Clinton Heylin - Babylon Is Burning: From Punk to Grunge C/D

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The reviews were pretty dismissive of this, and I figured it was because it was just a lazy rehash of his classic From The Velvets To The Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock (my original version had the subtitle, "A Pre-Punk History For A Post-Punk World") with Nirvana tacked on. The one flaw with that book was that in his enthusiasm to promote the American pre-punk to readers, his thesis was that it was superior to what came out of the UK. The UK writer really didn't need to draw a line in the sand like that. It's not like there were TOO MANY bands and records for one person to absorb back then. I mean come on, for poor bastards in 1975, the first Dr. Feelgood album was a major event.

In Babylon he corrects this. It's true that stretching all the way to grunge is unnecessarily beyond his scope, even in a 600+ page book. I imagine it was a compromise with the publisher, who wanted him to stick in Nirvana so people would buy it. It doesn't really repeat too much of Velvets to Voidoids, skipping the Velvets and Stooges and starting with Suicide, who were first inspired by The Stooges' first NY appearance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1969. In just 20 pages, he summarizes his previous book, from the Dolls to Television, Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith of the early CBGBs scene to Cleveland's Electric Eels, Mirrors, Cinderella Backstreet and Rocket From the Tombs. Hence the title, "Fuck Rock & Roll (I'd Rather Summarize a Book)." Next he goes to Australia for Radio Birdman and The Saints, then visits pub rockers Dr. Feelgood, Kilburn & The High Roads, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Ducks Deluxe & the 101ers, this time in more detail to make up for the previous slight.

The paperback isn't out yet, so I got the hardcover from the library. I'll probably buy it when the cheaper paperback comes out.

Fastnbulbous, Saturday, 8 November 2008 17:28 (twelve years ago) link

Babylon came out in 2007, right?

curmudgeon, Saturday, 8 November 2008 17:46 (twelve years ago) link

not that I always have my ear to the ground, but I am a big Heylin fan (especially Bootleg) and I didn't even know this was out. that may say something about the non-splash it made when released.

that said, I will probably eventually get this in PB,looks interesting.

sleeve, Saturday, 8 November 2008 17:50 (twelve years ago) link

I am a big Heylin fan (especially Bootleg)

An updated version of Bootleg would be great since it could take it fully through the era of the Internet and, essentially, the utter collapse of the bootleg shadow market.

Ned Raggett, Saturday, 8 November 2008 17:54 (twelve years ago) link

Yes, it came out in '07. It's spending quite a bit of time on the Sex Pistols, but at least weaves in the stories of London S.S., The Clash when Keith Levine was a member, Vibrators, Stranglers, Damned, Buzzocks, etc. One thing that's new to me is the fact that Lydon directly modeled his performance style/stage presence from Kilburn-era Ian Dury.

Fastnbulbous, Tuesday, 11 November 2008 01:25 (twelve years ago) link

That Lydon item is verry interesting

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 11 November 2008 04:25 (twelve years ago) link

Apparently The Clash were the whipping boys of the scene at first. Pages 96 to 216 contain slags every other page. They were supposedly terrible live at first, even by the time of their first Roxy show around January '77 when Generation X blew them away. These all come from interview quotes of opinions that very well may be tinted in hindsight. Several mentions of the Prefects, who I hadn't recalled seeing mentioned in previous punk books. Singer Robert Lloyd of the Prefects offered to replace Howard Devoto when he left Buzzcocks.

Fastnbulbous, Thursday, 13 November 2008 22:48 (twelve years ago) link

One thing that's new to me is the fact that Lydon directly modeled his performance style/stage presence from Kilburn-era Ian Dury.

This was in "Englands Dreaming", I'm sure.

straight outta Easter Compton (aldo), Thursday, 13 November 2008 22:56 (twelve years ago) link

not really a sequel to Bootleg, but I read that Heylin is about to publish a book about the "bootlegging" of Shakespeare's sonnets! Of all things.

tylerw, Thursday, 13 November 2008 22:57 (twelve years ago) link

x-post. Was the Lydon/Dury thing in England's Dreaming? Hmmmm, it's been a long time since I read that. Maybe.

curmudgeon, Friday, 14 November 2008 05:03 (twelve years ago) link

I don't remember that, though the book is huge and I read it about a decade ago.

Fastnbulbous, Friday, 14 November 2008 18:14 (twelve years ago) link

I don't remember it either

Ich Ber ein Binliner (Tom D.), Friday, 14 November 2008 18:17 (twelve years ago) link

Though I'm sure Laurence Olivier in "Richard the III" and Wilfrid Brambell in "Steptoe and Son" are mentioned!

Ich Ber ein Binliner (Tom D.), Friday, 14 November 2008 18:18 (twelve years ago) link

Past page 300 and it's really rolling around in the personal drama amongst the British punks. It's a decent read though. I've brought out my CDs of Kilburns, Eddie & the Hot Rods, The Ramones, Vibrators, Chelsea, The Damned, Buzzcocks, Rich Kids, The Only Ones, and other stuff I hadn't listened to much lately during reading sessions.

October 1977 was an interesting point in time. In conjunction with releasing four albums simultaneously - Richard Hell & the Voidoids' Blank Generation, Talking Heads' '77, The Dead Boys' Young, Loud and Snotty and the Ramones' Rocket To Russia, Sire launched a campaign, "Don't Call It Punk," to advocate the term "new wave," because Stein felt that punk would be long dead before most of his bands were fully developed. He was partly right, though many felt the Voidoids and Dead Boys missed their moment, and Ramones had peaked.

Rather than declare punk dead, writers for Sounds, Jon Savage, Vivien Goldman and Sandy Robertson, tried to create a different term in New Musick, applying it to Siouxsie & the Banshees, Wire, The Pop Group, Throbbing Gristle, Devo, The Residents, Pere Ubu, Subway Sect and The Slits.

It's interesting to cross reference with George Gimarc's Punk Diary. The Heartbreakers' L.A.M.F. was released then, as was Ultravox's Ha! Ha! Ha!, The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks and EPs by XTC and The Soft Boys.

Fastnbulbous, Wednesday, 19 November 2008 02:26 (twelve years ago) link

twelve years pass...

Wonder if his (latest) Dylan book is any good.

AP Chemirocha (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 11 June 2021 04:16 (one month ago) link

All the reviews I’ve seen have focused on what an asshole he is. I read his book on Dylan’s gospel years and got increasingly sick of his writing even though it had lots of interesting material - I wanted to throttle him after the fiftieth reference to “girlsingers.”

JoeStork, Friday, 11 June 2021 04:22 (one month ago) link

He can be annoying but the Fairports history was pretty thoroughly researched.
I read something connected to Sgt Peppers by him and did want to throttle him by the end. Maybe too much of him in the book over the subject or something.
Has been a while since I read him but that Fairports history had a lot of new details in.

Stevolende, Friday, 11 June 2021 06:17 (one month ago) link

As a researcher, he's the best (but not infallible) in a crowded field. There's no shortage of writing on Dylan's best years, but if you want to know, say, Street-Legal, the misbegotten 1978 tours or the '80s in microscopic detail, Heylin's definitely your man. NOBODY will bring the same level of scholarship as him.

However the guy's mental - he lashes out at his peers in all of his books, and it seems to have gotten exponentially worse. What was a minor oddity then a grating annoyance has become intolerably off-putting.

birdistheword, Friday, 11 June 2021 15:17 (one month ago) link

I agree about his thoroughness, what I hated about his Dylan books was his complete certainty that he knew what songs/takes/sessions Bob should have put out, and criticizing him for his weakness or cowardice for not issuing them at the time.

Halfway there but for you, Friday, 11 June 2021 15:21 (one month ago) link

I'm curious, but I just don't know that I have the patience for another round of Heylin disparaging everyone else's research. From what I've heard, this new one is apparently even worse on that count.

a superficial sheeb of intelligence (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Friday, 11 June 2021 16:02 (one month ago) link

Ha, the first few pages are full of that stuff. I couldn't stomach it.

AP Chemirocha (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 11 June 2021 16:55 (one month ago) link

By the Fairport book, do you mean the Sandy Denny bio?

AP Chemirocha (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 11 June 2021 16:55 (one month ago) link

I agree about his thoroughness, what I hated about his Dylan books was his complete certainty that he knew what songs/takes/sessions Bob should have put out, and criticizing him for his weakness or cowardice for not issuing them at the time.

That was certainly what I took away from his Bruce book; not just the criticism/certainty but also a nasty sense of contempt for the artist, like Bruce's failure to put this or that song on this or that record completely erased any credit he got for writing the songs in the first place.

Lily Dale, Friday, 11 June 2021 17:30 (one month ago) link

But I kept reading it because he'd dug up so many great quotes from Bruce interviews that I'd never seen anywhere else.

Lily Dale, Friday, 11 June 2021 17:33 (one month ago) link

Wonder if he was the first one to record Kinky Friedman saying “it’s a short step from the limo to the gutter.”

AP Chemirocha (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 11 June 2021 18:23 (one month ago) link

I actually agree with his criticisms when it comes to albums like Infidels (at least in terms of the worst songs and the three outtake that should've made it), Oh Mercy and his argument that the original all-NY version of Blood on the Tracks was even better. So many others have made similar arguments so his criticisms of those three LP's never seemed unusual. But he gets really presumptuous about why certain choices were made, and more often than not he makes his arguments with a lot of bile and arrogance. And he can greatly exaggerate the differences - like, an alternate take can seem better, but that doesn't necessarily mean every other one (including the chosen master) is a garbage track.

birdistheword, Friday, 11 June 2021 18:28 (one month ago) link

my first encounter with clinton heylin was his dylan recording sessions book, where he begins by explaining that his book is not dissimilar to mark lewisohn's book on the beatles except that he, heylin, is far superior to lewisohn and his subject is far superior to lewisohn's subject.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Friday, 11 June 2021 23:02 (one month ago) link

I like his Dylan book, dislike -- disliked at the time-- his contempt for women

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 12 June 2021 00:42 (one month ago) link

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