Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Punk Rock: Would You Credit It?

'You think it's funny, turning rebellion into money' as Strummer sang on (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais - well, is it?

Virgin have produced Sex Pistols credit cards (as I write that it sounds absurd - credit cards? ), saying:

 it's "time for consumers to put a little bit of rebellion in their pocket"

- oh dear, is this what we fought running battles with Teddy Boys in the King's Road for? Is it? Actually, I wasn't chasing, or being chased by greasy quiffs in the King's Road, but I was there. Where?
Punk Land ™ (a theme park coming to you, soon, with white (riot) knuckle rides, a coconut shy (coconuts painted with the faces of Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson etc) and a ghost ride taking the carriages into the mouth of Johnny Rotten where grotesque wax models of Bill Grundy the queen and others leap out at you...um...etc)

Yes, that olde place, Punk Land, a nearly forty-year-old place (!). 'Kin hell.

So the dust has long since settled, the phlegm been wiped away, bands reformed, butter deals done and all that is either nostalgia or a history lesson, depending on your age. "Granddad, what was Punk?" "Fuck off!" That would be the right Punk response. Instead, kiddy climbs on knees for stories about spitting at bands, pogoing etc.

We know everything gets appropriated and changed by time. Yes. Society's safety mechanism kicks in, cleansing even the filthiest rebellion because it (the marketing and media machine) knows that there are plenty of former participants who revel in memories and want to pour their love (and cash) into what happened. After all, for most former Punks, the future dream is a decent pension scheme. Just like normal people.

Punks were normal people. Normal kids. Weren't they? Just having fun, letting off steam. But oh, dear brothers and sisters, if you were there you will remember what a fuss they caused, the bands and their followers.

The Virgin Money Pistols credit card move is so...odd (?) it could be a Situationist prank. But it's only really odd if you were there. It questions the meaning of Punk...cuts to the core of what is authentic, what 'rebellion' means in culture. Did you mean it? If so, what did you mean?
Fuck society?
Fuck the Rock dinosaurs?
Fuck money?
But it was all a scam to get what they could out of record companies, get the best deal and make money. Surprise, surprise, despite the nihilist rhetoric, a band just wanted to be...what? Loved? Popular? Rich like the old farts they detested?

Where did that leave all the daydream believers in vague notions based on 'anarchy'? It's OK, they were just letting off steam like kids have done for decades. No one got hurt. Well, a few did, actually. You could get hurt for wearing safety pins or just straight-legged trousers. That's what's hard to convey, the danger, not to society, but to yourself if you looked like a Punk. And how many variations on the theme there were:

art Punk,
council estate Punk,
Grammar school geek Punk,
authentic street-Punk-in-anoraks-looking-like-the-kids-who-got-beaten-up-at-school-for-looking-stupid (that was just The Undertones, a bit later, actually - no wonder John Peel loved them, they were so cute, those rough-looking boys, so working class, right?)

The Clash get some hate these days for being such poseurs and playing American stadiums. Huh. They wore their style sprayed on their overalls - wankers - how dare they look so good in photos, reference Kerouac, play Rock 'n' Roll etc. It was all a bit London, a bit cool, wasn't it? Yes.

You know, we didn't care where a band came from (even some Northerners were good) or what they looked like. You could look like anything as long as it wasn't a denim clad blues/Rock band (the look of The Enemy, naturally). Just wear trousers that aren't flared, that'll do it.

What went on back then? Councils banned Punk bands. Virtually all of the Sex Pistols tour was cancelled after the Bill Grundy show. Everyone hated Punks. I wasn't even a full-fledged Punk but nearly got beaten up several times. I wasn't a poseur either, mind you, just chose my own style route from the various options.

Punks were freaks, just like Hippy freeks (they just got attacked for having spiky, not long hair). Ironically, they felt the full force of all the Hate bottled up in 'normals' when hate & War were championed - why not? Peace & Love had been played out to no great effect. It's as if the hate felt by Punks met the hate others felt for them and exploded in the faces of both parties. Neither side 'won'.

Being different from the common herd is one thing all youth culture tribes aspired to but something about Punk really riled normal folk. It was as if all the sewer rats had emerged in a year, crawling, spitting, snarling, spiky...spreading their disease everywhere. Worse still, they could explain nothing. No manifesto. Just NO! Pretty vacant faces staring blankly at everything normal folk had built, laughing at the ruins of so-called civilisation, the strikes, shitty jobs, concrete prisons, crap music...

Now there's a credit card you can get which commemorates it all. Whatever it was. Looking back, I still don't know. A bunch of bands, a lot of piss-taking. Thanks to Richard Branson's Virgin it looks like society really has had the last laugh...


  1. The system appropriates everything eventually.
    Capital rot.

  2. Mmm... Mastercard by Jamie Reid! The world just gets more deranged every day. It reminds me of the scene in Rock N Roll Swindle where Sid (I think) is giving away the traditional tourist trinkets from a stall, all stamped with Sex Pistols/Jamie Reid graphics (had credit cards been more widely used back in 77, I imagine Reid would have created something exactly like this.

    It reminds me of the horror and strange fascination I felt when I saw an ashtray for sale with the Crass logo on it. More recently, I was in my local record shop and on the wall were all the Crass label singles going for £20 upwards (the price stickers just above the 'pay no more than 50p...' stamp) and I remarked to the owner about the irony of it all, and he informed me: "it's middle-aged men like you collecting them, that is what has made the prices sky-rocket"... so that is what it has come to.. counter-cultural nostalgia for the forty and fifty somethings.

    Great find anyway, though there is still part of my brain that just refuses to process it!

    This level of recuperation suggests that the tools of détournement are now obsolete

    1. It is hard to process, but then, perhaps it was all just a 'rock'n'roll swindle' anyway. I saw a Michael Jackson ash tray once...even that seemed odd, the fact that and nicotine-addicted Jacko fan would want to stub their butt out on The King of Pop. Me, I quite enjoyed doing it. Culture & politics are never beyond détournement, even though they seem to frequently parody themselves.


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