For as long as he’s been writing, Marcus has been generally less interested in his actual subjects than in the invention of resonant mythologies about them. This is dangerous for someone writing about simple music, and leaves him prone to unconvincing theoretical disquisitions on such ideas as how old Dylan records about getting drunk fit in a line tracing back to the Great Awakening. (Lipstick Traces, his other book on punk, shows the danger by tracing the connection between the Pistols and the French situationists; it is nowhere near as bracing as his reportage on the music.) It’s one thing to write about pop records and live performances as if they are strictly cultural artifacts, and something very different to forget, as he sometimes has when not faced with the immediate presence of an act as powerful as Gang of Four, that this is a fiction and a contrivance.

It says a lot about the power of this music that it forced him to remember, and to show just how sharp a thinker he can be at his best. Perhaps fittingly, unlike several of his less compelling ones, this book has been flitting in and out of print in various editions and under various titles since it was published. Like its subjects, it hasn’t been heard widely; one hopes it’s heard well.

 

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Tim Marchman , a sportswriter, will be a 2012 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.