This week, Verso released White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race by Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay, which we featured in our post a few months back in our 10 Most Anticipated Summer Reads. If you haven’t picked it up yet, there’s still time to wax philosophical about skins, punks, and race relations as the end of July finds itself smack up against August. In the heat, it’s easy to suspect that your brain has melted, or at least pickled a little, which is why it’s so important to keep using it. Which brings us to the topic at hand. As Billy Bragg once said, “Were it not for the Clash, punk would have been just a sneer, a safety pin and a pair of bondage trousers.”
Today we decided to run a list of our favorite punk covers of yore in order to remind ourselves that the Sham 69 verse can still ring true: “If the kids are united / then we’ll never be divided.” Here’s a grouping of the weird and wonderful world of punk, from the late ’70s onward. For all it’s worth, we’ll always be a fan of a good cut-and-paste job. And Iggy Pop, despite (or because of) his current state of shirtlessness. We can’t decide. What were some books about punk that changed your life, dear readers? Were you initially attracted to the covers or was it the content that piqued your interest? Don’t be shy. Let us know in the comments section below.
England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage
This landmark book was one of the first to take punk seriously on its own terms while also providing a clear account of what it was like to be there; as you can see, the cover of the revised edition is done up in a candy-colored, grainy, zine-like format with Sid Vicious’ signature sneer greeting all potential readers. Superimposed is the Union Jack, probably so one doesn’t get confused about the content of the book: it is an account of British Punk, and don’t you forget it.
A Cultural Dictionary of Punk by Nicholas Rombes
Rombes, an English professor in Detroit, said in an interview with Lori Kozlowski from the LA Times‘ Jacket Copy that this book was “the most fun I’ve ever had writing.” He culled from fanzines, albums, and articles and used Eno’s Oblique Strategies as a technique in order to establish a punk lexicon for the curious and the nostalgic. The cover is perfect; no one person has a hold on punk, so no one person could ever be the face for it (Sid Vicious be damned!).
Please Kill Me: An Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
This is the Italian cover for the book, which is why it is more obscene than any other cover available, and also why it is perfect. (Prove me wrong.) Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain write about the mostly American face of punk, as New York became the launching point for thousands of rough-and-tumble musicians and poets willing to roll around onstage or on the floor at CBGB or Max’s Kansas City.
We Owe You Nothing (Punk Planet Interviews)
We know Kathleen Hannah was in the single digits in the late ’70s, but to us, she is another face of punk, which is why this cover works so well. Punk Planet took the ethos seriously, rather than simply focusing on the music; it spoke to so many kids who were growing up in the 90s and were more interested in Bikini Kill or Fugazi than (gasp!) the Sex Pistols.
More Iggy, this time with Deborah Harry in all her peroxide-tressed glory. We don’t really care that the subtitle is “From the Velvets to the Voidoids” and the Velvets aren’t included on the cover (but two of the Voidoids are at the bottom). We admit that it’s a little confusing, but it’s also a statement about the in-between, alright?
The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise by Craig O’Hara
This evokes all of the hardcore covers of our youth, as we slid down the aisle at our local record store and flipped through rows of 7″s on Dischord Records. Here, Ian McKaye is pictured screaming at a row of wild youth, his index finger waiting to point out his message, which is inevitably about how violence is, in the end, pretty stupid.
Vacant: A Diary of the Punk Years 1976-1979 by Nils Stevenson
In the book, Stevenson writes, “There would be no Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin in the art world had it not been for punk. In literature, no Irvine Welsh or Will Self. In fashion, there would be no Alexander McQueen or John Galliano. We live in punk’s afterglow.” The cover, though, is what drew us to the thing in the first place. We love the image of Sue Catwoman with one skull earring and two-tone hair waiting to usher in the era of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
We’re Desperate: The Punk Rock Photography of Jim Jocoy, SF/LA 1978-1980 by Exene Cervenka (Author), Jim Jocoy (Photographer), Marc Jacobs (Introduction), and Thurston Moore (Contributor)
Jocoy was a student at UC Santa Cruz in 1977, when punk officially broke on the other side of the Atlantic. He decided to photograph the scene closer to home, though he didn’t miss the opportunity to photograph Sid Vicious when the Pistols played in San Francisco. In an interview, Jocoy says, “I was standing outside on Masonic and Sid pulls up in a cab. First thing he did was whip out his dick and start pissing on the street. My friend was like, ‘Take a picture.’ I knew who he was and I didn’t want to bother him. I saw him later in the hallway at the party and I asked if I could take a photo and he obliged me. I took one shot and that was it.”
Fucked Up + Photocopied: Instant Art Of The Punk Rock Movement by Bryan Ray Turcotte
Where would punk be without zines? This cover does all the right things to remind us why we got excited to go into indie bookstores and record shops and peruse all the different hand-stapled, oddly-sized objects d’art that made the punk movement resonate with kids who might not have been up on the latest music otherwise.