Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk

Author: Phil Strongman
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Review by Jeff Muendel
Review posted: February 2008
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Pretty Vacant: A History of U.K. Punk -  book review by Jeff MuendelPretty Vacant: A History of U.K. Punk - book review by Jeff Muendel

Though the book’s title suggests a dedicated concentration on the British punk rock explosion, the author begins well before that detonation in 1976 and deals, quite properly, with punk’s beginnings in the United States. All roads lead to the Sex Pistols, however, as the group is quite uncontested as being the pinnacle of the U.K. punk movement, ands therefore the central focus of the book.

But “Pretty Vacant” is more than just another Sex Pistols biography. Divided into two sections, “Going Underground” and “Going Overground,” author Phil Strongman contrasts punk rock during its subversive phase with its period of world fame that came to be as The Sex Pistols became a household name. In both sections, the anti-establishment debauchery that went on around the Sex Pistols and other British punk bands is recorded in great detail. While none of the stories are shocking (it’s hard to be shocked by rock’n'roll anymore as drug-and-vomit stories have become rote in our culture), there are many fascinating, insider details of the period revealed. Strongman doesn’t rely on the shock value alone, though, and does a good job as both a legitimate storyteller and punk rock historian.

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