Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Book review: Untypical Girls

Me being untypical, many years ago.
When I was a teenager and I wanted to learn how to look like a punk, I didn’t have much to go on apart from the newspapers and the back cover of the New Wave compilation LP. I’d have loved a book like this.

Untypical Girls by Sam Knee is mostly photos, and covers the punk and indie years in the UK and the States. It starts in 1977, with a cut-off point of 1993 (a bit odd, because that misses Britpop).
Over 90 percent of its 244 pages are photos, which is probably just as well because the writing’s pretty bad. One thing you need to know: Sam Knee, the author, is a bloke. (I’d assumed otherwise when I first heard about this book.)

So, yes, the author is mansplaining women’s lives/looks/careers. And getting an awful lot wrong.  Not even in the interpretation but in actual facts as well. I started making a list but it got quite long quite quickly so I gave up. The best approach, I decided, was to treat this like an upmarket fanzine and take it all with a pinch of salt.
There’s a one-page introduction and a two-page interview for most of the sections, each covering a different a time period and country. The introductions are pointless – excitable, hyped, ungrammatical (he doesn’t seem to know the meaning of unisex or androgynous) and largely wrong. 
The interviews are a bit more interesting, because they are question and answer format and some interviewees don't like the questions.
Kira Roessler from Black Flag  refuses the label “fashion icon”, saying: “I was a tomboy and a mess. I didn’t fit in with those girls who knew how to work the look. I just never cared that much about that aspect of the scene.”  NEXT QUESTION! as Johnny Rotten would say.
The photos are worth seeing because they show the fans as well as the musicians. But you can’t help feeling that some of them are just kids who want to “work the look” rather than express something genuine. “Trendies, posers, part-time punks” is what we used to call them.
Should you buy the book? Maybe, if it’s someone else’s money. Will you like it? You’ll probably like the pictures because it reminds you of a time and place. Will it cross your mind that there’s something wrong in a book that’s just about LOOKING AT women instead of listening to them? If you’re anything like me, yes.

Book cover for Untypical Girls

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