Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

Babylon’s Burning

From Punk to Grunge

by Clinton Heylin

Babylon’s Burning is an essential document for pop archaeologists. . . . A learned and thorough chronicle.” —Andrew Collins, The Times (UK)

  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 704
  • Publication Date March 20, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5879-8
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $25.00

About The Book

From the Sex Pistols’ clarion call of a record, Never Mind the Bollocks, to Kurt Cobain’s songs of an alienated youth, Babylon’s Burning is the brilliant, comprehensive, exhaustively researched story of punk rock, by an acclaimed British critic who once and for all defines what punk is and is not.

Destined to become a classic on the subject alongside Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me, Babylon’s Burning is a comprehensive, groundbreaking, and definitive account of one of the most influential and lasting music movements in history, one that ironically was built on self-annihilation.

In August 1977, just a few months before the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks was released to worldwide controlled chaos, Johnny Rotten commented on Elvis’s death, saying, “In a way I don’t really feel that [his death] has anything to do with me. . . . He became everything we’re trying to react against. . . . I don’t want to become a fat, rich, sick, reclusive rock star. . . . Elvis was dead before he died, and his gut was so big it cast a shadow over rock and roll.” Thus was launched the first potent salvo in punk rock’s vainglorious history.

In his provocative and definitive history, Clinton Heylin asserts, among other things, that real punk rock bands don’t make second records. He finds the origins of punk in a small circle of critics and social misfits who defined the aesthetic before the music even existed. Writers like Nick Kent, Ben Edmonds, and, most significantly, Lester Bangs reacted against rock as it had evolved by the mid-’70s, and argued for something altogether freer, younger, louder, and more anarchic. As the words, pictures, and fashions depicted in magazines spread, bands sprouted in places like Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Brisbane, and San Francisco in addition to the commonly known movements in New York, London, and Manchester.

From early progenitors like Suicide, the New York Dolls, and Patti Smith in New York to Rocket from the Tombs in Cleveland and the Saints in Australia, Heylin brings to life the strands of a global art form that birthed simultaneously. Punk eschewed conventionallyrics and promoted a gutteral musicality, yet contained a keen pop sensibility. Heylin tells thestory of the Sex Pistols’ meteoric rise and fall, and the bands who legitimately took up the mantle (with evolved underlying principles) in the eighties, nineties, and up to Kurt Cobain’s untimely death, which heralded the end of an era.


Babylon’s Burning is an essential document for pop archaeologists. . . . A learned and thorough chronicle.” —Andrew Collins, The Times (UK)

“Heylin’s book hits its stride in his determination to record every gob of spittle launched in the name of punk.” —Aidan Smith, Scotland on Sunday

“[Heylin] shows himself more knowledgeable about his subject than even Jon Savage.” —Robert Sandall, The Times (UK)

“[Heylin] has a demonstrable penchant for in-depth research and seeking out hitherto unseen connections between seemingly disparate events (finding the links between punk scenes in New York, London, Cleveland, and Australia, for example). Tie that to a writing style laced with an understated dry wit, and the end result is a highly compelling and fully realized chronicle of the period.” —Gillian Gaar, Harp

“Clinton Heylin is the greatest living writer about rock music. Heylin stands alone because he combines the tireless reporting of a Peter Guralnick with the intellectually acute critical insights of Christgau, Marcus, and Bangs. . . . More than any other book, Babylon’s Burning explains the social conditions that fueled punk. . . . Emphasizes Heylin the storyteller: his attention to detail and determination to tell a convoluted, complex story without dumbing it down.” —Gilbert Garcia, San Antonio Current

Babylon’s Burning stands as a worthy entry onto the School of Rock required-reading list. It’s as thorough and minutely researched a documentation of punk rock history as you’re ever likely to find. . . . If ever you wanted a minute-by-minute account of the rise of the beast that became punk rock, this is it. . . . Exhaustive and illuminating, revealing threads of influence and resurrecting bands that should be new to all but the most obsessive of fans . . . Meticulously realized . . . Fine specimen of rock history.” —Emily Flake, Baltimore City Paper

“Heylin goes for the gusto. . . . The book’s heart lies in the mother lode of interviews and stories of prime players famous and obscure. . . . Utterly essential and supplies many missing links . . . The writing is sharp, snappy, and heavily opinionated, with few stones left unturned. . . . This is a meticulously researched labor of love/hate that might just set the standard for punk histories.” —Matthew Moyer, Library Journal

“Heylin’s whopping new book . . . is . . . enormously ambitious. . . . The evident volume of research is impressive, the carefully unfolded tale studded and driven by a multitude of excellent original interview. And there are insights and conclusions, some of them unfashionable or previously hidden, for whose inclusion we should be deeply grateful.” —Danny Kelly, Observer (London)

On All Yesterday’s Parties:

“Following a lucid and scholarly introduction, Heylin wisely lets these primary texts speak for themselves, and after Lester Bangs’s bittersweet 1971 postmortem on the recently broken-up band, it’s arguable that another word never need be written about them.” —Dave Itzkoff, The New York Times

“Heylin’s unique amalgamation reflects the extremes of public reaction to the VU and achieves a balance that Andy Warhol—heavy books and gushing contemporary magazine retrospectives lack.” —Library Journal

On Can You Feel The Silence?:

“The most thoroughly researched and documented portrait of Morrison we are ever likely to have.” —Hartford Advocate

On Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions:

“A must for rabid fans.” —The Seattle Times


But punk rock always put punk before rock. Even in an early hybrid of the infant form (and, lest we forget, rock was itself barely a bairn when Sgt. Pepper capitalized it), punk rock began on the page, not in the clubs, only  picking up its Fender and going in search of those elusive three chords afterward. Those who defined punk initially—between 1970 and 1975—did so with a pen, not a guitar. Folk-rock (which, ironically, predates “rock” as a journalistic term), country-rock, jazz-rock, and even frat-rock had recognizable exponents onto which they could latch, becoming a convenient catchall. Punk rock—in the period before it was defined as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and anyone directly inspired  by them—was an attitude of mind, not a specific sound (or tempo). . . . Unlike many garage-band singles, Creem magazine had distribution. In the early seventies, transporting vinyl records around the world was an expensive chore. And then, what if, after a ten-thousand-mile journey, some seven-inch failed to live up to the praise lavished on it by, say, Dave Marsh.

So a rock magazine like Creem was an altogether easier proposition to get airborne and, like as not, it usually contained something worthwhile (even if it did contain Marsh). Before the Internet, cheap international calls, and worldwide digitized networks of like-minded souls, the currency in which something like Creem traded was the kudos it applied to something potentially rare and exotic—real rock music, the way it was.