More books? Isn’t this a music blog?

May 7, 2009

My list of 10 music books worth reading had a couple of notable omissions. Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage. Fine tomes both, I’m sure. Truth be told, I haven’t read either of them. Maybe it’s because the punk story seems to have been told, retold, mythologised and re-mythologised so many times that I just can’t be bothered. Watching the first Sex Pistols appearance on So It Goes on You Tube is worth a million printed words.

But then this pops through the letter box (not literally – at nearly 750 pages my letter box would have to be the size of a cat-flap). The nice people at Faber and Faber have sent me a copy of The England’s Dreaming Tapes by Jon Savage. The book is a transcript of the interviews Savage did with all the major (and minor) players of the original punk scene when he was researching England’s Dreaming in 1988. Now this I did want to read. I love oral history. I find it can be far more revealing about an era than any number of academic interpretations. (Studs Terkel’s oral histories are, in my opinion, the best chronicles of American 20th century life. A pity more Wall Street bankers didn’t read Work before plunging their country into a new dark age.)

Anyway, I digress. I’ve been dipping into The England’s  Dreaming Tapes and it is fascinating stuff. 1988 was only a dozen years after the musical year zero so memories were fresh and untainted by another 20 years of reunions and reinventions.

Most of it centres around the boutique (SEX), the band (the Pistols) and the boys (Lydon, Cook, Jones, Matlock and Sid). What is fascinating is how this “whole generation of eternal misfits” (Jah Wobble) not only changed the music scene, but caused the biggest cultural shift of the 20th century. McLaren may claim to have  had a master plan but the truth is more likely to be Lydon’s version “there was no master plan on my part or theirs that we got together” – in fact there is a lot of Lydon and McLaren contradicting each other’s version of events.

What is clear though is that all of the early players were natural misfits and rebels:

“I would go to great effort, picking the badge off the (school) blazer and sewing it back on upside down in perfect position” McLaren,

or

“I was the freak of the neighbourhood.” Lydon

The ripples from the London scene eventually reached like minded soul in the suburbs:

” I longed for the exotic things in life” Linder.

There are  a few disappointments – the interview with McClaren is too brief, the one with Jordan(who according to the ‘where are they now’ section at the back is now a veterinary nurse – in leather?) too long. And there is no contribution from Vivienne Westwood. But these are minor quibbles. 

The England’s Dreaming Tapes is probably the most comprehensive first hand document of the English cultural revolution.

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