Rock 'n' roll swindle

<strong>Babylon's Burning: from punk to grunge</strong>

Clinton Heylin <em>Viking, 704pp, £20</em>

Bad rock books are ten-a-penny, and normally it wouldn't be worth the paper and ink to tell you about them. But Clinton Heylin's history is being touted as the definitive guide to all things punk, so it's worth writing this review in the hope that at least one clear-thinking librarian will safety-pin a copy of it to the front of the book as a warning to future generations.

Babylon’s Burning claims to chart the development of punk rock from its embryonic beginnings in the early 1970s among a scuzzy handful of US rock bands, via the spit-drenched anarchy of the Sex Pistols, to the angst-ridden death throes of the 1990s grunge icon Kurt Cobain. Only it doesn’t really do that. Just a fraction of the book covers anything beyond 1980, and the rest simply retreads well-worn anecdotes without giving any sense of the bigger picture.

If punk meant anything more than a group of beery men gobbing into each other's faces, it was a rejection of a cultural industry that had become staid and hierarchical; an opening of possibilities that led to some of the most original – and bizarre – music made this side of the Second World War. Not that you could tell from this account. To misquote an earlier generation of anarchists, don't steal this book.