Wednesday , April 17 2024
Until something better comes along, this is the definitive reference guide on punk-rock.

Book Review: The Encyclopedia of Punk by Brian Cogan (With Foreword by Penelope Spheeris)

The historical significance of punk-rock — at least as much as it's defined by the modern version — has always been a matter of some conjecture, I think.

Depending on who you talk to, seventies punk bands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash either saved rock and roll from its own excesses of the time, or just flat out destroyed rock altogether. Once again, depending on who you talk to, a decent argument could be made either way.

There is little doubt for example, that the biggest bands of the late seventies time period when the punks came along, had by and large become bloated by their own success and had generally lost touch with their audience and their own original ideals. Rock had become big business, and radio at the time in particular had become over-run by the relatively watered down, radio-safe fare of bands like Styx, Boston, and Foreigner.

As this argument goes, the Rolling Stones, for example, might not have ever made the stripped-down, back to basics album Some Girls, were it not for the influence of the punks. It's also a matter of record that people like the Who's Pete Townshend were also paying attention to bands like the Clash, who would eventually open for the Who on their 1982/83 stadium tour.

Change was in the wind, and people like Townshend and Jagger at least were smart enough to realize it, and get somewhat ahead of the curve.

On the other side of the coin, an equally compelling argument can be mounted that by drinking the whole back-to basics "D.I.Y." sort of Kool-Aid that was the punk-rock gospel, and by vilifying pretty much everything that came before it, punk-rock single-handedly laid waste to the whole idea of stretching musical and artistic boundaries.

For all of punk's somewhat justified (at least at the time) anger directed towards the pretentiousness of bands like Yes and Pink Floyd, the result of scaring away any future Jimi Hendrix from trying his hand at so much as an extended guitar solo, never should have been part of the deal. Not only that, but punk itself had no shortage of artists with lofty, artistic pretensions of their own (and I'm talking to you here, David Byrne).

Putting those arguments aside for a moment, there can be no denying that the punk-rock explosion born out of the seventies did forever change things. And I would have to say that it mostly changed things for the better. I'm just not sure that bands like the Dead Boys, X-Ray Spex, and the Adverts would have ever imagined themselves the subject of a beautiful coffee-table book designed to sit on a glass table next to a bottle of vintage chardonnay.

Yet, here it is.

Removed from the original arguments that defined punk-rock, Brian Cogan's The Encyclopedia of Punk is nothing short of amazing. It is in fact, pretty much the definitive word on the whole subject. The book also features a foreword written by Penelope Spheeris, who directed the defining punk-rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.

Exhaustively researched and beautifully illustrated (including hundreds of rare, never-before-seen photographs), Cogan's book pretty much tells the whole story. From the Accused to Youth Of Today, Cogan's book not only covers something like 500 bands – it also goes deeper into the sub-culture by covering the clubs, zines, labels, and personalities that defined the movement.

All of the usual suspects are covered here – from the Pistols, Clash, Jam, and Stranglers in England, to the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, and Patti Smith in New York. Equal attention is paid to the provocateurs like Malcolm McLaren, clubs like CBGB's, and the latter scenes and sub-genres like Seattle's early-nineties grunge phenomena.

If there is any minor complaint here, its only that the book doesn't take the lineage quite far enough. While obvious early influences like the Stooges, David Bowie, and the Velvet Undergound are given their rightful due, it would have been nice to see more on the sixties garage rock bands that had equal influence on the punks. I mean, if the Sonics, the Electric Prunes, and even Blue Cheer didn't influence bands like Mudhoney every bit as much as Iggy Pop did, I must be missing something here.

That said, at least at this point in time, I haven't seen anything that touches The Encyclopedia of Punk in terms of its completeness.

Until something better comes along, this is the definitive reference guide on punk.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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