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

England's Dreaming by Jon Savage
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May 08, 13

bookshelves: underwhelmed, 2009-50-new-books-challenge
Read in July, 2009

It is a REAL question if I will finish this, and it's about one of my favourite periods of musical history! Page 6: "Evocations of the thirties environment characteristic of the babyboomer childhood -- a process which would peak with that palace of fun, Biba's superstore -- went hand in hand with the fine-art codification in 1968 of thirties styles under the term Art Deco." Who the fucking fuck writes like that? Did he program a robot?

(Also, NO, clothing did not 'become' costume in fucking -1968.- Moron.)

Words I never wanted to read in this lifetime right there on page 56: "....another commission, this time for Ken Russell's flamboyant 'Mahler.' Asked to work out something for the climactic dream sequence where the Jewish composer confronts his Aryan anima...." PS Dear Savage: Describing any Ken Russell film anywhere ever as 'flamboyant' is not only bloody redundant it is INADEQUATE. And wtf is up with all the real dodginess about fixating on people as Jewish and attributing various character traits to that and so on? Terribly offputting. No reference (yet) to the bondage scene which I always thought was a big inspiration -- and wasn't Pynchon's Oedipa Maas drawn from that whole Nazi/bondage scenario? And that was in 1966....

Still continuing, hundreds of pages later. Now I'm thinking of all the other books I wish I had read instead of this one! A history of women in punk! A history of minorities in punk! Johnny Rotten's/John Lydon's autobiography! (I have that around here somewhere....) Hell I went and reread about a third of Please Kill Me the other day in desperation. And here, right here, on page 435 -- I had skipped ahead in despair earlier only to read: 'After the demise of the Ed Sullivan Show, there was no concentrated, nationwide TV exposure of pop until MTV in 1981.'

Seriously this is so wrong, it is staggering. Three words. AMERICAN. FUCKING. BANDSTAND. Or hell, Soul Train. Just a few months before MTV there was Night Flight, and for years I watched Night Flight a lot more regularly than MTV (and the USA network also had Video Concert Hall). And besides that, there was stuff like SNL and a dozen other variety shows bands appeared on including the fucking Muppets, for Godsakes, and people were certainly making 'music videos' even before there was MTV. And if you looked at what MTV first showed, they had something like twenty fucking clips they played over and over, and it wasn't even available in a lot of places -- and it wasn't the only thing, there was Friday Night Videos on NBC too and at least a couple of other video shows. It wasn't like MTV sprang up out of a vacuum and it wasn't like it was EVERYWHERE when it first started. At this point the book is just NOT EVEN WRONG.

I am sure anyone reading this (not that there's anyone reading this) will have the inevitable question, But why are you reading this, Moi? Research partly. I love this era and have read a lot about it. Also -- and this is why I don't actually read books I don't like v often -- I have to compulsively finish a book once I start it, or it really fucking bugs me.

But I also wanted something with which to occupy myself during the long holiday (ugh) weekend because I was bored and miserable and going through personal crap. And in the service of that desire, getting frequently annoyed with this book to the extent of writing pissy lengthy pseudo-scholarly annotations all over the margins succeeded admirably in distracting me.

Chewing through the bibliography (yes I am one of those freaks who reads all the footnotes and sits through the end of the film credits) - DEPT OF THINGS I NEVER WANTED TO KNOW, Virgin published a 'Sid Vicious Family Album' in 1980. Good fucking God. OTOH, there are apparently now several books about Vivienne Westwood, who struck me as a far more interesting figure than MM.

You can view my extremely misguided attempt to enter the entire sixty-five-plus-page discography as a streamable tag station here:
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Reading Progress

07/04/2009 page 4
0.61% "I hate the 4th in the US (drunk idiots, crowds, fireworks, jingoism) so I'm reading a book about punk instead. I'M SO EDGEY."
07/04/2009 page 5
0.76% "The you-are-there reporting in this book is OK, but the intellectual 'theory' is SOGGY, oh my god. And really self-serving as well."
07/04/2009 page 6
0.91% "So far he's completely ignoring the DARKER SIDE of punk, including the drugs....I still love Legs McNeil's classic 'Please Kill Me' best."
07/04/2009 page 8
1.22% "Okay, I do like his sociological history of the famous fashion shop. Hadn't realized it was in World's End! Jean Rhys country."
07/04/2009 page 9
1.37% "I forgot really how much I utterly detest Malcolm McLaren. What a pompous prick."
07/04/2009 page 9
1.37% "FIRST SUSAN SONTAG 'CAMP' CITATION //carefully shades in bingo square"
07/04/2009 page 10
1.52% "TEDDY BOYS. Is he seriously not going to mention Clockwork Orange? //checks index Nope."
07/04/2009 page 16
2.44% "MM was 'force-fed Jane Eyre as a child! NOW I HAVE HEARD EVERYTHING."
07/04/2009 page 18
2.74% "Evil (absent) mother, evil (all too present) grandmother, evil Vivienne Westwood, check, check, check. Ah, the punk tradition of misogyny."
07/04/2009 page 20
3.05% "Having flashbacks reading about MM to Lister attendng art school and leaving after ninety-seven minutes."
07/04/2009 page 31
4.73% "Oh Jesus here comes shit like 'urbanisme unitaire' //looks listlessly at bingo card"
07/05/2009 page 75
11.43% "OK, the description of the 'embryonic' Pistols ripping off David Bowie's sound equipment is worth the price of admission."
07/05/2009 page 77
11.74% "Finally _A_ mention of Clockwork Orange altho it's the film not the book! And for only one page, wtff. Also wtf, it wasn't in the index."
07/05/2009 page 172
26.22% "Bernie protested MM's use of the swastika 'because Bernie's mother was a refugee from Europe,' says Joe Strummer. HURRAH FOR BERNIE."
07/05/2009 page 189
28.81% "Swastika HANKIES. Getting really tired of the way Nazi memorabilia/symbols are just passed over in this book."
07/05/2009 page 190
28.96% "Abandoning book in (probably vain) hope of seeing Federer get his ass kicked at Wimbledon."
07/05/2009 page 190
28.96% "Struck me for all the THEORY smeared all over this book it is remarkably shallow. As history v partial, as cultural analysis deeply flawed."
07/05/2009 page 197
30.03% "NO SUCH FUCKING LUCK. Back to the damn book."
07/05/2009 page 250
38.11% "slog slog slog fucking _Fluxus_ slog slog slog"
07/06/2009 page 310
47.26% "And heeeeeere's Nancy...."
07/06/2009 page 320
48.78% "Pistols signed to EMI! dropped by EMI! signed to A&M! dropped by A&M! Had no idea about any of this. v like Seattle in the 90s, w/grunge."
07/06/2009 page 325
49.54% "Poly Styrene! Now I'd like to read _her_ biography."
07/06/2009 page 327
07/08/2009 page 435
66.31% "Oh yes, this is the part to which I skipped ahead earlier and made me want to throw the book against the wall." 2 comments
07/08/2009 page 541
82.47% "Finished with the main narrative THANK GOD. Now on to the 'mille e tre' discography."
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben 'Sid Vicious Family Album'...



Moira Russell Ben wrote: "'Sid Vicious Family Album'...



Yes indeedy!

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "This totally captures the feeling of the period. :-)"

I pride myself on authenticity!

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

The lines you quote killed me a little inside.

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "The lines you quote killed me a little inside."

It's like academic jargon, only inept.

message 6: by Gil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gil Luz No it's not academic, only intelligent and throughly researched - the best books ever written about popular music.

message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited May 09, 2013 10:03AM) (new)

I read this so long ago that I remember nothing about it other than its extreme length. I'm not even sure why I retrospectively gave it 4 stars, having had so little memory of its content at the time (maybe because it was about punk?). When I read it, there weren't many other books around about this time period in punk history. Now your review almost makes me want to reread it with a more critical eye...almost. Also, at some point I had gotten rid of it, which gave me an odd sense of relief perhaps due to its size (I could fit several books in its place on the bookcase!), and then a couple of years ago my brother sent it to me for Christmas. So I could quite easily pick it up again...but no, I don't see it happening.

message 8: by Christine (new)

Christine LOL !! Great review. I remember trying to read this book years ago (I am a HUGE Punk fan!) And I could not make heads or tails of it. I kept trying to get through it but never succeeded. Now I know I did not miss much :)

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