dance of Days

We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen. Three Rivers Press. Almost, but not quite, an L.A. equivalent of the wonderful Please Kill Me by so-and-so or whoever, We Got The Neutron Bomb (the name comes from the name of a Weirdos song) is an excellent oral history of L.A.'s underground and not-so-underground punk scenes as they developed from the early 70's (Iggy and the Stooges, Bowie, Rodney Bingenheimer, Runaways, early 'zines, etc) through the to success of the Go-Go's and the fairly widespread knowledge of bands like the Germs, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Included are stints into east L.A., rockabilly, the suburbs and the violence they brought with hardcore, as well as excursions into the Canterbury Apartments ("punk rock dormitory") and the influence drugs had on the scene in general. X and the Go-Gos are discussed extensively, and Paul Beahm/Bobby Pyn/Darby Crash is a central figure, although the quotes from Darby are few and far between, and obviously different from the rest of the book by in that they aren't looking back, but rather were culled from older sources. This is a complete collection on a subject I find vastly interesting, and although I'm certainly no longer nostalgic about the early days of punk (and indeed, skatepunk), this is definitely a worthwhile read. And thanks to Beau Brown, who got this book for me as a present. Cheers!

Now Playing: Ramones s/t

Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital, by Mark Anderson and Mark Jenkins. Soft Skull Press. http://www.softskull.com This is a book I've heard about for a long time and finally found at Vinyl Solution in Huntington Beach. There was an excerpt from Dance of Days in Punk Planet about 8 months ago, and that piqued my interest. I can't tell you how highly I think of this book. Not only is Dance of Days a documentation of the positive punk ethos in action, but the book itself is an example of that often unwritten code of the underground's belief, and indeed reliance upon, action and idealism. Starting in the mid Seventies and running through the mid Nineties, the stories are complete with numerous quotes from the action girls and boys, and women and men, and grrrls, who made up Washington D.C.'s punk and underground scene. Especially interesting to me is the detailed accounting of Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Fugazi, although that may identify me as a dufus who just knows about the "big" D.C. bands. There's just not as much to write about the shorter-lived Rites of Spring, Embrace, Three, or the (later) major label Jawbox. With equal emphasis on the political efforts of groups like Positive Force as on the personal politics of the punk bands, Dance of Days is inspiring, and should be considered a must read for all fans of hardcore punk rock or political activism.

Now Playing: Misfits, Disc Two of Coffin Box Set

All Ages: Reflections on Straight Edge, Compiled by Beth Lahickey. Revelation Books. This is a series of interviews with short introductions on key players in the so-called straight edge "scene," as well as people outside that scene who were part of the periphery, especially in the editors' hometown area. Although I think that a stronger interest in straight edge as a real "scene" may be needed for complete appreciation of every single interview, there are certainly very compelling subjects included. Ray Cappo, Civ, Dan O'Mahoney, Kevin Seconds, Ian MacKaye, Mike Judge and Jordan Cooper come to mind as the most readable, although certainly other players in bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Verbal Assault are enjoyable as well. I'd recommend this book to anyone with a strong in hardcore, or anyone with an interest in straight edge.

Now Playing: The Clash s/t (U.S. Version)