Brett's Reviews > England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond

England's Dreaming by Jon Savage
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's review
Aug 25, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: anarchism, history, music

I don't claim to be an expert on music or music criticism, but England's Dreaming is probably the best book on music that I've read. The subject is the English punk movement of the 1970s and its context. Savage writes like an academic even though it's a topic clearly close to his heart, and his prose is interspersed with selections from his personal diary from the time-period.

England's Dreaming deals cogently with the contradictions of punk: right-wing imagery and left-wing politics, art students and working class youth, high-concept performance art and the social realist punk formula. It's not a book for beginners--you'll be lost if you don't already know at least a little about the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and other early punk pioneers, as well as the tropes of punk performances. As the title would indicate, the book is particularly focused on the Sex Pistols, including Malcolm McLaren, as well as Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious.

England's Dreaming is exhaustive, and can be exhausting to read. The academic style can be wearing, but I appreciated the effort to intellectualize music that can come across as brutal and anarchistic. It includes a complete discography of the acts that are mentioned in the book and the author's thoughts on which ones collectors will want to try to find. Though I knew the basics beforehand, this book was immensely useful in expanding that understanding of the social mileau that punk emerged from, and how it relates to its musical forebearers.
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