Friday, December 18, 2009

More Issues....

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....


rastronomicals said...

Haven't read The Boy Looked at Johnny, and after having seen you take your whacks at it, I don't want to, but I AM put in mind of this early newspaper interview with Black Flag I once dug up. The writer couldn't believe how civil, how behaved, how nice Ginn and Rollins and the rest were, given their violent shows, and given the subdued state of war that existed between LA cops and punk rockers.

And the reason why the writer was so shocked is because he'd read the stories about The Clash and The Pistols and expected the band to act like their English cousins . . . .

Every movement is a reaction against the thing before, the cycle of duology and synthesis, you know? But English punk was built on incivility and hate. I get the fashion stance, really I do, but what if Johnny Rotten hadn't walked around with that "I Hate Pink Floyd" T-shirt during the Pistols' early days? What if The Clash had said some nice things about America?

Apart from the hatecore fringe, it seems like American punk rock and hardcore artists never felt like they had an obligation to kick you in the balls like their English uncles felt they had.

Which never affected my ability to enjoy the music from the other side of the drink, but it sure would make me leery of reading a book about 'em, if you know what I'm saying.

If you want to cleanse your pallet, you might try Michael Azzerad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, 10 or 12 slices of '80's American hardcore/indie bands. Your only criticism might be that it's TOO much of a lovefest. Everyone loves everyone else's work, and if Ian Mackaye ain't the hippie that Lydon hated, then I'm much mistaken. But an easy and enjoyable read.

It's about the music I became an adult to.

Your comment that "Blish gets hung-up on whether it's logical, rational, the fact that none of it ever gets Xplained...." made me think of how I re-read Silverberg's Tom O'Bedlam earlier this year. Some of his most technicolor writing, and highly recommended. Set after a major civilizational breakdown, the book concerns a drifter who's having some serious visions of the upcoming pan-Galactic Judgement Day. The only real conflict in the book when you get down to it is whether or not the drifter's visions are real, and as I was re-reading it I remembered how the booki was ultimately ambiguous on the issue.

The I got to the end the second time, and it turns out that Silverberg had in fact come down on one side of the issue. I was disappointed: the book was better for me when it didn't tell me what it was all for, you know?

I found The Chronicles of Amber a morass, and really can only recommend Zelazny's earlier novellas. But I've never read Creatures, and if Blish had a problem with its ambiguity, maybe I'd love the fucking thing.

tad said...

R: I agree Zelazny's AMBER novels were Ndless & pointless. I crawled thru 6 of em B4 I gave up, & was never impressed w/ NEthing more than occasional local-color Dscriptions. Why did I keep going? Well, my X liked them, & I figured w/ it Bing RZ, there'd B a big payoff sooner or later. If there ever was 1, I never got 2 it.
I LOVED CREATURES OF LIGHT & DARKNESS, it was like a big technicolor cartoon -- vivid, very funny, involving, epic (lotsa Battles Btween Good & Evil 2 Dcide The Fate Of The Universe), & summa the writing's just beautiful. But it might work better 4 U if U skip the long, slow 1st chapter & the weak last 1. I think everything in Btween is GREAT! 2 bad about RZ's structural problems, but I don't think he was ever 2 strong on structure in his novels -- LORD OF LIGHT, THIS IMMORTAL, ISLE OF THE DEAD R all good, worth reading, but none of them R as good as his short stories, & none of them R NEwhere near as CONTROLLED as his shorter work.
Some of his short stories R amazing: "For a Breath I Tarry," "The Engine at Heartspring's Center," "The Man Who Loved the Faoli," "Doors of His Face, Lamps of His Mouth," "This Moment of the Storm," "This Mortal Mountain," "Permafrost," "Lucifer," "He Who Shapes," even "Rose for Ecclesiastes" (which I think is kinda overrated) -- all of em R well worth yr time. Not "Damnation Alley," tho....
I've read a lot of Silverberg, but never TOM O'BEDLAM. I thot a lot of his stuff after his 3-yr mid-'70s "vacation" was very skillful ("Waiting for the Earthquake," "We Are for the Dark," "A Thousand Paces Along the Via Dolorosa," "Hot Sky," "Homefaring," etc.) but kinda distant (LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE).
But his late-'60s/early-'70s novels: WOW. They're almost all great: DYING INSIDE, BOOK OF SKULLS, DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH, THE SECOND TRIP, + "Sundance" & summa his earlier short stories ... I was a big fan, just like w/ RZ.
But it Cms 2 me that 2 mid-'70s novels were kinda the turning point after Silverberg cranked-out all that passionate stuff: THE STOCHASTIC MAN & SHADRACH IN THE FURNACE R both solid, OK novels, but neither of them R as intense as U would Xpect from their starts. (I think the earlier A TIME OF CHANGES has this same problem -- it should B intense & moving & personal Bcos of the subject, & it IS, but only in places. Overall it comes-off 2 cold & distant.) Then Silverbob went on vacation.... he kept saying he was gonna return 2 his intense, passionate stuff -- mayB TOM O'BEDLAM was it. I'll havta check it out....
Damn I can get wordy at times, eh? -- TAD.