Friday, 25 March 2016

This wasn't supposed to happen



Last year I was reminiscing fondly about my young punk days to some people I’d never met before who hadn't 'been there' themselves.  I say 'fondly' because it was the first genre of music I got into, it was my entry point.  It gave me an outlet, satisfied something creative inside, helped me find my young teen identity, inspired me.  It was sealed in its relatively brief time, in my youth.

When asked about the violence so often associated with it I was happy to explain that this wasn’t my experience; there had been a great sense of camaraderie in our local scene out here in the provinces circa ’77 -’79 and no-one went around beating anyone up.   I was in with a peaceful bunch who just wanted to be left to our own devices and enjoy the music (and the look), a small group of united outsiders.  It was only afterwards when I reflected on it that I realised I’d misunderstood the question;  I’d answered as if the suggestion of violence was inferring that punks themselves were the protagonists and I’d missed the chance to explain how much we were the victims of harassment and aggression from strangers instead.

The reality was that everyone I knew had had some experience of confrontation.  Luckily in my case it was rarely more than people shouting boorishly at me in the street, usually corny stuff, like, erm...

 “Oi punk!” 

... (imaginative they were not).   More specific derogatory comments about my hairstyle and clothes were also so frequent as to become incredibly boring; just the norm.

Thankfully I was never on the receiving end of physical abuse (apart from being pushed to the ground in a park once by a drunk, overweight hippy... luckily he was so pissed, and so fat, that I got away).   My friends and I did once get chased around town by a gang of – this puts it into its era – Teddy Girls.  We gave as good as we got with the verbal sparring but one of them was decidedly bigger (and older) than us and when they threatened to ”bash us up” (oh, how quaint) we found ourselves in a ridiculous cat-and-mouse pursuit (we were the mice) through shops and streets.  We ended up at a friend’s mum’s where we took cover until they tired of hanging around on the pavement outside and went home to change their bobby socks.

But just about every male punk I knew at the time was less fortunate.  Being set on at train stations, attacked at bus stops, punched by bouncers, it happened.  And more often than not the assaults came from straight blokes – ‘straight’ as in not into anything in particular, just ordinary geezers who went down the pub and watched football who, for some unfathomable reason, found those less conventional than themselves to be a threat.  Is there not some kind of irony there?


How quickly we forget.  People hated punks. 

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Now we have 'Punk London', and it's being backed by Boris Johnson.

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Sean O'Hagan in the Guardian, 20th March 2016:

'...That Boris Johnson, a key player in London's ongoing hyper-gentrification and creative cleansing, sees no irony in his role as the most prominent backer of Punk London speaks volumes about our times.  It has given us an endlessly self-congratulatory culture industry, but no meaningful culture to speak of save for the tyranny of the art market. And, like an old Labour radical tamed by age, the spirit of punk has now been so drained of threat as to be an object of uncritical nostalgia.  It was not always thus.

Forty years ago, Sex Pistols so incensed Boris's Tory forebear, Bernard Brook-Partridge, Conservative member of the Greater London Council, that he declared:"Most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death.  The worst of the punk rock groups I suppose currently are the Sex Pistols.  They are unbelievably nauseating.  They are the antithesis of humankind.  I would like to see somebody dig a very, very large, exceedingly deep hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it."  Punk, like all provocations against dull conformity, revealed more about the nastiness that lurks beneath the veneer of conformity than it did about the frustration of those who railed against it.

And rail against it Sex Pistols did, more powerfully and more disgustedly than any pop group before or since....

...The group's singer, Johnny Rotten, was stabbed in the street, their drummer, Paul Cook, assaulted by a thug wielding an iron bar and punks across the country were attacked by outraged local citizens. It does not take much to reveal the nastiness lurking beneath.'

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 Did you see Joe Corré, son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, on Channel 4 News last night, being interviewed by Cathy Newman?  I thought he expressed his views against 'Punk London' brilliantly.   He also talked about the real violence experienced by his parents and associates at the time and the controversy caused by the release of  'God Save The Queen'. He even managed to get in the story that Boris had undertaken the infamous Bullingdon Club initiation ceremony of burning £50 notes in front of a homeless person.  Cathy was quick to point out at the end of the interview that this was unfounded and merely an allegation, to which Joe replied, “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?”  (and briefly it felt as if that original punk spirit was still alive and well.)

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Joe Corré in the Guardian, 16th March 2016:

'....The Queen giving 2016, the year of punk, her official blessing is the most frightening thing I've ever heard. Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream.  Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act...'

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It's sad really - I didn't want to feel this way - but my fonder memories are being tainted with all this rehashing of the whole punk thing and its absorption into the mainstream which is undoubtedly peaking right now.  Especially when I see things like this:



24 comments:

  1. It's the way the bastards always seem to win - by basically taking over the very thing that was designed to destroy them. Boris Johnson as the defender of the spirit of Punk is the ultimate joke and beyond sad. Makes you want to scream.

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    1. Agreed....
      Aaaarrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

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  2. Dear Lord...I don't know where to start. In fact I'm not going to, because once I start I'll find it very difficult to stop. If you need me, I'll be in the corner, banging my head against the wall.

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    1. I know what you mean. It took me a while just to put this together because I didn't know where to start... thankfully the Sean O'Hagan and Joe Corre quotes put it far more coherently than I ever could.

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  3. C, TS. We need to synchronise our diaries for later in the year to discuss this and other issues that bug the hell out of us. That and take time out to drink nice beers and look at crinkle crankle walls. Maybe look at dates in June/July? I've told the current Mrs. M and she says she'd love to meet you both too.

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    1. That's a lovely idea! Email a little nearer the time? I assume we won't be scheduling in one of the Punk London events while we're at it.....

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  4. Another reason,as if one was needed, to despise Boris Johnson

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  5. The rip-off riff’s authentic ring
    A singer who can’t really sing
    Can only mean one fucking thing
    Punk Rock Revival

    Affect the look of a man obsessed
    Predisposed to the predistressed
    Now you know you’re properly dressed
    Punk Rock Revival

    Wear your hair the wrong way round
    Spike it up in a vaseline crown
    Button up your button down
    Punk Rock Revival

    PVC and nylon fur
    And D-rings are de rigeur
    The way we are is the way we were
    Punk Rock Revival

    (John Cooper Clarke)

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    1. Love it. Too close for comfort.

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  6. Re; Boris Johnson I refer you to another John Cooper Clarke performance.... 'what kind of creature bore you? Was it some kind of bat? They can't find a good word for you, but I can, twat'.
    Swiss Adam

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    1. Good for JCC again!
      Twat is one of my favourite words.

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  7. Sorry to quote 'Withnail & I' at you but the whole issue reminds me of Danny the Dealer's lament: "They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworths, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over. And as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black."
    Different era different pop culture revolution but the same old scenario ;0)

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    1. Great film to quote from - and a great quote! Thanks, Yve.
      Yes, seems everything that was once sneered at by the mainstream gets diluted, bottled up and sold back to us.

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    2. It's very sad to watch something that was meant to change the world, and DID change YOUR world, become assimilated by the Status Quo...

      Francis Rossi has a lot to answer for! ;o)

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  8. It is pretty sad but I can't say I'm surprised and in fact - to be honest - I find it interesting. The violence that you refer to was very real indeed and as you say, it wasn't violence from the Punks but violence from those aligned with straight society. The Thatcher 'society', essentially. Of which Boris Johnson is very much a part of, of course. I feel, however, that if the spirit and meaning of Punk can be so easily regurgitated as uncritical nostalgia then let it. If that meaning and spirit cannot withstand the hypocricy of something like Punk London then it's not as special as some feel it is (or was?). There will be a lot of people who will lap Punk London up and swallow it whole as yet another empty commodity but there will also be others who will see it as a ridiculous pantomine - to be ridiculed and laughed at. But either way I still find it interesting because in actual fact it reveals where we are with culture (and specifically Punk/rebel culture) in this day and age.

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    1. Thanks for these points John - I do know what you mean and it is indeed interesting and you're right about revealing where we are with culture - it's a very different beast now.

      I had a dream just after I posted this, in which I had some kind of revelation that punk *had* done what it intended to do because the very fact that it was being revered in this way was proof that it hadn't just faded away quietly. When I first woke up from the dream I thought, as you do in that half-sleep moment, that it made sense, but a few minutes later I returned to the conclusion that the unquestioned acceptance by the mainstream of its (now) more palatable aspects, e.g. fashion, was not quite the same thing! Still, its celebration in this way IS undeniable proof of its lasting impact, plus I know it did open up a number of things which we take for granted now but which were impossible before. But what makes me saddest is exemplified by the Boris thing: the contradiction, the taming.... it's almost like a caricature of itself. I know there are young people who didn't live through it who will feel inspired and excited by what they will be presented with at Punk London, and it's not their fault that they will never really get what it felt like in the context of its time. But the whole world has changed so much and you can't go back. I suppose context is everything. I think also the problem for me is that up until very recently I've truly enjoyed reminiscing about something that was so special and meaningful all those years ago, but now it just feels that everything is at saturation point. I've got punk-fatigue ;-)

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  9. C, a question for you apropos of nothing here (sorry about that): very prominent UK female illustrator from the late 70's to mid 80's, very loose inky work, kind of a little similar to Tony Viarmontes and Jo Brocklegurst but more in mainstream teen mags and often drawing bands and rockabilly type characters... her first name was something like Lottie or Betty or something quaint like that... ring any bells. It's driving me mad!

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    1. Oh I can't think who you mean - my first thought was Jo Brocklehurst (whose name I'd forgotten but I'm so pleased you mentioned her as I've just reminded myself of her wonderful images which I loved, they were so fresh and relevant at the time). Anyway if I can think of who you mean I'll definitely let you know - I'm intrigued now!

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  10. I saw some Connie Lim playing cards earlier and was reminded of her work, so annoying that I can't remember her name and no examples of her stuff coming up in my 80's google searches.

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    1. Frustrating! If you think of her, please let me know too, as I'm curious....

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  11. Sad, isn't it? I'm starting to work up a theory that everything goes through seven phases: new - passé - forgotten - remembered - retro cool - appropriated - bastardised.

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    1. Yup! The seven ages of man-ipulation?!

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    2. Very good ( *doffs cap* )

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