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Babylon's Burning: From Punk to Grunge Paperback – 31 Jan 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (31 Jan. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141024313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141024318
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 4.2 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 991,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Praise for Clinton Heylin:

Heylin is arguably the world's greatest rock biographer' Irish Independent

'For an answer to the question of just exactly what kind of music punk rock was, you'll have to resort to … From the Velvets to the Voidoids' New York Times

Heylin 'sorts the conflicts and conflagrations with a critic's eye and a fan's heart' Lenny Kaye

About the Author

Clinton Heylin's biography of Bob Dylan (Behind the Shades) is now in its second edition and has been in print in Penguin for fifteen years. His history of early American punk, From the Velvets to the Voidoids, was shortlisted for the prestigious Ralph Eleason award in the States, and has just been reissued. Brought up in Manchester where as a teenager he saw many of the bands covered here. He now lives in Somerset.

Customer Reviews

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By Caleb Williams VINE VOICE on 12 April 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is as unique a history book as you're likely to get; not just in the way it's written, but also in the way it seeks to present to the reader the most important aspects of Punk history. I've not read any of Heylins other books, nor have I read anything about the history of punk, but a friend of mine recommended this to me and I'm glad he did. So the book itself is aptly named "Babylon's Burning" with the subtitle "from Punk to Grunge." The main title is a song by punk band, The Ruts and of course the subtitle tells us that this book will take us on a journey through the most turbulent genre in Music.

It starts off in 1971 and the quintessential birth of Punk music and individuality in New York, right to what some would say the day the music died in the early 90s. This book settles it. The argument to end all arguments, and although many would hate to admit it, the notion of Punk started in America. Television started it all in New York City with their individuality and their outsider attitude. They didn't seek to make the type of music that surrounded the scene at that time. Television didn't want to be another Beatles and nor did they care if people rejected them for not fitting that mould. This ideology became the Punk mantra for the next 20 years and is an ideology that was already instilled in the UK's most well known Punk, John Lydon.

The out of this world "I don't give a F@#$" attitude can be widely attributed to Iggy & The Stooges, but thankfully this is all explained within the book. Heylin has a very unique way of writing which may be off putting to some, but to me it made this book more interesting to read. The book isn't really Heylins take on things as he likes to fill it with quotes from those important figures that were there as it happened.
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Format: Paperback
This is quite a decent read but has some pretty laughable mistakes, such as Marco Pirroni apparently joining Adam & The Ants in 1977 (it was actually 2 years later) & claiming the track "Said Gun" is a Minor Threat song, while it is actually Ian MacKaye's later band Embrace who wrote it. Those are two examples that immediately come to mind. You'd think a music journalist would know this stuff, or actually do some, y'know, research!
The author is rather dismissive of hardcore punk in general, which is strange considering hardcore was the true inheritor of punk's original DIY spirit. To him, hardcore seems nothing more than an excuse for ritualised violence parading as dancing. You may not be much of a fan of the music, Clinton, but try to be a bit more subjective!
Could have & should have been better.
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Format: Paperback
Heylin's books are researched in great detail, and usually written with copious first-person quotations to give a feeling of getting this information straight from the horse's mouth. "[In these sections], however, he [can be] rather too pedantic in sub-edit[ing] sentences for what he considers [complete grammatical and thematic] coherence" - like that. Far better just to let the quotes stand more often for themselves, and so what if they don't fit [absolutely] seamlessly?

It's clear that, both by age and inclination, he's more interested in the punk side of this equation. What I found surprising compared to his other works, especially given the aforementioned routine depth of research, is the number of pretty significant names he gets wrong here. Vic Godard of Subway Sect, Jake Riviera of Stiff Records and Roxy club founder Andy Czezowski are amongst those consistently misspelt by Heylin (as Goddard, Rivera and Czekowski respectively), at the same time as he's priding himself on correcting widely-held miconceptions about, say, how many Manchester gigs the Sex Pistols played in 1976, or which fanzine it was that originated the notorious "Here are three chords, now form a band" cover. It's uncharacteristic, disconcerting and its effect is to cast doubt on the rest of the substance of the book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x90c1aeb8) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90d5b3e4) out of 5 stars substandard hack job 10 July 2007
By E. A. Hunter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'd read other books by the same author and was ready for a well-researched, eloquently-penned work on a par with From The Velvets To The Voidoids. This was a huge disappointment. I can't even recommend this book for those who know next to nothing about punk rock. If this weren't such a boring read, it might be useful as a reference for those who think punk rock began and ended with the Sex Pistols. The major problems here aren't so much inaccuracies (which are all over the place) or the fact that many important bands are not mentioned, but the misconceptions that the writer asserts as fact. He knows next to nothing about the hardcore scene in terms of first-hand knowlege and misses entire aspects of the underground which may have helped in terms of nuance. The writer pits band against band in some sort of non-existent competition and ignores nearly all humorous elements. The odd thing is that Heylin appears to have done a lot of research and even conducted his own interviews for some sections. If one can term a book that stretches for hundreds of pagesa "rush job," surely Babylon's Burning qualifies.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90d58510) out of 5 stars Breadth of Punkrock 19 April 2007
By David E. Hintz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Clinton Heylin extends "From the Velvets to the Voidoids" both by covering further scenes and covering more recent post-punk trends. There is only one chapter on grunge among the 625 pages of text, so the earlier scenes are far better covered. I loved reading both the breadth and depth of coverage of the early scenes. The Australian coverage was quite nice and not often enough explored or appreciated in punk rock history. I would almost drop a star from my rating as I saw at least five or six mistakes made as he hit the 1980s. But that did not detract from the history presented here. Read this along with "Please Kill Me" and "England's Dreaming" and you will get fantastic history of a great era of musical history.
HASH(0x90dc4b40) out of 5 stars great book 27 Aug. 2015
By Joan Caldwell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
the paradox of the two generations of punk.

the former, led by the sex pistols, fought for a delusional anarchy which aims to have a stateless government WITHOUT reason.
the latter is led by the late great Kurt Cobain, who just wanted to screw everything up.

great artists, false advocates
HASH(0x90c240b4) out of 5 stars You can't encompass the world in one book 9 Jan. 2014
By Chris Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, this book could have stood a more clinical editing. Book seemed bent on covering the entirety of punk in one book, hopping from country to country, glossing over things here and there. This book is ideal if you're looking for something more global/big-picture, however if you're looking to find a well-edited piece of work that gets from A to B, read another book.
HASH(0x90dcc3f0) out of 5 stars A Good Read 30 April 2009
By Caleb Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is as unique a history book as you're likely to get; not just in the way it's written, but also in the way it seeks to present to the reader the most important aspects of Punk history. I've not read any of Heylins other books, nor have I read anything about the history of punk, but a friend of mine recommended this to me and I'm glad he did. So the book itself is aptly named "Babylon's Burning" with the subtitle "from Punk to Grunge." The main title is a song by punk band, The Ruts and of course the subtitle tells us that this book will take us on a journey through the most turbulent genre in Music.

It starts off in 1971 and the quintessential birth of Punk music and individuality in New York, right to what some would say the day the music died in the early 90s. This book settles it. The argument to end all arguments, and although many would hate to admit it, the notion of Punk started in America. Television started it all in New York City with their individuality and their outsider attitude. They didn't seek to make the type of music that surrounded the scene at that time. Television didn't want to be another Beatles and nor did they care if people rejected them for not fitting that mould. This ideology became the Punk mantra for the next 20 years and is an ideology that was already instilled in the UK's most well known Punk, John Lydon.

The out of this world "I don't give a F@#$" attitude can be widely attributed to Iggy & The Stooges, but thankfully this is all explained within the book. Heylin has a very unique way of writing which may be off putting to some, but to me it made this book more interesting to read. The book isn't really Heylins take on things as he likes to fill it with quotes from those important figures that were there as it happened. This brings you more into the atmosphere and gives you a better understanding of the motives of those involved.

I have read a bit about certain flaws in the book and because I didn't know that much about Punk to begin with and have not read any other books on it, I didn't pick up on them. Apparently there are a few spelling mistakes and is criticised for this considering that he corrects many misperceptions about certain events or important gigs. What I found dislikeable about the way it was written is that Heylin took it upon himself to make gramma[tical] corrections to the story's [told] by those who were there. Grammatically correct or not, I would have preferred the quote in its original form rather than have Heylin essentially go against everything Punk stood for and that's not caring. If you're going to use quotes in a book, then you leave them in their original form and don't insult the reader by altering them.

Towards the end, the book does take quite an obviously justified gloomy tone when talking about what many would say is the death of Punk, when Kurt took his own life. The book expresses an obvious fondness for the individual and the music created with Nirvana, while at the same time remaining objective by pointing out Kurts flaws with his contradictions. Contradiction is a theme that is apparent throughout the book. How some bands decided to end it before they became too famous so as to not backtrack on the notion of it all being about the music, while other bands contradicted certain punk ideals by seeking massive fame through signing to the big labels. These contradictions created many punk casualties, and this is spoken about sensitively whilst remaining objective.

The book certainly is enjoyable to read and Heylin has the knack for describing the atmosphere of an early Pistols gig or the early gigs of the many prominent Punk bands. It accurately presents the frustration many "real" punk bands felt towards the more popular music of the day. He also goes about trying to explain or in a sense justify the more volatile behaviour of the more vicious bands and their followers. It's a good read for those who have always been quite interested in the notion of the Punk, and the history of the genre.
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