Punking America

Punk music and fashion, once a grim specter threatening Western civilization, have gone mainstream now that punk’s romance with skulls and pret-a-porter bondage pants is never farther away than your local mall’s Hot Topic store. Gimme Something Better (Penguin), an oral history compiled by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor, charts punk’s passage from the margins to the center of pop culture.

Focusing on the San Francisco Bay area, the authors help explain how America has become a much looser, more individualized place since the ’70s. Just the names of the various characters and bands underscore that progression: Jello Biafra, Klaus Fluoride, Insane Jane, Chicken John, Bob Noxious, Rancid, the Mr. T Experience, and Pansy Division testify to a once-shocking playfulness and self-invention that we now take for granted.

“There were a lot of negative things,” notes Danny Norwood of Social Unrest, “but mostly it pushed me in a good direction. It inspired me never to be ignorant.”

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