Book Reviews

The England’s Dreaming Tapes
Jon Savage
University of Minnesota Press
Street: 08.04.10
Punk rock has grown and changed drastically over the last few decades. As I’ve learned more about the genre, I’ve heard more and more convoluted stories about how it all began. It’s understandable that there could be some confusion, since everyone who was around in the beginning was crazy, drugged out of their mind or often both. In Jon Savage’s companion to England’s Dreaming: The Seminal History of Punk, Savage shares transcripts of the original recordings he made while interviewing pioneers of punk such as members of the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the New York Dolls about what was happening as the genre first swept the world. Savage even takes time with several industry insiders who helped to shape the movement that eventually turned into punk rock. The conversations with those on the sidelines are often the most fascinating because they seem to be the most honest and quick to recall what was actually happening. Because the book consists of the interviews themselves, the story of how punk started doesn’t have a consistently flowing narrative. After reading one interview, you may not find out all of the facts about any given situation until someone down the line fills in the blanks with their own take on things. This often proves to be an amusing part of the book, because you find contradicting stories coming from different people about a single event. It’s like one giant punk rock gossip rag.  –Ben Trentelman

The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon (audiobook)
John Joseph
Mightier Than Sword
Street: 06.21
Simply put, Evolution of a Cro-Magnon is a “bolstered by my own bootstraps” tale of a young and street-savvy miscreant, the product of a broken home and an insufficient child-protective system. He peddled fake acid at arena rock shows in his preteens, sold flowers in parking lots as a Hare Krishna, went AWOL from the Navy and sang in the most important New York hardcore band of all time: Cro-Mags. While the actual book saw initial release in 2007, this re-released, abridged audio version features most of the goodies from the original (wonderful nuggets about recording the epochal Bad Brains debut, snipes at rival Cro-Mag guitarist Harley Flannagan and plenty on the horrific corrpution of the ISKCON), with the added treat of hearing them in Joseph’s gravelly, Lower East Side drawl. It’s a humorous and insightful take on urban living and the early punk music scene to which he clung: it paints a matchless portrait of the survival psyche bred from the NYHC scene—much different than today’s country club known as “hardcore.” Not having Age of Quarrel in your record collection is an unforgivable hardcore offense, and failing to have this on your audiobook playlist should be as well. –Dylan Chadwick

Rockabilly: The Twang Heard Around the World
Peter Guralnick, Greil Marcus, Luc Sante, Robert Gordon, Michael Dregni, Somny Burgess
Voyaguer Press
Street: 05.20
Everyone knows Elvis, but what happened leading up to and after the “big E’s” explosion is a fascinating story. Rockabilly: The Twang Heard Around the World gives the history of one of the most exciting times in pop music history. The big names like Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly are here, but lesser known cats such as Charlie Feathers and Pat Cupp are given notice as well. Current rockabilly luminaries such as Robert Gordon and Deke Dickerson turn in impressive articles that reflect their passion and perspective. Gorgeous photos are plentiful and are as telling as the text they accompany. While two thirds of the book are spent on the original ’50s acts, towards the back of the text, the book explains how rockabilly barely survived the ’60s. It became an underground cult where acts like Ray Campi and Sleepy LaBeef carried on in relative obscurity until the international phenomenon of the Stray Cats garnered the most interest in the genre in 30 years. Rockabilly: The Twang Heard Around the World is a must-have coffee table book for any rockabilly devotee and an interesting read for any lover of rock n’ roll. –James Orme