Go into any bookstore and go to the ‘Music’ section and you’ll see dozens of books devoted to Punk. It is one of the most chronicled scenes in music history. The bands, the music, the fashion, the art, the cultural theory. Punk was more than just a musical movement. For the last 35 years, along with Hip-Hop, Punk has been the most influential cultural movement/phenomenon of the post-modern era. Now that the aesthetics of Punk (the same is true of Hip-Hop also) have had time to seep into our popular culture, we are literally immersed in a world forever altered by it. From the snarling anarchic revolution of 1976 and 1977, Punk frightened and outraged the straight world, pogo-ing into town with the ripped jeans and safety-pinned anthems of The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.
Things would never be the same again. It only took three angry riotous power chords to usurp the complacent rock culture, and shift it into an overdrive that it would never recover from. Future generations of kids all over the world would find salvation and define personal freedom with slogans like: ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Go!’. Punk tore open the dominant popular culture of the late 70s – which was perceived to be long overdue for an overhaul – and replaced it with a DIY, fuck-the-establishment philosophy. The Country Rock model of The Eagles seemed too hippie and boring…the Hard Rock model of Led Zeppelin seemed too concerned with untouchable zippy-fingered prowess and private-jet-sized egos (and guitar solos)…The Singer-Songwriter model of James Taylor and Billy Joel seemed too dull and wimpy…and the Prog-Rock model of Pink Floyd seemed too outer-space and out of touch. Hence: Punk. Now, nothing happens in a vacuum.
Musically(/ Spiritually/ Politically) it was rooted in the sound of 60s garage rock like The Sonics and The Seeds; the simplicity of “Louie Louie”; the wham-bam of the early Kinks; the explosive performances of The Who; the otherness of Bowie and Glam Rock; the marginality of Reggae; the transgressive lyricism of The Velvet Underground; the dangerous noisy swagger of Detroit’s MC5 and The Stooges; and a subversive bohemian lineage that traces back through the Hippies, The Beats, Fluxus, The Situationists, The Surrealists, and The Dadaists. And then it sat simmering in the New York underground for a number of years with bands like The New York Dolls, The Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, Suicide, The Godz, The Dictators, and (of course) The Ramones. Malcolm McLaren happened to be in New York around this time, and perhaps after seeing Richard Hell (of Neon Boys, and later The Voidoids) wearing a ripped t-shirt, started having ideas.
Ultimately he would head back home to London and set up the fabled bondage/fetish clothes shop ‘Sex’ on King’s Road with designer Vivienne Westwood. Here Malcolm would meet a cast of characters that, with his vision and scheming, would spell out destiny…as The Sex Pistols. Malcolm McLaren was one of the architects of a cultural revolution on the scale of Beatlemania. He was the puppet-master, the agent provocateur, who managed to project not just a band or a song or an image, but an idea into the larger public consciousness. He understood the power of media, of promotion, and how to fuck with them to your own advantage. He and the Pistols were like a semtex charge on the foundations of the music industry. They came, they saw, they played some legendary shows, and they conquered. (Inspiring a legion of other locals to do the same: The Clash, The Damned, The Slits, Siouxie and the Banshees, etc.) They didn’t last long. How can you sustain such a force of energy? And I’m not sure how well the relationships bore out between the band and Malcolm. I think the lines blurred, and the targets for exploitation were foggy.
But, remember this: the Sex Pistols released only one album in the time they were together, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. Without it, there would be no Buzzcocks, no Joy Division, no New Order, no Factory Records, no Fall, no Smiths, no Stone Roses, no Radiohead, no Sonic Youth, no Pixies, no Nirvana, no Pavement, no Strokes, no Yeah Yeah Yeahs…the list just goes on. Malcolm McLaren is dead. And he deserves to be remembered, and celebrated for what he gave to our culture. A renewed set of options for music. History is always a slippery sucker to work out. He didn’t ‘invent’ punk, per se, but however we cut it, he helped make it happen. And the significance of his story (and the story of Punk) is immeasurable. He gave us a band that sang: ‘There is no future’, which became our future.
by Decoy Spoon