11 Nonfiction Books About Punk
Not to bring everything back to Gilmore Girls (although seriously, everything comes back to Gilmore Girls), but you don’t have to be a die hard viewer to notice that there were a shocking number of punk rock references in a show that essentially centered around small town quaintness, a blue-eyed gal in private-school-plaid, and more love triangles than Tommy Ramone could shake a drumstick at — AKA: not the first things that come to mind when you think of punk. But really, between the cameo of Joe Strummer’s leather jacket, to Lorelai and Christopher’s bantering over the Clash versus The Offspring, to Jess Mariano’s “I’m-ditching-school-today” punk rock reading list (punk zine Punk Planet, titles like Please Kill Me,) to walking-encyclopedia-of-music Lane Kim, I can honestly say that what first turned me on to punk music was Gilmore Girls. And that’s saying a lot, since I bought my first Walkman long after punk music had been adopted by the mainstream (see: Green Day, Blink-182.)
There are tons of nonfiction books about the punk scene — from musician memoirs, to oral histories, to punk rock profiles of cities from Washington D.C. to the Bay Area and everywhere in between. So tap into that long-lost (or totally alive and moshing) riot girl in you, with these 11 nonfiction books about punk. Read em’ and then go listen to some Bikini Kill. You know you want to.
1. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
If you’re reading this list then this book is almost definitely already on your shelves — but no collection of nonfiction punk lit is complete without it, so here you are. Compiled by music journalist and Punk magazine founder, Legs McNeil, and poet Gillian McCain, Please Kill Me features the intertwined oral histories of everyone from the Ramones and Iggy Pop to Blondie and Patti Smith, and will give you one full-bodied, comprehensive glance into the east coast punk movement.
2. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine
As the guitarist for the female punk group The Slits, Viv Albertine has one badass story to tell. As one of the early female punk artists who challenged the boundaries of what was a largely male-dominated music scene, Albertine did everything from touring with the Clash to helping define punk fashion. It’s all in her memoir: Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. — plus a peek into what her life was like post-punk revolution.
3. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Published late last year, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is just one of the latest additions to the punk rocker library must-haves. Sleater-Kinney guitarist and Portlandia actress Carrie Brownstein takes you behind the scenes in the life of a true riot grrrl — from her young artistic development growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, to her evolution into a guitar shredding feminist rocker.
4. Cinderella's Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground by Maria Raha
It’s no secret that the punk scene began as a male-dominated one. But just because the women of punk music weren’t making headlines, it doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Cinderella's Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground is a comprehensive study of these female artists. Beginning in the early days of punk (circa the 1970s) and taking readers all the way through the mainstreaming of punk in the 1990s, this book celebrates the women of punk rock who refused to be labeled, undervalued, and ignored.
5. Rip it Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds
First there was punk, then there was post-punk… perhaps even punk-ier than the punk-ness of original punk. You with me? When punk finished revitalizing rock ‘n’ roll, post-punk revived punk — with bands like Joy Division, Talking Heads, and (clearly Simon Reynold’s fave) PiL. In addition to geeking out over some of post-punks most loved musicians, Reynolds dives into the sociological, cultural and political background of the post-punk scene as well.
6. Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story by Alice Bag
In the 1970’s East L.A.-native Alicia Armendariz moved to Hollywood to become Alice Bag, and never looked back. Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story is in a unique category of punk memoirs all its own, written by the boundary-crossing lead singer for the Bags. More than a punk rock story, Violence Girl is a coming-of-age story — that of one girl who transcended her violent and abusive childhood and reinvented herself as one of punk’s leading ladies.
7. Pretty in Punk: Girl's Gender Resistance in a Boy's Subculture by Lauraine Leblanc
A comprehensive guide into the myriad ways women influenced the punk movement, Pretty in Punk: Girl's Gender Resistance in a Boy's Subculture ventures well beyond the boundaries of Mohawk-sporting gals rocking on stage. Exploring the cultural messages that minimize, stereotype, and victimize young women, Lauraine Leblanc then champions the girls and women who have resisted these messages, forged their own paths, and dared to be all but exactly what was expected of them.
8. Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980-1984 by Ian Glasper
No punk library is complete without a few titles about the UK punk scene — it did give us the Clash, after all. Filled with can’t-miss interviews and iconic photographs, Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980-1984 covers everything there is to know about the heyday of UK punk.
9. A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash by Johnny Green and Garry Barker
Speaking of the Clash, if you’ve ever wondered what exactly being on the road with the band was like, Johnny Green’s A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash is definitely the book for you. Green was a fan of the band before joining their road crew and becoming their road manager, stage manager, and occasional driver. Over the three years he spent on the road with the Clash, he saw it all. This book’ll give you the inside scoop.
10. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
If you spent the ‘90s hiding your Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy albums from your parents, then this book will have you feeling all the riot grrrl feels. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution is the comprehensive history of the Riot Grrrl movement— the underground feminist hardcore punk movement that started in the Pacific northwest, and eventually took the American punk scene by storm. Celebrate this wave of feminist rockers who stood up and spoke up.
11. We Owe You Nothing: Expanded Edition: Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews edited by Daniel Sinker
Chicago-based Punk Planet magazine accomplished a lot during its 13 years and 80 issues in print. In addition to covering punk music and subculture in its 16,000-print run, it also focused on feminism, visual arts, and labor issues. But as any reader of Punk Planet knows, the interviews were everyone’s favorite. And even though the magazine is no longer in print, you can get those interviews in We Owe You Nothing — the expanded collection of Punk Planet’s interviews. Featuring inspiring, edgy, and provocative conversations with everyone from punk rock musicians to political organizers, this collection is fantastic.