- Paperback: 632 pages
- Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (19 May 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0571227201
- ISBN-13: 978-0571227204
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 4.2 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 155,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
England's Dreaming Paperback – 19 May 2005
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"'A monumental survey of punk... a good claim to be the definitive work on the definitive work on the subject.' The Times" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
England's Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, by Jon Savage, is the ultimate book on punk. This updated edition includes an introduction focusing on the legacy of punk twenty-five years on, an account of the Sex Pistols 1996 reunion, and a comprehensively updated discography.See all Product description
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This is a weighty book, physically (c. 600 pages) and textually. Savage isn't a writer who knowingly under-intellectuallises his subject, and this book treats the subject with high seriousness. That it still emerges as a pacy and exciting read is tribute to Savage's passion and stylish writing.
The book charts the antecedants of punk, in the music of the early 1970s, and in the association of Malcolm Maclaren and Vivienne Westwood, punk's strange parents. It describes the rapid rise to fame of the Sex Pistols and the rise of the British punk rock movement, and its messy and depressing fall into cliche and exploitation.
Savage's take seem to be that 'punk' can be split into two eras - the imaginative early fashion movement centred round the Pistols, from formation in 1975 to nationwide fame in 1977. During this period, punk attracted rebels and mavericks, and encouraged individualism and creativity. The early Pistols sound fantastic - sheer speed-fuelled outrage with a gleeful glint in its eyes. This changed midway through 1977, with a series of physical attacks on the Pistols (which meant they became more reclusive), their banning from most venues in the UK (which increasingly meant they couldnt play live), a fallout in the band between Glen Matlock and the rest of the Pistols (which meant the band lost their most musically creative member and gained Sid Vicious, a creative vacuum), and the rising popularity of punk, which demanded a rigid formulaic approach which was the antithesis of the energetic early years.
This book is really an elegy for those heady early times, and charts the later years diligently but with sadness. Savage clearly loves his subject very much, and was there at the time. This shows - this book is extremely vivid, and includes a series of jotted comptempory accounts of the early punk gigs that Savage attended. It is the definitive book on this subject.
Savage tells the tale of English punk (with some reference to what was happening in the USA, but as the title says, this is _England's_ Dreaming), starting from the backgrounds of those involved, through to the end of the 70's, after the collapse of the Sex Pistols and the death of Sid Vicious.
As you might guess from the title (which is of course from a line in the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen"), it is the Sex Pistols that are the primary focus of all this. But there's plenty here about The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, and plenty of less famous but essential bands, like The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie & The Banshees, etc. And I should add that there is an extensive index with discographies of many, many groups.
I'm not sure exactly what Jon Savage was doing at this time, but he was certainly there and involved. He even appears in one of the photos in the book (police herding punks off the boat after the infamous Jubilee cruise down the Thames, if I recall rightly). His recollections and interviews are interspersed with snippets from his diary from the time. This really is a vivid account, and one that made me curse all the more loudly that I missed the action.
One warning - I thought there was far, far too much about Malcolm McLaren's pre-Pistols activities at the start of the book. This was boring. But fight through it, or skip ahead, you'll really miss out if you get bored and quit in the first couple of chapters.
Also, after reading this book, try to check out Julien Temple's film "The Filth And The Fury" - you'll see footage of a lot of the events described herein.
The greatness of this book is that while ostensibly this is a book about the Sex Pistols (and it is) it is much more than that. As someone born in 1980 it is easy to forget that Britain in the 1970s was such a Politicised place, today apathy rules ok, but thirty years ago things were different. The Post War consensus was crumbling, the age of Thatcherism was dawning, the promise of full employment was exposed as a lie as unemployment figures grew, the once proud ruler of most of the worlds surface had to go with begging bowl to the IMF for a loan, union power was rampant, strikes ubiqutious, the far right increasingly evident and, in the words of Savage 'political and social (even behavioural) extremism seemed very attractive as a way out of this impasse.' In other words the time was ripe for Punk.
The history of the Sex Pistols in the 1970s is the history of the U.K in the 1970s, this is what Savage conveys, Punk grew in fertile soil. The word most used in this book is NIHILISM. Nihilism is a philosophical position which argues that that the world and espiecally human existence is without objective meaning, purpose or comprehensible truth or essential value. The nihilism of punk was a reaction to the idealism of the hippies who had preceded them and to many proved frightening, but while the life of Sid Vicious showed one obvious consequence of nihilism, Savage manages to convey the less obvious flip side: only by negating what has gone before can one create afresh. The concequence of the Sex Pistols was that in this country, musically, things were never the same again.
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