Plenty has been written about the punk rock movement of the 1970s, but few books have tied things together so thoroughly as British author and music critic Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond. When I grabbed a copy in the ’90s, it fired my fascination with the punk rock of the U.K. I’m still into it.
In researching England’s Dreaming, Savage conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with musicians and artists from London and New York, many of which barely made it into the finished book. This month, the University of Minnesota Press releases a massive follow-up, The England’s Dreaming Tapes. Featuring full interviews with those who were there, it fills more than a few gaps.
“As it happened, I lived through punk, so I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to say,” says Savage. “At that point, most of the interviewees were quite happy to talk because punk had become this huge issue and historical thing at that stage. I used to be a good interviewer because I would listen.”
Between 1988 and 1990, Savage spoke extensively to all four original Sex Pistols, the late Malcolm McLaren, Joe Strummer, Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sioux, Viv Albertine, and many others in the London scene.
England’s Dreaming focused mostly on British punk and the story of the Sex Pistols. It touched on so-called rivalries between the punk acts coming out of New York City and those emerging in London and the U.K. The Ramones had hit records in England in 1977 and ’78, coinciding with the rise and fall of the Pistols. The England’s Dreaming Tapes covers the same ground.
“I really liked the music that came out of New York, and I loved the Ramones to bits,” Savage says. “But people like Richard Hell [of Television, the Voidoids] can be terribly pompous and resentful. They might say that British punk started hairstyle and stuff. But they did something far more interesting with it. British punk was more direct, less musicianly, and more teenaged than New York punk. And it had access to the mass media in a way that no American punk rock did.”
Many of the Q&As involve the founding of the Sex Pistols and McLaren’s boutique, which helped establish the punk aesthetic.
In some chapters, former bandmates or close-knit scenesters contradict each other. Sometimes their stories enhance what others have already said. The raw dialogue and the back-and-forth is realistic and often amusing.
“I like all the contradictions, and I like people bitching about each other. That’s kind of what it was like. I decided to keep all that in. You’ve got Captain Sensible saying Siouxsie was a rotten old cow, and Siouxsie saying, ‘Oh, I hated the Damned; they were terrible,’ and all that.”
While it might be a dry read for those unfamiliar with the original, The England’s Dreaming Tapes offers a perspective on music, social issues, fashion, and culture well worth consideration.
“For a lot of kids now in Britain, punk is where a lot of pop culture history starts, which is kind of amazing,” says Savage. “The ’60s are bit too far back for them now. People are very aware of punk rock in this country. It’s become a national issue, a national archetype — mainly because of the whole furor over the Sex Pistols. It’s still alive and kicking.”
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