Skinhead History, Identity and Culture
Kevin Borgeson and Robin Valeri, 2017 (Routledge)
Skinhead History, Identity and Culture is published by academic imprint Routledge in their Crime and Society series and at £110 a pop you may be tempted towards criminal enterprise just to afford a copy. Of course, such books are not aimed at the general reader, cropheaded or otherwise, and this sits squarely in the earlier academic traditions of Stanley Cohen or Dave Robins rather than, say, The Paint House or Nick Knight.
Borgeson and Valeri are both East Coast academics and the range of their enquiry is focused on their native US and the UK, though their primary research is skewed entirely towards American skins. In itself this is obviously questionable, as while they delve far enough into the British-Jamaican roots of the “skinhead movement”, the US scene is as detached and fully-formed in and of itself as they come.
That’s not to say that in their academic careers both have not served their dues in probing and assessing intrinsic aspects of skinhead identity and portrayals at large, not to mention lengthy considerations given here and elsewhere to the role of women in skinhead (there’s also a chapter on skinhead as gay fashion and fetish). But as far as the book’s claims go towards being “unique” (this value claimed as being 20 years of interviews with American skins), we can perhaps replace this with dubious. Of course, there’s nothing to stop British academics publishing their own empirical study (Matthew Worley at Reading’s chapters on Oi notwithstanding) of the East End Babylon. And if you think I am labouring the geographical slant too far, then consider the book’s surface-level analysis of skinhead websites, which barely scratch the surface of what’s out there.
The book’s central theme by its own admission is that music (a breathless canter on page 95 covers it from 1969 reggae to UK82 and Oi) and masculinity defines who is a “true skinhead”, but as much printing ink is spilt by the authors in seeking to assert that not all skinheads are racist (despite what you might think, etc) Who knew?
Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980
Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette (eds), 2017 (PM Press)
Soho is a “suburb of London” and if you’re there you may want to steer clear of the National Front on account of their “reputation for racism and violence”. Unfortunate daftness out of the way first, this joyous account released on the spirited indie PM Press is a visual romp from the pulpy covers alone. With that in mind, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats acts largely as a pictorial examination of post-war youth culture and book collections but is certainly no worse for it.
As can be expected, the book’s admiring editors (fans, rather than academics, though they include several) present pulp as firmly belonging to the 50s post-Reefer Madness counterculture of dope fiends and beatniks in squats, ‘Get Off the Road’ biker girls gone bad and hot rod blowouts. If you’re wondering why you’re even reading about this on here, there’s also plenty of room given to later pulp in the form of the youthsploitation New English Library (NEL) and its iconic school playground currency ‘paperback nasties’ in Richard Allen’s Skinhead novels.
Before we get there though, the book deftly includes the likes of Laura Del-Rivo’s account of seedy pre-Swinging Sixties West London The Furnished Room (1963) and Terry Taylor’s essential pre-mod Barons Court, All Change (1961). In among the so-called db’s (dirty books) of Maurice Girodias’ Left Bank Olympia Press there’s an account of low budget director Samuel Fuller’s 144 Piccadilly (1971), which references the real-life brief ‘Hippydilly’ squat of the same address in Mayfair, once laid siege to by airgun-wielding skinheads.
And so on to the NEL, which is covered by a handful of essays, including one by academic Bill Osgerby, which largely synopsise James Moffat as Richard Allen’s prodigious output of that decade. It may all go without saying and we’ve heard it all before, but there’d be no book without it, though McIntyre and Nette are certainly not the first to devote spadework to researching pulp. Stewart Home’s old interview with NEL editor (and later author of its Hells Angels novels) Laurence James in the book can already be found in full online. Then again, when it comes to pulp, all considerations are purely commercial and there are no rules (or as James put it, “we were either creative or we went under”). Well, apart from one, as in the steer given by the pulp house editor in response to self-confessed “fuckbook writer” Jane Gallion’s suggestion of injecting some humour into her stories: “No satire. Ya can’t laugh and keep a hard-on.”