There's so much emphasis in the book industry about selling the 'latest' books. I might be a bit of an aberration in that I am much more excited about selling older books. I am passionate about books I consider 'classics'; and don't worry - I'm not talking about ones that were crammed down your throat in school or by some well-meaning friend. These books are must-haves for your punk library.
Sometimes it is necessary to go backwards to go forwards and Heylin gives us an excellent history of the music leading up to punk. How can you understand Richard Hell without first taking a look at John Cale and Johnny Thunders? Glam gets trashed and later thrashes in this book which moves from New York to London to Cleveland with a few stops in other cities. Cleveland gets long-deserved credit for contributing many seminal members to the punk rock scene. I read this on a Greyhound bus trip and pictured people leaving their hometowns to go find a place where they could 'fit in'. Heylin nails the simultaneous excitement of rebellion and belonging.
A must-have if for no other reasons than the price and pictures. This stunning book is only $25 and will have you 'You Tubing' videos of bands that you may have forgotten about (or never heard of in the first place). Of course, it would be impossible to have a 'definitive' book that you could actually lift - but this book does a nice job of mixing bands that stayed around for a while with one or two-hit wonders. This makes a great gift.
Please Kill Me: the Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain.
Holstrom. Truly one of the first 'zines in the U.S. A nineteen year-old co-worker who was in no way, shape, or form into punk actually bought this book after hearing me rave on about it to a customer for the thousandth time. He started recommending it. He said the energy of that time was contagious. Often people think of punk as nihilists who sat around complaining. Punk was a whirlwind of energy with many people in more than one band. McNeil and McCain put the 'oral history' format to great use and mix it up so different people give you perspectives on how the New York punk scene came to be and mutated. Buy a copy for anyone who loves the spirit of D.I.Y.
My heart belongs to punk. But I think it's important to see where punk went and some reasons why. Reynolds covers no wave, new wave and other postpunk movements. Essential reading if for no other reason than the chapter on the No Wave bands. Their influence spread way beyond the sparse number of groups and audience members involved in the scene. If you can find it purchase No New York and listen to it while reading this chapter. Reynolds visits some of the West Coast punk bands and you start to get a sense of how punk changed in California and then again as it spread across the country.
Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs. Edited by Greil Marcus.
Detroit is another city that had enormous influence on not only the punk scene but on music in general. Could much of American music exist without Detroit musicians? I don't think so. Lester Bangs was an early rock critic who found a home in Detroit writing for Creem magazine. He knew the Stooges, the MC5, Patti Smith, Destroy All Monsters, as well as jazz, soul, and blues musicians. His writing style is very much no punches pulled. It shows how raw energy that used to be worked out in fist-fights could be turned into a song or an article. Be ready to laugh and to call up friends and read them passages from this book.