"No other disc in rock (Never Mind the Bollocks) divided time into a "before" and "after." Though it took me forever to realize it, the division owes as much to the band's music as to their hairdos. Much of the music was banned in Parliament, which makes it as dangerous as Barry McGuire or Frankie Goes to Hollywood"- Chuck Eddy
"Rock and roll is over, don't you understand? The Pistols finished rock and roll; they were the last rock and roll band"- Johnny Lydon
The story of the Sex Pistols and the original punk rock movement in England is pretty well know by now but despite all the facts there are still plenty of glaring misconceptions about this part of rock's history, specifically related to the Pistols themselves.
I loved and still love punk mainly because it showed me that in music, and probably elsewhere, anything can go. But if I got anything out of it, it was to question everything. Deifying it and glancing over some big problems with it just to immortalize it, pisses all over it.
- THE SEX PISTOLS WERE A BAND
Technically, of course, they were a group but not in the sense that they were individual people making individual decisions about their music, their shows or any media blitz. Just as with the Monkees, they were pieced together by canny manipulators of the young that had something exact in mind. Of course, neither band would have taken off without SOME talent. The Monkees had professional songwriters and musicians to take care of their records. The Pistols were a rag-tag ensemble without much distinctive character until a green-toothed savage named Lydon wandered into Malcolm McLaren's shop (This assumption itself may be suspect as Glen Matlock is supposedly responsible for writing the music of the Pistols songs while he was with the band). McLaren lumped them together and got behind them, knowing he had something marketable.
- THE PISTOLS BROKE UP AT THE RIGHT TIME
By January 1978, they and McLaren all hated each other, one and all. McLaren was trying to get Rotten out of the band and carry on with the rest of the group. Rotten for his own part, asked Jones and Cook to join him and quit McLaren. Of course, they sided with McLaren who flew them to Rio to record with Ronnie Biggs in the hope of carrying on with the Pistols. When they had enough of McLaren's financial shenanigans though, like Rotten, they took him to court to sue for royalties. It's an age old story- "artistic differences" and "money problems." The same thing happened to the Beatles.
- PUNK CHANGED ROCK FOR GOOD
It was last year maybe that Never Mind the Bollocks finally went platinum in the States, almost twenty years after its release. Of course, when they were around and even after that, the Pistols never made a huge dent in the charts here with albums or singles like they did in the UK. Of course you could say, like the Velvet Underground, that their influence is so strong, that this itself outstrips the significance of their lack of chart success. No doubt that they did inspire hundreds, thousands of bands to play loud and fast but some things never change. Rod Stewart, Elton John, Paul McCartney and almost every other tired old rock dinosaur that punk sought to demystify and expose thrive even today along with many lesser siblings (Mariah Carry, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton to name a few). As David Sealy noted, rock was just too big to be taken down so it lumbered along as putrid and pale as before. That's not even mentioning all the pop idiots (remember Duran Duran or Culture Club) who had those funny haircuts and clothes to make them look cool? Even today.
- PUNK DIED ABOUT '78 OR '79
You could just as well make a case that it croaked in '66 but so what? Elvis Costello said that his quiet, mostly acoustic King of America was kind of punk album, showing not just plenty of smarts by the way of hard copy but also the real gist of what punk was about. Even Rotten/Lydon himself took a major detour after the Pistols with Public Image Limited- technically, they did not SOUND like a punk band but with his caterwauling and the savage guitars, who's to say? It might be pretty laughable to hear Nirvana called a punk band but that's not altogether far-fetched: Cobain yelped, roared and thundered so what the hell's that supposed to be? Just to say that it's different because it's not '77 is like saying that a saxophonist can't play jazz today because it's not the forties or Robert Cray shouldn't play blues because it's not the fifties anymore. Part of what punk was supposed to be about was erasing a lot of erroneous lines that divided people from making the music they love. ANYONE was supposed to be able to do it, right?
- IF THE PISTOLS NEVER EXISTED, THERE'D BE NO PUNK ROCK
Let's see there's the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television, Johnny Thunder's Heartbreakers, Pere Ubu, Suicide, Patti Smith, the Dictators, and believe it or not, Devo and Blondie that all where gigging and recording before Rotten wandered into McLaren's shop. Actually, McLaren managed the New York Dolls in their dying days and took plenty of fashion tips (slashed clothing, razor blades, and safety pins) from Richard Hell. When it comes to American music, the English are like the Japanese when it comes to American technology: they'll make copy after copy of it and sell it all back to us.
- THE PISTOLS' RECORDS WERE "RAW" RECORDS
That's to say that they didn't go around overdubbing strings or adding keyboards. All good and well but not entirely so. First of all, some of their demos featuring session pro Chris Spedding and their released recordings were done by Chris Thomas who had worked with the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Roxy Music. This isn't to suggest that such behavior is sinful or undesirable but if you want truly rawly produced records, listen to Bikini Kill or Half Japanese for starters: I'd guarantee that even the first Clash album sounds like Dark Side of the Moon in comparison.
- THE PISTOLS PURPOSEFULLY RIPPED OFF THREE OR FOUR RECORD COMPANIES AND LAUGHED ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK
Of course, this is what Malcolm McLaren would love people to believe. The fact of the matter is that although he relished toying with the media, pounds and pence were his bottom line. There were not necessarily any guarantees that the record companies wouldn't sue the band and McLaren for "breech of contract" or something else rather than paying them off- they certainly couldn't have afforded to fight A&M or EMI in court. Also think of the band themselves: it was their "naughty" behavior that kept getting them sacked yet all the while McLaren kept most of the money to himself. If they had some elaborate scheme to get their money by getting the record companies p.o.'d, they have a lot of explaining to do (of course, none of them ever suggested this themselves).
None of this is to say that punk was a waste or an aberration- it was or is just another shade of rock. That it tried to change the rules is not so laughable. It was up against too much and may yet have it's day. As "Alternative" today becomes mainstream, it may be that punk can still make a difference in the airwaves here as well as making a dent in peoples' grey matter.
Of course, even this is all suspect. A cynic could just as easily tell you that it's "sold out" and that the major labels have finally made their peace with this music as a market has been developed for it. Sad to say, this may be the real reason that a number of punk bands (Gang of Four, Buzzcocks, Wire, Pere Ubu, Television, the Raincoats) have had another go at it. Of course, just like Album-Orientated Rock formats, capitalism may be too big a monster for punk to take on alone.
THE REUNION: Malcolm McLaren must be kicking himself. He actually came up with the idea a couple of years ago. Lydon's response was "What's he going to do? Dig up Sid?" As Lydon and his mates saw that nothing was happening with their own careers (and not just commercially), they thought "Why not?" Lydon himself hasn't done anything remotely interesting since the early days of Public Image Limited. The Pistols had been denied the American market when they started (thanks in part of McLaren's idea of getting the best (meanest) reaction from Southerners), so why shouldn't they finally get a decent pay-check from a tour of the States? It worked for the Who a lot of times. I guess if Townshend can still sing "hope I die before I get old" with a straight face, Johnny can still cackle "no future for me" and mean it, man. Filty Lucre is pretty appropriate, considering what they have (or don't have) to offer now.Personally, I don't care if they sound better now and do all of their "hits." The band is probably "better" now, having years of actually learning their instruments behind them. What they don't realize is that their raw quality is most of what made them exciting in the first place. I can't think of any '60s or '70s act that I'd be excited to see (except maybe Pistols-fan Neil Young who stays fresh in his own stubborn, non-conformist way). If you'd get hot by the thought of some jazzbo's spicing up a Steely Dan show nowadays, you might as well waste your money on Lydon and company trying to relive their glory days. I'll keep my memories and blast Never Mind the Bollocks when I need a good jolt from them. Punk nostaglia- who would have thunk it? Lydon singing "Anarchy In the UK" now makes as much sense as Megadeath doing it. All I can say to anyone who falls for them now is to remember Johnny's parting words the first time around:
EVER GET THE FEELING YOU'VE BEEN CHEATED?
See the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS||WRITE US|