This is part 2 of our punk library. My full apologia for its content is in part 1. I am indebted to others for what is correct about this list, and personally responsible for what is not correct. Keep in mind that punk is more than its image (spiky hair, for example). The spirit of doing it yourself and doing it your own way is what we’re going for, crediting the original New York scene and the quick-to-respond London scene as the prime movers. There is no organizing principle to this list. You just gotta take it as it comes.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution – Sara Marcus – This is what happens when punk meets feminism – or maybe it’s the other way around. Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill lead the charge with stellar follow up from bands like Sleater-Kinney, and along-the-way guidance from pantheon punks like Kim Gordon and Joan Jett – and that’s just on the music side. This is the story of Grrrls blowing up the cultural mosh pit. Naysayers can naysay, but this was a movement that actually made a sizable dent in how we think.
I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp – Richard Hell – An early punk icon, a debauched poet who set a punk-hero standard, Hell fronted Television and later The Voidoids. This is his bio from childhood to post punk. It’s well-written (not by a ghost writer), in parts brilliant and typically enigmatic.
The Best of Punk Magazine – John Holmstrom – This is a collection of “Punk” magazine, the closest thing there is to an official, original, indigenous chronicle of the New York punk scene, ran by Holmstrom, Ged Dunn and Legs McNeil. It includes backstories of the issues, which featured everything from interviews with uber-punk royalty like Lou Reed to caricatures of uber-punk royalty like… Lou Reed. Rather than the official history, this is like busting into the king’s tomb to read the graffiti. Like everything truly punk, it only lasted a few years.
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever – Will Hermes – Not only about punk, this is the story of New York and a chunk of the 70s, a weird combo-plate, seen thru the lens of several different music styles (punk, salsa, jazz, etc.). It’s a Gotham cultural/historical opera with interweaving plots and leitmotifs of the various scenes.
I, Doll: Life and Death with the New York Dolls – Arthur Kane – The New York Dolls ruled the New York scene like doomed gods: hugely influential on other bands, tons of fans, but fated to seed the earth with their exploded corpse: the ice giants of middle America just couldn’t rock out to dudes in dresses. This memoir from bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane captures the heyday, formation, European tour, the glory and the debauchery.
England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock – Jon Savage – This is the definitive book on the English punk scene, focusing on the Sex Pistols and including all that cultural stuff (from fashion to what was happening in politics). Look for the revised edition and look for The England’s Dreaming Tapes, which is more of the same.
People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry – David Katz – No appreciation of English punk can ignore the influence of reggae. London was like a Magic Bullet with a ton of musical styles crammed into it, when Punk hit the purée button and took off the lid. Lee Perry had a direct influence on both Bob Marley and The Clash.
Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital – Mark Anderson – History and analysis of the DC punk scene in the 80s & 90s, which perhaps contends with LA as the hub of American punk – after New York, of course – featuring everyone from Bikini Kill to Fugazi to Minor Threat to Bad Brains and so on. Even if you’ve never been into punk, you know these bands from all the t-shirts.
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 – Michael Azerrad – Covers the careers of 13 American bands from all over the country, including many already mentioned plus Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, Minutemen and Dinosaur Jr.. This book is universally praised; think of it as 13 books in one. It could be your life.
Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair with Music – Helene Stapinski – This is another approach to appreciating the music thru the experiences of a New York fan who becomes a drummer and gigs her way thru a tough marriage.
33 ⅓ Series – various authors – This is a series of books that look at individual albums from varying artists. You can find a ton of albums relevant to this list, including Devo, Velvet Underground, Joy Division, Ramones, MC5, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Minutemen – etc, etc, etc.. In fact, just looking down the list is a reminder of how influential punk has been. There is no book on the Eagles, which means you’ll have to use something else to blot up spills or make paper airplanes.
Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ‘79-’83 – Tesco Vee, Dave Stimson, et al – This was like Punk (the magazine), but came out of Michigan and thus covered a lot outside the New York scene, starting in 79. This collection includes essays by folks like Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye. Touch and Go eventually launched a record label.
Keep Your Eyes Open: The Fugazi Photographs – Glen E Friedman – Fugazi kinda transcends (I am told). This is Friedman’s photographic chronicle of their entire existence. It’s not that he followed them around, but he’s a guy who managed to put himself in key places and moments of a handful of subcultural movements; punk was one of them.
Tape Delay: Confessions from the Eighties Underground – Charles Neal – While living in London, Neal collected these interviews from a variety of artists who came after the initial punk explosion. For true music-archaeologists and completists.
Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s – Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje – More development out of but different from punk, this is the music (and fashion) scene that developed when a few kids at the back of the club were like, “I’m tired of moshing, I wanna stand in the rain” “Yeah, okay – can I borrow your eye-liner?” The thing is, punk is not just fast and hard, it’s a DIY thing, and wearing all black, pretending you’re a vampire is right in line with that. These guys were cutting their own path, one cemetery photo shoot at a time.
PUNK AROUND THE WORLD
Why is punk important? It gave us Mad Tiger.
There are other pretty sweet documentaries about what’s going on in the world of punk.
From right here in LA – Los Punks: We Are All We Have
All the way to Burma – My Buddha is Punk
Check out Robert Ito’s piece in the New York Times about punk docs.
Up next: EVEN MORE PUNK.