on 17 September 2008
Punk was more than a style in music. It was a style in society. It was basically antisocial, evoking opponents if not enemies, or simply conjuring them from thin air - well, thin air is a way of speaking - from the thickness of a social climate that was saturated with consumption, and that was only the beginning, and that was also corrupted and rotten from the inside by a disease that was incurable, consumption again. That was a turning point in western history. Reagan was on his way to redeem the defeat in Vietnam with more flag waving and power yielding onto all those who felt like protesting.
Margaret Thatcher was also on her way and with her the fight against the unions in general, the mine workers' union in particular. Giscard d'Estaing was parading in Paris to or on a slowed down Marseillaise. And there was no hope to get out of this double twofold dual alienation, losing on one side, lost on the other side. The world was forgetting that it had to change, constantly, in order to just follow the changes imposed by history and the economy. It was the time when Mao was passing away and Deng coming in. It was the time when the USSR was slowly going down into stagnation.
The 80s were coming not called by the hope of anyone but justified in order to stop or prevent the violence lurking in that punk attitude. Musically no great deal. The rejection of harmony and melody. The cultivation of a beat supporting chords more than music. Vocally, the coarser the better, the less wrought the better. The words had to be provocative, as provocative as possible in those days, hence sexual and politically anarchistic. And there some old echoes of some old tunes could be found in derision of what they could stand for. God Save the Queen and Rule Britannia where first in that line.
It was after Jimmy Hendrix had opened the gate with his Star Spangled Banner and Serge Gainsbourg with his reggae Marseillaise. But what came out of it? A style for sure that took the vastness of a philosophy. The musical world developed as if it were the underworld of our minds, the backdrop of our defeat and waste. It felt like some hard liquor in the morning for breakfast. It sounded like some human blood on our hamburgers in the place of ketchup. It looked like the prince of Wales in drag and Ronald Reagan in a tutu and dancing shoes. Incongruous, absurd, and yet inexorably so right, so true, so faithful to our psychotic sense of going nowhere.
It resonated in our ears like the deadly dirge of our hopeless saturation of wealth and over-sweet nourishment. That music is so binary in tempo and coloration that it is psychotic in essence and probably genesis. But the best part of this music was the show, the performance of it. One had to know the Marquee in London to understand what it was. Visually provocative but within the strict limits of English prudery. No sex please, we are British. No nudity either. But if this limitation applied to the performers it did not apply to the audience and then many things were possible and visible. That was a huge step in the evolution that led to the recognition that sex and sexual impulses were natural and necessary, that they needed to find a way to come out in the open to provide people with an outlet, a compensation for their frustration.
The top achievement for the audience was to provoke the pounding down of the police and ending up in the Black Maria of old for obscene exposure or some other provocation that will be bailed out on the following morning and fined within hours by some benevolent judge. The acme of that punk culture was of course the famous film by the Sex Pistols, their famed "Rule Britannia" and "God Save the Queen" it's a fascist regime. The problem with this music and this culture is that it behaves like a dog running after its own tail, a snake biting its tail and swallowing itself.
Essentially contemplative of the exquisite pain one experiences when they torture their own belly-buttons, when they - the other they - torture their - these here they - BOL... etc. Is there anything more pleasurable than that? Yes, it is called noise. Then it really enters a different universe. Yet this is an essential retrospective to know the decaying ressuscitating layers of our western civilization.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU