Think of punk and what comes to mind? Anger, vitriol, spit, mohicans, leather jackets, fast-paced three chord guitar songs? Philosophy? Perhaps not initially, but underneath the spiky surface of punk was a desire for change, a feeling that something was wrong with the world, and that we should and could do better.
The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a collection of interviews and essays that delve far deeper than the many punk documentaries and retrospectives that I’ve seen and read in the past. The focus is different too, not just in terms of the featured artists – The Sex Pistols and The Clash get only the occasional mention while The Ramones and Stooges loom only in the background despite receiving plenty of credit as influences. The bulk of the content is directed at Crass and the bands and artists who shared their Dial House community – but also in its examination of the ethos and morals that have underpinned the scene since its inception in the seventies.
Featuring interviews, poetry, artwork and photography from contributors including UK punks Penny Rimbaud, Gee Vaucher and Steve Ignorant of Crass, Tim Smith of The Adverts and Vi Subversa of Poison Girls, American icons Steve Albini, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi & Minor Threat and Jeffrey Lewis as well as Einar Örn Benediktsson of The Sugar Cubes and Jón Gnarr from Iceland, the book casts its net wide, but the message from each contributor is surprisingly cohesive: don’t accept what society expects of you, respect the rights of the individual, do it yourself and, perhaps most troublingly for a book aiming to define a philosophy of punk, reject ideology.
This last point is one that crops up over and over, with several interviewees warning of avoiding ‘isms’. Despite this warning, anarchism is discussed throughout, providing an interesting insight into a much mis-understood (including by myself) philosophy and becomes particularly interesting in the chapters focussed on Icelandic duo Benediktsson and Gnarr who following the collapse of the financial system in their home country ran a situationist campaign in local elections as a stunt and, remarkably, won.
Other chapters focus on attempts at building communities, sustainable living and vegetarianism as well as examining to what extend punk ideals have affected society. The authors are to be commended for their unobtrusive approach, allowing their subjects to speak for themselves in the interviews which make up the bulk of the book and then weaving threads from their subject matter into short essays that delve deeper into particular aspects of the punk lifestyle. Their passion for their subject is clear to see, and while this at times leads to a slightly rose-tinted view of the topic (a chapter titled ‘The Dark Side of Punk’ seems almost apologetic for example), their enthusiasm is as infectious as their knowledge of the scene is encyclopedic.
It’s all presented with minute attention to detail – a yellow, black and white colour-scheme is adhered to throughout and the quality of the paper, typeface and artwork is spot on throughout, though my favourite presentational feature is the distressed spine, opened up to reveal the inner bindings.
For anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of the punk movement, what it stands for and how it reaches far beyond the moshpit, this is an essential read. Packed with insight, history, provocative thinking, wisdom and eccentricity, you won’t agree with every word within it, but I guess that if you did, you would be missing the point entirely.
The Truth of Revolution, Brother is out now, published by Situation Press
Review by Paul Maps