This book is a comprehensive account of the birth and slow death of 'punk' - whatever that means. To many, it means either bands of Sham 69-style Rottenalike bawlers and sneerers, or mohicaned tourist magnets in Central London. To Jon Savage, punk means primarily the early dynamic, revolutionary style and music of the Sex Pistols and their fellow travellers, during their brief flowering.
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.
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