Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 was one of my favourite books of last year (despite the somewhat lukewarm first response I recorded at Tangents), but I was slightly confused to learn that a revised US edition had been published. Not that Americans wouldn't be interested in what happened after J. Lydon asked whether they'd ever had the feeling they'd been cheated; simply that I didn't really understand why they should need any rewrites.
The focus of the original is on the British scene, encompassing the likes of Joy Division, Gang of Four, ABC and Scritti Politti, but there's plenty of space for Talking Heads and Devo as well. When I first heard about the new version, I presumed that Reynolds had been asked to bulk up the Stateside quota. Not so, as Diedrich Diederichsen explains in Bookforum (and I must add that I haven't seen the new edition, so I'm only going on his review). Apparently, the new version actually cuts back on American content, removing material about the SST label, Black Flag and the Minutemen. According the Diederichsen, this is because these bands are considered by American fans to be 'punk'. Therefore, without entering some sordid backstage area of quantum theory, they cannot at the same time be considered 'postpunk'. So they're out.
Let's get this right. Reynolds has had to rewrite his text, not because it contains subject matter or language that will be unfamiliar to American readers, but because his analysis, context and frames of reference will not coincide with theirs. This is doubly strange: wasn't the whole point of punk/postpunk (wherever you put the dividing line) to shake consumers out of their complacent doze, as they stumbled from the aftermath of Watergate, the oil crisis and the three-day week into the maw of Reagan/Thatcherism, to a soundtrack of Peter Frampton and REO Speedwagon? But surely a rigid adherence to the notion that Black Flag is punk, and not even giving shelf space to a book that suggests otherwise, isn't that different from an unblinking conviction that Nixon (or Oliver North or Jonathan Aitken or Dick Cheney) is not a crook, and anyone who suggests otherwise is a Communist?
It's easy to make simplistic generalisations about the blinkered insularity of Americans, and everyone's got a friend of a friend who met some hick who thought Wales was a suburb of Rome. Several years ago, I worked on the North American edition of the Guinness Book of Records, which involved going through the text and excising all references to metric units of measurement. Feet and pounds and Fahrenheit were already there, incidentally; but I was informed by the head of the American office that if we left the metric conversions in as well, "it'll confuse them". Now we've got the bizarre situation where whole scenes of nominally British-set films have to be reshot for the North American versions, so as not to befuddle cineplexers with the notion that word usage might shift a little as it crosses the pond. Thus, Bridget Jones's legendary "big pants" become "panties" for transatlantic consumption. Bridget Jones would never say "panties". Tough. She does now. And why, in the Tim Burton movie, did the very English Charlie announced that he wanted to take his family "on vacation"?
Of course, this doesn't really matter when it concerns the back catalogue of Minor Threat, or what Renée Zellweger wears on her nether regions. And it's equally insignificant when a Boston newspaper publishes a list of the "unsexiest men in the world" (my emphasis) and includes such globally identifiable icons as Gilbert Gottfried, Randy Johnson and Alan Colmes (???) in the top 10.
But when the most powerful nation in the history of the planet simply can't conceive that another country might not want to embrace an off-the-peg rewrite of the American constitution and a Starbucks on every street, because they do things differently over there, it's a problem.