cover image Babylon's Burning: From Punk to Grunge

Babylon's Burning: From Punk to Grunge

Clinton Heylin, . . Canongate, $25 (694pp) ISBN 978-1-84195-879-8

When it comes to the heyday of punk rock in the mid to late 1970s, Heylin has put together a solid history, drawing upon interviews with many of the key players from the era. The focus on London bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash is unsurprising, but New York combos like the Ramones and Television also get their due, and even groups whose influence is less generally recognized, like Cleveland's Pere Ubu or Australia's Radio Birdman, receive well-rounded treatment. Heylin (From the Velvets to the Voidoids ) is opinionated, but only rarely do his undisguised preferences disrupt the story. (One notable exception comes when he calls the death of Sid Vicious's girlfriend, Nancy, "justifiable homicide.") If he'd simply closed out his account with the suicide of Joy Division's Ian Curtis in 1980, Heylin would have perfectly captured the punk era. Instead, he spends another hundred pages building up to the death of Kurt Cobain, branded as a poser and a sellout. That the story so quickly works its way to Nirvana after such an in-depth exploration of the '70s underscores the tacked-on feeling of these final chapters. It's a shame, because the core material is strong enough that it didn't need to grasp at such ersatz "relevance." (Jan.)