With apologies to junkies past and present, fuck me, junkies are tiresome. Nevermind that the majority of the most creative talents of the punk generation were hooked on something, and that the junk might have had some bearing on the work that is their legacy, most of the people that made up the punk scene of New York in the 70s were strung out, misogynistic, assholes with a Nazi fetish. And I say that in the nicest way possible.
The origins of “punk” notwithstanding – we’ll hand the coining of the term to the Punk Magazine crew (channelling William Burroughs) although I love the story of Marlene Dietrich using the word to describe Johnny Thunders – and the argument about which side of the pond birthed the “movement” also being irrelevant, the scene back in the day was barely able to stand upright, let alone have their shit together enough to actually be rebelling against anything.
Please Kill Me, the 1996 oral history by Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain documents the progression of the New York scene from The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol to the deaths of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders, documenting, along the way, the creation and break-up of bands and relationships, all told via snippets of interviews, strung together both chronologically and by topic. Imagine a documentary with interview clips of people laced throughout and it makes more sense.
The most interesting thing about biographies, especially autobiographies, is what isn’t included. So often, a person’s story intertwines with that of someone else’s, who may not wish to have their dirty laundry displayed for all to see.
In Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, the singer shares some incredibly raw events, but stays quiet on others. Telling the story of her life up to the end of The Pretenders and the deaths of band mates James Honeyman-Scott in 1982 and bass player Pete Farndon in 1983, Reckless details Hynde’s time as a hippie, witnessing the massacre at Kent State, and watching from the sidelines as all her friends in the London punk scene go on to form bands and sign record contracts, but is often mum or overly subdued on her real relationships. For instance, after nearly marrying Ray Davies of The Kinks, they went on to have a child together, and while Davies is included because their relationship fell within the time-line of the book, he had apparently asked not to be, so references to him are minimal.
While it’s often easy to think of fashion as mere frippery, looking back on changing styles reveals a clear indication of society’s attitudes and politics of a particular era. As the western world adjusted to peacetime after a long and terrible war, women were trying to find their new place in society after years of fashion freedom in which they wore slim, close-fitting dresses and even trousers, and worked in factories doing jobs typically belonging to men.
Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947, while offering a whole new silhouette of gorgeous, glamourous dresses, was met with mixed reactions. French fashionistas with money adored the wasp waists and voluminous skirts, but most women, Americans especially, rejected Dior’s designs as restrictive (back to corsets and garters instead of comfortable pants) and pretentious.
The Girl in Dior (Amazon, Powell’s) gives us an insider’s view of the designer’s atelier during this time. The fictional Clara, a fashion journalist assigned to cover Dior’s show, causes a stir when a photo shoot goes wrong, inadvertently pitting models dressed in expensive gowns against impoverished people running market stalls.
The job gets her fired but Dior takes pity on her and she becomes one of his top models; going on to meet her future husband, she moves from Dior model to Dior customer.