Book Reviews: Punks, skinheads and ... increased literacy?

A terrific piece of skinhead history Gavin Watson may not be a household name in the States -- and I don't see that changing anytime soon -- but his photography is definitely worth your time. His latest collection, "Skins & Punks: Lost Archiv...

A terrific piece of skinhead history

Gavin Watson may not be a household name in the States -- and I don't see that changing anytime soon -- but his photography is definitely worth your time.

His latest collection, "Skins & Punks: Lost Archives 1978-1985," takes a look back at Watson's skinhead youth in Margaret Thatcher's Britain, a story of malevolence and teen angst told through his camera lens. (What else, right?)

This beautifully presented book isn't exactly a sequel to his 1994 cult classic "Skins," but it definitely holds its own as a powerful historical document.

And since my upbringing couldn't have been more removed from Watson's -- growing up in northern Minnesota communities like Bemidji and Big Fork and all -- I'll just have to take someone else's word on the authenticity of this experience.


"Not only do his pictures perfectly capture the era they were taken in, they also capture the spirit of it all," testifies "This is England" director Shane Meadows in the book's foreword. "There are the really angry moments, but then there are also the really romantic and beautiful images. They take me back to when I was an angry little 13-year-old with a lot of issues."

Considering Watson's young age throughout most of this period, I was positively blown away by some of the images he captured.

I generally consider a photo book a "must see" if I can envision myself paying good money to blow up at least a dozen of its images (for my wall, that is), and "Skins & Punks" definitely passes that mark.

And, to think, it almost never saw the light of day. Watson used to carry around this book's images in a black briefcase dubbed the "Box of Death" -- a briefcase he more than once threatened to toss into the River Thames.

Vice's Andy Capper, who always felt that the contents of that briefcase were more interesting than what made it into "Skins," explained his unwavering crusade to make "Skins & Punks" a reality.

"There was a level of intimacy in these photos that far surpassed the brashness of 'Skins,'" he wrote in the new book's introduction. "There were amazing color shots of his brother Neville, his main muse, aged six, dressed as a rockabilly and singing into a hairbrush.

"There were photos of his girlfriends, his gay brother and his mum and dad, and shots of the main members of the Wycombe Skins dressed as punks, wearing eyeliner outside Flux of Pink Indians concerts.

"The photos I saw that day were touching, beautiful and sometimes hilarious. I just knew as soon as I saw the Box of Death that we had to resurrect it. And so we did."


"Skins & Punks" will be released Oct. 28 by Vice Books.

'Radio Silence' not just for hardcore fans

While "Skins & Punks" is magical in its own right, I found Nathan Nedorostek and Anthony Pappalardo's "Radio Silence: A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music" to be a much more rewarding (i.e. informative) read.

Whereas Watson's book only begins to scratch the surface of its subject, "Radio Silence" dives right in.

The first thing you'll notice about this book is that its title is a bit of a misnomer. True, there are images galore -- from personal letters to a gallery of album covers and classic hardcore T-shirts -- but its secret weapon is its human touch.

"While compiling 'Radio Silence,' Anthony and I quickly realized that the challenge was not in finding content but in communicating to everyone that we did not just want scans of old flyers and anonymous JPEGs," Nedorostek wrote in the book's intro. "We wanted to meet people and understand who they are as individuals so we could better tell their stories.

"Hardcore cultivates a very personal relationship with everyone that invests themselves in it, and that had to come through in the book."

Mission accomplished. I never paid much attention to the scene -- OK, truth be told, the closest I've come to buying a hardcore album would be physically picking up a used copy of Fugazi's "End Hits" (which I didn't end up buying...) -- but I have a much better understanding/appreciation for it thanks to "Radio Silence."


What I found most intriguing, aside from the myriad action-packed photographs, is the hardcore movement's DIY soul.

There are many instances in this book where you follow a design (whether for a shirt, poster or record sleeve) from rough sketch to finished product.

It's a fascinating prospect, given that almost all of the early hardcore releases were handmade, cut-and-paste affairs aided only by a Xerox machine and a drive to have one's band stand out from the legions.

Hardcore fan or not, this book is a must-read for music or design buffs out there.

To view images from this book -- available Oct. 28 -- visit .

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