Customer Reviews: England's Dreaming, Revised Edition: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond
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on January 11, 2000
Punk Rock is an oft-misunderstood musical genre, usually seen as one-dimensional, inarticulate, and musically incompetent, made by angry young kids who have no regard for anyone but themselves. This all may be true, but to dismiss it as such is to miss a vital element of rock'n'roll. 'England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond' stands as the best book on its subject, and as one of the finest books on the sociology of music in general.
Jon Savage was prescient enough to have kept his teenage journal from those long-ago days of London in the mid-to-late-70s, he is able to present us with a thorough, first-hand account to spice up his in-depth journalism. Throughout this work he quotes from it, giving us impressionistic, colorful glimpses of the time:
"30.10.76: I go see my first proper punk group. I know what it's going to be like: I've been waiting for years, and this year most of all: something to match the explosions in my head. The group are called the Clash; everybody I talk to says they're the best.... Within ten seconds I'm transfixed; within thirty, changed forever.
23.11.76...fascism here won't be like in Germany. It'll be English: ratty, mean, pinched, hand in glove with Thatcher as mother sadist over all her whimpering public schoolboys.
25.12.76: A party... in the kitchen downstairs, members of the Damned, the Clash and the Sex Pistols sit around a large table.... Halfway through the evening, the Heartbreakers arrive, and install themselves in a tight corner near the telephone, which Johnny Thunders uses to make hour-long calls to the US. Not collect.
25.12.78: Public Image Ltd, Rainbow Theatre, London. this, as expected, is mainly Rotten's show. Except now there is a new element of whining and self-justification...."
Savage goes so much deeper than just his own observations, deeper than any writer on British punk ever has or ever probably will. First he examines the British pop/youth cultural movements after World War 2, like the Mods and the skins and the Teddy Boys, before coming to that little shop at 430 King's Road. We get some myth-destroying insights into the origins of Malcolm McLaren's relationships with the burgeoning Sex Pistols; namely, that it originally was 18-year-old guitarist Steve Jones' band. Savage debunks the notion that the Pistols were--as is the common, popular perception today--the *NSync of their day. McLaren was great at hindsight, saying "Oh, I meant that to happen" when really it was all out of control. Quite a bit of the book deals with the utter contempt and frustration with which Johnny Rotten and later Sid Vicious felt towards this Fagin-esque character.
Savage also looks the punk scene in surrounding towns, such as the Buzzcocks in Manchester; the difficulty in getting clubs to book the bands; the sudden liberation (but not quite) young women felt, resulting in "stars" such as Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene, and the Slits; the (sometimes fake, sometimes real) competition between the Pistols and their rivals the Clash; the utterly disastrous tour of southern American states by the Pistols; the fashion, the art, the impact the movement had on the rigidly structured British class system. His account of the Jubilee summer (1977 was the 25th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign), and the attendant boat ride up the Thames--the Sex Pistols performed "God Save the Queen," their inflammatory anti-royalty statement just as the boat passed Parliament--makes you realize that Punk gave a new meaning to "civil disobedience."
The self-immolation of the notoriously doomed Sid Vicious (and McLaren's ultimate exploitation of it) is dealt with by Savage tenderly:
"What happened next will always be a blur. In an account given by Vicious shortly before his death, he woke up from a Tuinol stupor in the light of the morning to find a trail of blood leading from a soaked bed to the bathroom.... he found Nancy lying under the sink with a hunting knife sticking in her side... Vicious went into complete shock--from which he would barely recover for the rest of his life. As the realization of what had occurred sank in, he panicked totally: the only person had ever cared for him was dead, by his knife, and he couldn't remember a thing."
Another interesting aspect of the book are the analogies made between Punk--Savage capitalizes the word--and the major art movements of the 20th century. Sometimes this comes off as intellectual puffery, and yet in my thoughtful moments I think Savage is quite right to link McLaren's ideas with Dada, Surrealism, and Situationism. Rotten is compared to the young Rimbaud; the Clash wore Army fatigues splattered with colored paint a la Jackson Pollock; Subway Sect and other bands created music that seemed defiantly anti-music; and one cannot deny the primitive, art brut beauty of Xeroxed 'zines like Snffin' Glue, the flyers and the record sleeves.
Now more than ever punk is my favorite music--'70s punk, let me clarify--the Clash, the Pistols, the Buzzcocks, etc. just don't ever seem to lose their edge or their aura of chaos narrowly avoided. England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond is, ultimately, an inspiring testament to the creative powers of oppressed youth everywhere--may that flame never die.
Contrary to what the Pistols said, there IS a future: you just have to know how to throttle it with your bare hands....Rrrrrright--Now!
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on February 7, 2005
I started this book thinking I would learn a thing or two about the Sex Pistols, but ended up -- about 700 pages later -- an armchair expert on the cultural history of the 1970s. In other words, Jon Savage is one hell of a writer.
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on June 17, 1996
So many photos, so many interviews, its a long book, but also
the best book you will ever read. Its open minded, so punk
fans can love it, or people who hate those U.K. punks can hate
them more. Its not just the Sex Pistols, its the Clash and Ramones
in the spotlight also. I laughed to myself while reading some quotes,
but you'll be in tears when reading about how Sid Vicious was accused
of killing the only person he had, then slowly killed him self. jon Savage
had acess to all of the archieves of the Sex Pistols, so its accurate.
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on April 27, 2000
In 1976, I was 14. I remember the excitement of seeing some video footage of the Sex Pistols in 1977. "Rock" was boring, so I got heavily into punk - it was thrilling! This book is by far the BEST I have read about that thrilling experience - being in the USA, I missed the action in London, and this book describes it in depth, bringing all sorts of strands of history together, and THOROUGHLY capturing the era. Jon Savage's writing style makes it a JOY to read. And the in-depth punk discography (with Savage's comments)at the end of the book is something I refer to over and over. If you are interested in READING about punk rock, including its origins and social impact on the U.K., THIS is THE bible! This is IT!
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on February 9, 2004
Jon Savage is a wonderfully fluent writer of English, rock history, and language. At 43 years of age now I look back at my salad days, or what I remember of them somewhat awestruck. What is amazing is not that the revolution never really happened, but that so much has been written about what at the time seemed rather more like fun than civil disobedience. Dressing up in silly costumes, consuming too many drugs, and mashing up My Father's Place when the Ramones played etc. At the heart of it then, we really did think we could change the world, and if anyone actually did bring real change it was the Sex Pistols and their mastermind Malcolm McLaren. I'm writing 25 years to the week after Sid Vicious died in New York, and two years after Joe Strummer of the Clash passed on. These bands changed the way music could be done in a fundamental way.
This book gives a detailed chronical in first hand reports of the early days of punk in London. For those of us who used to hang out at Club Mudd in the late 70's it is a mirror to look in to see ourselves in our self destructive glory. If you're too young to remember, or you're just into rock history this book is still important. I read this book when it first issued, then picked it up again recently, and both times thoroughly enjoyed it.
Savage put a wonderful scholarly gloss on the artistic and social heritage of punk rock. Some of his analyses may be overwrought but however tenous the links, it is undeniable that punk rock combined nihilism, socialism and the spirit of revolution in a way that is somehow unique in musical history. The first disenfranchised hip-hop generation of the late '80s is somehow a fair successor to the punk movement. Maybe I'm a crusty old rocker now, but everything else seems derivative somehow. I've read a bunch of punk rock books and this one is a gem among sow's ears. This book provides an amazing snapshot of the music and social scene in England at one crucial turning point in the history of music. It is well worth reading. Sometimes you might want to wear your old leather motorcycle jacket and pop on the Buzzcocks too.
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on August 11, 2014
An excellent document of the British punk scene framed as socio-cultural near-history. The approach isn't likely to appeal to those who just want to read about sex and drugs and rock & roll (though there's no lack of any of those), but as an American punk fan since "back in the day" I learned a lot about the gestation and pathetic demise of the movement.
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on June 17, 1999
Bondage for the masses, filth, fury, situationist codswallop and testimony from witnesses and victims, villians and a hero or two. It's all 'ere, my son, step inside and let yer old uncle Jon tell yer abaht the times 'e 'ad in the year of 'er majesty's jubilee.
This is the real thing - don't kid yourself, you weren't there and neither was I but this is as close as we can hope to come. 430 Kings Road might have well been on Pluto, but you and I are living in a world very much influenced by Malcolm McLaren's little shop of perverts, thieves and dandies.
At no place or time since has music, style or attitude mattered as much as it did in London in 1976. Why not is apparent on reading this book's description of the society in which the likes of Rotten, Jones and McLaren created the Sex Pistols.
As an examination of the background to the movement, this is exhaustive. As a record of events it is almost perfect. Unfortunately it is also all we are likely to have regarding the real history and motives of the players. Rotten has told his tale, Matlock even chipped in a few pages, Jones and Cook have kept mum and McLaren .... even if he did write a book would we believe it? The truth is probably somewhere between the stories of all five of them and for now, Savage must be the authoritative source.
And Sid's there too.
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on November 4, 1999
Awesome overview of mid-70s punk. The best thing is how it imparts a sense of the hysteria of London 1976-77: The chapter on the chaotic June '77 Sex Pistols boat ride, taken from the author's diary, is downright gripping (he was on the boat!), painting this period as the pinnacle of all the madness (and the book).
Credit is deserved for tracing the lineage of punk, plus all the criminally overlooked concurrent scenes (No Wave, Cleveland punk) as well as the psychological underpinnings of it - though an Electric Eels lyric quoted sums it up better than any sociologist could.
What's unfortunately lacking is the musical aspect of it, and the US proto-punk bands (Stooges, MC5, etc.). Take this as a vivid, complete picture of a vital moment in England. I've read this several times, and it still gives me the thrill of history being made with each passing day of the Pistols' existance.
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on August 17, 1999
There's a big difference between a book that is *exhaustive* and one that is *exhausting*. This one manages to be both. With much difficulty, Savage walks the line between a definitive written history of punk and a messy collection of pseudo-sociological essays (of the type John Lydon warns in his own collected reminiscings of the same period). For all of Savage's excrutiating attention to detail and accuracy, he completely misses the human story behind the punk movement. Yes, punk can be described with various hyphenated terms that scream "intellectual" ("Anglo-French deconstructionism," anyone?), but punk is also the story of four teenagers who wanted to be rock stars, drank too much, and could barely hold themselves together long enough to record a single studio album. By over-intellectualizing every moment of the Sex Pistols' existence, Savage turned the band members into puppets -- not of Malcolm McLaren, but of some imaginary, radical social force that somehow pulled all of their strings. Only when the book reaches the end of the Pistols' era, culminating in the death of Nancy Spungen, does Savage begin to write convincingly about the personal interactions between John, Sid, Paul, Steve, & Malcolm and how personalities -- not various groups of European malcontents -- drove the band off the cliff.
As a compendium of facts, this book has no peer. Use this book as an encyclopedia, however, not a story book. There's a real story out there about punk, and this isn't it.
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on June 27, 2003
A truly excellent book - I've just read it (the original 1991 edition) for the second time in five years and was blown away by it all over again. Savage charts the entire history of punk, from the origins of British anarchy in the Gordon Riots of June 1780, on through the Situationists, the early history of rock'n'roll in the 50s, and the collapse of the hippy dream at the end of the 60s, to place it firmly within the social, political, cultural and historical context of mid-70s Britain. This was a period when, such was the level of post-imperial and post-war disenchantment in the UK with Britain's ever-diminishing power in world affairs, coupled with urban alienation, inner-city decay, increasing racial tension and chronic political and labour unrest that many actually feared some kind of second English Civil War.
With an appendix detailing the extremely bitter mid-80s legal battle between Lydon and McLaren, and an exhaustive bibliography and discography charting punk's influence up to the late 80s and beyond, this 600-page volume is the definitive history thus far of the extraordinary phenomenon of punk in general, and the Sex Pistols in particular.
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