Julie Burchill & Tony Parsons' THE BOY LOOKED AT JOHNNY (1978) is a brief (79 pgs of tiny type), angry, frustrated, acid-filled portrait of the early days of Punk Rock.
Subtitled "The Obituary of Rock and Roll," at the time it was taken as a blast against the Boring Old Farts that Punk supposedly was going 2 replace. (Pete Townshend accuses Burchill & Parsons of "gross callousness" on the back-cover. These R the folks Pete wrote "Jools and Jim" about, right?)
I think instead it Xpresses Burchill & Parsons' anger & disgust at how quickly Punk Went Bad. The Old Guard gets nowhere near the # of putdowns & insults that the punk-rockers do in this book.
Jools & Tony were the 2 "young gunslingers" hired by the British music tabloid NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS 2 get a handle on Punk when it 1st started rumbling around '76. Tho the team had a front-row seat 4 what musta bn an Xciting time, what comes thru clearer than NEthing in this book is how disappointed they were when the Punks turned out 2 B normal people w/ the same weaknesses & faults as the BOF's they'd hoped 2 succeed.
Jools & Jim's writing is full of hype & invective. They hardly like NE1, tho they had hopes 4 the Sex Pistols. They R cynical & sarcastic about virtually all Punk & New Wave acts, especially those who start-out rated highly & then fade (Patti Smith's HORSES was "the best debut album of all time," then she turned in2 a "silly old biddy;" Blondie's 1st album was "the only album ever released on which every song could/should have been a hit single").
The team felt the Pistols "breathed life into the music scene," then Cm relieved that the only other revolutionary thing the Pistols could do was break-up B4 they Mbarrassed themselves NE further. From there on, pretty-much every1 else gets insulted:
Burchill & Parsons call the Clash's aggressive stance a put-on. They don't like the Ramones, either. Television is Dscribed as "pathetic." Blondie's work after their 1st album is considered worthless. The Jam, the Damned, the Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New York Dolls, Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers -- all of Punk's early stars get zinged here.
Talking Heads sorta get a pass, tho when talking about their debut album '77, the duo sez leader David Byrne is "too much a songwriter who feels he has to sing his baby safely through the album." Johnathan Richman of the Modern Lovers is Dscribed as a songwriter who tried 2 bring "a healthy outlook on life" in2 rock, then later Dscended in2 craziness & brain-damage.
There R a few people Jools & Jim liked: The Tom Robinson Band ("everyone else is just wanking into the wind"), Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex (who apparently retired from music after she started Seeing Things; her vivid lyrics R quoted at length, more than NE other songwriter's in the book); Joan Jett is chosen best American rocker; there R a few other minor words of praise scattered here & there.
I was hoping the hype & brashness of Jools & Jim's writing might B refreshing -- but they couldn't keep up the cleansing outrage. & their chapter on "Drugs" is really worthless -- they Nd up recommending amphetamines, "the one drug that makes you sit up and ask questions, rather than lie down and lap up answers."
30 yrs after the fact I doubt that it makes much diffrence, but if U're intrested in the birth & rise of Punk Rock, I recommend Jon Savage's ENGLAND'S DREAMING, which is WAY more solid on the background of Punk, way more balanced on summa the same events covered here, & way clearer as a series of character sketches about folks like Poly Styrene & Siouxsie Sioux. Savage also saves the hype & intensity 4 the passages where they work best -- at the Pistols' last show in San Francisco, or following the Dcline & death of Sid Vicious. Some of the writing is so good it's frightening. It's worth tracking down.
THIS wasn't, really. Send me a coupla bucks 4 postage & it's yrs....
James Blish's THE ISSUE AT HAND & MORE ISSUES AT HAND (1964, 1970) R 2 collections featuring some nearly-60-yr-old science-fiction criticism. I read these a few yrs back & was almost bored w/ Blish's sometimes dry, almost scholarly approach. But my ear 4 criticism has improved since then.
Tho Blish -- who really was a scholar of the works of poet Ezra Pound & novelists James Joyce & James Branch Cabell -- does occasionally sound like an English teacher, when he gets cranky he's something 2 Bhold. Speaking 2 writers who felt insulted by his criticism but apparently missed his points, Blish wrote: "My job is to WRITE the columns. I shouldn't have to READ them to you as well."
As in his peer Damon Knight's IN SEARCH OF WONDER (previously reviewed here earlier this mo), Blish goes after lots of Really Bad writing, tho he has different targets than Knight. He even chops-up some of his own stories. Some of the older criticism centers on issues of SF magazines published way back in the early-2-mid 1950s. Unless U're really a big fan of old SF, U can probly let this stuff go. I liked it, but I like cheap laffs, & I Njoy bad writing Bing pointed out 4 the crap it is.
Blish also looks at mid-'50s thru mid-'60s novels by SF superstar Robert A. Heinlein (Xcellent long review of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, good look at STARSHIP TROOPERS, also nails who the REAL hero is in MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS).
Blish also takes a long look at Algis Budrys' ROGUE MOON, acclaimed as an SF classic, & finds an amazing amount of symbolism in it. I don't doubt that the symbolism's there, but when I read the book, I was stunned at how pulpy & clunky & old-fashioned it was, especially 4 Budrys, who was no dummy. (Might B time 2 read it again....)
The best part of either book 4 me was a long speech Blish gave in 1970 about SF's then-current "New Wave." Tho some of it he liked (especially Brian Aldiss's psychedelic "acid-head-war" stories collected as BAREFOOT IN THE HEAD), some of my fave SF writers get bashed -- Roger Zelazny, Samuel R. Delany, J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock.... Others get kudos: Harlan Ellison as an editor (4 DANGEROUS VISIONS), Judith Merrill as a best-of-the-year anthologist.... Blish has big fun picking at Zelazny's novel CREATURES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS, 1 of my all-time faves, which I admit has a slow Bginning & a weak Nding, but that doesn't keep the middle from Bing a helluva lotta fun. Blish gets hung-up on whether it's logical, rational, the fact that none of it ever gets Xplained....
Blish died from lung cancer in 1975. He gained some fame late in life 4 turning STAR TREK TV scripts in2 rather good short-stories collected in a series of books that sold better than NE of his SF novels (1 of which, A CASE OF CONSCIENCE, won SF's Hugo Award 4 Best Novel). 4 me, Blish's best book is a scary little # called BLACK EASTER, tho I think its direct sequel THE DAY AFTER JUDGEMENT is a flat failure.
But Bhind everything Blish wrote is that dry, scholarly intelligence -- & sometimes as U read U can almost hear him laffing....