Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Punk Post

This morning, I pulled a somewhat random book off the shelves in my bedroom to read on the subway ride to work. It was Punk Rock: So What?, a 1999 Routledge anthology edited by Roger Sabin. I've owned the book for seven years and not once cracked the covers.

So far today, I've read two essays. "Misfit Lit: 'Punk Writing' and Representations of Punk Through Writing and Publishing," contributed by then-Middlesex University lecturer Miriam Rivett -- who seems to have since become some sort of Jack the Ripper scholar -- reminds me of a piece I considered writing when Media Diet was a print zine. Considering novels and books considered and marketed as "punk" literature, Rivett offers a survey of relevant texts. She limits her study to British books and asks some intriguing questions about the use of "punk" as a marketing term and the relationship between more grassroots punk publications -- zines -- and the books adopting the label.

Two ideas come to mind. One, the article I once planned -- a survey of the wave of zine-related books, including Pagan Kennedy's Zine: How I Spent Six Years of My Life in the Underground and Finally... Found Myself... I Think, R. Seth Friedman's Factsheet Five Zine Reader, and Chip Rowe's The Book of Zines: Readings from the Fringe. Those three texts arguably heralded the maturation of the early '90s American zine renaissance as zinemakers became authors and editors.

Secondly, I'm struck by the increasing number of punks and zine columnists who've become relatively mainstream published authors in their own right. Ben Foster of Screeching Weasel wrote a novel. Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience wrote a novel. And long-time zine columnists George Tabb and Mykel Board both have books. And that's not to mention even newer books reprinting zine content.

Is there an American punk literature? And, as Rivett asks, what does that mean? Are punk books books by punks or writing described as punk regardless of authorship?

I also quite enjoyed George McKay's "'I'm So Bored with the USA': The Punk in Cyberpunk." Basically, McKay suggests that the use of the term "punk" in the named science-fiction "cyberpunk" largely forgoes the rich history of British punk. Interestingly, McKay highlights that most of the music references in canonical cyberpunk texts aren't punk references at all but more rooted in classic rock and "hippy" music.

Despite a perhaps more intriguing tangent on the suburbanity of punk -- versus its urbanity -- he goes on to express an interest in writing that is cyberrap, cyberfreejazz, cyberblues, or cybercountry. True, science fiction authors could benefit from more experimental combinations -- Paul Di Filippo's ribofunk comes to mind -- but isn't the evocative resonance of the term "cyberpunk" power enough to warrant its use? McKay might say not -- and that cyberpunk is the result of an American interpretation of punk, not the idealized British punk.

Interesting stuff.

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