Saturday, 28 February 2009

"No Future" - punk's past [updated]

I'm constantly amazed by the number of libertarians who I discover were former punks. And some people express amazement at some of the youthful records on my own shelves. But why be surprised? Why be amazed? There was something about punk, at least in the early days, that made you want to change the world -- and made you feel that you could. And should.

Punk erupted at the fag end of Britain's failed thirty-year post-war experiment with socialism. Labour wasn't working, as an election-winning billboard of the time pointed out. Indeed, in Britain's summer of 1976, barely anyone was working. Everything that once moved had been nationalised, the country was bankrupt (and being bailed out by the IMF), half the country was either on strike or seemed to be, and rubbish was piling up in the streets. In just over half-a century, Britain had voluntarily transformed itself from the richest country the world had ever seen to one that was on economic life support.

That's what socialism can do to you.

Punk started in the US of A, it had many godfathers, but with the UK in a state like that no wonder Britain took to punk like an alcoholic takes to Tennents Extra. No wonder the refrain from the Sex Pistols 'God Save the Queen' -- No Future! -- struck such a chord with a generation outraged at the world their elders had made. No wonder that a generation responded with all the incoherent rage it could muster at the whole gimcracked gallery of false gods their elders had created -- a rage expressed in the art form that speaks most volubly to a teenager: music.

The music was simple and angry and untutored -- sometimes laugh-out-loud funny -- it spoke its mind come what may-- and to millions of youngsters all over the world repelled by all the false gods, the anger was both an energy and an invitation to action. The first assault on the false god was (rightly or wrongly) against the musical dinosaurs so beloved of the generations past. This seemed the necessary first step in making the world over again, by doing it for themselves, however imperfectly. Making the (musical) world over again as a first step to seeing a way out of the hole the other generations had dropped them in.

And out of this teenage anger came some adult anthems that still speak to us.
  1. Blank Generation - Richard Hell & the Voidoids
  2. Blitzkrieg Bop - Ramones
  3. Johnny Hit And Run Paulene - X
  4. Marquee Moon - Television
  5. (I'm) Stranded - The Saints
  6. Horses - Patti Smith
  7. New Rose - The Damned
  8. Boredom - Buzzcocks
  9. No Future (God Save the Queen) - Sex Pistols
  10. Saturday Night Stay at Home - Suburban Reptiles
  11. Suspect Device - Stiff Little Fingers
  12. Oh Bondage, Up Yours - X Ray Spex
  13. Life's A Gamble - Penetration
  14. Peaches - Stranglers
  15. Shot By Both Sides - Magazine
  16. Tommy Gun - The Clash
  17. Public Image - Public Image Limited
  18. Shivers - Boys Next Door
  19. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again - Joy Division
  20. Into the Valley - Skids
  21. I Am the Fly - Wire
  22. Mysterex - Scavengers
  23. Squeeze - Toy Love
  24. Future Shock - Gordons
  25. Gangsters - Specials
As John Lydon/Rotten said in a recent video interview,
That’s what’s missing [today]. It’s an act of rebellion... That’s indeed what I’m always looking for. A sense of naturalness… If you’re true to what you like, how can you fail … it’s not so much whether it’s perfectly well played or so geniusly well written, because those things are kind of important, but it’s not as important as a sense of well-being – a sense of “I have a life, and I’m proud of it” – and that shows through in really, really good music, and it doesn’t [always] shine through in really, exceptionally well-played music.
For my money, that still shines through in those 25 wildy different tracks above plucked from punk's heyday.

The peak of punk passed quickly. It was all over bar the whining and puking in less than two or three years. It passed with the realisation, for those honest enough to see it, that creation was more difficult -- and more rewarding -- than destruction. It passed musically, with the realisation that all punk had done in the final analysis was to make the world safe for the likes of Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins to fill the vacuum the dinosaurs vacated -- or, worse, for the boot boys and the genuine nihilists who followed along to mop up the musical wreckage -- and most of us quickly hurried on to make and to discover better things for ourselves.

Those of us with brains to think with and eyes with which to see came to understand (to paraphrase Ayn Rand) that to change the world it was going to take more than a spikey haircut and a loud guitar.

But as I was reminded at a recent Spelling Mistakes reunion gig, it sure as hell was fun while it lasted. And it made those of us who embraced it at the time much more ready to embrace in a new and better form the importance of making the world over for ourselves, and the place of art in that great cause - above all of honesty in art, and that the honesty comes from within. Salut!

PS: Note that while the songs listed all came from those 'golden years' of 1976-79, many of the YouTube vids don't. Just sayin' is all. Still, when you consider how hard it was to get this stuff back in the days of vinyl, it's just amazing what you can find on YouTube these days]

UPDATE: The Canterbury Atheist reminds me to give Andrew Schmidt's excellent Mysterex blog a plug. If you were ever bitten by the local punk bug, you're gonna love it.


  1. Those were the days! One of my favourites at the time was Auckland band Proud Scum. You couldn't help but love a band whose singer called himself Jonathan Jamrag! In 1983 I lived in Dunedin next door to a skinhead band who called themselves Penal Discharge. They had to compromise and alter the name to The P.D. Boys so that the Otago Daily Times would publish their name in the gig guide.

  2. -- Did you know that FreeRad contributor Reuben Chapple is supposed to have given the name to the band when he slagged them off for something or other ("Proud Scum, you will be brought low.")

    -- 1983! Crikey, still playing 'punk' after the time for it had passed. Got to say that the plastic punks of that era -- the likes of No Tag, UK Subs and the like -- left me completely cold. Why scramble around in the wrecker's yard when the path had been opened up for something much better?

  3. I had attended some Punk's parties at University during my student days. Man, they were all stinks. They seemed not to have washed themselves at all.

  4. I like this thought Peter.

    A few years ago I was going to put together a piece on Punk being truely libertarian in some respects but decided against it after reading the Romantic Manifesto. Ha.

    I was volunteering at bFm when still at school, playing many of your afore-mentioned bands, in 1982.

    I like a lot of what followed punk. Wire, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, Joy Division.

    I've noticed you've mellowed since, PC. There sure as hell isn't any Eric Clapton in my collection. :)

  5. Ah suddenly I feel young, as I was at the time, I discovered much of this in the mid 80s, as I was a sheltered wee boy in the late 70s.

    Never heard that from Lydon before, as much of what he says is fatuous drivel - but yes he's right, it makes perfect sense. Energy, individualism and rebellion - especially over a nation celebrating a Silver Jubilee when it was on its knees.

    Of course the fact it went on to be a Branson/McClaren marketing gimmick for the Pistols is beside the point too. So is how some in the UK diverted the rebellion to the National Front, which was clearly the 5th party at the time.

    Sadly the idea that grunge was the second punk became the view of some, it had barely a shadow of it.

  6. Boy am I narking to Perigo about this thread.....he'll shit!


  7. Hey Peter,

    I knew punk was created for me the moment I heard "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" playing at a party. I was instantly compelled to ask who was playing. The answer changed everything.

    You might be interested in this book I discovered and bought recently:

    This Ain't the Summer of Love

  8. Interestingly there was a similar (though smaller scale) parallel in the 'britpop' er, movement(?) of the early-mid 90s, except that these guys were all a bit pissed off with the "boring" greed and materialism sparked by 'Thatcherism'. I've never quite figured it out though...

  9. Jesus, there goes my evening. I was going to do some work!

    Despite assiduously gathering up all this treasured music of my youth (now better described as old codger music) on CD and cadged mp3s from my mates, I've never bothered looking for it on You Tube. And yet there they all are - and next to every one is a list of other good shit along the same lines. If the internet doesn't render the concept of God superflous, fucked if I know what would. Thanks for posting these, it's made my day.

  10. I knew punk was created for me the moment I heard "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" playing at a party.

    Same, but with "Feel like a wog" by the Stranglers, ca 1978.

  11. libertyscott... grunge had so much fucking potential, but screwed it up royally... mostly because it was based on angst instead anger. Nirvana's "Bleach" was a great album, and provided an antidote to the overblown stadium/lycra/hairspray shite that metal had become. When grunge committed suicide I turned to punk, blues and Billie Holiday for solace.

  12. Gidday there,

    Enjoyed that post, as a bass-player from a long defunct late 70’s punk band, and a attendee of the recent AK79 reunion.

    Other bands/songs worth checking-out from ‘the’ one and only true Punk era …..

    Johnny Moped – VD Boiler
    The Damned – Neat Neat Neat
    Sham 69 – Borstal Breakout
    The Adverts – Bored Teenagers
    Alternative TV – How much longer?
    The Lurkers – Just 13

    Post Punk/New Wave material , that should be in every-ones collection ….

    The Pop Group
    Ultravox (Foxx era only)
    Gang of Four
    Pere Ubu

    Could wax lyrically for hours on this subject.

    Well done again, a man of my own heart.


    NB: Be sure to check out Andrew Schmidt’s ‘Mysterex’ Blog

  13. Oh yeah, some Kiwi bands with nifty names in the 80’s I’ve seen:
    ‘Soluble Fish Ensemble’. ‘Mainly Spaniards’, ‘Fetus Productions’, Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive Speakers’

  14. PM, you described exactly what prompted this post.

    I stumbled across 'Stranded' on YouTube, I'd never even seen what they looked like before, and wondered how much other stuff that we once used to crawl across broken glass to hear I could now listen to for the price of a few keystrokes,

    Just amazing.

    CA: Thanks for the 'Mysterex' suggestion. I've given it a plug. :-)

  15. Damn, I wish Canterbury Atheists hadn't posted up 'Neat Neat Neat'. It's going to be in my head all day now.

    I still listen to a lot of first wave and new wave punk stuff but was way more involved in the scene when in Wellington. New Zealand has a great DIY/trad punk scene still in existence, which I really miss. Still, Sweden has a fairly fine selection of vintage punk from 77 onwards, with Ebba Grön and KSMB being the frontrunners.

    In the spirit of previous posts, here is Ebba Grön live (and good quality) at a house party in the late seventies:


  16. So, I'm a bit confused.

    Picasso is rubbish, because he's too simple or something.
    But Joy Division, who wrote songs like "Ceremony" (two chords for 5 minutes), are awesome because they had a bit of punk spirit.

    So why is modern art, and not punk, "a scam"?

  17. :: Yoink ::


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