SEX PISTOLS AND PUNK ROCK
(Faber & Faber)
Ada, mate! Can you imagine Steve Jones sitting on an outside drawing stool?
was what Malcolm McLaren was pushed to reply to some earnest journos accusation
that the fledgling Sex Pistols were no more than an art school anti-aesthetical
exercise, no more than an extra-curricular project in pose. Ill never forget
that. The ludicrous image of rocks very own Stan Ogden grappling with a
2B pencil, pontificating on the painterly qualities of Sutherland yet still managing
to cop a load of that new Deb in foundations knockers was ridiculous.
Jon Savages long-awaited book Englands Dreaming doesnt
fall into that trap. No, he knows his onions far too well. But when it comes to
a toss up
heads, its highbrow; tails, it just about reaches the bridge
of your nose.
book is most immediately commendable for the account of what happened at A&M
Records, where the Pistols were granted such a brief tenancy, and also for the
story of Nancy Spungeons supposed murder by Sid Vicious in room 100 of the
Chelsea Hotel. Neither subjects have, to my mind, been dealt with sufficiently
in print by any works on the subject to date.
this book is not only about the Sex Pistols. Jon Savage has cast himself as the
A.J.P. Taylor of Punk Rock, and very nearly succeeds in his mission.
we kick-off with a mid-70s equivalent of Today There Are No Gentlemen
and the history of Chelseas Worlds End, together with McLarens
upbringing. This is all pretty interesting until we begin to get bogged down in
60s art-school radicalism totally at odds with McLarens riposte reported
earlier. Nonetheless, it is necessary: if you want the whole picture on what played
a major role in casting Punks typeface, then you gotta know these things.
coolest thing I ever discovered about anarchist Durutti was that every time his
mob blew up some fascist stronghold in the Spanish Civil War, they left a brick
as a calling card with a black hand stamped on it, beating the man from Milk Tray
Politick does get a bit tedious and confusing, but once Savage has convinced us
hes got the heavy stuff down pat we start to roll with something approaching
a reasonable momentum.
get the Ramones, Richard Hell, Television and Red Patent Leather;
we get the whole New York Scene culminating with the arrival of The Heartbreakers
on these shores in late 76, hotly pursued by her nibs, Nancy Spungeon.
get the London SS, Bernard Rhodes and the 101ers. We get William Broad, Siouxsie,
Debbie, Tracey - and wait for it - even Berlin.
all there. Painstakingly researched and with an acute eye for detail, Savage barely
misses an issue. But with the number of supporting cast members involved, the
books veracity sometimes comes into question. Things reported that I personally
know to be untrue, make me doubt the actuality of events outside my direct experience.
But no matter the gist of it all is pretty damn spot on.
on towards the later chapters concerning The Pistols acrimonious spilt in
the States, Englands Dreaming displays a refreshing sensitivity to
the effects of instant notoriety. The breakdown in communication between Rotten
and McLaren is an eye-opener. This explains the underlying tensions which resulted
in the court case, that saw control of Glitterbest wrenched from the hands of
see your average Sid lives: RIP brigade getting too much out of this
- apart from some pretty sloppy roaches - but I can see the book starting to crop
up on GCSE syllabuses in a couple of years time, and I get a sneaking suspicion
Jon Savage wouldnt complain too much if it did.
like this. You know that if you ever get embroiled in breaking up a fight and
then try to establish its cause, youll always get as many versions of what
started it as there are combatants. Likewise, in this little slice of life youd
get five or six different accounts from the Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks
camps, one from Vivienne Westwood and at least 78 from Bernard Rhodes.
its in this that Englands Dreaming has its strength, because to be
honest I cant think of anybody more qualified to give such a balanced overall
account than the author. We could have done with a couple of jokes, though.
(Review from Vox,
by Ian Dickson