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Music

Who Owns Punk History?

A folkloric examination of the interview manuscripts of punk historian Jon Savage and The England's Dreaming Tapes.

England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond
Jon Savage

St. Martin's Griffin

1992

Undoubtedly, punk still exists as a tantalizing music subculture that has expanded, mutated, and doubled-back, like a snake eating itself, in routine redux over the last 30 years, turning three garage rock chords and the so-called truth into nihilistic newer variations like D-Beat, crust punk, powerviolence, grindcore, and screamo. Recent anniversaries of Frontier Records (label to TSOL, Circle Jerks, and Suicidal Tendencies) and melodic punk stalwarts Bad Religion testify to long term trajectories and traditions; meanwhile, interpretations of the pose, language, style, and attitudes of punk have infected multiple academic disciplines from sociology and folklore to musicology and women's studies. In purely commercial terms, punk has long been subdued and harnessed, reshaping retail commodity culturescapes. Faux-hawks, patches, studded bracelets, and skulls stitched on T-shirts have become common fashion accessories in bland suburbs and edgy barrios alike.

The telling, not the mere examination -- acts of theory and conjecture -- of its convoluted history, grounded in memoirs, magazine exposes, blogs, and films, remains unstable, partial, thorny, and riddled with gaps. Certainly, seminal books have risen to the top of the heap. Many brim with oral history, which some readers believe fosters candor and authenticity. We Got the Neutron Bomb (Three Rivers Press, 2001) surveys West Coast punk while Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (Penguin, 1997), by former PUNK fanzine editor Legs McNeil, helped by co-editor Gillian McCain, represents hard-boiled New York City. These quasi-journalistic romps featuring iconic talking heads reminiscing about their roles and first-hand experiences without much writerly fluff proved to be quite popular.

That modus operandi essentially makes this epic 752-page collection of compiled interviews by Jon Savage feel weighty and pertinent, even if one has already read his much-lauded England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond (St. Martin's Griffin, 1992), which almost 20 years ago examined the zero hour of punk, mostly in England. Representing just a portion of his impressive archives for the text, these transcripts make readers feel like they are sitting at Savage's side as he finesses rock 'n' roll rebels and forgotten helpers alike, though don't expect many WikiLeak profundities dug from the minefields of memory. Plus, interviews with the likes of Ed Kuepper from the Saints and V. Vale, editor of vintage San Francisco Search and Destroy fanzine, remain available on jonsavage.com only.

Pink Fender by rahu (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

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