After Punk: The Story of What Came Next

Simon Reynolds’ acclaimed first volume of post-punk memory sifting — Rip it Up and Start Again — went a long way toward exploring and explaining the various flowerings that bloomed from the bruised and bloodied blossom that was ’70s punk rock. If you thought one volume of exhaustive, evocative reconstructing of the period would suffice, you would be wrong, and Reynolds proves this point with Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews. The project is a bookend to the first volume and it completes an impressive cartography of that time and that music.

Totally Wired is largely an oral biography; the story of a place, a time and a music told by the people who listened to it, created it and lived through it. Serving up 32 interviews with everyone from David Byrne to Jah Wobble to James Chance, Totally’ (Along with Rip’) must certainly qualify Reynolds as the definitive chronicler of the period.  The later chapters of the book practically constitute a project unto themselves, allowing Totally’ to deliver an even clearer, deeper explanation of just what came after punk.

The interviews begin with Ari Up, the lead singer of The Slits. The delightful miss Up is a fantastic storyteller and her remembrances of being the only dread-headed white girl step-dancing at Reggae parties are spellbinding — as are her recollections of a time when Punks, Rastas, Sticksmen, John-Travolta-disco-sadists and neo-Teddy Boys all collided on the street and on the stage as a new music attempted to rise from the ashes of punk.

Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson is just as enthusiastic on the page as he was during the heyday of the Manchester music scene or as his on-screen persona (played by Steve Coogan) in 24 Hour Party People (Wilson died shortly after his interview). Wilson’s chat with Reynolds is hilarious, but sweet and filled with been-there-done-that witticisms. Asked about what made Manchester music special, Wilson replies:

…Manchester is a great immigrant city … Dave Ambrose, a great A&R man, said that Manchester kids have the best record collections. That’s true. When he said that, I flashed onto a Hulme squat in the mid-eighties. Ranged against the wall  would be 300 records: an entire collection of samba records, a load of German noise bands, the entire Parliament Funkadelic…

Read more at Joe Nolan’s Insomnia

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  • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

    Always fun sharing these posts with the Disinfonauts! Also, thanks to Carrie Dieringer at Soft Skull. She was always great at sending advance review copies our way and I just found out today that she is no longer with the press. The best to her. Keep your eyes peeled here for more news about their upcoming releases. I also just got a copy of the new Graham Hancock from Bear and Company. I’ll try to get a few words up about that one as well.

    • Honuman

      Have to agree with Butter. I’ve hit the middle age and I came of age in the 80′s when pop music and what passed as rock was pretty much seemed to be universally panned as inauthentic (New wave bands like Men without Hats and Culture Club, hair metal bands like Poison and Whitesnake). The media hyped music was just awful in my opinion but if you dug under the surface there was some fantastic bands who in my opinion were plenty authentic. Replacements, Husker Du, Minutemen/firehose, REM, Stone Roses, etc. all had something good going on. Some may have had commercial aspirations but for a time, like any musical movement, it was all about the music. So I believe that there’s always good stuff in every era. You just have to be fortunate enough to be around where it is and recognize it when you hear it.

  • Joenolan

    Always fun sharing these posts with the Disinfonauts! Also, thanks to Carrie Dieringer at Soft Skull. She was always great at sending advance review copies our way and I just found out today that she is no longer with the press. The best to her. Keep your eyes peeled here for more news about their upcoming releases. I also just got a copy of the new Graham Hancock from Bear and Company. I’ll try to get a few words up about that one as well.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I can only feel a vague horror as the chronicling of an ‘era’ reminds me that that same era is now past us…and in front of us is more of the soulless pop drivel that proudly dances on the grave of punk…a pop celebration of the vapid and false, dancing a victory jig on the corpse of the punk celebration of life in all its gritty, real glory.

    • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

      Although I really love a number of the bands that fit into Reynolds book, I also feel ya Vox’. One of the glaring differences between punk and post-punk was that punk put a premium on passion and authenticity. Post-punk and much of what we have nowadays would never be caught dead actually “meaning it”. It’s our loss.

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        You perfectly capture what I loved most in punk. It wasn’t about talent or polish…it was about enthusiasm, a total unwillingness to accept that a lack of traditionally valued qualities (perfect voices, pretty faces etc etc) should prevent you from self expression. It was a music of empowerment of the self, for better or worse, without dodgy strings attached regarding what you should or should not be. Orthodoxy was an enemy…not a sought after state of being.

        Still, as repelled as I am when confronting the reality that my past is ‘an era’ being looked back on…I am attracted just the same. It’s a comfort to me to be able to wallow in footage and listen to undiscovered cuts from concerts I never got to see…or interviews with players I never saw live and could only find on a friends 45 single. Especially when it pisses off my better half…who prefers pop and dance…because “Newtown” is blaring and I’m screaming along with the Slits. ;-)

    • Butter Knife

      Eh, punk is only dead if you buy into the record label reclassifications. New Wave and Hardcore started as pretty obvious evolutions of the punk sound, and there’s a pretty clear family tree all the way through late 90s/early naughts Emo (despite what this one turned into, it started out as a pretty meaningful and genuine iteration of old school punk values). The current indie music scene is full of “post punk” bands who are playing pretty comparable music, and a lot of them have even taken a hard line on selling out and playing into the consumer culture responsible for “killing” punk in the first place.

      Beyond that, while the standard of musicality did increase in the 70s, it’s rather difficult to argue that just because a band actually plays their instruments decently they don’t “mean it”. Especially when you consider that some of those early “genuine” punk bands were actually engaging in a level of abject greed and hegemony that puts most modern pop stars to shame.

      I realize that nostalgia feels good sometimes, but when you get down to it, the biggest difference between ‘then” and “now” tends to be that you haven’t yet forgotten how much things suck in the present.

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        All I can say is…in 84…the only Gaga on the radio was Radio Gaga by Queen…and I was a happier more carefree soul. I admit it…I’m jaundiced on the subject. No question that many punks loved making money off their gig…but were they carefully crafting pop tunes aimed at a mass market? Nope…they did what they did…if it paid…awesome…if not…fuck it, they did it anyway. I don’t mean that absence of skill was their calling card…plenty of them were incredibly gifted and devoted to craft…but whether they were or weren’t…they gave it a try no matter what…always with passion even when eloquence failed. I respect that.To this day…I’d rather hear a hundred albums with bits of feedback and chatter and living breathing human flaws than endure even one perfectly polished pop tune thats been gelded and stripped of anything resembling reality.

        Also…I really didn’t hate the 80s or the 90s as much as I’ve hated the last decade. There was a lot of good music getting made by disciples of the early punks and alternative bands…but this past decade has been a musical bloodbath. At least the Pixies are back on tour…its the first thing that made my heart skip a beat in years.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I can only feel a vague horror as the chronicling of an ‘era’ reminds me that that same era is now past us…and in front of us is more of the soulless pop drivel that proudly dances on the grave of punk…a pop celebration of the vapid and false, dancing a victory jig on the corpse of the punk celebration of life in all its gritty, real glory.

  • Joenolan

    Although I really love a number of the bands that fit into Reynolds book, I also feel ya Vox’. One of the glaring differences between punk and post-punk was that punk put a premium on passion and authenticity. Post-punk and much of what we have nowadays would never be caught dead actually “meaning it”. It’s our loss.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    You perfectly capture what I loved most in punk. It wasn’t about talent or polish…it was about enthusiasm, a total unwillingness to accept that a lack of traditionally valued qualities (perfect voices, pretty faces etc etc) should prevent you from self expression. It was a music of empowerment of the self, for better or worse, without dodgy strings attached regarding what you should or should not be. Orthodoxy was an enemy…not a sought after state of being.

    Still, as repelled as I am when confronting the reality that my past is ‘an era’ being looked back on…I am attracted just the same. It’s a comfort to me to be able to wallow in footage and listen to undiscovered cuts from concerts I never got to see…or interviews with players I never saw live and could only find on a friends 45 single. Especially when it pisses off my better half…who prefers pop and dance…because “Newtown” is blaring and I’m screaming along with the Slits. ;-)

  • Butter Knife

    Eh, punk is only dead if you buy into the record label reclassifications. New Wave and Hardcore started as pretty obvious evolutions of the punk sound, and there’s a pretty clear family tree all the way through late 90s/early naughts Emo (despite what this one turned into, it started out as a pretty meaningful and genuine iteration of old school punk values). The current indie music scene is full of “post punk” bands who are playing pretty comparable music, and a lot of them have even taken a hard line on selling out and playing into the consumer culture responsible for “killing” punk in the first place.

    Beyond that, while the standard of musicality did increase in the 70s, it’s rather difficult to argue that just because a band actually plays their instruments decently they don’t “mean it”. Especially when you consider that some of those early “genuine” punk bands were actually engaging in a level of abject greed and hegemony that puts most modern pop stars to shame.

    I realize that nostalgia feels good sometimes, but when you get down to it, the biggest difference between ‘then” and “now” tends to be that you haven’t yet forgotten how much things suck in the present.

  • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

    ‘Knife – Of course that was a generalization. And when I say they didn’t “mean it” I don’t necessarily mean the bands weren’t serious. A number of the New York bands in the early ’80′s for instance were serious about music as a kind of extension of performance art that they took very seriously, but they weren’t dedicated to the music for its own sake. Again, this isn’t a value judgement, just a point of demarcation. Your punk-evolutionary-ladder sounds spot-on to me. If you haven’t seen this movie, you’ll probably enjoy it: Punk:Attitude (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6189764823226505236#)

  • Joenolan

    ‘Knife – Of course that was a generalization. And when I say they didn’t “mean it” I don’t necessarily mean the bands weren’t serious. A number of the New York bands in the early ’80′s for instance were serious about music as a kind of extension of performance art that they took very seriously, but they weren’t dedicated to the music for its own sake. Again, this isn’t a value judgement, just a point of demarcation. Your punk-evolutionary-ladder sounds spot-on to me. If you haven’t seen this movie, you’ll probably enjoy it: Punk:Attitude (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6189764823226505236#)

  • Honuman

    Have to agree with Butter. I’ve hit the middle age and I came of age in the 80′s when pop music and what passed as rock was pretty much seemed to be universally panned as inauthentic (New wave bands like Men without Hats and Culture Club, hair metal bands like Poison and Whitesnake). The media hyped music was just awful in my opinion but if you dug under the surface there was some fantastic bands who in my opinion were plenty authentic. Replacements, Husker Du, Minutemen/firehose, REM, Stone Roses, etc. all had something good going on. Some may have had commercial aspirations but for a time, like any musical movement, it was all about the music. So I believe that there’s always good stuff in every era. You just have to be fortunate enough to be around where it is and recognize it when you hear it.

  • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

    Honuman – agreed!

  • Joenolan

    Honuman – agreed!

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    All I can say is…in 84…the only Gaga on the radio was Radio Gaga by Queen…and I was a happier more carefree soul. I admit it…I’m jaundiced on the subject. No question that many punks loved making money off their gig…but were they carefully crafting pop tunes aimed at a mass market? Nope…they did what they did…if it paid…awesome…if not…fuck it, they did it anyway. I don’t mean that absence of skill was their calling card…plenty of them were incredibly gifted and devoted to craft…but whether they were or weren’t…they gave it a try no matter what…always with passion even when eloquence failed. I respect that.To this day…I’d rather hear a hundred albums with bits of feedback and chatter and living breathing human flaws than endure even one perfectly polished pop tune thats been gelded and stripped of anything resembling reality.

    Also…I really didn’t hate the 80s or the 90s as much as I’ve hated the last decade. There was a lot of good music getting made by disciples of the early punks and alternative bands…but this past decade has been a musical bloodbath. At least the Pixies are back on tour…its the first thing that made my heart skip a beat in years.

  • Joenolan

    There is probably more good music being made now than ever before – but it’s being done in such a fractured manner that one has to really look to find it. Which may be better than having some dictated “mainstream”. For me, the first wave of punk revitalized the original, rebellious spirit from the early days of rock n roll. Increasingly, the music it influenced, rebelled against “rockism” and – as I said before – brought more intellectual ideas to the fore. I love the Talking Heads and James Chance and Bow Wow Wow and the Lounge Lizards, but I love the Ramones even more.

  • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

    There is probably more good music being made now than ever before – but it’s being done in such a fractured manner that one has to really look to find it. Which may be better than having some dictated “mainstream”. For me, the first wave of punk revitalized the original, rebellious spirit from the early days of rock n roll. Increasingly, the music it influenced, rebelled against “rockism” and – as I said before – brought more intellectual ideas to the fore. I love the Talking Heads and James Chance and Bow Wow Wow and the Lounge Lizards, but I love the Ramones even more.

  • TheAntiFloozy

    trust me, Punk has never gone away. Those people who pioneered it are playing again, or still playing. Sure there’s a lot of sad knock-off pop crap out there claiming to be punk, and you can build your very own “punk uniform” from bits and pieces you procured at Walmart, Target, and Hot Topic. This makes those of us who were there at the start kinda sad, and really irritated by the loss of the meaning of it all. I mean the hippies LOVE it when you wear hippie gear, but they’re just as sad that this generation can even THINK they get where we were coming from back then.
    Anyway, punk is a different animal anywhere you go – old or new. I grew up 20 miles from where i live now, and all the old schoolers in both regions have TOTALLY different views of what is and was the “real deal”.
    If you haven’t heard “Off”, Keith Morris’s new deal, then check them out. They are a great example of how it never went stale. Everyone keeps saying he’s brought it “back”, but that sounds funny to me, considering that i see new bands, and original old school bands playing every weekend. So many shows are happening in fact, that i can’t keep up with them. And they’re still like $5 a gig.
    Punk i still alive in a good chunk of the survivors, and they are doing their best to keep the torch lit. We still have a couple of decades before we’re all in our graves.
    But it’s still tons of fun to hear all these accounts out there being published and filmed. Keep ‘em coming. There will be some arguments about the authenticity of the accounts, but it’s hard to remember a lot of that time – i mean come on… WHO was sober at the time? If it wasn’t drugs and alcohol, it was blinding adrenaline.
    Long live the new punks (ask the old ones who they REALLY are).

  • TheAntiFloozy

    trust me, Punk has never gone away. Those people who pioneered it are playing again, or still playing. Sure there’s a lot of sad knock-off pop crap out there claiming to be punk, and you can build your very own “punk uniform” from bits and pieces you procured at Walmart, Target, and Hot Topic. This makes those of us who were there at the start kinda sad, and really irritated by the loss of the meaning of it all. I mean the hippies LOVE it when you wear hippie gear, but they’re just as sad that this generation can even THINK they get where we were coming from back then.
    Anyway, punk is a different animal anywhere you go – old or new. I grew up 20 miles from where i live now, and all the old schoolers in both regions have TOTALLY different views of what is and was the “real deal”.
    If you haven’t heard “Off”, Keith Morris’s new deal, then check them out. They are a great example of how it never went stale. Everyone keeps saying he’s brought it “back”, but that sounds funny to me, considering that i see new bands, and original old school bands playing every weekend. So many shows are happening in fact, that i can’t keep up with them. And they’re still like $5 a gig.
    Punk i still alive in a good chunk of the survivors, and they are doing their best to keep the torch lit. We still have a couple of decades before we’re all in our graves.
    But it’s still tons of fun to hear all these accounts out there being published and filmed. Keep ‘em coming. There will be some arguments about the authenticity of the accounts, but it’s hard to remember a lot of that time – i mean come on… WHO was sober at the time? If it wasn’t drugs and alcohol, it was blinding adrenaline.
    Long live the new punks (ask the old ones who they REALLY are).