Sunday, November 27, 2016

Punk's Not Just Smells Funny

The news that Joe Corré , the son of Malcolm Maclaren and Vivienne Westwood has "celebrated" 40 years since the release of "Anarchy in the UK" by burning his inherited punk memorabilia, as a protest against punk becoming celebrated by the establishment, is a reminder, if we needed one that Malcolm Maclaren was always more a Situationist than a punk. He got lucky with the Sex Pistols, having previously managed a later incarnation of the New York Dolls, in that his manufactured band turned out to be the real thing in more ways than one. After Johnny Rotten left the band, Maclaren kept it on the road as a music hall act, with travesties like the "Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" and "Sid Sings", before moving onto the next big thing. It's fascinating that he abandoned the genuine pop star that was Adam Ant to create his own one in Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, to much less success; then onto a number of trend-hopping albums, catching the tail of early hip hop with "Buffalo Girls", but then failing to do much with micro-trends on his subsequent albums.

Corré is of course at liberty to burn whatever he wants of his own, but it seems a particularly soulless gesture. Punk was never about artefacts of course, and yet at the same time, it so was. By the late 1970s the London punk was as ubiquitous an image of the city as the Beefeater or the red bus. Real punk music and attitude decamped from Maclaren's King's Road fashion emporium, from the moment "Anarchy in the UK" had made it - on its 3rd attempt - onto vinyl. Corré is, like his mother, in the fashion industry, and though fashion has always been quick to exploit high street trends, Maclaren was at least savvy enough to know that it was music that led fashion not the other way round. It does seem strange than a man whose career has been in fashion, could suddenly get so angry about punk being commodified. His old man was the first to do that, and quickly showed very little interest in the music side of it. Johnny Rotten, of course, became John Lydon, and transformed rock music for a second time with PiL, whose post-punk excursions sound stranger and more relevant the further away we get from the source.

It seems that indeed, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and nostalgic or not, the museum-ifying of punk rock seems a better way for someone to find out about the movement than through listening to latter day "punks" like Green Day, or through wearing hip retro clothing. See any photographs or videos of punks in the provinces from the late 1970s onwards, and you see this was not outsider chic, it was just outsiders. There was, I'm sure, a fashion element to it, and the art sensibility of managers like Maclaren and Anthony H. Wilson certainly helped clothe angry working class music in a suitably alluring mythology, in a way that the American punk wave - from Ramones, to Talking Heads, to Patti Smith - understood implicitly from the start.

This week, the eighties styled pop dilletantes, the 1975 had the NME album of the year, with a sound that is about as far away from punk attitude as you can imagine.  Perhaps a few young, budding pop stars might be just a little inspired by the actual footage and iconography of a punk rock aesthetic that was never intended to last. As I said, Maclaren and Westwood's son can do what he wants, but burning punk memorabilia in a set piece on the Thames, is Situationist, it's a media stunt, it's many things, but it's not in the least bit punk.

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