Whether you consider the rise of U.K. punk to be a movement driven by fashion or fostered by rebellion, it’s indisputable that the phenomenon was a cultural zeitgeist. The Clash were an obvious figurehead, but for the average punter, The Sex Pistols are probably the band most readily associated with the rise of punk in the United Kingdom.
Spearheaded by cultural provocateur/financial opportunist Malcolm Maclaren, The Sex Pistols rode a wave of chaos and controversy for a short two and a half year ride leaving a trail of death, addiction and bitterness in its wake. The story has been told throughout the years, pieced together into various writings, but until the release of England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond in the early 1990s, no one who’d been a firsthand part of the movement had documented what transpired.
British journalist Jon Savage released England’s Dreaming in 1991 and the book quickly became one of the best regarded tomes detailing The Sex Pistols and the rise of English punk rock. Granted, there were few precedents, but the book was an indisputably huge and exhaustive undertaking.
England’s Dreaming was (and is) notable for having been comprised of interviews Savage conducted in 1988 and 1989, within a decade of the events related in the book. Savage logged a Herculean amount of interview-time with over a hundred individuals who played a formative part in the development of the punk scene. Many are alleged to be the first interviews with subjects about their time during the ’70s. Savage, though, was lucky enough to be at ground zero when seminal events exploded, having been a journo for Sounds as punk broke and subsequently writing for Stateside fanzines like BOMP! and Slash.
Stitching together the Sex Pistols’ convoluted narrative, England’s Dreaming depicts the band’s rise to fame and subsequent implosion, pulling no punches in recounting the tales of manipulation and dissension which culminated in the crashing and burning of a cultural phenomenon. The book provides a nice overview of the era, but those who yearn for an unsullied truth might be disappointed at times. The Damned’s Captain Sensible and club owner Andy Czezowski were among the most vocal critics of Savage’s work, accusing the writer of over-intellectualizing the punk movement and allegedly manipulating events to suit the book’s purposes. Debate as to whether that took place will, no doubt, go on forever.
Almost a decade on from the release of England’s Dreaming, 58 of the interviews have been compiled in their entirety as The England’s Dreaming Tapes – not as a defense of the original Savage treatise, but rather an extension. Subtitled “The Essential Companion to England’s Dreaming, The Seminal History of Punk,” each interview here is prefaced by a short paragraph documenting the date, locale, general demeanor of the interviewee and begins with Savage asking the subject where they’d been born. Some are nostalgic, others rife with invective, but none are boring. Granted, there are few who might not care to delve so deep into the myth or legacy of the English punk rock scene. And those looking for a hand-held tour of the story might be better served starting with its predecessor. Bookish-types who already have a working knowledge of the 1976 U.K. punk explosion, though, will find a great deal to engross them in these 752 pages.Visit: Jon Savage | University of Minnesota Press
Purchase: Powell’s Books | Amazon