I was alerted that a self-published book called, London’s Burning, has hit the self-publishing world. I bought it and threw it in my carry-on for reading on the plane so I could ignore old ladies who sit next to me.
Originally written by Hans Versluys as a thesis paper in Dutch, this book makes a great primer for somebody who is looking for a rich introduction into the more modern subcultures and specifically punk in Britain. Informative and historical, the book reads like several of the books I read during college in some of the Liberal Arts classes I’ve taken in years past. That’s a good thing for those that are either “in the know” or are looking for a fuller understanding.
I was worried that this would be a rather clinical read. Instead I was happy to find it a quick and easy read, properly done by somebody in the punk scene. When I say “proper”, Mr. Versluys made a conscious effort not to inflate or glamorize a scene he so dearly loves while writing this. The book explores everything from clothing to music to drugs to tangential subcultures, just as you might expect and hope for, with very few minor quibbles from me. Those being the lack of intellectualism in the punk movement (I point to the streetwise pontifications from Joe Strummer himself) or how kind the writer was on Malcolm McLaren, but as I said before, this was originally written in the early 80s, so it’s all really justifiable.
It’s heavily annotated, like any good thesis, with plenty of other material to follow up on and to back his arguments up. This makes for a very textured backdrop to explain the rise and fall of a scene that resonates and continues today. I’d urge many of the “Hot Topic” kids to go out and actually read some of the books available to them (this one and to those claiming skin to read Spirit of 69) and maybe some of them will stop buying their counter-culture over the counter, something I think the writer and myself strongly believe in.
What I think is fantastic about this book, now translated into English and available on the Kindle, is that after all the framework has been laid out we get some things that make me very glad I picked it up. At the end of the thesis, there are several entries from his very own journal. Without gushing too much, these accounts had me wishing for more and perhaps there might be another book Hans’ might want to write? These triggered some awesome (and wonderfully filthy) memories for me, specifically the Buzzcocks entry and made me feel like I was experiencing them again with the writer.
As a side note, and I’m sure Hans could back me up on this, as we’ve come in contact with up-n-coming punk and skinhead scenesters due to both of us “lifers” getting up there in age, there still “is no punk rock San Francisco” (to quote the writer) where we all congregate. The scene is what you make it and get involved with your local scene. It is what you make it! And sad to say, those guys dressing up “punk” or “skin” and going to one of the kinky yearly circuit parties where they stand and model doesn’t count.