When I was young, a few years after the actual event, I became intoxicated with the music of 1977, The Jam, The Clash, and without a doubt the Sex Pistols. Long before the internet was around for a quick fix on anything you wanted to know about, everything was mysterious, you picked up information by luck, in books, magazines, and the odd TV show. In becoming a fan of the Sex Pistols, everything was fascinating, the artwork was astounding, the songs were incredible, and I found myself greatly admiring Johnny Rotten, what a ballsy, brilliant, frightening individual he was. I was listening to the recently released Sex Pistols – The Original Recordings, and all the stuff from Never Mind the Bollocks was incredible, but it was listening to the post Lydon stuff, Lonely Boy, Silly Thing, and the hideous shit that Sid Vicious recorded, that really rammed home the fact that without Lydon, we likely would never have heard of Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock (or Sid Vicious). All of those three were important, without a doubt (and Silly Thing IS a great song) but without Lydon and his lyrics and that voice, we may have never heard of Sex Pistols or they might just exist in the bargain bin with all the other detritus from that period.
When I was young I was politically active, I was associated with the Labour Party and later joined the Socialist Workers Party, and whilst I am no longer party affiliated, I am as staunchly anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and working class socialist as I have always been, I recall many people saying, “ah wait until you get old, you’ll come to your senses and become right-wing”. Nope. I have not, I read books, I am constantly trying to educate myself, and I will alway be on the “left”, human suffering is a byproduct of capitalism, and although it will go on being so in my lifetime, I will always be against a system that protects the 1% at the expense of the rest of us. I am not saying that the left is the only way, I’m more advocating for a humanist outlook, one where inequality, racism, transphobia, homophobia, attacks on immigrants, the veneration of billionaires, attacks on healthcare, education, and other such evils, (all ideologies of right-wingers) is opposed. So it is so hard to deal with what Lydon has become, it’s hard seeing him be that reactionary old man, and not just a crotchety curmudgeon with some right-wing leanings, but a full blown supporter of actual fascists, namely Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. In 2008 Kele Okereke of Bloc Party accused Lydon of racism (NME article here), something which felt hard to fathom given Lydon’s past but now seems even more plausible considering his love of actual racists like Trump and Farage. In an interview with the utterly obnoxious bell-end Piers Morgan (Lydon Interview Praising Trump) Lydon says he voted for Trump and then lays out the bullshit argument that Trump “cares about the working class”, considering Lydon claims that he considers himself an intelligent man this is egregious stupidity, Trump is no more a champion of the working class than the National Front were, Lydon should be aware of that as the Nazi National Front were well known to him, he then goes on to moan about the ‘lefties” in California and states how much he loves Nigel Farage, an actual racist with obnoxious and evil views on immigrants. Lydons’ criticisms of the Clintons and the Democrats are spot on, and I don’t disagree with him on their ineptitude, the democrats are essentially a Conservative right leaning party, you would have to be in a country as rampantly racist and fucked up as the United States. The problem is though, as inept and shite as the Democrats are, using that as an excuse to embrace fascism is not logical OR intelligent. In another interview, published in The Irish Times, he criticizes BLM and people portrayed as “woke”, the typical right-wing rhetoric that shows putative psychopathy in condemning people who fight for civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and just about any humanistic empathy. Lydon has repeatedly shown his support for Trump and this seems entirely at odds with his stated ethics, he constantly takes about himself as being so honest and hating liars, so it appears Lydon is a hypocrite as well.
Trump has made lying into a political doctrine, and now there is a very real possibility of what many Americans have dreamed of for decades, a fascist government in the USA.( america-fascism-legal-phase). Liars are the forefront of this coup, Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, Marjorie Taylor Green, and all the other little Nazis that are players in this bid for power. It is genuinely frightening to see this global problem become a real possibility in the United States, and John Lydon, the man who did so much in the Sex Pistols, and so much more great creativity with PIL, is a supporter of fascism, he backs the far-right and tries to play it off like he’s a champion of the working class, just like all those scum in the National Front did, and the BNP, and For Britain, and all those neo-Nazis who want race hate to be at the forefront of society. Those fascists have been fought by working class and middle class people in our own recent history, on the streets, as well as in houses of power.
So, in summary, John Lydon can go fuck himself, you have destroyed your legacy Lydon, you are a disgusting and proud supporter of fascism. You are the idealistic young man that grew up to be the cliched, boring old man who drifted as far to the right as he could. It’s lazy, and states in loud, crass, volume that you are a LIAR.
In case some right-wing twat reads this, I’m not “cancelling” John Lydon due to “wokeness”, I still love the Sex Pistols, I still love PIL, and I love John’s criminally underrated solo album Psycho’s Path.
The End of Everything Good
in 1966, The Beatles played their last official live show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, no one knew that at the time, perhaps not even The Beatles, but it was the end of touring and they had had enough, who could blame them, inferior sound systems and screaming was hardly conducive to an enjoyable experience. They went on to produce Sgt Pepper, The Beatles (The White Album), Abbey Road, and Let it Be (albeit bastardized by Phil Spector) as a “studio” only artist, their last “live” show being the roof top performance in January 1969.
Today, any band that said they are quitting touring to concentrate on making music in the studio would be financially ruined within a year or so. Touring is likely the only way to make money (that is unless you are a corporate monolith/borefest like Ed Sheeran, Kanye, Beyonce, Adele, Taylor Swift, you know, the usual suspects, all devoid of any artistic merit) and without touring there is streaming and that is insulting and utterly worthless. Music has shrunk down from the tangible beauty of the vinyl 12″ LP to the faceless, cold, stark, disposability of the MP3, and yes there is still vinyl, and beautiful as it is, it’s now just nostalgia and a token nod to a bygone era.
In the late 90s the internet started to become available to more and more people and with it came file sharing and that in turn was the beginning of the end, the music industry (no paragon of virtue) was about to die a slow death and with that, everything, the height of creativity, the excess, the glamour, the excitement, the art, and basically everything that was good, was about to die and exist only in nostalgic reminiscing. The internet was the biggest change to humanity since fire, or since our antecedents began consuming meat that led to the necessary protein to aid the advancement of our key organ, the brain.
The internet changed humanity completely, and for better or worse doesn’t come into it because you cannot stop the inexorable march of progress. Its arrival killed the music industry, it is dying its slow death as I type this, in 50 years will there be anything left? Will Nina Simone, Little Richard, John Lee Hooker, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Marvin Gaye, The Clash, Madonna, be relevant? Remembered? maybe, but I doubt it. Music has been killed, it is dead and only the old bastards (like me) will cling on to this beautiful art form, record shops are dying and are not that far off being gone forever, they were places of utter joy, where one found life changing discoveries but now they too are soon to be dead.
Andy Warhol’s trite “every one will be famous for 15 minutes” should be updated to reflect the internet age and simply state “everybody thinks they should be famous”, not talented, not artistic, not creative, just “famous”, and it’s really fucking sad, sad as in tragic and sad as in pathetic. Trawl through Social Media reels and you’ll see the desperate need to be “liked” or loved or whatever they are seeking, everyone would rather be famous than just being themselves or original or interesting, and they want to be famous without the effort of actually doing something, learn an instrument? too hard that’s what EDM is for, write a book? Boring!! Takes too long, this is the new reality. To quote one of my lyrics “They could name every last Kardashian but they could not name one concentration camp”, that was my opinion of youth culture (yeah, yeah, I’m old) and how it is dumbed down, how did the “information super highway” not increase intelligence? Reality TV and the shallow addiction to fame have destroyed culture, in the 2nd wave of genius culture, post-punk (the first wave being The Beatles, the 3rd and last wave, the beginnings of Hip Hop) there was a pinnacle of creativity with things as diverse as Human League to Gang of Four, from The Pop Group to Joy Division, from Siouxsie to Steel Pulse, what they had in common was intelligence, this was ART and it was multifaceted, it offered something other than the bland and although it was largely a short period of time, 1978-1981, the wealth of music from that period is astounding. The 80s are remembered for the shite that existed rather than for The Jesus and Mary Chain or The House of Love for example, but we also had Hip Hop and those early ground breaking artists like Public Enemy, NWA, Run DMC, that was genuinely exciting, but just like “punk” now describes depths of execrable blandness (mostly from the USA), Hip Hop has also descended into materialistic worship, misogyny, and a stale blandness that happens whenever the underground goes mainstream.
Music is dying, it was killed by the internet, if you could get music for free it meant artists who wished to make music for living were now old hat, redundant, a dead culture from the past, although music is not quite dead yet, it can’t last much longer, why be a musician when you could be an “influencer” flogging corporate shit to your followers? It’s a feeling which I assume people have felt over the decades, popular culture has always had pockets of activity and creativity that were killed off by the advent of a new technology, and we can never go back, we keep pushing forward, we have to, but it is a tragedy and fills me with sadness that this glorious art form is becoming a relic that will die with the last humans who remember it’s history. We are in the the throes of the end of everything that is good.
Caveat: I should add that I’m not for going backwards, without the Internet I would not be writing this on a “blog”, musicians have the option to release whatever they want, at anytime, even if there is no-one listening, us musicians can do what we want, in the past we might have been able to afford a 4-track cassette portastudio and perhaps get a cassette of a demo to hawk around, now DAWs enable incredible quality home demos and recordings, you don’t have to have a label and a few thousand dollars/quid/euros to make a record. It’s just that a flooded market makes it difficult to be heard, the music press is not what it was, but that’s progress and I wouldn’t have it any other way, in a book on the history of the NME, there was letter from a reader in a 1956 edition that said “What trash this rock’n’roll stuff is”, while another said “soon it will be forgotten and the music of Goodman and Miller will still live on”. There’s alway someone who gets upset with progress. Me included.
Time stops for no-one
I recently saw a very interesting trailer for a new documentary on The Clash, while watching it I was overcome with sadness as all these men in their 60s were taking about “the only band that mattered” and rightly championing The Clash as been a one-off, legendary band. The sadness came from the fact that youth gives you a feeling of ‘forever’ and as you slide out of your youth you become aware of the grim truth that there is no such thing as forever. I was part of the next generation after punk, too young to be there for it, but loved it in retrospect, it was THE most important thing to happen to modern culture since The Beatles, but that revolution is now seemingly a museum piece as old men (mostly, no disrespect meant, I include myself in this category) reminisce over something that seemed once bigger than life itself. All music culture, significance, artistry, impact, and beauty was destroyed with the arrival of the internet, progress must not and cannot be stopped though, and so this is not complaint or a luddite rant, what’s happened has happened, there will never be another Clash, or Beatles for that matter, the past is the past and acceptance is the only way forward.
I think I feel lucky to have been alive pre internet so I could experience the joy of having to discover things, to be stricken with curiosity and to have to hunt down rare treasures, to have listened to a record and be inspired to find out who Percy Bysshe Shelley was, or George Orwell, or Sylvia Plath, to see a quote from Mark Rothko and wonder who he was, what did he do? To be inspired to be an autodidact, I just don’t see that anymore, misfits and outsiders had a chance in the past, now they are kept on the periphery or worst still, ignored. Kanye, Taylor Swift, Adele, Ed Sheeran, just a cavalcade of bland, artless, shit. They rule supreme as corporate giants, they are Coca-Cola, and just as harmful.The fact is music is dead, what chance have new bands? Maybe make 150 pounds/dollars a year from Spotify for hundreds of thousands of streams, prior to this the corporate giants existed too, wallpaper music, or music for stockbrokers living in suburbia, but there was always the outsiders who could make art and make a living from it, and that’s what makes me so sad, they will have almost no chance to be heard, and the generation that remember the “golden age” will die and sadly along with them will be the music they (and I) listened to.
As you go through life there is a point where you maintain a passion for music or you lose it. For some, marriage and kids marks the end of that passion, and so from then on maybe you get the occasional exposure to a bar or night out that might involve watching an older white gentleman in Costco jeans, looking constipated, wank off his Ibanez fretboard with some uninspired, boring, blues solo. I can’t think of anything more abysmal, well, maybe the covers band, the most artless thing in the world, once you’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel, you pick the barrel up and there underneath it, like still soggy shit, is the covers band, perhaps the most pointless thing on earth. Some people love covers bands, they happily clap along and have a good time, but I don’t consider those people music fans, maybe there’s a touch of nostalgia in listening to a Def Leppard (s)hit from their youth, personally it sounds like the most apt depiction of hell I’ve ever imagined.
There are others though that get the music bug young and it never lets go, the integrity never stops, the people that are passionate about music their whole loves, they might even get abuse as they get older because someone, somewhere, decided that music was only a young persons thing, like we’re not all going to die and then cease to exist and not even know we ever existed, when you’re alive, that’s all the time you have, so fuck those rules and fuck whatever stupid cock-end come up with the “rules.” I’m not saying one person is better than the other, I just don’t get why something as incredible as music should not stay as a burning passion in you until you die. I’m sure people who are into sports would look at me and shake their head at my utter apathy and indifference to sport as a whole, I’d happily live with out it, horses for courses I guess
This long winded intro is eventually going to get to the point, which is Eliane Radigue, in my mind a musical genius that should be ranked with classical composers, if you have not heard of her, (I dare say being a woman making music from the 60s on in a mans world would not help her art be internationally known) I’d highly recommend taking a listen and decide for yourself. I only found out about her music by mistake about 5 or 6 years ago. My earlier words about staying passionate about music your whole life is what led me to discover Radigue’s genius, you are always looking for more. The fact is that some music can seem just not accessible and maybe years of being an avid listener leads you to want to discover more. Eliane Radigue’s music is definitely something you have to prepare yourself for, before the brilliant Brian Eno pioneered ambient music there was Eliane Radigue, her music is fortunately easy to access on YouTube, I have not been able to track down any traditional old formats, Vinyl, CD, and I also don’t know of any digital versions to buy either, so for now I enjoy what I can find of her music on YouTube.
There is too much to discuss in detail but I want to focus on one piece and it’s called L’lle Re-Sonante, If I ever was to find I had a terminal illness I would want it to be the last thing I ever heard, it’s beauty is breathtaking, the purring drone that permeates the track, the layers of modular synths that give an epic feeling of distant orchestra’s desperately trying to break though and be heard, the fading in and out of what sounds like an operatic diva, singing in a distant hall that you know you can never reach, it is an evocative ride into a nether world of bliss, an elegiac lament for the last human on earth, how can something this beautiful actually exist. I know I will never achieve anything close to this as a musician, the fact that she has many more, hour or so long, pieces like this is amazing. Thankfully (and hopefully) the deathbed request is far off so for now I can just listen to this and feel like I am in a sanctuary from this shit world of neo-nazis, World War III rumours, and fascists in convoys.
I’m very sure that if I listened to this when I was 18 I would not have appreciated or understood it, I had to go through years of absorbing music to truly appreciate it, she is an incredible artist and it’s a shame that her music isn’t more wildly available, maybe young people who are way smarter than I was at 18 would appreciate this, it’s definitely something I’d recommend, lots of “ambient” music (which I do like) is very basic, Brian Eno is the exception (of what I’m familiar with), on first hearing one of her pieces, I instantly loved it, but on repeated listens I was in awe of the layers of sound she weaves into her work.
So if you didn’t decide to give up on music and are still curious to discover, this is the kind of thing that lies in wait for you.
There is a trait in all of us, likely since the arrival of a post industrial world, to venerate our youth, to think that things were far better when we were young, and some of the things from our youth disappear for good (with progress) and we mourn their passing, thinking that nothing could ever match it. I’m sure my parents said it, harking back to things when they were young that proved life was better back then, or music was better, or the world was a safer place. I’m sure in 30 years time, if our species has not been destroyed by greed, religion, and right-wing ideology, there will be 20 year olds hitting 50 saying Billie Eilish (who is an amazing artist), Kanye, (who isn’t), Frank Ocean (who is), etc. etc. including tons of teen loved artists who I have no idea about, were “much better in their day than the rubbish around now in 2050!” It’s just how it is, youth is amazing, and it should always stay amazing, if I can’t understand why a young person is having fun “doing that”, it’s not because I know better, it’s because I’m not young anymore, youth is the best part of life, let everyone who can enjoy it enjoy it because after that there is not a lot left to love, just the dark, cold, facts of reality.
There is an exception to the first half of the last paragraph, and that is the New Musical Express, the NME, (from before my time in the 70’s to when I was young). I am putting a caveat on this point because it can only be coincidence, or wonderful serendipity, that I was able to experience the pre-internet days of physical objects. The NME in those days was like a revolutionary marxist art manifesto, an educator, a musical pioneer, a brash, brazen, trail blazing, thing of fucking beauty, it still exists as an on-line magazine and a free hand out version, either of these two present day versions are utter shit, poorly written, and an utter travesty. Back in the past, every Wednesday, and if you were really lucky Tuesday, I would get the NME, I got Melody Maker and Sounds too, but NME was the bible. It’s writers and editors, such as Paul Morley, Ian Pennman, Nick Kent, Julie Birchill, Dele Fadele, Lucy O’Brien, Barney Hoskyns, Neil Spencer, and so many more who were great writers, brought us insightful, necessarily verbose, and exciting articles and interviews. These pieces were not the fatuous, and facile ‘promo’ interviews of before, these were incredible insights into another world, another realm. It was not just music, they covered politics, youth issues (a famous issue on youth suicide by Lucy O’Brien), literature, and aspects of art and culture. I felt empowered to learn, not just more about music but by reading more, it introduced me to many great books and authors, art began to fascinate me in a way I never even thought I could appreciate. The NME was a call to arms, it began a cultural ripple effect in many who were heeding its call, an embrace of art, love, socialism, and curiosity that they (we?) would take as a creed for life. It made being smart ‘sexy’ to use a rather trite term, actually I think appealing sounds so much better. England is cursed by a class system, there’s the ruling class who hold all the power, who control everything and breed prime ministers, spies, and decision makers, in their public school system. There’s the middle class, the privileged ones that get to choose their career, politician, Musician, Artist, yoga guru, architect, etc. and then there’s the working class, cannon fodder, foot soldiers, those who should know their place, who are generally robbed of an education, if you were working class and read the NME and had curiosity, there was much to learn. It celebrated intelligence and made dreams seem possible. i wanted to be a musician and dreamed of one day being in the NME, sadly that didn’t happen, and all these great tomes went extinct, Sounds, Melody Maker are long gone. The NME was the first to out the muslim hating, fascist political party supporting, Morrissey, and even with new writers it still seemed to survive and limp on into the late 90s, at some stage it became a glossy magazine, seemingly aimed at simpletons, and then it ended publication, becoming online only, then also a giveaway magazine, I almost wish the NME ended along with Sounds and Melody Maker, it’s as far away as it could get from it’s hey day that extinction would be a blessing.
Why Hawkwind Matter
Well, that’s a bold title isn’t it? Even if the only two songs they did were Assault and Battery & The Golden Void, the first two tracks on their 1975 album, Warrior on the Edge of Time, I would argue those two tracks alone warrant genius status. Hawkwind are about as far from a band I thought I’d end up liking as you get. All I knew about them was they looked like hippies and Lemmy was in them once. I was watching the brilliant Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, and one episode ended with a track that mesmerized me, I did a little digging and it turned out to be Assault and Battery by Hawkwind, shit!
I downloaded the album it was on and played those first two tracks every day for maybe a year, it was the most magical, evocative thing I had possibly ever heard. Playing the rest of the album, the first thing i heard on track 3 was a spoken word piece about wizards, damn, are these two tracks a one off? There were more good tracks on this album though, it sounded really good. Listening to a few more albums, the hypnotic, ‘krautrock’, motorik beat, almost trance like grooves, made me ask how much more have i missed by being so blinkered about music.
Dave Brock, the only consistent member of Hawkwind, has a great voice, seems humble, has a great guitar style, AND is the writer of the two tracks that ‘blew my mind’, is a really interesting character, forming Hawkwind when he was 29, today an age considered ‘past it’. He never seems to slow down, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hawkwind in this the year of the plague, 2020, that’s some drive.
The early albums are the best, the debut is good, starting with the incongruous, yet brilliant, Hurry on Sundown, a goodbye to the 60s if nothing else before the spacier Hawkwind sound kicks in. The 2nd album, In Search of Space, is a trippy, beautifully repetitive, weed smokers flight into space, it is musically fascinating to hear this when so much shite was massive at this time. I like those early albums they are zen inducing, transcendental, an ode to pure joy.
I read a great book about them called Hawkwind – Days of the Underground written by Joe Banks which I would very much recommend if you know very little OR a lot about Hawkwind, it’s a really well written, brilliant book
It’s a shit business
The fantastic line uttered in The League of Gentleman by Les McQueen, the guitarist from Creme Brûlée, summing up the saddening thought that the only thing you ever wanted to do was make a living from being a musician, and it didn’t happen, real life happened instead.
“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” So said Nabokov, and all logic would say that he was 100% correct. Whether you are a King or a pauper, when your time comes, you’ll never know you even existed, you will return to the nothingness you were in prior to life being foisted upon you. In pondering this bleak existential thought, this most probable eventuality, it does make you think about what you do with the time you have, even though logically you’ll be none the wiser when it happens as you won’t exist anymore. I, for instance, want to make albums and release them, I have no money to promote them, I have no insider friends, no rich parents to finance me, no network to tap into, so I just do it anyway. I feel a failed musician is one who quits, I don’t care if i’m THE most obscure artist on the planet, I will still try and create art because it gives me a modicum of purpose in the absurdity of sentience, and all its cruelty.
The music business really started to thrive after The Beatles, the cultural and societal revolutionairies who changed the modern world until the arrival of the internet. Record companies reigned supreme as the 60s groaned into the 70s, the 70s brought subdued coloured clothes and monoliths of rock (not a good thing) that stagnated the Beatles revolution, it watered it down, made it dull and all about yawn inspiring virtuosity, Punk came and offered a new revolution that created a 4 to 5 year golden period of incredible music. The 80s had multicoloured awfulness in the shallow vacuity of the new-romantics, the first Thatcher inspired music movement, a movement that put greed as god. Across the pond in the USA, artless, dumb, lowest common denominator, shite, like ‘hair’ bands started making it big, the nadir of music. The 80s weren’t all bad of course, first there was Hip Hop, another musical revolution that started out so great until its most popular latter day artists devolved into misogyny, homophobia, and the shallow worship of money and things. There was also a widespread movement of underground music around the world, bands that tried to fly in the face of the seemingly awful decade, of which there are happily too many to mention. The last run for the record labels was the 90s, Brit Pop, Nirvana, Grunge, etc, etc, some of it still sounds good, some sounds ludicrously dated. Then came Napster, stealing artists music was justified by saying the greedy record companies were making too much money, they were of course, and they never knew what to do with the emerging technology but, this was not David V Goliath, this was just the beginning of making it extremely hard to make a living out of being a musician, nigh on impossible in fact. Popular music has been the respite for the working class for decades, if there had been a way to steal “high-brow” art from artists, it’s likely something would have been done about it but, it wasn’t the record companies to blame this time for artists not being paid, it was the music fans, why pay for it when I can get it for free? The internet killed the industry, and music, but you can’t relive the past, and so mourn it and move on.
The internet also democratized the ability to release music, technology came and destroyed something that was deemed eternal, the music industry, that is now history, all that has gone before is sealed in a museum and for as long as there are those who cherish that extinct reality, those physical objects, that museum will be a place to visit and dream of things that are dead and gone. Now is all new, it’s not worse and it’s not better, it’s just what is now and so that is how you accept reality. Technology put the ability to create music and record it into the hands of anyone who could afford a DAW, some form of instrument/beat generator, and a willingness to do so, for EDM you don’t even have to go to the trouble of learning an instrument or being a musician, everyone can make music. The Internet meant you could share that music with anyone who would bother to listen, there are musical geniuses out there that will die unheard, there are remarkable chancers who made it through, there is real talent that got heard, and of course there are the many utter travesties that make it through too, all very similar to before, but all without the suits involved, all without the intrinsic judgement of art in capitalism, will it make a shit ton of money? That’s the key, money, in Capitalism it is the only thing that matters, that’s why Taylor Swift is ubiquitous with her safe, dull, committee produced output, where artists like Wire, This Heat, Akala, just as small sample, are not necessary household names, but their art is so far superior in every facet. if someone tells you with a prolonged (i.e. expensive) ad campaign, that something is good, then you buy into it, or if a couple of reviews say it, then even your friends will believe it, otherwise you exist in the unknown, throwing your drop of water into a massive ocean and expecting someone to notice it.
Safe music has always sold in droves, whether it be the podunk, dumbest genre, that is most Country music, or the Corporate, committee written and produced musical equivalent of Pepsi/Coke, Taylor Swift, Adele, Ed Sheeran, or the seemingly cutting edge (but really egregiously over-rated) Kanye West, not to mention his Trumpian narcissism. Those few will always be okay. Inoffensive, unchallenging, safe music, is likely the most popular “umbrella” of music world wide, and that’s true of all art, I’m sure more people you meet have read Dan Brown, Clive Cussler, etc, airport novel, etc, than say Hesse, Joyce, Camus, Mirbeau, Plath, Nin, Miller, etc, etc. or more people like art that is easy to digest rather than the likes of Basquiat, Rothko, Hilma Af Klint, Malevich, Hirst, etc. etc. that’s the way the world is. You can educate yourself to culture way easier now thanks to the Internet (there’s good and bad things about everything, right?) but it still may be easier to like things that do not challenge the comfort of ignorance. Maybe ignorant was the best way to be? Be entertained and amused in life by the simplistic things, be comforted in believing bronze age nonsense about deities, or new age nonsense stolen from equally absurd older religions, breezing through your brief crack of light, oblivious to it’s inevitable conclusion and without any anxiety about the world. Maybe that’s the way to go, maybe that’s a happier life but, look at all you would miss, the art that makes you think, makes you cry, fall in love, dance, hurt, be in pure joy, you would miss all that in your brief crack of light. If I sound pretentious, so be it, I was poor, my parents could not afford to send me to higher eduction, and even if they could, I was too dumb at school leaving age to be worthy of going to college.
So the point of this rambling diatribe? Do what you can to enjoy your brief crack of light, and tell the ephemeral crew that tell you you’re too old, ugly, short, fat, tall, poor, whatever it may be, to fuck right off.
What’s in a name? What is Punk Rock? I guess it doesn’t really matter, but Punk was a catchall term that has exponentially grown into something very, very different from the inchoate rumblings of 1975/1976 in the UK.
Punk started suffering a personality crisis very soon after it’s birth, a crisis that manifested itself in awful London postcards, a swath of awful “punk” bands in the early 80s, The Exploited, GBH, UK Subs, Discharge, Anti-Nowhere League, the kind of shitty, pointless bands that were in a Guardian article (April 21st 2020) saying “they made the Sex Pistols look like Take That”, no they didn’t, they were ALL shit. Then there’s an entire Country (namely America) that reduced punk to something like “huh huh, then I got my cock out and threw my own shit at people”…”Huh Huh, That’s punk rock.” How did this happen?
It may have started with the Bill Grundy incident, a drunken old Tory, goading young men into swearing on TV. Outrage ensued and media bullshit made it all about swearing, puking up, etc. The Americans loved this of course. Then there was Malcolm Mclaren, a talentless, middle class spiv, who with his solipsism, and the execrable Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle, lied and bullshitted punk into the cesspit it’s dwelt in ever since. Then there was the ultra talentless Sid Vicious, an apparently “nice guy” who was dead at 21 from the most boring and pointless Rock ‘n Roll cliche, Heroin. Dumb cunt. There’s a poor quality movie/footage of the last Sex Pistols tour, the Americans on that video are embarrassing, it’s obvious they just have it all wrong. They haven’t got a fucking clue.
An alternative to mainstream music grew with the experimentation of bands like The Beatles, their innovation pioneered the experimental. The Velvet Underground’s debut album was so unlike anything before it, The Stooges were also a breath of fresh air in what was becoming a very staid 70s music scene, in Germany the need to be different led to Can, Popol Vuh, Neu! and Kraftwerk, to name but a few, and of course there was Bowie who was always the polar opposite of most 70s music. As the music of the 70s got so complacent there were rumblings of resistance, in New York there was The New York Dolls and The Ramones, the latter released a great debut (but unfortunately stuck with a formula after that for evermore.) In England, young men and women were trying something different inspired by the Sex Pistols. With the aid of the late, great, John Peel, these new bands could be heard. At that point it was not “Hey, copy us!”, it was “you can do anything you want”, you don’t have to be a classically trained musician like those awful wankers in, what must rival Queen as the worst band of all time, Yes.
The idea was, fuck the past, do something new, be original. For a while it seemed great, let’s take just 5 random bands, Buzzcocks, The Slits, Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, even those 5 bands alone sounded very different to each other. Greater things were to come in what became the Post-Punk era, likely the most creative period in modern music history after the pioneering Beatles lit the fuse. In this period, the real fruits of ‘punk’ emerged, Joy Division, The Pop Group, The Fall, Gang of Four, PIL, Killing Joke, New Order, This Heat, The Cure, and so many more, so many that were never heard of again. They heard Johnny Rottens clarion call on So it Goes (presented by the late, great, Tony Wilson) “Get off your arse’ before launching into Anarchy in the UK. Bands were trying such great things, funk/jazz and madness with The Pop Group, Can influenced Dub with PIL, the sheer genius of The Fall, the dark brilliance of Joy Division, the use of synths with early Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, the funk, bass heavy sound of A Certain Ratio, or the not punk, avant/rock of This Heat. It wasn’t until the arrival of Hip Hop that music sounded so exciting.
Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock, and Johnny Rotten (nee Lydon) were the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious is what was taken away, either by the godawful bands I mentioned earlier in the 2nd paragraph, or by the American “punk’ bands. The Pistols music was not actually too far from what had gone before, but they had John Lydon, to write those lyrics as such a young man is astounding, without his lyrics and that voice, it would not have happened. I have heard it more than once that “oh, Sex Pistols were the first boy band, put together by a svengali” NO. This is the bullshit version of the story some North Americans live with. It’s clearly not true, you cannot invent Johnny Rotten. Now, I should point out I’m taking of the Johnny Rotten back then, not the present day one who supports Trump and wears a Make America Great Again T-shirt, that Johnny Rotton is a hypocrite and a twat.
Punk, as a movement that did not need a name, was essentially a need to be original, a need to try and do something new, to stand out, to bring an edge back into music after the awful, complacent 70s, that’s why you can look at say, Buzzcocks, The Fall, and Joy Division, and see three unique bands, that each have something incredible about them, they were exciting and original, they had that spirit, and none of it was about puking up, mohicans, black leather, chains, and other such awful uniformity and cliche. To them punk meant ‘out with what was’, strive to be original, and they were better for it. It came to me, watching lots of American music documentaries, where people like Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins, or lesser luminaries of that scene would do vox pops about some band, and it would be “Oh he head butted a security guard and vomited on stage” and then they’d say “That’s so punk rock”, or “and then he shat in his hand and threw it at the audience”, “That’s so punk rock” NO it fucking isn’t, it’s trite and boring, deliberately trying to be ‘shocking’ is so transparent and obvious, trying to be original is more ‘punk’. Another aspect of American punk was/is the toxic masculinity, nicely addressed by San Francisco’s Dead Kennendy’s in ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’. Growing up in London and loving the indie scene that was birthed by post punk, I was always perplexed that every image of Black Flag in the NME/Melody Maker/Sounds was the same, a guy that looked like a gym freak always wearing only shorts, with veins bulging, painfully singing into the microphone, as violence seemed to swell in the crowd. Every single picture was like that, macho, male dominated, aggressive, and music that sounded like poor heavy metal. Don’t get me wrong, Henry Rollins seems like an amazing and very intelligent man, and I’m sure there’s a place for that music, a genre for it, but it has sullied what an original movement tried to do. People as utterly talentless as GG Allin are a good example of why America missed the point entirely, GG Allin was devoid of any talent and in a better society should have been looked after for the obvious mental illness he suffered from.
I guess every music genre gets sullied and watered down, and this entire blog is utterly irrelevant and simply the opinion of someone who thinks music is one of the most beautiful things you can discover, and music that challenges you is even more exciting. One thing that late 20th century music doesn’t get is the esteem that classical gets, I remember hearing a podcast by the transphobic, new poster boy for the alt-right, comedian Ricky Gervais, where he said Elgar had a chord that made him cry when he was away and made him miss England, and saying it was better than the rubbish they played on XFM. This is the kind of shit I hate, luckily I am comfortable enough with my own intelligence not to have to think liking classical music is a prerequisite for nous. Closer by Joy Division has all the gravitas and artistic genius of any classical piece of music, I’m sure anyone could argue that technically all classical is superior because it has more chords, notes, etc, but the power to move, the sheer artistry that a piece like Closer can evoke is up there.
After Post Punk, Hip Hop was the greatest new musical movement in years, and just like any genre, it has a broad and vastly different “musical tree” that has grown exponentially to become the most popular music in the world today, sadly with Country coming in a close second.
And now, to sound like an old man, while I was reading a book on John Peel, I came across a chapter that documented his shows in early 1976, just before punk, and the description of his abject boredom, apathy, and seeming lack of (once thriving) passion, seemed very prescient of today. The past is dead, nostalgia is sad, but there is no excuse to stop liking music and looking for something new.