Well, for my next blog update (i.e. this one!) I was going to write about the changing face of the publishing industry today…but that idea has been temporarily postponed. Not abandoned completely…just delayed. Instead, I thought I’d take a trip back to 1977 and Punk Rock.
I’m focusing on 1977 because my (W-I-P) novel LITTLE BASTARD is set in ’77 (during six turbulent months from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee to Xmas) and Punk because my first published novel RUDE BOY (out now via Amazon, Waterstone’s etc hint hint!) has a Punk protagonist (Kenny Silvers – whose name, of course, derives from a Generation X song: ‘The Prime Of Kenny Silvers’).
So, a bit of nostalgia for this here post amigos. And here goes…….
BTW Anyone wondering why this post is titled ‘Punk Junk Skunks’? It’s because that was the sensationalist headline The Daily Mirror (or the such-like…can’t remember which red top it was) used about us.
Hard to believe Punk (which first surfaced in the UK with that particular label in 1976) is now 34 years old as a phenomenon – and a curio from last century! But, time moves inexorably onwards and that is indeed the case – making the era ripe for re-evaluation and re-visitation as a novelist (hence my books!)
Of course, when Punk hit these shores, nothing like it had been seen before – and, such was its impact, its influence (and spirit) continues to affect art, culture, media, music and design to this day (either overtly or indirectly).
I don’t propose a Punk history lesson – that really could be (and no doubt is) a book all on its own! Suffice to say, the ‘purists’ will say that Punk was essentially an art school movement akin to the Situationists, fashioned (literally!) by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren (through their World’s End clothing shop, SEX – with its gimp masks and fetish gear – and Malcolm’s prior [and brief] management of the New York Dolls in the US and his observation of the Lower East Side street kids who hung around CBGB’s). The purists will name drop The Bromley Contigent, flag up Richard Hell’s innovative contibution to defining the spiky-haired plus ripped clothes Punk ‘look’ and point out that Punk was never designed to last – that ‘true Punk’ spanned late ’75 until the Pistols stopped playing word-of-mouth gigs. All else, they will say, is a merely a sell out and a commercial parody. (Actually, if you’re interested, all of this stuff does surface in my novel RUDE BOY – a whole chapter has Kenny reflecting on the nature and meaning of ‘Punk’. Anyway, back to the blog!…..).
There is some truth in the purist’s view, of course. The origins of Punk in the UK really did have those very sources and influences. However, Punk immediately captured the popular imagination of the (largely disaffected and restless) youth of the time and it instantly took on a whole life of its own. Bands such as The Clash, Buzzcocks, Generation X, The Damned, Sham 69, UK Subs, Vibrators (and more) sprang up to join the Pistols and spread the essential vibe of ‘Punk’: a ‘can do’ anarchistic equalising force that was aimed at giving everyone a chance and a platform while sticking two fingers very squarely up at the smug, patronising dictatorial Establishment of the time. In practice this meant everything from realising that you too could attain a deserved stardom and freedom of expression by picking up a cheap guitar, spiking your hair, learning three thrash chords and forming a band – effectively sending a message to the bloated self-satisfied stadium rockers with their self-indulgent 95-hour guitar solos who charged you a week’s wages to watch a gyrating ant through a set of binoculars – to an overtly political statement such as establishing an Anarcho-Syndicalist commune in Epping Forest a la Crass. In this sense – and to return to the topic of publishing briefly – the POD publishing industry of today really is the Punk Rock of our present era!
Back in 1977 there was no such thing as the internet – or even home computers! Imagine that! These days I teach the 16-19 age group and they simply cannot fathom what it was like to grow up without digital distractions – and with vinyl records rather than MP3s. Shock horror! We had to make our own entertainment! We had skateboards, Chopper bikes, Subbuteo and second hand guitars and amps (although I was a drummer!). We spiked our hair with soap, jumped up and down with vacant zombified expressions (‘the pogo’ – supposedly invented by Sid!) and gobbed at each other! Happy days! (Actually, I stayed well away from the gobbing – far too unhygienic and senseless for this Punk!)
I was not quite 13 when Punk Rock hit – but I very soon decided to become one! I had a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks recorded for me on cassette tape by a friend of the family and took it school to play to my friends (on a portable cassette machine that today would look like it came from The Ark!) like some form of under-the-counter contraband. Once the Pistols had appeared on the Today programme in their infamous encounter with presenter Bill Grundy my fate was sealed – overnight I became ‘a Punk’! (At the end of this post you can see a pair of ‘before’ and ‘after’ pix of yours truly around this time – morphing within 24 hours from a long haired Slade fan to a bath plug wearing Johnny Rotten wannabe!). I especially liked the fact that some lorry driver somewhere had kicked in his TV screen in outrage at the Pistols’ appearance. I wasn’t exactly the greatest threat to society – but for a few years I tried!
By 1981/82 I’d stopped being a Punk (by definition) although I like to think that a little of the Punk spirit survives in me to this day. On a personal level, the legacy it gave me is an enduring love for Johnny Thunders’ music (if you know me even remotely well you just might have noticed this!) and an enduring belief in opportunity for all and equality for all.
Back in ’77 though it was really all about the Pistols and The Clash – dare I say the Beatles and the Stones of the Punk era(!)…or perhaps the Oasis and Blur of more recent times. The Pistols were raucous, anarchic, outrageous, often deliberately shocking (but almost always with a tongue-in-cheek element that only the cognoscenti recognised at the time)…and with some occasional and dubious lapses in taste too. They were a true Rock n Roll Circus for their maverick Ringmaster (and self-styled puppet master), McLaren. The Clash were more overtly political – singing about social deprivation, racism, consumerism, youth unemployment and sporting Brigate Rosse t-shirts and releasing the triple album Sandinista. They were also often effortlessly stylish – putting together their own Americana-influenced look during both the London Calling and Combat Rock eras. I saw The Clash live five or six times (the best gig being the Lyceum one shortly after Give ‘Em Enough Rope came out). I never managed to see the Pistols live – although I did see PIL shortly after John Lydon formed them (and I remember them doing ‘Anarchy’ as an encore!) Mind you, even though The Clash were more overtly political, I still think Lydon’s lyric at the outset of Holidays In The Sun – “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery” – says all that needs to be said about the ‘values’ of consumer capitalism in just one line.
And so today’s nostalgia-fest is at an end. All that remains is for me to post my ‘before’ and ‘after’ pix…and then run for cover! Ciao amici!