“Somewhat scattershot” – All You Need is Dynamite by Dave Haslam

IMG_18Aug2021at231831Having covered record collecting (My Life in Thirty-Five Boxes), Keith Haring (We the Youth), Courtney Love (Searching for Love) and Sylvia Plath (My Second Home), All You Need is Dynamite, the fifth entry in Dave Haslam’s Art Decades series for Confingo, concerns ‘Acid, the Angry Brigade and the End of the Sixties’.

Which may sound like an awful lot for a 64 page book (the longest of the Art Decades so far) – and in truth it is. This is far and free-ranging stuff, taking in social unrest in the US, Germany, Paris, Vietnam, Milan and Ireland, before zeroing in on some particularly unruly behaviour that was either perpetrated or inspired by the Angry Brigade, a far Left British terrorist group that operated between 1970-1972 in response to (ahem) spiralling inequality. There is also, as you’d no doubt expect from Haslam at this point, a conjoined nostalgic nod to a culture of fanzines, night clubs, record shops and declining industries.

As with previous outings in the series, Haslam has obtained interesting interviews with key personnel from the times and you can feel the weight of not only his previous books but also the life he has lived in the subjects that draw his attention:

“On the face of it, the freaks and the yippies were a generation with few outright and lasting victories; interesting odysseys turning into dead ends, bands breaking up before their first album, political campaigns failing, discarded newspapers, radio stations closing, music venues running out of money.”

In returning to the fanzine world that arguably helped Haslam on his way, I was reminded of A Life in Thirty-Five Boxes with its talk (in relation to albums) of “the complete, physical, cherishable, artistic package” – the same applies to Haslam’s obvious love of and interest in fanzines and small-run, niche newspapers crafted by lefties, anarchists and loons (and what’s more, the same is true of Confingo, the publisher responsible for issuing Haslam’s Art Decades series into the world – each book is a cherishable delight).

These books are love letters to Haslam’s obsessions and interests. Each short book feels like a conversation with someone passionate and interested (and interesting), with stories to tell, anecdotes to share, places to point out. But there’s a slight difference this time. In A Life in Thirty-Five Boxes, he was talking about his album collection, how it was “drenched in beer, exposed to mess and chaos” – that line “exposed to mess and chaos” feels like a good description of All You Need is Dynamite. This is rougher at the edges than previous outings. The story arguably feels too big for the compact size. Sometimes, in the character of Anna Mendleson, for instance, you find yourself peering around Haslam trying to see more detail on her. The Maggie Nelson quote (from The Argonauts, used before by Haslam) feels particularly apposite in regards to All You Need is Dynamite: “How to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy?”

In that respect, this is somewhat scattershot. I came away wishing that the book had either been longer (someone give Haslam the money to write a longer book on this) or centred more fully upon Mendleson (she would certainly have made for an interesting trilogy alongside Plath and Love). Saying that, though, it has inspired me to go check out more books on the Angry Brigade and this is surely the greatest gift a book can bestow upon you – to go and check out other books.

Any Cop?: Arguably less focused than previous outings, a 60 page essay from Dave Haslam is still worth £7 of any right thinking person’s money.

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