Richard Hell, that’s the name of the guy I was trying to remember when I started looking through some punk sites this evening. Anyone out there know him? Anyways, doesn’t matter. What got to me was the fact that every time I searched for punk, I was bombarded with article after article and picture after picture of bands like Green Day, The Offspring, NOFX, New Found Glory, Good Charlotte, Sum 41 and the terrible Less Than Jake and I couldn’t help feeling that punk fans and the bands have watered down the music so badly that it’s no wonder people don’t even have respect for The Sex Pistols anymore!
Now, I know the world has a hell of a lot of very, very backward, stupidly stupid people in it but I would try and entertain the idea that even the simplest minded ‘punk rock’ fan does know why the whole thing started in the first place, but I could be wrong. For those of you who don’t know there’s one thing to get straight before you ever mention the bands, before you hear a note of the music, before you even think of shaving all but the middle of your head and tearing your cloths and before you even consider pogoing. That’s the simple fact that ‘Punk’ and ‘Punk rock’ are two very, very separate things. One is about being young, having dreams and ideals with a strength, determination and resolve never to let anyone stand in the way of you achieving them, no matter what the circumstances. Similar to the dreams of hippies from the sixties, Punk’s were about equality, individualism, originality and the notion that we can be anything we want to be. ‘Punk Rock’ is about hair styles, fashion, image, appearance, cliché ideals, un-originality, conforming all backed by a particular driving sound that helps sell the image. Obviously it’s the former idea that excites true fans of music history.
Although Punk music’s origins started in the States with bands like MC5, The New York Dolls, The Stooges and The Ramones, it took four young Londoners to pack all of those ideals and aspirations along with youthful angst and satirical commentary on modern society to make an album that would change the course of music forever. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols may be the best known and widely loved Punk album of all time but unlike most of the other punk rock albums out there, such as American Idiot and Out Come the Wolves, it’s an honour well deserved. But we’ll talk more about the Pistols and their legacy later.
Now you may think I’m being a little hard on modern punk bands because of the cloths they wear and the image they promote. ‘Why not?’, you ask, ‘who’s it hurting anyway?’. Well there’s a very simple answer to that question. It’s not hurting anyone. What it did was kill one of music’s most original and best efforts at provoking younger people to take pride in themselves, no matter how they looked or what people told them they could amount to. It pushed them to be creative and stand out from a world inhabited by mindless, happy to be controlled sheep. People who had long since given up their attempts at creativity or any hope or longing to just be themselves and not hide behind fashion or popular thought. The kind of people you see everyday that are so competitive and worried about standing out. People who are so worried about other people’s opinion that they cower away with the flock and spend their time sneering and spitting on anyone else that does have that courage to be themselves. You see them everywhere; It starts in school and lasts for the rest of their lives. How many times have you heard people taking endless amounts of crap on subjects like religion, politics, history, the recession, current social and political conflicts and trends? You know those loud mouths who talk and talk about these issues and you can hand pick every comment they make and know full well the film, rumour, hearsay or book they took it from in order to pass it of as their own, without even attempting to look further into the subject, take all points of view into consideration and voice their own, thought out opinion? Well if you can’t remember several times like this it probably just means you’re one of them or you you’re living in Plato’s cave (no philosophical similarity intended).
This may all sound a little off the point when you’re talking about punk music but that’s the point, it’s not off the topic. Those people who do think for themselves were and are punks. ‘Punk Rockers’ you see these days aren’t and I justify that comment with one very simple answer. They’re not punks, because they look like punks. That right there defeats the whole idea punk music started with. The foundation was about being different and not conforming to any system (system not solely meaning government, system refers to any system of control whether it be music, fashion or anything else). So, when the golden punk ideal became watered down with ripped trousers, hair styles and a particular sound, it signalled the end for one of music’s most exacting times.
In the mid-seventies, several punk rock bands of note and influence sprang out of England. Acts like The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Damned and Siouxsie and the Banshees, to name a few, but The Sex Pistols still managed to stand out above all the competition. These days it’s hard to look back and justify why the Pistols had such a strong influence at the time. Peoples minds are clouded with overweight fifty year olds, flogging a dead hoarse every few years for cash, the once scary, sneering Johnny Rotten now dressed in tweed selling butter and taking part in shows like Celebrity Jungle and the cliché of clichés, Mr. Punk Icon himself Sid Vicious’ image over used a billion times by people drinking in cocktail bars who couldn’t name a song the Pistols ever wrote, let alone any of Sid’s solo work. In Tickets There’s opinion there are justifications for all those actions. The Pistols never made any money when they started so why not let them now?, Sid wasn’t being a cliché punk at the time, he was one of the people who invented it, not copied it and Johnny, well Johnny can do what ever the hell he likes because he’s Johnny Rotten. But whether you agree or disagree, none of that can ever hamper their years together as a group and the impact their music and their short time together had on the world.
I say time because the Pistols influence goes deeper than the music. As I mentioned earlier, Punk and Punk Rock are two different things. The Pistols played punk rock in a band but they were punks. At least they started off that way. Their first two years together showed a band going through absolute hell in order to get their point across to the world. They may look like your typical punks and their lyrics, speeches and general attitude may resemble your traditional punk but that’s where it started. They were noting more than kids who had more talent that they were ever given credit for. Four kids angry at society, angry at the world around them who wanted to make a difference or at the very least get laid and have a laugh. They didn’t set out to shock the people at first, they just said what they wanted and that started all the controversy. They may have been naive and miss-lead but they weren’t fake and once they realized what was happening and that they were merely becoming the main attraction in a circus being built up around them they stopped. They simply refused to conform. That’s Punk! You can argue that Jonny leaving and Sid’s death had more to do with it than a general decision but the point is they didn’t carry on after their first album. They didn’t put the head down and deal with the ever growing joke their manager was trying to turn their efforts into and carry on for the sake of massive pay cheques and fame, two of music’s main pitfalls for many iconic artists. The band didn’t want to become manikins or puppets. They were strong willed kids who knew what they had started was too special to kill by opting for an easy life. That is why the Pistols will always be one step above all the other acts from that time, their actual refusal to conform, rather than their musical output. It just helps that Nevermind the Bollocks is the greatest Punk Rock album aswell.
Green Day, Rancid and bands like that? Guys wearing suits and ties with pretty hair trying to sing about their pain while they try and remember if they turned the pool heater of or not. Or guys covered in tattoos except on their hands and face so they can still conform and hide what they pretend to be when needed. Guys decked out in expensive leather, all the wallet chain’s, spikes, bracelets, accessories and quirky necklaces and t-shirts top dollar can buy. That’s not punk, that’s nothing but commercialisms orange parade to celebrate the fact that nothing on this earth can remain special, nothing can be left untouched by the greedy hand of economy and commercialism. Proof that no matter how pure and simple something is, someone out there will always exploit it, make it a product and tap a ‘target market’ and no matter how great the people behind it are and how strong their message is, the ever eager and obeying flock are always waiting to infiltrate, tear apart, burn down and destroy the goodness others have worked and longed for.
Punk is dead, leave it be!