I’m taking this week off from seeing any shows. So what else can I bore you with? How about some news from jolly old England, the surprising ancestral home of many reading this blog. I’m not sure whether you know about this or not, but the Sex Pistols famous song, “Anarchy in the U.K.,” turns 40 this year, and the Brits are celebrating this by having museum exhibitions, movie (oops, sorry, “film”) showings, and other fun-for-the-family events to commemorate the occasion. The Wall Street Journal and Spin, among others, have each written stories about the happenings, including the very odd story that Malcolm McLaren’s son, Joseph Corré, is going to burn his horde of punk memorabilia worth about $7 million because … he’s a dick? That’s so punk? I don’t know what he is thinking.
A couple of points on this. The British like to grab the credit for the invention of punk, but are they serious? I still think that Iggy Pop was the original punker, and that the Ramones beat the Sex Pistols to the game by a few years. But to be fair to the UK, in 1976 they did take it well beyond what was happening in the U.S. And the bands that they put out! I still listen to the Sex Pistols on occasion (Lately, I've been particularly partial to the song EMI), and I often listen to the Clash, Buzzcocks, Jam, Damned, etc. Yes, the Ramones, too, but damn, they had some talent over there. Credit where credit is due.
Another point is kind of the same question that you might ask about the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame: that is, should punk be commemorated at all (or should the Hall exist)? I mean, rock ‘n roll was founded to be all about rebellion and non-conformity, and how conformist is an exhibit at the British Library or an I.M. Pei designed-museum sitting on Lake Erie? Now, don’t get me wrong, I would go to both (and, in fact, have been to the Hall) – I’m a bit of a museum geek, and I love rock memorabilia, so it’s a match made in heaven. But when you get back to the rock ethos, the reason for its existence (should I throw in a French phrase now? Nah, I went to a state school), it’s most basic roots, rock, and certainly not punk, wasn’t meant for these places.
But the point behind the exhibitions and the Hall isn’t really about rock, right? It’s more about the social movements that have been spawned from the music. For punk, it was a huge shift from the hippie bullshit days of peace, love and harmony to the hard reality of the late 1970s western world: Jobs were scarce, globalization was moving industry to Asia, “there was no future and England’s dreaming.” It was a grim time, and the nihilism and social pathos played out in the punk rock movement. Who else would put a safety pin through their cheek, or spend a concert lobbing gobs of spit at the band and vice-versa? So that is what the museums are trying to capture, I think, the movement itself and not the music. The music is what it is – some stands the test of time, some falls into the dustbin.
Now, the other question that these exhibits ask is whether punk rock is dead. No, emphatically. There are still great punkers out there (Titus Andronicus, anyone?). And, the end of the punk revolution in England didn’t mean it was over in the U.S. In fact, I hate to admit this, but Los Angeles put out some terrific punk bands in the 80s, like X and Black Flag, and their music also stands the test of time. Too bad that L.A. was also putting out the Eagles and other shit commercial bands at the same time, thus proving that marketing and making money has always been part of rock history, too, but we Americans had some great punk bands, too (I didn’t mention the Dead Kennedys because they were from the Bay Area – that means Annapolis, right? – but they are also in the pantheon of U.S. punk rock national institutions, too). Even DC got into the act with bands like Minor Threat and Government Issue. And the movement continues, thank the Lord.
One other question: why does 40 years spawn this nostalgia? Why wasn’t this done at the 35th anniversary or why didn't it wait until "Anarchy in the UK" hit 50? Hell if I know. All I know is that we like anniversaries, commemorations, traditions, etc., and we like them on even blocks of years. We also like top ten lists, lists of the “best,” and other subjective trivialities, and rock is not immune to this human trait.
So there it is. If you get a chance to go to London and enjoy the punk commemorative events, be sure to spit on the Queen if you see her. And since you are American, give her a good “gabba gabba hey,” for measure. Punk on!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.