Children in the Mire
Bangs, Marcus, and the Sex Pistols, Pt 2
by Michael Baker
The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor's edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust...
It's the injustice...he is so unjust
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick? Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh...
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.
Robert Lowell, "To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage"
But believe me, there is something deep in the, well, soul of that society, national identity or whatever, that shoots off a hotline emergency interrupt call straight down to the gut every time that big American beat starts up again, the Voice of Control, where it issues sepulchrally intoning booty-defamations leaden with dread, fear, and God knows whatall else.
Bangs, "An Instant Fan's Inspired Notes: You Gotta Listen"
It is the song "Bodies" that reverses the prior burial image from one of self/metaphor to universality/corporeality. The song has contrasts that are never partially merged through the narrator's confessions: female/male; pastoral/urban; human/animal; life/pre-life. The music is askew, discordant, abrasive, neither harmonically tonal, nor melodically pleasant. The song is tense: the drums are pushed out front in 4/4 time, the song's one constancy: mimicking and mocking the unborn baby's heartbeat; the guitars are slightly out of tune, massed, both a vehicle for the lyric's implosions, and a metaphor for the lack of resolved epiphanies. There is no anchoring bass guitar. There is no mediation. The language, not to mention the scenario, is a "fucking bloody mess," and "another case of obscenity." The word "fuck" in the song is not energetic, funny, or verbally referential; it certainly does not refer to a sex act. The action is dead and gone it's a world of angry, shadowy, lurking adjectives. The word is imperative "Fuck this and fuck that" but there are no following orders, let alone leaders and listeners. This great song has no life:
She was a girl from Birmingham
She just had an abortion
She was case of insanity
Her name was Pauline she lived in a tree
She was a no one who killed her baby
She sent her letter from the country
She was an animal
She was a bloody disgrace
Body I'm not an animal
Body I'm not an animal
Dragged on a table in factory
Illegitimate place to be
In a packet in a lavatory
Die little baby screaming
Body screaming fucking bloody mess
Not an animal
It's an abortion
Body I'm not animal
Mummy I'm not an abortion
gurgling bloody mess
I'm not an discharge
I'm not a loss in protein
I'm not a throbbing squirm
Fuck this and fuck that
Fuck it all and fuck the fucking brat
She don't wanna baby that looks like that
I don't wanna baby that looks like that
Body I'm not an animal
Body an abortion
Body I'm not an animal
I'm not an animal...
I'm not an abortion...
If the guitars are bound together in a series of explosive stops and starts, the singer and his song also haltingly veer from sense, shifting from first person to third: the narrative is both objective and a personal indictment; the song is too important for one clear perspective: it bounces between the public and the private; the song employs periodically background voices screaming along, not in odes to joy, nor with harmonic consistency. This is not a singer/songwriter moment. The intimacy was before the song, before the packet in the lav, before another dreary day in the factory, before the unborn. Everything since then is a wound, a mistake, and Rotten's shrill hectoring cauterizes Polly, society, and the singer himself.
The public criticism of the factory and of abortion, a society that drives women to animalistic actions, is essentially empirical, pointing out the obvious patriarchal power and the class struggles of factory workers. It is a crucial critique, but a limited one. It can be reproduced from Mexico City to Detroit to Birmingham. The second critique, the singer's lament, is both more specifically sophisticated and more adventurous. No matter how many times Rotten says no, earlier he had said yes, and these self-accusations, lacerating and corrosive, are not confined to feminism or daily practice or the factory system, but to the powerful urges. He fucked it up, and now he turns his back, partially. There is the violence: the separation of the fetus from the body simulates Rotten's separation from the bleak mise en scθne, and in that gap, living and un-living, Rotten articulates a cultural analysis of social activities very different from the Woodstock Generation's messages of love. Rotten has the death of desire firmly in his sights. He ideologically constructs a subject Polly and tears her apart, making separation his point. Remembrance of that event becomes the point of the narrative, not the (in)action. The only true voice is that of the unborn: Help me! We are all dead.
This is a song that the early Bangs would have died for: loveless, violent, solitary, with objects fading. Rotten's vocals as always leeringly insult and confrontationally provoke. The song, an achievement on par with "I Heard Her Call My Name," "Loose," Fairport's "Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman," "Friction," "Voodoo Child," "Final Solution," "Change is Gonna Come," "Heroes and Villains." "European Son," James Brown's "There Was a Time," "Blind Willie McTell," and "Eight Miles High," has cacophonic guitars that are pure Bangs: louder than their surroundings, not quite fitting into the song's pace or space, explosively slapping you in the face, like donkey kicks. They're both spontaneously liberating and tentatively probing, with a feedback coda that suggests temporizing triumph. Bangs, the critic, always trying to capture visceral joy, should have been drawn further into the song; Bangs, the individual, with the deaths of Elvis and Lennon, with thwarted ambitions concerning his own place in rock writing hierarchy, and his slipping from his youth, disowned the most important music since Scotty Moore's walking into Sun Studios, or the Yardbirds' twin guitar feedback psychodramas, or John Cale's studying with LaMonte Young, or McGuinn's buying a 12-string Rickenbacker 360 guitar, or the Beatles' using marijuana. Bangs by now rejected people causing pain. The Pistols' joy embraces/refuses the French etymology, which is both suggestive of "playing" and "coming." Johnny devalues his own sperm, his seed, and his power to create, by wanting it all back. No more games.
Johnny is not really the antichrist; he is messianic, but without a future or a chapel. When he looks at "reality," he is fascinated not with the composition or the elements, but symptoms and traces, as with Marcus. That which flickers interests them, or that which can't be reduced becomes the true subject, a subject that is ruptured, heterogeneous. They reject linear particularization. Bangs's writing, by the advent of the Punk movement, was also hesitant, but he was interested in positing reasons, in delving into history and coming back alive. His prose had always been crab-like, as opposed to Rotten's and Marcus's advancing marches; origins for Bangs are still important even if his sentences do not really connect to the previous ones. Each new thought stands apart from its surrounding. There are fresh starts everywhere.
In Marcus shadows predominate; in Bangs, moments of incandescence. Bangs respects capitalism, I think: inherent in that evil system are minute transformations. Everything uniformly advances, although devaluing the prior commodity's sense of uniqueness. For Bangs, however, it means stability. Not that Bangs achieves lucidity; his was a style private and terrifying, remarkable for its paucity of connectives. He rarely elaborates or modifies. Each thought stands naked, unaware of its physical proximity to past and future. And this is why Marcus (or Meltzer) is the writer, Bangs the journalist: Lester is local and lean, employing guerilla tactics and strategies. Marcus loves to connect: The Scarlet Letter to Dock Boggs to Dylan. Bangs sought determinations, without the idea of the possibilities of severe difficulties. The Pistols revel in the parts, gambol with floating fragments, which are constituents of a particularized totality. They identify fissures, tearing down the object relations into an array of elements. The parts of "Bodies" are greater than its (w)hole.
Bangs dug unity; Marcus, conflict. Marcus, to his credit, takes things on, and pulls them apart, often with a fragile sense of teleology, and, even more often, with the chutzpah of a grad student just discovering historical theory. Much is undigested in Lipstick Traces, but his swooning sentences suggest some of the limitlessness of criticism, of the potential to find meaning anywhere. He is cross-sectioning culture's strata; Bangs is jumping up and down on the rock looking for meaning; Rotten stumbles around the murky traces where life used to be taken seriously.
In Lipstick Traces, Marcus alludes to "Bodies" six times, suggesting the song's importance. For him, it does not matter what one thinks about the song: "The song wasn't about abortion; it was an irresistible moment of torture, fear, hatred and vulgarity. You went into the body, and the body was torn to pieces." For Bangs, the most important song of the 1970s has: "Rotten...an insect atop the massed ruins of civilization leveled by it...I'm still not comfortable with 'Bodies.' But then I never was, which may be the point." Well, of course, that is the point, and why Bangs is suddenly na ve, not to mention obtuse, cannot merely be from his insight about the song's bulldozing of culture.
And later, as if still upset that the Pistols meant what they said, Bangs, in a radical, enfeebled moment of quasi-transcendence, re-writes with dignity, undertaking to alter the song's stuttering, spasmodic anguish: instead of Rotten's bracing, acidic, querulous, "She don't wanna baby that looks like that/ I don't wanna baby that looks like that," with its attendant homicidal/suicidal climax, Bangs prefers: "Now I will repeat myself...that THIS is exactly and precisely what I mean by Clash=model for New Society: a society of normal people, by which I mean that we are surrounded by queers, and I'm not talking about gay people. I'm talking about...well, when lambs draw breathing Albion with Sesame Street Crayolas, we won't see no lovers runnin' each other's bodies down, get me. I mean fuck this and fuck that, but make love when the tides are right and I do want a baby that looks like that."
Rotten provides dissenting discourses. The song's movement, lyrically and musically, is one of monotony, a Hegelian, nightmarish infinity, and the problems exposed never evolve, cohere, or achieve climatic resonance. Tomorrow is going to suck ass even more. Where Bangs recoils in horror from the pathologies of the song, Marcus explores the (dis)connections. The logic of the song's disintegration puzzles Bangs, but is celebrated by the searching Marcus, a man who overturns historical sameness through reformulations. In doing this, Marcus exposes the ossification of pop cult and its need for genre appropriations. The best weapon against myth is new myth.
Although both oppress, the factory is a scene of movement; the abortion is static. Out of this clash of oppositions comes the possibility of change for Marcus. Even so, meaning is volatile for all three of these men. Rotten's politics of refusal are picked up by Marcus in his reading of the thwarted liberations from the resistances of the French students in their riots of 1968. By the time of the Pistols this slippage had become solidified; for Bangs there are awkward moments of unresolved tension; in the song the iconoclastic fragments are representations of relationships of real people suffering Kafkaesque barbarities. The participants are caught up in intense materialism (production/reproduction) and a vacant State (factories/medicine) and in these bitter, carnivalistic confrontations Rotten refuses personal power. The world is collapsing. There is no future, so we can't have children. As Rotten barks later, "Fuck you and your problems."
As attractive as this exposure of rawness and its revolutionary sensibilities might be to a social critic, to a daily decoder of fashion and music like Bangs, there must have been many problems. Make no mistake: "Bodies" is about relational retardation. It is a song of doubt concerning emergent autonomy. Rotten's emotional detachment is both certain and systemic: the song is about the impossibility of articulating one's desire through language. The song's distastefulness and vehemence were what Bangs became increasingly fearful of, if not blind to. One of Marcus's heroes in Lipstick, the great Dadaist, Dr. Hugo Ball, wrote that "the image of the human form is gradually disappearing, and all the objects appear only in fragments...the objects in our environment have become repulsive to us. The next step is for poetry to decide to do away with language." For Marcus, art is "disintegration right in the innermost process of disintegration, creation right in the innermost process of disintegration." Within Bangs's newfound h(e)aven of humanism, bands had to suggest change, not portray pools of blood. Bangs's earlier approvals of atonality, teenage confusion, drugs, guitar meltdowns, become things of the past: the Pistols were yelling, come back, so we can spit on you. "Bodies" in particular distrusted origins and selflessness and interpretations. Therapy is cancelled. Innocence is stillborn.
Abortion is a passing away; all bodies materialistically wither, then decay, but we hope that this happens naturally, within the confines of society. Abortions are miscarriages, of nature, of creation, of desire, of plans, of perhaps justice. Origins newly forged, art recently created, all fail to develop, and fail to achieve closure. Closure suggests boundaries and borders, both natural and arbitrary: we will fall in love, have kids, and grow old. We finish what we start, with parental plans and maps, at least according to our biology teacher, Father Don Scotus, and his haughty henchman, Sister Fishbreath. The song's part, its fragment, the fetus, however, becomes the whole. The song's ending the calling for mommy is really for most people the beginning moment. The (w)hole here becomes breached, cut-up midway, a nothing, a hole emptied of its once-defining presence. The Object dead, bloodied, disposable becomes the speaking Subject for us. What was once a tunnel, a canal, a vaginal center of life, a way through perhaps in the previous "Holidays in the Sun," becomes here a site of abuse and loss, an overwhelming absence.
The song is a "case of obscenity" taking place in Birmingham, England, an industrially-depressed city of shut factories, laid-off middle class, spiraling public costs, like our Flint, Michigan or Youngstown, Ohio, all with phallic chimneys once chokingly filled with production, now vacant wind tunnels, arenas of wage-earning abandoned by the owners, all of who have moved south their factories, mistresses, and children, kids with perfect teeth and articulated private school syllables.
In "Holidays" there is still a reason to wait, a potential direction for the dreamer, the yearner, where the solitary man can confront history: both "holidays" and "sun" connote freedom from the workplace and the commonplace, a respite from the good earth and its debts, deaths, and drudgeries, however intellectually false the outcome of the song is. The fact that "Holidays" is an indictment against the leisure class filtered through an individual's paranoia does not diminish the contrarily-poised optimism of the song's images and structures; there is linear continuity, there are proper nouns, and a steady persona, albeit confused.
There is no continuity in "Bodies," no record of prior plans, no magic wands, and no device that can promise emotional distancing. There is no life-affirming irony in "Bodies." Many of the best Sex Pistol songs are similar to what Bangs had earlier valorized: the elevation of amateur over professional, the funny mock-umentaries of disenfranchised youth, the rebellion from the comforts and value systems of travel, work, and family. "Bodies," however, is Prufrock's love song without Michelangelo, the sea, the anaesthetized sky: this, not Eliot's great poem, is the topography of silence and sadness: Polly working for minimum wage in her urban, blood-filled wasteland.
The body here, mutilated, carved out, premature, is normally the antithesis of the aesthetic object, an object gone bad, a commodity of production that has come off the assembly line without a conception of exchange. It has spurious materialality. It is a parody of idealism, but it is also because of the song's rapt eyeless gaze a fetish of contradictions, a degraded by-product of labor (factory, childbirth). Everything is darkly comic, pejorative: human individualism, production, respect, equality, and happiness. This song is the death of dreaming.
The ethics here bespeak of the interplay between the private zones of the speaker's carnality and lack of regret: his hedonistic thrusting creation is played off the gender struggle of displacement. The body politic has become the suffering Polly, a paradigm of the instant, making history as she goes along, lacking self-authoring, and lacking self-grounding. Nineteen times the word "animal" is screamed; eleven times, "not." (A mere two years later the play The Elephant Man opened in England, with the subject emotionally declaring the same "I am not an animal" motif, and the drama also railed against the oppressive mechanized conformity of the age, the Victorians, and their bogus idealism regarding the nascent Industrial Revolution. I am sure the author, Pomerance, linked the song to his play's themes and climax).
The music jumpstarts as melodic repetition; by the time Rotten staggers midway the entire song has fallen away, only to regroup, both singer and song, tentatively, swirling, affirming in its coda a model of decay. The object of the singer's scorn and denunciation is Pauline, Polly for short, a name that suggests poly, or, ironically, many. She is the unwitting engineer hoisted by her own biological petard: once pregnant, she now has bloody corpse and disfigured womb. She was once coauthor to creation; now she writes in the Book of the Dead. Even the baby will lack memorialization: in the Dickensian backdrop of the scene, the baby will be flushed away: only haunting memories will mark the event, but even these are being suppressed here. Writers can usually scrape together enough fragments to make an allegory, or to use nostalgia as a lower-class tool to retrieve meaning. But the song disallows even these partial victories. Concept and body do re-couple, but not as sex, communication, love, or birth: as meaning ripped from the body, organs flayed. The only healthy body is a dead body. The domestic interior is a brutal factory; the "parents" are punks and illiterates ("fuck" as verbal signifier that signifies nothing, negation); humanity lacks affairs and function and pleasure.
Polly's burden is our burden: how to balance desire with reality. A baby brings hope. We must build safer downtowns, have more computers in classrooms, and silence Gene Simmons. Rotten's apathy, however, and inarticulate mocking of his prior spurt of desire undermines his constant plea by name for Polly, a name derived from Mary, the Virgin, the Hebrew queen of rebellion God save that Queen which is uneasily coupled with his clinical descriptions: another mess, another discharge. The horror climaxes in the break, or breach, of the song: a breeched birth, a symbol of the center of both the song and the woman, a place of origins a silent microsecond, a hesitancy, then a sloppy confusion of musical direction. The guitar and the singer no longer relating: the sustained angry guitar chord, the cursing, the self-realization of shared guilt, the lack of erotic hope to perpetuate creations and procreations, his failed song and his seed: goodbye future, hello pretty vacant. There is no past here, either, and because of the awful boy/girl relationship, no future hope. The persona hurls helplessness; he becomes an absurd miles gloriosus in the art of love/war, denying pathetically what he has turned into: an animal with blood on his tongue.
This Grand Guignol theater piece frightens, but even with its crudity of thought and lack of reflection it is not politically or emotionally na ve. "Bodies" portrays an independent turn of mature art that transcends needs of a technological society that then seeks fresh forms of life cut off, and cut out by the singer's rage and infantile exhibitionism. For Bangs, work Engel's beloved spinning wheel and the spirit of creation make inroads into peoples' lives. The Pistols reject generic or social resolution. Perceptions occur during gaps between moments of (non)sense and violence, with lives turning away from other lives. For Bangs it was "time, in spite of all the indications to the contrary from the exterior society, to begin thinking of heroes gain, of love instead of hate, of energy instead of violence, of strength instead of cruelty, of action instead of reaction."
What the Pistols achieved in "Bodies" besides the egalitarian openness toward experience, the legitimatizing of differing levels of imagery and diction in rock is the mocking of Bangs's simple search, noble that it might have been, and replacing it with something more (in)human, more wasted, more empty, and thus, more authentic. The song's overt unresolved tensions are between self-repression and social disgust, between potential love with youthful Romance and sterile erections of plans, and between the constant claim for status and the abandonment of and by Polly. In some ways this is a High Modernist text: detailed verisimilitude that becomes distorted, fragmented, re-assembled, then, acted out in ugly ironical masks; consciousness recognizes a lack while the acupuncturing society draws the person to hide within; communication, love, and relations are parodically inferior to prior glories. The twin betrayals by Great Britain's post-war rebuilding love and money are really the death of culture: goodbye empire, goodbye self.
The song's second half free falls from sense, as if the song becomes lyrically and melodically stuck in a noisy groove, and then it becomes something else. "Bodies" and its once-central presence break with full awareness of the breach of society's contract for protection. The emptied origin, the vagina, the repetition of all mothers' wombs is mocked as the Tristram Shandy-like narrator chokingly cries at the end, mommy, mummy, that which is covered with silencing shrouds, dead for centuries.
The Sex Pistols' sense of musically-decomposing melodies and structures, of working backwards, works hand in hand with the isolating abrasiveness of Rotten's voice, an unearthly piercing that straddles ironical impudence and death-defying arrogance. Bangs is unable to share this willful and gleeful self defeat. He believed in middles, beginnings. His insights, his evolutionary posture towards democratic change, his increasingly sober repudiation of personalities, support his growing optimism about the potential for the new. By refusing drugs, self-pity, and by embracing the socialistic infantilism of the Clash, Bangs prays for rejuvenation. He refuses the Pistols' odium, their dada-like impulsiveness, and their clear-minded eviscerations of innocence. The Pistols' album distills information for a dead society.
The sentences on the album refuse Aristotelian completed stories, with no beginnings, middles, or ends, in whatever order. Rotten, in the guise of messenger, is a honking mediator, leaving faith in shambles. The addresser and the addressee change here in this song; the statements posed become questions, and he rejects his seed, himself, his humanity, and his sense of shared guilt. Think of everything that gets torn down here through the lens of the lower class: women's rights; the ending of class conflict; bodies as mere property. The song documents the astonishing refusal of society to provide in a feudalist enclave, albeit a technological and modernized facsimile. The cultural wars direct their struggles with hatred at the underemployed, the marginal workers. Women are the competition for jobs, blocking advancement for the men in charge. Children fight fathers, and change is bad in a conservative capitalistic culture. Children drain the economy. Abortion, which often mars potential further birthing, is a lower-class inducement for stability, both privately and publicly. This is a shadowy realm, a world, according to Heidegger of disappearing humanism and representation, and "man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea."
Almost every category in Heidegger's student/lover Arendt's The Human Condition, a text of hopeful synthesis, is celebrated by the older Bangs, only to have it reviled by "Bodies": the usefulness of labor; the need to create, in groups and alone; positive interaction between the realms of public and private; the idealized depiction of efficient human action. "Bodies" is about the breaking up of things and people, of the musical line, the flesh, and the world. The tired and amoral persona rejects engaged choice: he has two themes left: defeat and death. Bangs's earlier image of Rotten as an inconsequential, anonymous, powerless animal hovering over a self-destructing landscape recognizes the song's staying power and its spiritual attenuation.
The Clash's "White Riot," Joy Division's "Warsaw," or the Buzzcock's "Orgasm Addict," all share this deprivation and its urgent anti-authoritarian stance, but only "Bodies" escapes the domination/submission cycle in social upheaval by rejecting its own corporeality and potential for fathering. There really is nothing that scary about our denuded Polly, just a complete lack of sacrament. And there is no contrary world here, no diminished Eden, with no shiny shit or sleet on the streets as there are in the Stones and the Who and the Jam in their songs about the working classes. The Pistols' shock rock and combative poetics most clearly resemble musical surrealists like Beefheart and Public Enemy and Dylan. For the dazed Bangs there is no theater of cruelty to pay the price of admission for. He can accept alienation and social protest think Beckett and Brecht but not the silly Three Stooges hiding knives inside their cream pies in a post-modern world.
Artaud's theories, or rather rantings, embolden a stage of revealing gestures and casual violence. Artaud, with the Pistols, sought to re-invent the site of birth and creativity, and that doomed search has man as the object. The meaningless of clichιs, love's insipid clinging, Artaud's punning reference to theater as "stillborn," the flagrant homoerotic element that by definition does not father, the violent breaks in quotidian discourse, and the resultant anger, are shared militant strategies between Artaud and the Sex Pistols. There is neither time nor pageant in Artaud. In a (bad) poem he writes that words are "the affirmation/ of a terrible/ and, moreover, implacable necessity...the theater of cruelty/ is not the symbol of an absent void...all words, once spoken, are dead/ and function only at the moment they are uttered." The shifting presence of meaning benefits Artaud and the Pistols: reveling in that what is lost permits them to concentrate upon renouncing articulation and morality, impossibilities in today's world. This primitive stance toward art presupposes a lack of reverence for words. Artaud and the Pistols wrote in fragments, pretended to be other versions of them, and resorted constantly to obscene and scatological reductions. "All writing is pigshit," says Artaud, for there is no "ego but the cult of flesh, with the whole weight and substance of this word Flesh. Things do not move me except as they affect my flesh and coincide with it at the exact point where they stir it...Nothing moves me or interjects me except what addresses itself directly to my body."
The Pistols play around with these concepts, at times even rejecting that potential stirring when loins meet loins. They are borderline artists, freely moving from irony to parody, from sense to nonsense, from pathology to indictment. Marcus finds shreds of continuity in last century's underground culture, and he is probably right, but so is Bangs when he journeys towards indivisible meaning. Destruction, however, can be creation, says Bakunin. The Pistols, thinking that they were in a war, the same war that Bangs had fought in and lost so valiantly, played more fiercely: they had loaded penises.
And by Sid Vicious's death in 1979 Bangs had had enough: he, by now, completely abdicated reason, objectivity, and critical responsibility: Rotten's ranting spewing and glam-induced self-loathing politicized self caused Bangs to spit back. Worried that the Clash would take his heart away, he feared writing about that great band less he loses objectivity; and yet, this on the Pistols is objective: "I hate it, I think it's evil, I don't want to work or even hang out much with anybody who is onto it on any level, I think it's just something that should be recognized for what it is and then abhorred and avoided." Even though he felt "a bit guilty myself," and even with his claim that "I can't confront the reality of Sid either," instead of pulling back or bowing out or silencing himself Bangs inchoately critiques: "There was something deeply amoral in the whole Pistols trip. I knew women who said the song 'Bodies' was somehow refreshing after all the feminist cant and masculine hypocrisy they'd been subjected to the last few years, but when you get right down it all he was saying was 'Yeah I fucked you you worthless bitch, and now you're pregnant with a baby that quite possibly is mine, but I couldn't care less because you're just a trashy slut anyway'...I thought all this cock rock was something we were going to wipe away."
Bangs knew guilt: he helped fuel the saga of Sid. "The least I can do is try to stay awake enough to see something coming like this a little sooner in the future. And then avoid, boycott if not actively oppose it," he said. Well...make a few bucks off it, rail about consequences, and then move on. Lester didn't move fast enough, and although he did not want to "hear how everything is hunky-dory " he was also "just fed up with cheap stupid nihilism." He felt the Pistols only went halfway, never suggesting a philosophic alternative. For Bangs, the song after "Bodies" should not have been the logical "No Feelings" but rather a McFadden and Whitehead cover. A critic's job is to ask why, not to dictate artistic choices.
Bangs gently ushered us Ohioans out he needed to nap; Laughner, the supposed prototypical Ur-punker, wanted to discuss William Carlos Williams' poetry and Syd Barrett with me, not the Monks or the MC5; Marcus, when we talked, was listening to Madonna's greatest hits; I spoke to Lou Reed about Nick Cave and he didn't give a shit; when Lennon died, I went back to Monday Night Football, fearing a lost bet, as usual; when the Pistols first came out, we played it and we said, well, the Stooges are safe. We are, obviously, not who we are, nor do we stay that way for long, neither out far nor deep. As for me, I am a midget, maybe a monster; I've got a revved-up teenage head, I think, with stubby, cigar-stained fingers and bright red eyes. I have known a few Pollys as well: sad-eyed ladies from the suburbs, hard workers, and ceaselessly valiant. I am not worthy to discuss them.
Which is to say: give it to us, you selfish artist motherfuckers. We want a taste, whether we understand it or not. Freud was right in a battle, we lose our ways but wind up acting more like our true selves. The Pistols cut away our middle class delusions of pleasant pop cult endings. Proleptic of communities that will never become civilized, their songs are warnings against our false taboos. The names, moreover, will change. Johnny B. Goode will turn into Johnny Pissoff who will turn into Johnny Rotten who will turn into Johnny Marr. Marcus says that "hermetic events, incidents and ideas were taken up by ordinary people, and those incidents and ideas became a code those people did not know they were deciphering, a code which deciphered them." The Pistols exposed Lester Bangs's code of self-preservation and he ran away, refused to listen, to change, or to live in mini-musicals of lawlessness. Writing of the Clash, a band whose promise was sensed by his burgeoning optimism, Bangs thought if punk mattered "then everybody listening is going to have to pick up the possibilities with both hands and fulfill themselves." The Pistols, deep inside their war zone of queenlessness, did fill Polly's hands: alone, standing near us, she lives in a world of smashed-up guitars, our fetuses in her trembling, unquestioning fingers.
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