Punk rock was great and it made for a great story. The Ramones and other upstart bands came out of nowhere, playing songs that were loud, fast and obnoxious. With more passion than skill, they made the established rock stars look like pompous windbags. The movement came to a fitting end with the self-destruction of the Sex Pistols in 1978. Johnny Rotten turned back into John Lydon, Sid Vicious overdosed and everybody else pulled their safety pins out of their cheeks. Since then, scores of writers and filmmakers have been attracted to punk’s outrageous characters and shapely plot.
The story of punk’s aftermath is more fragmented, with no clear beginning, a mixed-up middle and a whimper of an ending. Pop-culture historians have found it easy to avoid. With “Rip It Up and Start Again,” the brainy music critic Simon Reynolds steps forward to accept the challenge. He is a brave man.
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