Saturday, 19 February 2011

Go Ahead Punk, make my day....

Book no. 12 in my quest to read and review 100 Books in 2011

The Sex Pistols shot like a comet presaging doom through the medieval dives of 1976/77. Led by the fiery red heads of John Lydon and Malcolm McLaren they were always destined to crash and burn but their parabola described a future without the truisms of the establishment or even the late sixties anti-establishment.

A few tame words to a partly pickled and provocative chat show host made the Pistols Public Enemy No. 1 and the release of God Save the Queen in the week of H.R.H.'s jubilee made them targets for violence wherever they went.

The tale of how a local conflagration created by a couple of hundred scenesters, fashionistas and provocateurs came to define a short lived era and be seen as one of the most crucial and vibrant artistic movements of the latter half of the twentieth century was told in definitive fashion in Jon Savage's England's Dreaming. This is a spin off from that book but also it's progenitor as these are the interviews which formed the core of Savage's earlier book.

I have had this book by the toilet for the past couple of years and dipped in to it regularly but in the past week I decided to read it through from start to finish and I found myself caught up again in the story even though I know it well at this stage.

The shop (SEX), the band, the clothes, the chaos, the excitement ... The Pistols became touchstones and torch paper for a generation and Sid Vicious the Fisher King whose death sacrifice completed the accelerated journey from promise to frustration, from youth and purity to premature age and corruption. This book and the book from which it was spun off are essential reading for those who wish to understand what punk was and how it happened. The immediacy and specificity of the first person recollections and the refraction of the story through many viewpoints makes for a rivetting take on the tale of the SEX PISTOLS and the scene that surrounded them.

My own life has been somewhat shadowed by punk. When punk was happening I was ten and it was forbidden, and therefore exciting. There seemed to be something naughty about it. And indeed it was. Naughtiness is perhaps the only possible rebellion of the powerless. And that is how many of the scenesters and actors on the stage of punk saw themselves, a collection of misfits who had nowhere else. The violence, the nasty edge that came to define punk was very untrue of the early flowering which was taboo breaking sexually ambiguous FUN.

I ventured further into punk through the pages of Smash Hits as much as the good offices of the resident DJ Mr John Peel. How much punk remained in Smash Hits in 1979/1980 when I used to cog lyrics out of it for the school magazine has been remembered for me wholesale by my current favourite blog Like Punk Never Happened.

It's a story with many facets and one I hope to make my own contribution to the telling of someday soon.

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