I have a confession. If I were to have an alter ego, it would be a punk-rock chick. I am about as far from punk rock as you can get, which, perhaps, accounts for my fascination with this culture. I love rules; I’m not very political; and I hate wearing black, though I’d happily dye my hair pink. The idea that there are people who brazenly flaunt rules and convention thrills me, even as it horrifies. I can’t even say that I love the music. It tends to get a bit shouty, you know? I do love the Clash and own more than London Calling, the token album offered at Urban Outfitters. I have a couple of Undertones songs in my iTunes, and hate the Ramones on principle because Rayanne Graff wrecked her sobriety while singing “I Wanna Be Sedated” on an unforgettable episode of My So-Called Life. In an attempt to improve my music knowledge, I asked several of my friends for suggestions, which I immediately plugged into a spreadsheet. See what I mean? #punkrockfail. I did work briefly at a “punk rock bakery,” but that’s as close as I ever got.
Most of what I know actually comes from books—I simply can’t resist a punk-rock premise. Here are some great ones.
Punk Skunks, by Tricia Speed Shaskan
Start instilling that rebellious attitude early with this picture book. Best friends Kit and Buzz love rocking out and cruising the playground on their skateboard and bike, but can they patch things up when they have a falling-out during band practice? Band posters for the Ratmoans, the DescendAnts, and Shrewsie Shrew are a bonus for those in the know.
What is Punk, by Eric Morse
One of my favorites, if you want a bit of history, is What is Punk?, by Eric Morse. Detailed clay scenes illustrate this succinct overview of the punk revolution, introducing American bands, like Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and those shaking up London, such as the Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols:
“That’s right, the Sex Pistols—
a name naughty as can be—
would harass the upper class
with songs of Queen and anarchy.”
Visit the publisher site for a Spotify playlist and author interview!
Naked ’76, by Kevin Brooks
Rooted directly in the 1970s London early punk-rock scene, this YA novel sees its characters rubbing elbows with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, and Siouxsie Sioux, all while English political tensions tied to the IRA begin to explode. Refreshingly, the main character is a girl, which tends not to be the case in these books.
The Rise & Fall of the Gallivanters, by M.J. Beaufrand
This novel for older readers takes place in 1983 Portland, infusing a murder mystery with memorable characters, punk rock, and an epic battle-of-the-bands competition.
Snow Job, by Charles Benoit
Punk rock makes a more understated appearance in Charles Benoit’s noir-tinged novel. Here, straight-laced Nick gets drawn into drug dealing after falling for Dawn and her edgy Joan Jett look—but even before this, things had already started changing when he visits the record store.
“I hadn’t noticed the punk bin before—why would I? I was a banger and that meant white-suburban, radio-friendly, lighter-waving, one-ballad-per-album-to-show-their-soft-side, endless-guitar-solo, head-banging rock…. But my brave new world called for a different soundtrack. I found it under R.”
With the Ramones and The Runaways in tow, nothing would be quite the same again.
What? You want more? Peruse the vintage pictures @PuNk-and-Stuff has posted on Twitter. Go watch the Smithsonian documentary Blondie’s New York or HBO’s Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer (both available on Netflix), or rent The Punk Singer, which will teach you about the 1990s Riot Grrrl movement and lyme disease. That’s a twofer! Personally, I’ve been meaning to check out Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90).
Anyway, don’t forget to take a look at our past music-themed lists if this isn’t enough for you:
- 18 Books to Read While Your Friends Browse the Bins on Record Store Day
- Novel Soundtracks: Books for Record Store Day
- Tuning Up: 18 YA Reads about Teens in the Music Industry
- Rockin’ Reads
(Sample spread from What is Punk?)