Search for content, post, videos

Year Zero… and all that bollocks

There’re lots of myths about punk but perhaps the most pervasive and mistaken is the supposed “year zero” attitude to music – wipe the slate, start again… no more Beatles or Rolling Stone, as The Clash explained. It was trotted out as rabble-rousing mantra by the NME in ’77, supported by The Pistols’ “I hate Pink Floyd” t-shirt and declamatory statements by any punk band given half an inch of coverage; it was part of the initiation into punk-dom: denounce the boring old farts. The Stranglers on Capitol Radio telling the risible Nicky Horne – DJ du jour at the nation’s first commercial radio station – to throw a Lou Reed album out the window when he said they sounded like they’d been listening to the original grumpy old git… that was all a part of the act. And it was an act by the first generation of punk bands; deliberate and planned.

We now know, for example, that The Slits’ Tessa Pollitt didn’t really like most punk bands – she preferred Cat Stevens. And Joe Strummer was a huge Stones and Beatles fan. But if you’re going to get angry at the state of things then all idols must fall – you can’t create without first destroying. To play the villain you need to do and say villainous things. Set your sights on the rock establishment, unleash some insults, sit back, garner headlines, generate some steam heat. Let’s not forget that Cream’s Ginger Baker played with PIL and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason produced The Damned. Every generation dismisses the previous one while nicking its best bits and punk was initially no different in that respect.

Where it all went wrong was when the second generation of punk bands arrived, believing the dark mischief of the frontrunners to be gospel. What had initially been part of the play become part of the rhetoric; shorn of it’s dark divisiveness the year zero mantra become narrow, malicious and dull. Worse still, people started to really believe it. Let’s not forget that the first punk audiences had long hair, flares and shirts with spoon collars – there were tank tops! But these people, who also loved Doctor Feelgood and Eggs Over Easy, purchased Neat, Neat, Neat – their money and support counted… until the uniforms started to arrive. Then they became unacceptable despite being an integral ingredient of the blue touch paper that triggered the punk big bang. Being punk rock quickly became trite slogans on a badge, replacing the ideas that originally gave the movement such a DIY kick start: the rejection of corporate entertainment and untouchable rock gods… no more songs about fucking elves [step forward Led Zep] thanks all the same; we wanted to relate to the music.

Punk was a mirror on the world, not a fashion statement. It was a two-fingered wave at conservative Britain, joblessness and a stultifying class structure that crushed aspirations and labelled people as bad for being working class. Punk was originally a distillation of a generation’s anger, boiled down into compact, explosive songs or rage and frustration. It was not about uniforms at the start and when it became a fashion statement it became no different to any other genre – the day you could buy punk off the peg was the day it failed. Turning rebellion into money? It may not be funny but it works… especially for the people making Ramones t-shirts.

The bottom line – you don’t dress like a punk, you think like one. You can copy my wardrobe but you can’t copyright my thoughts. And yes, I’m still as angry now as I was in ’77. And I fucking love the Beatles…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *