A lovely friend sent me a surprise in the post the other day. I opened the package, pulled it out, and found myself grinning broadly just at the sight of this…
It was one of those books I had forgotten even existed until I saw its anachronistic cover again and then it suddenly seemed incredibly familiar. I couldn’t even remember if I had owned it or borrowed it many years ago, but whatever the case it hadn’t been in my possession for that long. Yet seeing it once more I just felt so well-acquainted with it.
I haven’t re-read it yet - I will do soon, just for the hell of it, and doubt it will take me more than an hour - but simply flicking through its pages, all 62 of them, is so evocative. Everything about this book is a cliché (even its manual typewriter style typeface) and yet somehow that is exactly what confirms its authenticity. You could say it looks crap now and it looked crap then, but I think it could only have been taken the slightest bit seriously at the time it was created, in 1977. If it had been written in 1987, you’d notice the detailed fashion descriptions, the daft names (and dropped names) and you’d imagine it had been concocted by someone who’d pulled out all the most obvious references from some kind of ‘Punk Rock For Dummies’ type tome. You’d laugh slightly disbelievingly and file it away under ‘punk parodies’ along with Kenny Everett’s ‘Sid Snot’ TV slot.
The narrator of this self-proclaimed ‘first punk novel’ is ‘Adolph Sphitz’. He goes down the Kings Road. He sees the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash at the Roxy. He knows someone called Captain Vicious. He shares his small, chaotic teenage world with other punks and…. Teds. Teddy-boys – remember them?! Who knows where they are now, but my recollections of a suburban punk youth are full of them. In the England smalltown where I pushed a few boundaries as far as I dare (which admittedly wasn’t that far but back then it was easier to shock), Teds were ever-present. Teds were the punk nemesis. They were always a bit older and I have this image of them burnt into my memory, where they hung around chain-smoking on street-corners, their thin-ness emphasised by chunky brothel-creeper footwear, drainpipe trousers and big quiffy, brylcreemed hair.
Gideon Sams was only 14 when he wrote this book – originally a school project - and it shows. I was around the same age as him at the time and if you had asked me to write my own version it would not have been that different in content. I’d have done everything I could to make sure anyone reading it knew where my loyalties lay and how much I was influenced by a certain scene, as he clearly did too. When you read his descriptions you’re reminded of the importance of detail to a young mind when it comes to identity – and the importance of that identity and sense of belonging to your chosen youth-tribe. For instance, I love this description of one character’s clothing: ‘She was dressed in a pair of black cotton dungarees, and a blue, yellow and red pinstripe blazer. She was wearing pale blue lurex socks and black plastic sandals…’
This book is little more than a series of stereotypical freeze-frames of a time long gone but in some bizarre way, given a thirty-four year gap since last seeing it, that is enough to make me want to hang onto it now. It takes me back to schooldays, buying that first Clash album, putting egg-white in my hair, listening to John Peel, hoarding safety-pins and skulking past those Teds on the street corner. I was a cliché too.
As the person who sent it to me said, “it’s more a case of the existence of it that’s fun rather than any merit whatsoever in what is between the covers”. (Thank you.)