by Holly George-Warren
Harry N. Abrams Books
I’m not all that familiar with the premise of the 365 Series of books – taking in all manner of subjects from penguins to Andy Warhol – I attempted to flip through the only other music tome in the series, the one on the Beatles, but I about broke my fucking wrist trying to pick the goddamn thing up. However, what makes that bad for a Beatles book makes it excellent for a punk book since the heavy fucker can’t help but contain at least 100 awesome pictures, at the VERY least, right? The numbers are on my side, surely? Right, actually. Though there are still a few bugs to be worked out of the system.
Listen, I’ve made it clear that I’m increasingly tired of all of this punk nostalgia and navel-gazing that this year is centered around the anniversary of “God Save The Queen”. It’s melting my brain and fossilizing some of my favorite records. However, that’s where – to some extent – Punk 365 succeeds – it’s all imagery. AND most of the images still have the ability to inflame and inspire in equal measure. It’s like quick flashes of alien brilliance. Try and tell me that Siouxsie and Devo and the Cramps still don’t make you sit up and take notice — even in a 21st Century when visual and sartorial taboos are falling like dominoes.
This particular collection of photos is well curated by one Holly George-Warren (pictured at the end screaming along to Athens legends Pylon, well done), whom I recognize from many a Rolling Stone byline, and who is joined in forward duties by Richard Hell, member of groups like Television, the Heartbreakers and his own Voidoids. As far as I can tell, George-Warren’s duties included the frankly unenviable task of choosing 365 photos to represent several decades and at least three major cities worth of punk action. And then, of course, annotating each photo, which I’m thinking would be a major pain in the ass because so many of these shots are damn near fucking lyrics — you could go at them from a hundred different angles (ha ha pun, I suck). Let me say this, in the hands of a less capable and judicious historian this book could have been an unmitigated disaster, in fact, this book should have been a disaster, but George-Warren elevates it far beyond content and stylistic restrictions. First off, she knows her punk, seemingly inside and out, and includes generous imagery of underserved subgenres like NO-WAVE, the rockabilly re-revival, Two-Tone, and the Masque scene. Second, and I was banging my head up against this in an earlier piece, she goes out of her way to include women in the official canon of punk outrage. Bands/artists I didn’t think would be in here but pleasingly were include the Raincoats, Jonathan Richman, Richard Meltzer, (Lester Bangs), Pleasant Gehman, Delta Five, the Screamers, Cabaret Voltaire, Bush Tetras, and Crime and the City Solution/MC5. My favorite shots are far FAR too many to enumerate without sounding like I’m reading the fucking phone book or something (though I have to rudely interrupt myself and say that I’m thrilled that there were so many pictures of Cramps undead-stick-figure Bryan Gregory), but suffice to say, all of the icons are here as well as the true iconoclasts and even those who just wanted to join in and make an unholy din. Which is as it should be.
For the most part, all credit to George-Warren, the book is tightly packed brilliance, though there are some jarring clunkers. Why are Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and the Beastie Boys in there? I understand that a tortured connection can be made between them and punk (attitudes maybe) but it really doesn’t pass the smell test. And, just off the top of my head, why not include Crass or the Electric Eels or Christian Death or Alien Sex Fiend or the Descendents? Was this down to editorial mandate? On some level I guess it’s like picking 45s for a jukebox, there is no way that you can please everyone. And punks do love a good argument, so have at it! If you need me, I’ll just be in the corner, lovingly gazing at the photos of Lydia Lunch and Johnny Thunders and Stiv Bators and the Gun Club and….
The image is eternal. Art’s not dead!
Harry Abrams Books: www.hnabooks.com