God Save the Queen…

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This is Johnny Rotten, enjoy or die.”

I’m not going to pretend The Sex Pistols had a tremendous influence on my life, but neither will I dispute that maybe in a way they did, unconsciously.

I still see images of them flailing around a stage singing “Anarchy in the U.K.” on my television screen. I was 7 or 8 at the time and had no idea what in the fuck I was watching, but I knew, “me like”.

To say much has been written and said about The Sex Pistols is an understatement. Love them or hate them, anyone who knows music knows The Sex Pistols. They were “Punk”. At least they were for a short time.

John Lydon aka “Johnny Rotten”, is an “icon” not only among “punk rockers”, but within mainstream culture as well. And as I found out earlier today, he’s still around, pushing, screaming, pulling, railing.

I am an anti-Christ, I am an anarchist. Don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it.”

When I first stumbled upon John Lydon’s website, I felt a sense of nostalgia. Here was a man many of us in our late 30’s early 40’s grew up “admiring”. (Maybe that’s not the right word). Johnny Rotten represented the disenchanted, the socially inept, those who were either fed up with or who didn’t fit into the “mainstream”, the losers.

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John Lydon grew up in a poor working class family in Finsbury Estate, North London. He wasn’t a graduate from Art School or some bored rich kid raging against his oppressive upper class upbringing. The words he wrote were true to what he knew. A “sod’s” view of the world.

The Sex Pistols officially formed in 1975, but the incarnation most are familiar with didn’t come together until 1977, and the world was not at all prepared.

That’s trouble, evil coming in the back door, you be looking out the front, get it right in the back

The music scene in the 70’s was excessive and bloated. Big “Arena Rock”, Disco, Glam, Hippie leftovers etc. But beginning with bands like The Who, rock music began returning to simpler times. (3 chord progressions, driving rhythm etc) By the middle of the decade, rock was being deconstructed and rearranged by bands like Television, or made even more basic, The Ramones. Around this same time frame a band from London was preparing to literally turn the music world upside down, albeit for only a moment.

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God save the Queen, The fascist regime, It made you a moron, A potential H-bomb

The Sex Pistols were loud, obnoxious, flamboyant, self-destructive, and a tad pretentious, but underneath they were much more, and unfortunately many never saw beyond the “show” to understand.

Critics blistered The Sex Pistols calling them “talentless”, “amateur”, and wholly dependent on their, at times, “contrived persona”. But the critics, as critics often do, failed to see past their own “contrived persona’s”.

I always wondered, if critics know so much about art, music, film etc. why are they not masters within those mediums themselves? Critics are a lot like “sports writers”.

The Sex Pistols were the result of the displeasure many urban, white youth felt not just with music, but with life and what was going in the world. Much of their anger, awkwardness, and alienation was embodied in the music and insane antics of The Sex Pistols.

When you read the lyrics to The Sex Pistol’s songs you see immediately they weren’t screaming about killing their mommy or doing drugs. They were screaming about social issues; war, poverty, prejudice, hypocrisy. In other words, they had something to say, and they were saying it in a way no one had ever heard.

The boy with the thorn in his side, behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for, love

On Lydon’s website, one of the writers claims there is a distinction between “Punk” and “Punk Rock”. And I wholeheartedly agree.

Until Punk arrived with its guitars blazing, music was rarely overtly political. Notwithstanding the “Hippies”, who more often than not camouflaged their politics with silly metaphors and drug induced noodling. (By the time the 15 minute guitar solo is over, no one remembers what the damn song is about. You know who your noodley asses are). Even when they did come out and say it, it was never “in your face” like Punk. (The lyrics above are a great example).

Punk smashed people in the face with its message, sometimes literally. The songs were often too short to build extended metaphors, it was “fuck you”, and just in case you didn’t understand, “FUCK YOU!”

But the “fuck yous” were not adolescent, not most anyway, they were directed at injustices in the world. They were declarations of pain and dissatisfaction, “We don’t like what you’re doing or what’s going on, and we’re going to tell you about it. And we’re not going to beat around the bush or talk about ‘Horses in the Desert’.”

Punk was also art. The music in the early days, in my opinion, is some of the greatest music ever recorded and stands up to any music produced today. (Most of which is drivel). People don’t realize how experimental and “avante garde” Punk was at the beginning. If you sat down and listened to say, The Avengers, The Clash, Talking Heads and Television in succession you may not realize all existed simultaneously, in one form or another, and all stemmed essentially from the same place.

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Dead end…Highway, my friends are there, on a dead end… Glass Highway

There is much disagreement about who birthed “Punk Rock”. Was it the underground scene at CBGB’s in New York City? (Television, Richard Hell, The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads. Patti Smith etc) or was it The Sex Pistols? Personally, I always thought, “Who gives a fuck?” This, to me, is one of the fatal flaws, among countless, of what people label “Punk Rock”.

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Despite it’s reputation as being “anti-commercial”, “no limits or labels”, Punk Rock at times was very commercial, and limited, even to the point of being exclusionary. “Punk Rock” became a derivative of itself, and in the process much of the original meaning in “Punk” was lost or bastardized.

“Punk Rockers” are what killed Punk. They became caricatures in $200 Doc Martins with blue Mohawks. And in the process they turned Punk into a caricature as well.

Punk wasn’t a “uniform” or a certain hairstyle. Hell, some of the craziest “Punks” I ever met wear suits and have a wife and kids at home. Punk stretched the boundaries, and challenged the status quo. But the “Punk Rockers” tried to turn it into something “cool”.

I can’t count the times I went to shows and more than half the crowd was doing nothing but standing there. It wasn’t about the music, it was about “being seen”. If you went to “so and so’s Show” it meant you were “Punk Rock”. But of course you acted like you didn’t really want to be there, at least not too much. Assholes.

“Punk Rockers” made Punk an “insider’s game”, and totally fucked it up. “Hey, man you going to ‘such and such’s’ party? Everyone’s going.” “You mean the guy that drove here in his dad’s Mercedes? Nah man, fuck that dude.”

I knew Punk was officially dead and buried the day I saw a Dead Kennedy’s video on MTV.

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I am the world’s forgotten boy, the one who Searches and Destroys

In today’s world of “Nothings Shocking”, the Punks seem tame and boring. (Kind of like those old horror movies my dad loves. “Yeah dad that rubber monster is terrifying.”) But back in “the day”, bands like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Stooges, San Francisco’s The Avengers, and others were not only considered ground breaking, but also disturbing by “mainstream” culture’s standards.

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The Sex Pistols often found themselves in the middle of this controversy be it by their own hand, or because that’s what the “People” wanted. One of the most notorious moments was their appearance on the “Today” show in 1976.

Originally Queen was scheduled for the show, but at the last second they backed out. Somehow the producers decided to go from quasi-operatic, over the top glam rock band to choosing The Sex Pistols.

The host was Bill Grundy, a famous drunk, and this particular show ended up being a life altering experience for everyone involved.

After Grundy prodded members of the band (because he didn’t want them on the show) and then started to hit on Siouxsie Sioux (A member of the entourage. Later of Siouxsie and the Banshees fame), Steve Jones (the guitar player) called him a “dirty old man”. Grundy not to be outdone retorted, “Go on, you’ve only five seconds left, say something outrageous.” And they were happy to oblige. (Grundy got himself suspended for two weeks only to watch the show canceled for good not long after returning). But Punk was on the map.

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Not long after, The Sex Pistols were in the news again. This time in regard to their release of the single, “God Save the Queen”. The single came out just in time for England’s Silver Anniversary Celebration for the Queen. (“God save the Queen, she ain’t no human being”).

During this time, it was unheard of to speak about the Queen with anything other than complete reverence. (Unlike today where the “Royals” are the butt of many a joke). Some members of the English Parliament were so upset they asked for the entire band to be hanged. The end was coming.

Cause I’d rather stay here with all the Madmen, than perish with the Sad-men roaming free

Later in ’77, the band released their only album, “Never Mind the Bollocks: Here’s The Sex Pistols“. Again controversy followed. Police were upset about the word “Bollocks” because in slang it meant “testicles”. They were charged under an obscure English law, and had to go to court to prove that the word referred to “clergymen” and could also mean “nonsense”.

Vindicated they set out for a US tour in 1978. But for whatever reason they decided to only play shows in the South. Needless to say the tour was not a big success. However, it hardly mattered as the band was crumbling anyway. Management problems, personality conflicts, and Sid’s heroin addiction were tearing the band apart.

In early 1979, Sid Vicious fatally overdosed while out on bail for the murder of his girlfriend, and fellow junkie, Nancy Spungen. The Sex Pistols were through after only two years.

I know that my life make you nervous, but I tell you that I can’t live in service

John Lydon has never gotten out from under the long shadow cast by The Sex Pistols. He’s been in several other bands since those days including Public image Ltd.(PiL), who in the opinion of many, including mine, sucked. But like the majority of famous people he’s remembered for his crowning achievement.

So, when I found his website today, I thought how sad he seemed. He’s still angry about being “ripped off”, and being “used” by the record companies, and his manager. I thought, “Come on Johnny, Punk Rock is dead. Move on, and stop playing the rebel. You’re 50 years old for God’s Sake.” But then I read more.

Old Johnny is a busy and diverse man. For example, he’s done several shows for the Discovery channel and appears on talks shows with some regularity. And of course there is always the music including a reunion of the original Sex Pistols, with more shows as a “possibility”. And unbeknownst to me he’s a “devoted” husband and “family man”.

The more I thought, the more I realized people are too harsh in their judgment of “Johnny Rotten”. (Including myself). Sure he’s over 5o years old, and “Punk Rock” is long dead, but maybe “Punk” is still alive. After all, what we’re doing here at Jonestown is all over the place and at times insane. Maybe not everyone gets us, but that’s not the point is it?

By the time I finished looking at his site, I felt better about old John. In the end, we are who we are no matter how old we get. And the truth is people like Johnny Rotten are fucked no matter what they do. If he moves on he’s a “sell out” and if stays put “he’s a poser”. I prefer to think otherwise. Who puts parameters on art?

Is Punk Rock dead? In a world where Blink 182 is considered “Punk Rock”, without a fucking doubt. But I think Punk lives on in various forms. I know I’ll never forget that night 30 years ago when I first saw The Sex Pistols telling the world to “Fuck Off”.

And who knows, maybe that “stodgy, Republican looking guy”, sitting next to you at the stoplight, is wearing a Scratch Acid tee-shirt beneath his coat and tie.

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~ by fairlane on September 5, 2007.

20 Responses to “God Save the Queen…”

  1. Fairlane – you nailed it.

    I long ago and far away was into punk (not always punk rock, but punk), and learned to make that distinction, too. Sometimes I think of MPS as punk, but I’m always sure that punk was co-opted long ago.

    I had a friend in college who actually had his pilot license and he worked a couple of nights each week flying from Santa Barbara to LA to pick up the mail (and I suppose drop off mail, too). Anyway, I would fly down there with him, go out to the clubs and meet him back at the airstrip for the flight home to drop off the mail.

    And that’s how one glorious summer I became a Ramones groupie. I kept catching them at different clubs down there. I caught other groups of that era, too, but the Ramones stands out.

    Good times – thanks for the memories,

    Rgds,

    Tengrain

  2. dood thanks for the very thorough chronological archive and commentary on punk music. i always loved the sex pistols, but being of a different generation (some stupid label called ‘x’) and possibly geographic factors (so.california), i started off with bands like black flag, bad religion, bad brains, agent orange, suicidal tendencies, fugazi, and many local raw punk bands (function, neck deep, skizm). gradually i became more exposed and educated about punk music and it’s “id” mentality. in time, my punk collection included more sex pistols, the clash, talking heads, siouxsie and the banshees, ramones, and many others (never heard of the avengers – again, thanks for that referral… awesome band). anyways, my point is i always identified with punk music (i won’t call it punk rock for reasons you mention).. maybe that’s why people always referred to me as a ‘punk’ rather than an a$$hole. it was just a way of life. sometimes today, even in my three piece suit or work attire, i can honestly say i’m still a punk and it’s a beautiful thing. i loved this post. thanks dood.

  3. Raffi –

    Did you ever get into the Angry Samoans? SoCal punk band, early 80s?

    Regards,

    Tengrain

  4. Ten- I know it’s cliche, but damn time passes too fucking fast.

    You an Angry Samoans man, are ya?

    raffi- The Avengers are really good. Definitely check them out.

  5. I believe that the New York Dolls begat the Ramones, who surely begat punk as we came to know it 🙂

    They surely begat my attention. I hated disco with an endless passion that was finally, mercifully relieved by Joey and family, who caused me to notice Joe Strummer, Gene October (Chelsea,) and even Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo) and Stan Ridgway (Wall of Voodoo.)

    Ac/DC was even considered “Punk” at the time, and I got teased a lot by the hangers-on of the disco era about my admiration of Bon Scott. Turns out all these years later that most of THEM admire him now too 🙂

  6. As I read this post I saw my musical life flash before my eyes.

    In a totally good way. I ain’t dying yet people, y’all are stuck with me!

    Seriously, you are speaking to me now Fairlane. As a woman of a certain age I was a tad older than the 6 or 7 you were. I loved that punk (and the ever important distinction that you make, and Ten does too) and not Punk Rock, era.

    Dark smoky twisted clubs and very late nights. Somehow I went to work the next day although how, I will never be sure of.

    For various and sundry reasons, although I had tickets twice, I never did get to see the Sex Pistols. I did once see PIL and he had gone a bit commercial by then.

    I should probably be embarrassed to tell you that he was opening for INXS at the time. I went for Johnny however.

    Those were the days… And everyone from NYDolls (great call Jolly Roger) to Television to Talking Heads to pretty much everyone you brought into the mix, created an unforgettable era of music.

    I think this has been an outstanding post for you Fairlane. But then again, an old woman like me is very biased!

  7. This is brilliant stuff, FAIRLANE. You’re giving me the itch to hit the keyboard again. First? Out of hometown loyalty, I’d say DOLLS, too. You could make a case for THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. You could make a case for the boys near your bend in the river, BIG STAR. I’ve heard equally compelling arguments for Czechslovakia’s PLASTIC PEOPLE OF THE UNIVERSE. For CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. For ZAPPA. It’s kind of like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, though. First novel? DON QUIXOTE or JOSEPH ANDREWS? Who the fuck knows?

    But you’ve hit every cultural high-note but one. The name of the genre. A “punk” is the lowest-of-the-low, a prison bar of soap. In other words, in proudly wearing the label, punk rockers of that era gave a fat “fuck you” to the ruling class: “we’re less than nothing but we don’t give a shit.” By how many years did this anticipate the reclamation of the word “queer”? 10-12 years, minimum, and perhaps could even have its own antecedent, DICK GREGORY’S book “Nigger.” Whatever. Nice choice, though.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the original intent was wholly political and the fashion and poseurs that followed on were goofballs and had and have little sense of the fucking knowledge and scholarship that went into the best work of the PISTOLS, THE CLASH, and as lost as he was at times, JOHNNY THUNDERS. Then again, to be fair, if we’re going to talk about fashionista antecedents THE VELVETS and THE PISTOLS were indeed Old School versions of MENUDO, brain children of Andy Warhol and Malcolm McLaren, respectively. DOLLS, totally sui generis.

    But man wasn’t that RAMONES documentary a mind-fuck? They were never as overtly political as THE PISTOLS, THE CLASH, OR BLACK FLAG but who knew that Joey was such an ardent left-winger and that Johnny was equally hard-core right? Johnny came across as so repulsive in his viewpoint that one could hardly blame the gentle DeeDee for preferring to spike with JOHNNY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS and leave the polemic behind.

    DAVID JOHANSON’S post Dolls exploits are well-known, JOHNNY THUNDERS’s as well, but there’s a hidden gem out there, the one successful solo effort of Mr. Mizrachi (SYLVAIN SYLVAIN). You want to FEEL the New York City of the 1970’s? There aren’t too many better songs to give it you than SYL’s “14th Street Beat.” Fun Dolls fact: KILLER KANE holds or once held the Guinness Book long-kissing record.

    Guess Johnny Ramone inspires this memory. I know you are agnostic at your most generous on grunge, FAIRLANE, and this may push you further away from it, but the original owner of SubPop, Jon Poneman, had a pretty interesting thing to say about the label: they carried some off-the-grid post-punk bands from Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and some of the Mountain States whose anti-Semitism chilled Poneman down to his Doc Martens but he was a free-speeech and music advocate all the way.

  8. Yikes, I could have sworn I left a comment earlier. ; (

    If you have a few minutes to burn and want to hear these guys interviewed via 1974 from KSAN, Jive 95 radio, Sn Fran, I put it up for you!

  9. Wow, I feel like I just completed a class in Punk. I have much more respect for this musical genre now than I ever did before.

  10. Nicely done……you should have worked at RollingStone when they were a real music rag! ; )

    If you can endure it, I found an interview from KSAN and left it on the blog for you.

  11. Jolly- I left out the Dolls because most consider them “Glam,” there’s no doubt they helped bring on the Punk movement, but if I kept going backward this post would be even longer, and it’s already 2200 words.

    Fran- It was a great time for sure. There are still some good bands around, but nothing as groundbreaking.

    PiL had a few decent songs, but how do you top the Sex Pistols?

    Kelso- There’s simply no way to accurately determine. On Lydon’s site the Sex Pistols played out first, but here it was The Ramones.

    And you have to include Zappa and Beefheart, but as I said to Jolly, I’d be writing forever.

    Coffee- Something is going on with the comments. My spam catcher is grabbing some of them. It even grabbed a couple of mine.

    I will definitely check it out.

    Yeah, I don’t think I could write about Janet Jackson’s latest album or whether Brittney’s career is over.

    I will be over later to check out the interview, thanks.

    PoP- Punk got a bad rap, but a great deal of the music today would not exist without that brief period in time.

  12. I feel like I’m at home in the eighties; someone asked about the Angry Samoans- I distinctly remember two of their songs Bitchin Camaro and Steaknife.

    What about GBH? Great lyrics
    Its a terrorist attack
    run for your life
    They’ll shoot you in the back
    Run for your life

    I am from the Bay Area scene, we loved Iconoclast, Minor Threat, MDC(Millions of Dead Cops), DRI(Dirty Rotten Imbeciles),Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedy’s were kind of a joke band.
    To go to these shows( Ruthies Inn, The Vats, Mabuhay Gardens and The Gilman Street Project) was dangerous for Mall Rats and other posers.
    We all had something in common; anger, fucked up or disconnected parents and a complete lack of faith in authority figures. We are all, or I should say some of us are, on the verge of being burned out now and life continues. I’m still a punk at heart but I am sadly a part of what I used to hate, adults

    To stay relevent the new generation has to get out of their stupor and fuck emo (WATERED DOWN PUNK)music off the map.

    But they won’t because they can download emotions on their I-phone now.

  13. Yeah, I was a NYC punk back in the hay day. It was great, then punk died. Fuck it.

    Nice job on the post fairlane…

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  14. no, tengrain, though i do vaguely remember hearing the name being thrown around. i did wiki them and they seem to be still going strong. great to know, i’ll check them out. btw, i did forget dri and minor threat on my list of punkers.

  15. Oy gevalt, ROLLING STONE. What happened? It was never like the NME or even THE SOHO WEEKLY NEWS but about the only thing about it now that makes it slightly better than coarse toilet paper is the political coverage, Taibbi best of all. And given what ROLLING STONE has become, the only other good thing to be said is that Kelso and Li’l Kim share the same fine attorney. That’s it cause ROLLING STONE’s way more about Li’l Kim than it is about THE SEX PISTOLS or even the loathesome “emo” for that matter.

  16. David- Someone came through here yesterday searching for you. “David Bass Dancy.” You’re famous. Actually I got two hits, but it was probably the same person.

    Clapso- You are becoming quite the cynic my friend. “Fuck it.”

    raffi- I forgot about DRI as well. There are so many.

    Kelso- They do have some decent political pieces. Music? Forget it.

  17. I felt sort of depressed when I happened to catch Johnny Rotten on the Judge Judy show one day.

    Suddenly, I remember putting a safety pin through my ear in high school….

  18. Gilman (project) rules — I’m told it is still going strong, but it was so cool to go there and just listen to whatever was going on; and it was always so accepting of everyone. I never saw any hostiles, ever. And I cannot say that for any other music venue.

    Regards,

    Tengrain

  19. […] blogger who was around the same age as I was when the Sex Pistols appeared also offers an opinion on the impact and legacy of the band. I’m not going to pretend The Sex Pistols had a tremendous influence on my life, […]

  20. […] “God Save the Queen…” […]

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