FUNGALPUNK - BOOK REVIEWS
 
 

LYDON - ANTI-CELEBRITY - BEN MYERS

An 'unauthorised & unofficial' biography of John Lydon that is written by a fan rather than a unaffected observer. This is written in a light and simplistic way and basically is an account of Lydon's life, from where Lydon's autobiography's Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs stopped. True it is a biased account but so what? It is quite obvious from the outset that Myers knows his stuff and tries to remain as objective and subjective in equal measure throughout the book.

The books clearly displays Lydon as a unfathomable conundrum who has many flaws in his character but due to his downright honest and unaffected approach to life, music and people still remains a very likeable character indeed. Ex-band members are often quoted as saying what a decent bloke John is and this is despite being a misinterpreted character. Highly intelligent, focussed and very talented the man we have been told was once the 'Anti-Christ' and a threat to British standards is a very underestimated chappy indeed and the insight we have here into things he did other than punk is really fascinating.

Myers gets across the point that Lydon actually cares and is not the unthinking, anarchic upstart the tabloids would have us believe.

I like Myers' style a lot and on evidence such as this would be tempted to seek out other music based publications he has written. Pefectly put together, well paced and in truth just long enough I would recommend this addition to anyones punk library.

   
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A RIOT OF OUR OWN - JOHNNY GREEN AND GARRY BARKER

Former Clash Roadie and general do-it-all Johnny Green provides a nostalgic and no-frills account into the life of the Clash both on and off tour from 77 to 80. This is a very fine read indeed with the personalities of each band member perfectly portrayed in a honest and well wriiten way that lets you almost be there with the crew. Jones comes across as an over-pampered rock star, Simmenon as bloody damn good company and game for a laugh, Headon as a fine drinking partner and Strummer as the ever enthusiastic political leader. They all come across as approachable and proud with their achievements and this is very heart-warming touch indeed. Drunkeness and a drug induced haze may have marred accuracy over the years but this smacks of realism and in no way tries to get by by hyping up the 3 years the tale covers. You come away with a feeling that the Clash were just some young enthusastic 'erberts who just wanted to play some fine rock 'n' roll and with Strummer at the helm they were on a one way trip (albeit briefly) to stardom.

The internal fighting and logistical problems all add to the books truthful approach but for me its the moments before and after gigs that encapsualte the bands attitude to each other and their fans. The books close is in the future and recalls the time of Strummers untimely death and the Clash' induction into Rock 'n' Rolls Hall of Fame. Beautifully written in few words that embrace the essence of the time when punk lost an icon and the music world mourned. The maturing of the 3 other members and their changing attitudes and successes in life is a pleasure. Personally I was never the greatest Clash fan but recognised their contribution to music and the punk scene and highly recommend this book to anyone with an appetite for a good 'on-the-road' read.

   
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JOY DIVISION – UNKNOWN PLEASURES - JAKE KENNEDY

For the non-connoiseur/fanatic this is a stifling read that laboriously dismembers a much adored album and lays bare every working intricacy as well as charting the development and progression of the band in question.  Over-indulgent and pedantically analytical, it takes a real Joy Division afficianado to really enjoy this heavily researched tome.  There are some revealing moments and the book picks up pace when not dealing with the post mortem of individual songs, but these are fleeting moments that are over shadowed by the deluge of factual and melodic assessments.  For me a struggle but a definite appreciation of what the author has compiled and the careful attention to detail.  For the Joy Division nut an obvious purchase but anyone after an easy read that is filled with cheap biographical eyebrow raisers then forget it.

   

TV SMITH – GETTING THERE – TOUR DIARIES VOL 1

A piece of prosaic punk literature here from lyrical maestro TV Smith as he relates his tale of struggle and success on a punk rock mission to nowhere (well almost).  This is an earthy read and a stark insight of the day to day life of a solo punk performer.  A tapestry of life’s fuck-ups and foibles neatly woven together with a bizarre cast of varied players this sobering saga can easily be felt by the everyday ‘erbert who has an appreciation for good, honest music and enthusiasm.

The foodless hours, the endless travels, the poor turn-outs  and the array of oddballs contrast nicely amongst the savoured veggie moments, the heady highs of performance to a swollen and appreciative crowd of loyal fans. 

The insatiable enthusiasm and bargain basement logistics of the entire account is what draws you in and you can almost feel every niggle, every unexpected high, every depressing low and every time of reflection as if you were there.

The characters are sublime and few words sum up each individual with a terse and accurate ability that is a joy to savour.  The berry eating fruit-loop is a particular fave.

Tim’s eye for the overlooked obvious is another touch that adds to the realism and contributes to a darn fine read.  Overall – a must for any punk and musician who has tasted life on the road in all its unglamorous nakedness.

   

MAKING OF THE GREAT ROCK 'N' ROLL SWINDLE - JOEL MCIVER

Here we have a well written insight into the most famous punk rock film of all time featuring the renowned Sex Pistols. To the point and with good foundations laid the book recounts numerous clips from the film as well as giving a well thought out explanation behind the motives of its main players. McClaren is exposed as a selfish genius and Rotten has the hard done by victim of a cinematic autopsy and Vicious as a vulnerable and a victim of self. This is a nice accompaniment to the film and clarifies a few mystifying moments I am sure we have all encountered. After reading this account it is quite obvious the film was a classic of its genre and is still highly watchable today almost 30 years on.

MCiver's literary style here is regimented and analytical which is perfectly appropriate when giving an account of an object of art such as The Swindle. Overall a good read with one or two errors that the sharp-eyed may spot but which don't detract from a pleasurable account of the most notorious punki band of all time.

   

DESTROY – ALVIN GIBBS

A historical account of punk rocks rise and fall and musical and social impact through the eyes of one of its supporting cast, namely Alvin Gibbs (better known as one time bassist with the UK Subs and Iggy Pop).  The chronological assessment we are given intermingled with Gibbs’ personal account works well and covers the movement from pre-punk days and its influences to 1996 and its almost dilapidated underground status.

Packed with basic band biogs, numerous quotations, pictures and revealing anecdotes this is a fascinating read despite having its usual bag-full of too often told tales.  There is an abundance of ‘I Didn’t Know That’ information and the personal opinionated edge will have purists in disagreement I’m sure and the modern day punk gnashing their yellowing teeth.  The fact that Gibbs was involved in the scene with various bands adds strength to the textual matter and the insight into the musician’s mentality however tasteful or unsavoury that may be.

The few typo errors don’t detract from a well structured and researched book that goes beyond punks musical effects and examines other artistic victims.  The poignant touches are subtle and the name dropping unavoidable and  both add flavour to a tome worthy of its place on the punk connoisseurs slanted bookshelf.

   
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RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN - SIMON REYNOLDS

As punk faded into the background the music scene went in many different directions resulting in a wealth of sounds to please the most pedantic of tastes. This book is a comprehensive guide and account of the post punk era from 1978 to 1984 and deftly brings together many winding roads to one final junction. The author Simon Reynolds obviously knows his stuff and he can be congratulated on dealing with an overlooked area of music so comprehensively.

The ground covered in this book is admirable and for music lovers its a definite must read. Personally I found parts that were of little interest as is bound to be the case when dealing with such a vast amount of subject matter, but all in all this was a very enjoyable book.

There is an avalanche of anectdotes and trivial notes to be found here as well as some great insights into the characters that thrived in this golden era.

PiL, Joy Division, The Fall, The Raincoats, The Slits, Throbbing Gristle, Gang of 4, Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League, ABC and Devo are among some of the bands dealt with and give an insight into the legwork involved to get this tome up to scratch.

The enthusiasm shown by the author doesn't hinder both the objective and subjective stances he constantly jumps from and this approach is one of the winning elements that make this book so readable.

Rather than read the same old stuff over and over in the numerous similar punk rock books on offer this really does make a refreshing change and in a way kind of finalises a lot of unanswered questions.

   

ENGLANDS DREAMING - JON SAVAGE

A tale revolving primarily around the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols this book excels where others fail in the fact that it builds and sets the scene well in advance of the Pistols birth and gives us a unique insight into how the band fully came about and from what musical state they were borne.

The research gone into this comprehensive narrative is startlingly immense and the little snippets of detail found therein are what bind the whole factual evidence together and relate an epic era of rock.

From 1971 to 1979 the book drips with anecdotal titbits from punks early players with Savage unafraid to put in his two penneth worth.  I find it quite remarkable that when reading accounts of punks early days how different one feels to different characters and the scene in general.  The main brow-raising fact here to many new punkers is the realisation that punk was as much art as music and the people who started it were far from the misguided misfits and street urchins as we are led to believe but for me, a bunch of middle class youths, bored with suburbia and trying to rebel against the moral authority.  A veritable southern clique and one that is some way from today’s more honest, unpretentious punk rock.

It’s a decent read with all parts necessary towards the final picture.  You can’t help feeling both the achievement and equally the failures throughout and one is left undecided as to whether punks first wave truly fulfilled its potential.

The discography and diarised appendix are superb reference points and overall this informative tome is a solid inclusion in anyone’s music library.

   

SHIBBOLETH, MY REVOLTING LIFE - PENNY RIMBAUD

It's all laid bare in this book with a no-holds writing stance that delivers an insight into a mind that is forever questioning and probing reality and social themes. A tale that deals with insecurity, hope, loss and determination and a book that is both intriguing and appalling.

Beautifully written, interspersed with various scribblings and lyrical Crass output Rimbaud thrives on emotional text and relay's his feelings, be it of love or hate, quite sincerely.

The backbone of the book revolves around one, Phil (Wally Hope) Russell who was the founder of the Stonehenge Festival and his threat to the system and its authoratitive oppression. What happens to Wally has a damning effect it seems on the mind of the author and his entire soul is exposed for the reader to assess.

What comes across is that Rimbaud's actions stem from a caring, if somewhat misdirected, inner-self that is struggling to get to grips with lifes inadequacies. Questions are left unanswered and the future and past are torn to shreds in search of a nebulous hope. I feel Rimbaud grasping for an idyllic Utopia yet finding a Blunderland of shit and misery at every corner with the despair and downright frankness displayed being admirable.

A crackin' read and one I could barely put aside due to, at times, a sensation akin to morbid fascination. A must for fans of Crass and a must for frustrated philosophical thinkers!

   

SKA'D FOR LIFE - HORACE PANTER

A personal account of the life and times of Horace Panter and his bass playing role in the influential and much acclaimed leaders of the British ska movement, The Specials.

It captures a time when the country was falling apart at the scenes, employment was increasing daily and racial tensions were blatantly rife.  An era when the country needed a band to confront the cultural differences and depolarize the populace.  The first wave of punk was over and the second more street-sounding blitz was well settled when The Specials first set out on the journey to Ska’dom.  Interesting times indeed and to be involved in the music scene in those unsettled years really took a vast amount of belief and dedication.

What makes this book so special is the author’s cool writing approach and ‘in retrospect’ stance where he assesses his feelings and general attitude at the time of those heady years.  The open honest approach is a necessary ingredient in any biographical work especially so when relating the tale of a close-knit band that literally fell apart at the seams.

You would think that being in a successful band would be plain-sailing but here we get an insight into the positive and negative factors that plague the day to day life of the rockstar.  Egos, opinions, poor organisation, ludicrous time-management, and an ocean of personal demands, we see Panter methodically strip bare the ins and outs of the whole Ska scene and come across as a man left bewildered by what actually transpired. 

The high work schedule that The Specials went through at their peak is breathtaking and it is with a sense of foreboding that you read this book as regards the ever-nearing demise of a band capable of greater longevity than they actually achieved.

A thoroughly cracking account and as the author says of Jerry Dammers (keyboard player for The Specials) ‘His book should prove very interesting reading…when he writes it’.  A mouth watering prospect indeed but shouldn’t detract from a damn good read here.

   
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