How punk went pop.
Music journalist Diehl (Rolling Stone; the New York Times) deftly analyzes the ideologically fraught, stylistically Balkanized state of contemporary punk rock. Despite the author’s touching attempt to make an argument for the political and cultural legitimacy of the music as it is played today, the journey from the Sex Pistols and the Clash to Good Charlotte and Blink 182 is an inescapably depressing one. His case rests largely on Green Day’s widely lauded 2004 album American Idiot, and on the reckless charisma of Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle—pretty weak stuff. In fact, Diehl’s fixation on Dalle (a sort of Australian Courtney Love) threatens to overwhelm the narrative and turn it into a mash note—the Distillers are just not significant enough to warrant the space granted them here. Still, there is a bit of value, including cogent analysis of the various “scenes” that have formed in punk’s second and third waves (hardcore, straight-edge, emo, etc.); copious interview material from the major players; and a healthy ironic appreciation of the ways in which punk rock, designed to be culturally indigestible outrage, has been smoothly commodified and turned into a kind of instant identity kit for disaffected suburban kids, as hidebound and conformist as the social order Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer strove to overthrow. There is an informative section on the history of the annual punk-themed Warped tour—a dazzlingly effective vehicle for spreading the gospel—and Diehl has intelligent things to say about the subjects of political activism and gender politics as they relate to modern punk. And yet, the bland mall-friendly likes of bands like Yellowcard and Simple Plan beg the question: Does contemporary punk deserve a book-length analysis? One comes away from Diehl’s treatment acutely missing the Ramones.
A solid reference for punk scholars, though disappointing for the True Believers.