3/16/2009

REVIEW: London's Burning

Here's the review I did of Dave Thompson's London’s Burning: True Adventures on the Frontlines of Punk, 1976-1977 for Maximum Rocknroll (issue #311, April 2009).

[UNEDITED]

London’s Burning: True Adventures on the Frontlines of Punk, 1976-1977
By Dave Thompson
Chicago Review Press
http://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/

London’s Burning by Dave Thompson is treading ground that has been trod many times before, the birth of punk: 1976-1977. As much as this might seem redundant, and the subtitle “TRUE ADVENTURES ON THE FRONTLINES OF PUNK” might seem a bit overdramatic, it does kind of embody Thompson’s approach to this time period, which is that of the anticipation and excitement of a young kid in a burgeoning new scene.
It’s hard to read a punk memoir about this iconic era without an overwhelming sense of name-dropping, especially since Thompson is a well-known music journalist. However, Dave Thompson does cover these facets in his introduction and seems well aware of the baggage that comes with revisiting this subject.

The difference in London’s Burning is that Thompson watched the birth of punk through the mind of a wide-eyed teenager. One of my favorite passages is this, on page 78:

“You’re fifteen, sixteen years old, for Christ’s sake, which means you’re barely even human yet, just a walking talking piece of sponge, absorbing everything as though it’s the most exciting thing on earth, and then filtering out the dross when you pause to take a breath.

Patti Smith mattered to me because she was tearing down a sacred cow, and the Pistols were impressive because they then proceeded to slaughter it. Groups like Roogalator, the Feelgoods, the Rods, and the Heavy Metal Kids were important because they were so much fun, and the Ramones had an impact because they sounded like the best drugs were meant to make you feel.”

The sentiment here is what I like most about London’s Burning – the fact that Thompson as a teen does embody this spirit, embracing pub rock bands and indie icons alike. Each mattered for a specific reason, and that is totally indicated by his approach to this groundbreaking year, mentioning all of the bands that were important to him, not just the ones that sound cool. Not only does Thompson present himself as an excitable young kid, but most of the musicians involved with changing rock n’ roll forever are also illustrated as the curious, naïve, young kids that they were. This is appealing to me because honestly, who wants to hear about rock stars? I am more interested in the kids who started the scene regardless of the shitty response they got from the crowd, the kids who moved to London during one of the highest rates of unemployment in the city’s history, because they were just too stoked to start their own bands.

There definitely is some rock-idolatry, which is a little hard to swallow. On page 61 Thompson writes, “’Jesus, I’m twenty-one,’ Danny Kustow would despair at nights. ‘How can I ever become good enough to break into this music business, with all these great musicians like Pete Townshend and the like already before me?’” Granted, it’s understandable that younger kids in the 70’s would have stunted thoughts like this one, but that doesn’t make it any more digestible. This kind of sentiment can sometimes seem pretty dated.

Dave Thompson’s memoir of one very specific and influential year comes from the kind of attitude I like – unpretentious, appreciative, and real. Being a kid in punk should be exciting, and Thompson makes sure that the reader knows it started that way, too.

-- Kate Wadkins