Book Review: Totally Wired | Postpunk Interviews And Overviews – Simon Reynolds

Soft Skull Press | 2010 | 464 pp.

Well, you know that I would end up owning this. It was just a matter of time. I discovered Reynold’s partially gratifying/partially maddening “Rip It Up And Start Again” online when it came out, and secured a UK edition prior to its publication in The States. This postscript volume snuck past me while I was busy doing discographical research and it remained until I was actually browsing in a book store [a note, gentle readers: this rarely happens – I am a totally lapsed bibliophile] in Atlanta that it leapt off the shelves and into my hands.

It was undeniably canny of Reynolds to turn the research [over a hundred interviews] for his earlier tome into another volume. Of course, this gave him the opportunity to explore voices that were perhaps footnotes in the first book and give them their own space to breathe. The flow of interviews is exceedingly well organized; Reynolds will first present figures like DEVO’s mark Mothersbaugh or Gerry Casale and follow them with Pere Ubu’s Dave Thomas, who shares their 70s Cle/Akron milieu. As soon as you are reading an interview with the likes of Paul Morley, one is rewarded with the follow up chapter being devoted to Trevor Horn.

A few of these interviews are with people who fall into the “heard of but unheard’ category like The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, or Swell Maps’ Nikki Sudden, but that doesn’t make their observations any less compelling. One of the more interesting chapters here is with Linder Sterling. She’s perhaps best known for her Buzzcocks or Magazine sleeves, but I first became aware of her musical efforts as part of Ludus a few years ago when LTM reissued their music on CD. That amazing reissue label is largely devoted to the works of Les Disques Du Crépuscule, one of my very favorite postpunk labels. Apparently Ludus recorded both for them and New Hormones, but I was certainly unaware of these recordings at the time. Then came the revelation that Ms. Sterling was linked up with Howard Devoto during the early part of his music career. Given her relationship to Devoto as well as the sleeves she created; she has a lot of fascinating insights to offer in “Totally Wired.” The time to make the leap and to buy some Ludus CDs is nigh, methinks.

As an Associates devotee, the Alan Rankine interview is practically worth the price of the book for me. Billy MacKenzie manages to get a lot of ink with his astounding vocals, eccentric character, and ultimately, his suicide. Nevertheless, the fact remains that he would have been a non-starter without the inventive character of Rankine’s music and playing to bounce off of. Likewise, Green Gartside’s chapter offers fascinating insights into a complex and talented individual who has a long and storied creative life to discuss. One gets the impression that Gartside has never stopped questioning and growing; his older and wiser self could surely shock the earnest squatter who first released “Skank Bloc Bologna” if he only had access to a time machine.

The 32 interviews included are fascinating reading and I’d be happy to see this thread continue for possibly another volume. As Reynolds states in his “interview” with himself in the appendix on the whys and wherefores on his writing of “Rip It Up And Start Again,” there are hundreds of books on Bob Dylan but there was almost no coverage of arguably the most fertile and inventive period of rock music ever. In his own way, Reynolds is capably addressing this deficit with his two volumes on the period.

I often struggle with the notion that I’m just another middle aged guy obsessed with the music of my teenaged years. I certainly can’t say it’s nostalgia. Like most people, my life hardly peaked during high school! But it seemed like music did. After all, I had been listening closely from 1970 onward and it was clear that some new paradigms were shifting and developing in the postpunk period that made all kinds of art that spoke to me successfully possible in ways that had not happened before in my life. When Reynolds echoes these sentiments he helpfully mentions that esteemed middle aged writers like Greil Marcus were flipping for these records too. Maybe this was not just the hell of nostalgia. This is encouraging, until I remember that I could never stand Greil Marcus or the horse he rode in on.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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