Friday, May 12, 2023

Book Review: Punk Revolution!

Punk rock has been on the front lines of activism since exploding on the scene in the 1970s. Punk Revolution! is a reflection on this cultural movement over the past 45 years, told through firsthand accounts of hundreds of musicians and activists.

John Malkin brings together a wide cast of characters that include major punk and postpunk musicians, important figures influenced by the punk movement, and underground punk voices. These insightful, radical, and often funny conversations travel through rebellions against Thatcher, Reagan, Trump, and Putin, to punk activism that has taken on nuclear war, neoliberalism, modern warfare, patriarchy, white supremacy, the police, settler colonialism, the climate crisis, and more. The result is a fresh and unique, global history of punk throughout the ages.

Punk Revolution!: An Oral History of Punk Rock Politics and Activism will be published on June 15, 2023. Rowman and Littlefield provided an early galley for review.

Cards on the table: I was never very rebellious, and, thus, punk was only something I knew from a distance - a safe distance. Thanks to my older brother, I got to know and love the music of the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash (among others). Even as I got older, I made sure to sample many more bands in the genre. Some I like a lot; some I could not get into at all. And that's okay. What drew me to this book is wanting to know and understand punk even more.

Malkin's book was twenty years in the making. With over 250 interviews, he not only had material for this book but also two more coming down the road in the future. That tells me that a lot of research and care went into this narrative. As a librarian, I always applaud those that do their homework properly.

With so much material, Malkin weaves talking points together on common themes and ideas. That can have an interesting effect. Sometimes he'll have quotes from one person at one time followed by another at another time. He does make sure to put in notes of time so the context of the quotes can be made. That can make for a bit of a chaotic reading experience though. Somehow, it actually worked for me when I read it. Mileage might vary.

Overall, I got a lot out of this book. It showed the many facets of punk - so many more than I had even considered before. It also gave many examples of performers using their art and their platforms as activists. It was a good mix between performers I knew and performers I was just discovering thanks to this book.

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