By Ben Hunter
Read this fucker. Why? Because it’s a damn good story and John King is a very fine writer. Still not convinced? Let me tell you more. “Human Punk” is a compelling look at three stages of working class bloke Joe Martin’s life: His days as a 15 year old punk in his hometown of Slough, England in 1977, his transcontinental journeys in 1988 and his comfortable yet interesting life back home in the Year 2000.
The story centers on a particularly nasty event that happens in ’77. Joe and his best friend Smiles are beaten up and tossed into a canal by a bunch of lunkheads, primarily because they are punk rockers. The aftermath of this incident shapes a good portion of Joe’s life, and his very dark yet uplifting resolution to the situation brought a lump to my throat. When I finished reading this book, I was definitely sad that it was over.
The story, especially the first part, is a seemingly authentic (I say “seemingly” because how the hell would I know what it was really like?) look at what the punk scene was truly about for many in the England of 1977. Joe and his friends are not the kind of punks you see in chronicles of that era. Foregoing safety pins, mohawks and other standard punk gear (this look is not only undesirable to them, it’s also too expensive), they are a scruffy lot who are into punk for what it says about their lives, not for any sense of fashion. The importance of bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Jam is mentioned over and over again throughout the story. Joe sums it up best by saying, “Some people get their ideas from books, but for us lot the likes of Rotten, Strummer, Pursey and Weller were the best writers, producing the sort of literature that dealt with our lives. They didn’t need to fake anything, do any research, just wrote what was already festering inside them and connected with millions of other people who felt the same way.”
“Human Punk” also has the requisite drinking, fighting, fucking, humor and social commentary that makes this and other John King novels such juicy reads. King has been described as the voice of disaffected white British youth, and I think (again, without actually knowing much about it!) that statement is probably accurate. He writes with a hard edge that is intelligent, insightful and pulls no punches. King’s dialogue is solid and never stilted. It’s also infectious. After reading this book, I can’t stop referring to people who piss me off as cunT (obvious emphasis on the “T”).
As far as good yarns with integral parts about music go, “Human Punk” is up there with the best of ‘em.