Do You Feel Lucky Punk?: A Review of Stephen McKee’s 48 Thrills…

Tonight at the Admiral Bar in Glasgow record label Flowers in the Dustbin are hosting the second night of their showcase weekend. It’s a terrific line-up which sees label mates I’m Sick and Scots Whay Hae! favourites Mummy Short Arms take the stage, as well as the tremendous The Lotus Project who featured in last month’s musical roundup.
For those of you who care about such things Flowers in the Dustbin takes its name from a lyric in The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen ‘When there’s no future, How can there be sin, We’re the flowers in the dustbin, We’re the poison in your human machine’, and the reason for this became a little clearer when I was sent head of the label Stephen McKee’s Punk novel 48Thrills. Set around the reminiscences of four ‘original’ Glasgow punks the novel centres on the fight for the music, and the fans, to become accepted or at the very least tolerated by friends, family and strangers alike. Anyone who is aware of the time (and if you’re not then you should read Jon Savage’s seminal England’s Dreaming) will understand that more than any other musical movement Punk looked to shake things up.
48 Thrills is fan fiction, and it is its enthusiasm and understanding of the music which is its strong point. If you are not a fan of punk, or are not nostalgic for late 1970s Glasgow, you may think that this is probably not for you. But anyone who was ever part of a tribe will have some comprehension of what our heroes are going through, that apparent dichotomy that often accompanies teenage years of wanting to stand apart yet wanting to belong, to be individual yet be accepted by others. Lovers of Punk faced this problem full on as I would suggest that there has never been a cultural movement that was so different to what went before, musically, aesthetically and politically. For me the importance of Punk was not in the music (although The Clash are one of the great rock bands and there are Punk songs from all eras since the late 70s which stand up to comparison with any other musical form), it was that it showed a generation that anything was possible. Everything that followed musically and (pop) culturally owes a debt to Punk, good and bad. It made people take sides, and that division is still informing culture today.

What McKee reminds us of is that musical movements are not simply about the music. The clothes, the attitude, the bonds formed and adventures had, all have huge importance. The boys in the book are having the time of their lives, making friendships, falling in and out of love, and discovering their own identities to a backdrop of The Pistols, The Damned, The Rezillos, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Adverts and even 999 for heaven’s sake. So forget Lydon promoting ‘Country Life’ and Iggy punting insurance (sad as that is), McKee’s book is an insight into one of the most exciting and radical cultural movements of the last century. While 48Thrills is not going to win any awards for its literary worth, and having met McKee he knows this as well as anyone, that doesn’t mean that there’s not fun to be had, memories to be awakened and lessons learned from the book. Perhaps you should take inspiration from its Punk ethos. To borrow from the fanzine Sniffin’ Glue; ‘here’s a word, here’s another, here’s a third. Now go out and write a book’.

I’ve picked three central songs to Punk, and to 48 Thrills, and if the book only existed to allow me to post them here then that is all the justification it, and I, need. One final question; ‘Is she really going out with him?’:

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