Do You Like Punk Music?*
Here we go, 2,3,4… It was a time when one industry saw fit to reward the rank inability of the performer. A time when ineptitude was lauded and applauded, and self-improvement was derided. Only the music business can do this.
The Biz took a movement of such unrivalled ugliness in form and fashion and music, and persuaded people to believe that it was any good. It wasn’t. Stupid, spiky, slimy hairstyles, we’re not talking stylish moptops here, or carefully tended D.A.’s or the political statement of dreads. Ugly’s the word. And ugly also covers the childish, attention-seeking self-mutilation, and the plainly ridiculous clothes. I give you the ‘bondage trouser’. Bondage trousers. Just the sound of them is enough to make the eyes stream and the cleft clench as you imagine trying to untwist and free your knackers from this week’s tragic fashion rip-off. And has anyone got a good word to say about spitting? Thought not.
I was 17 in 1977, and living 20 miles or so from the West End of London. Me and my mates, we’d have been right at the heart of the punk, uh, movement, right? Er, wrong. It might be news to the nostalgia-thirsty media and the style-over-substance, cool-over-content types, but most of the country was still listening to ELO and, with a tour announced this week, apparently they still are. The majority were still more engaged by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, disco, Bob Marley, pure pop and Grease.
One of our mates turned up one day with his hair razored into spikes, wearing strange bandy-legged romper trousers and a shirt with holes in it. Frankly, we all thought he was a bit of a berk. Fancy dress was thought of as being rather juvenile.
So that was it, yer English punk rock, the most overrated form of music since northern soul. If only the clocks had stopped in 1975 everything would have been alright, or even on Thanksgiving, November the 25th 1976 when The Band walked off the stage at The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco for the last time. But, as the moving finger wrote, as disaffected public schoolboys, bumbling, directionless hippies, and tartan-trewed no-marks summoned up the phlegm and decided ‘Hey, anyone can do it’ (a premise which they wasted little time in disproving), taste, talent, good manners and dress sense all gathered up their skirts and fled for cover. What, you may ask, was spawned by this music-
free movement? New romantics and the Godawful 80’s, that’s what. No further questions, M’lud, your witness.
Before punk had properly spread, like Spanish Flu, before Nick Lowe started producing records for The Damned and others (the same Nick Lowe who years later said, “I hated all of that punk music, I thought it was awful.” Good for you, Nick) before all of that, in early 1976 when punk was just a nasty rumour, my friend John asked if I fancied going to see a band. What band? Where?
“They’re called the Sex Pistols,” said John, “and they’re on at the 100 Club.”
“Sex Pistols. Punk rock. Apparently they have sex on stage and fight the audience and each other and everything.”
“Nah,” I said, “I’ve got revision to do. Anyway, Sex Pistols, punk rock, it’s all hype, John. A 5-minute wonder. All crap, all of it.
So I didn’t go. And you know what? I was right.