Rock & Roll Books

Rock & Roll Books

Babylon's Burning: From Punk to Grunge

by Clinton Heylin

Canongate, 694 pp., $25

That "Certs-is-breath-mint-Certs-is-a-candy-mint" debate about whether punk began in the UK or U.S. isn't at issue in the second of Clinton Heylin's lengthy tomes about alt-rock's roots. In 2005's From the Velvets to the Voidoids, his thesis was that "modern music begins with the Velvets," and that's hardly arguable. Yet the aphorism that only a few thousand people listened to the Velvets but all of them formed bands isn't nearly as indisputable as saying that about the Sex Pistols, the band at the heart of punk. Never mind those Sex Pistols, though, Heylin's got something entirely different to say in Babylon's Burning, and he's likely to piss off lots of people, especially when he crucifies Kurt Cobain and calls Nancy Spungen's death "justifiable homicide." To his credit, Heylin's best revelation comes with the book's exploration of Britain's famed welfare system paying people (musicians) not to work. In other words, the government underwrote "God Save the Queen," while political anthems like the Clash's "Career Opportunities" were jokes: They didn't need opportunities, not with the royal handout. Heylin also has a good bead on the power England's mouthy rock press had in bestowing Next Big Thing titles. Unfortunately, the book stays mired in the late-Seventies and then skips forth through the ensuing years, landing on Nirvana's shot heard round the punk world for the final assessment. That's a potent reminder that the only difference between hype and hope is one vowel.

READ MORE
More by Margaret Moser
Adult Audio Coloring Book Sampler
Adult Audio Coloring Book Sampler
A look back at illustrated album covers old and new

July 29, 2016

Muse for the Ages: Loreena McKennitt
Muse for the Ages: Loreena McKennitt
Canadian chanteuse warms to vinyl and Texas

March 2, 2016

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)