Rock & Roll Summer Reading

Rock & Roll Summer Reading

Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk

by Phil Strongman
Chicago Review Press, 304 pp., $16.95 (paper)

News flash: The years 1975-1979 were the heyday of UK punk rock, and the Sex Pistols (and their dire ilk) were midwifed, squealing feedback and dripping placental gob-shite all over poor conservative TV Today host Bill Grundy, by a Sex-mad mastermind named McLaren. Feb. 2, 1979, saw it all fall apart, like black crepe in a real pea-souper, as former Pistols skag-magnet Sid Vicious kicked off his farewell tour of NYC ambulance services a post-Chelsea D.O.A. Shocking! Outrageous! Flogging a dead horse addict! Of all the spiky-haired, overtrampled eras of punk rock yet inked, Strongman's chosen swath has already – like John Simon Ritchie, aka Beverly, aka Vicious Sid – been trod into grave-dirt and better. That doesn't stop the author, who was there, from offering up his dullish take 30 years on or using the Velvets, MC5, and the Stooges as punk pivots from which 1975-onward dangles in extrapolative pseudo-meaning. (Been done.) Unfortunately, it also doesn't stop him from lame and lazy endgame sum-ups such as: "Rock & roll, at its most extreme, is among history's most dramatic music." Indeed? Punk penned an unwritten future – no future – via pissed-up sonic safety pins and more. It continues to lose everything in the translation.

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