Saturday, November 22, 2008

with quick links

(chapter sequence follows UK edition)

Prologue: The Unfinished Revolution

Chapter 1: Public Image Belongs To Me. Sex Pistols, PiL

Chapter 2: Outside of Everything. Buzzcocks, Magazine, Subway Sect.

Chapter 3: Uncontrollable Urge. Cleveland / Akron: Pere Ubu, Devo.

Chapter 4: Contort Yourself. No Wave New York: Lydia Lunch, James Chance and Contortions, DNA, Mars, Suicide, Lounge Lizards.

Chapter 5: Tribal Revival. The Pop Group, Slits, Alternative TV.

Chapter 6: Autonomy in the UK. Independent labels and DIY: New Hormones, Rough Trade, Mute, Factory, Fast Product, Swell Maps.

Chapter 7: Militant Entertainment. Leeds: Gang of Four, Mekons, Delta 5, Au Pairs.

Chapter 8: Art Attack. Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Wire.

Chapter 9: Living For the Future. Sheffield: Cabaret Voltaire, Human League.

Chapter 10: Just Step Sideways. Manchester: The Fall, Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column.

Chapter 11: Messthetics. London Vanguard: Scritti Politti, Flying Lizards, This Heat, Raincoats, Red Crayola, Young Marble Giants, John Peel.

Chapter 12: Industrial Devolution. Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse, Nurse With Wound, 23 Skidoo, Clock DVA.

Chapter 13: Freak Scene. San Francisco: Residents, Tuxedomoon, Factrix, Chrome, Flipper.

Chapter 14: Careering. Public Image Ltd.

Chapter 15: Ghost Dance. 2-Tone and Ska Revival: Specials, Madness, Beat, Dexy's Midnight Runners.

Chapter 16: Sex Gang Children. Malcolm McLaren, Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow.

Chapter 17: Electric Dreams. Synthpop: Human League, Ultravox, Gary Numan, Visage, Spandau Ballet, Japan, Soft Cell, DAF.

Chapter 18: Fun 'N' Frenzy. Scotland: Postcard, Orange Juice, Josef K, Fire Engines, Associates.

Chapter 19: Play To Win. New Pop's Pioneers: Scritti Politti, ABC, Heaven 17.

Chapter 20: Mutant Disco and Punk Funk. Early Eighties New York and its fans: B-52s, Club 57, Mudd Club, ZE, 99 Records, ESG, Liquid Liquid, New Order.

Chapter 21: New Gold Dreams 81-82-83-84. New Pop's Peak and Fall: Altered Images, Simple Minds, Orange Juice, ABC, Human League, MTV, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Scritti Politti.

Chapter 22: Dark Things. Goth: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Birthday Party, Killing Joke, the Cure, Virgin Prunes, Bauhaus, Batcave, Sisters of Mercy, Southern Death Cult.

Chapter 23: Glory Boys. Liverpool, New Psychedelia and The Big Music: Echo and the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes, Blue Orchids, U2.

Chapter 24: The Blasting Concept. Los Angeles, Hardcore and Progressive Punk: SST, Black Flag, Husker Du, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Mission of Burma.

Chapter 25: Conform to Deform. Some Bizarre: Psychic TV, Cabaret Voltaire, Coil, Foetus, Einsturzende Neubauten, Test Dept, Swans, Depeche Mode.

Chapter 26: Raiding the 20th Century. ZTT, Malcolm McLaren, Art of Noise, Propaganda, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones.


Postpunk Timeline

Spin-off pieces related to Rip It Up and Totally Wired

Interviews with Simon Reynolds about Rip It Up and Totally Wired



The Unfinished Revolution

NB--all page references are based on the UK edition

Page xvii

"The Sex Pistols sang… build one"
—Allen Ravenstine. NME, 5/13/78.

punk had become a parody of itself

Although the polemic of Rip It Up entails de-privileging the exalted status of punk in rock history (all those books, documentaries, etc etc) and elevating both the "aftermath" (postpunk/New Wave) and the preceding period (the absurd myth of the early Seventies as wasteland, when it fact it was diverse and fertile right up until about 1975), I really should here acknowledge (more than I do in the book itself!)

A/ the absolute necessity of punk as a purgative and galvanizing intervention,


B/ the fact that I really love a lot of punk rock, from proto-punk (Stooges, the Modern Lovers, Sixties garage punk) to the classic UK punk (Buzzcocks, Pistols, X Ray Spex, The Undertones, the Ruts, some Clash, even some of the proto-Oi! like Angelic Upstarts) as well much of the New York stuff (although Television hardly seems to fit the word ‘punk’) right through to the classic early US hardcore (Black Flag, Angry Samoans, Descendents, Negative Approach etc etc). The trouble with punk rock in the narrow UK 1977 or Ramones sense, however, is that its premises were so basic that it couldn’t be turned into a long term music culture without becoming very samey and dulling, a new conformity/orthodoxy.


In an early conception of the book I intended to include Oi! and anarcho-punk, but for reasons of time and space, wasn’t able to. But Oi! a/k/a "real punk" figures as an unseen backdrop to this story—the very definition of getting it wrong, as far as the postpunk vanguardists were concerned.

Stewart Home

Either the entirety of Cranked Up Really High or a prototype version of it is available cached here: link Home also puts forth some interesting ideas about Seventies punk as a mere coda to the 1960s freak-rock (Deviants, MC5) and argues for Oi! as the real deal in this interview with Lucy O’Brien: link

various oral histories of US hardcore

American Hardcore: A Tribal History (Paperback)by Steven Blush, link

Banned In DC: Photos And Anecdotes From The DC Punk Underground (79-85)by Cynthia Connolly (Photography), Leslie Clague (Editor), and Sharon Cheslow (Editor) link

We got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk,by Marc Spitz and Brenden Mullen (Three Rivers),

Who defined punk as an imperative to constant change

"Punk" would be a key example of American critic Frank Kogan’s concept "Superword", his term for names whose contested nature is their very point and essence, a concept first aired publicly in his Why Music Sucks fanzine of the late Eighties. From Kogan’s book Real Punks Don’t Wear Black (University of Georgia Press, 2006), the Superword is defined as "a word that causes controversies, that gets fought over, that sometimes runs on ahead of its embodiments; a word that seems to jettison adherents"

However I can claim to have come up with this idea (well, more or less!), if not the terrific snappy name itself, independently back in 1986 with a piece in the final issue of Monitor (#6) which looked at the punk diaspora and the dozen or so different versions/visons of punk that had spiraled off it, which conceived of punk as "a trick of language". In it I argued that "the movement’s unity only really existed on the printed page--in the music press’s torrid rhetoric, in the panic headlines of newspapers. There never was a consensus over punk’s aims or motives"—and that what held punk together at all was not a positive definition but an identity based in being AGAINST, a vague anger, a bored yearning for some kind of disruption of rock business-as-usual. As I further argued, "In some ways, punk was really the opening up of a conversation whose topic was "what’s punk?"." That question could further be unpacked as "what’s rock for? what power can music have? How best to direct our dreams and our dissatisfactions? Is this area&mdashrock, youth culture—still worthy of our energy and ardour, or should we just close it down?" In effect, post-punk 1978-84 was the grand sum of all the questioning that took place, and of all the answers and provisional conclusions people came up with in response.

Another way of looking at the Superword is to appropriate Lyotard’s idea of the tensor, where a word or name becomes massively charged with energy (libidinized is one way of describing that investment, although that’s too narrow for the range of emotions that could be involved, many of which are not the least bit erotic but more to do with rage, frustration, etc). Although Lyotard’s context is individual pathology (Freud’s analysis of the paranoid delusions of Daniel Paul Schreber) there are obviously cases of collective cathexis—the shared delirium of fans (pop, obviously, but also sports), the process of subcultural mobilization around a genre name (jungle, metal, etc). The tensor term is a trigger for intensity, an instigator of contention (competing definitions, rival attempts to provide the signified for the hallowed signifier). The tensor is also a fracture point, the cutting edge at which schisms occur, the fork (two, three, or X-number pronged) in the road that sets people who were once united by "one vision" vision down different paths and on increasingly divergent quests.

To use another set of metaphors, derived from astrophysics, you could see punk as a Big Bang. The old rock universe—decrepit, dispersed, depleted of energy—collapsed into a white-hot singularity (summer ‘76 to summer ’77) then re-exploded to form a freshly re-energized and "brand new" cosmos. This was the postpunk universe, whose galaxies and solar systems were the genres and scenes—No Wave, punk-funk, 2-Tone, industrial, Oi!, Goth, and more—that proliferated in the volatile aftermath of 77-as-Year-Zero-Ignition-Point.

Or one last metaphor: Punk as a Reformation. Once the first schism (Catholicism versus Protestantism = Old Wave versus New Wave) took place the way was opened for further disintegration: an endless succession of squabbling Protestant sects (that classic syndrome of Leftist factions fighting most acrimoniously with those closest to themselves). The great dissensions that convulsed postpunk culture all through the 1978-1984 period covered in this book were a struggle over what to do with the demographic spoils of punk: the vast reservoirs of idealism and energy mobilized during 1976/77.

Page xviii

suspicious of art

John Lydon: "I hate art. I can't stand it." (NME 1978 Xmas issue Dec 23)

a Hugo Ball sound-poem into a tribal-disco dance track

"I Zimbra," the opening track on 1979’s Fear of Music


More information at

renegade pop label ZTT... a snatch of Italian Futurist prose-poetry

Mountainous abuse heaped on Chuck Berry

Lydon complained to Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone, May 1, 1980: "If you really want to know, I think we failed...miserably...All I can say is that Public Image is everything the Sex Pistols were meant to be--a valid threat to rock & roll. In the end, the Pistols weren't any more threatening than retreaded Chuck Berry." Lydon in ZigZag Dec 1978: "I got pissed off listening to Steve [Jones] run through Chuck Berry riffs"

Paul Morley praised the first true product from the arty, Factory-worshipping Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscule product—the now legendary cassette compilation From Brussels With Love—in NME's as follows: "The arrival of this thin tape from Belgium provides the reminder: rock 'n' roll is 25 years old and on the surface never more horrible. But deep down! My heart jumps the beat. Rock 'n' roll isn't really about staying power, or the ability to fill huge halls, or... Let's pretend that Chuck Berry never existed: that the first rock 'n' roll star was Schoenberg, the second James Brown, and that David Bowie was a properly bad nightmare. From Brussels With Love is the reminder—without really trying, without being obvious—that pop is modern poetry, is the sharpest, shiniest collection of experiences, is always something new." ["Let's pretend that Chuck Berry never existed: that the first rock 'n' roll star was Schoenberg" = the foundational thought that seeds ZTT a couple of years later]

Vic Godard, in Melody Maker 18-3-78: "It all went wrong with Chuck Berry, although he just happened to be a brilliant singer and songwriter as well. After this... disaster."

Frank Kogan, date unknown: "...I'm the guy who once said, "Chuck Berry sang 'Hail hail rock 'n' roll, deliver us from days of old,' and so now that rock 'n' roll is old it becomes rock 'n' roll's task to deliver us from rock 'n' roll."

Lydia Lunch once dismissed punk as "Chuck Berry on speed"

When I interviewed This Heat’s Charles Hayward, he talked about liking punk’s aggression but ultimately being unimpressed by its "Johnny B. Goode-ness". Or, finally, Wire, whose song "Pink Flag" was an attempt to rewrite "Johnny B. Goode" using only one chord. Colin Newman told Uncut in March 2006, "We wanted a form of 'rock'n'roll' minus the 'roll'. I hate rock'n'roll. I hate Elvis Presley. To me, as someone who grew up in the '60s, it’s depressing, black-and-white music."

"Berry riffs"

—unattributed Cabaret Voltaire quote. NME, 11/29/80.

Guitar innovators… brittle spikiness

Traditional effects like fuzztone and wah-wah were generally replaced by more modern-sounding treatments—the glassy textures and glossy "artificial" colors produced by flange, echoplex, delay, sustain...

Innovative things with structure

Other groups bypassed traditional riff structures and verse/chorus/middle eight by favoring a drone-based trance-inducing monotony sourced in Velvet Underground and their Krautrock successors such as Neu! and Can

"geometric jerky quickstep"

—NME, Sept 2 1978. Ultravox feature by Miles.

Wonder if he meant to write "quirkstep"?

The bass… hitherto inconspicuous supportive role

Obviously there were a number of exceptions to this, star bassists—Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney, Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones, John McVie. But in most hard rock (glam, metal, punk) the bass just unites with the rhythm guitar in the riff, or does a kind of subliminal bolstering thing adding heft and momentum to the rhythm-drive. This was especially the case with punk rock—how many punk rock basslines can you remember? The bass is designed not to be consciously heard but felt. If you actually listen to what the bass is doing in punk songs, with a sort of after-the-historical-fact added-on postpunk bass-consciousness, the B-lines are often quite pleasing in a droning modal repetitive way, but for the most part you don't listen to it with any kind of focus, and you’re not meant to. You might say the definition of postpunk is the bassline as promiment hook or lead melodic voice: a line running from Pere Ubu to Joy Division to Goth on one axis, and the Czukay-meets-reggae line of PiL etc on the other. Before postpunk, rock bass was also generally really low in the mix, and that changed.

Page xx

playing catch-up with the innovations of Sly Stone and James Brown

Or more precisely their bassists: Larry Graham, inventor of slap bass, with Sly and the Family Stone; and Charles Sherrell and Bootsy Collins with JB

perverted disco…. avant-funk

One little mystery that occurred to me only after finishing the book: postpunk bands embracing funk and disco was considered a big deal, a radical move. Yet before and during punk many Old Wave bands from the "rock establishment" had dabbled in funk and disco: Led Zeppelin copping James Brown on "The Crunge", The Rolling Stones going disco with "Miss You" in 1978 (pipping Gang of Four, PiL and Pop Group to the post!) and later in 1980 with "Emotional Rescue"; Robert Palmer's 1974 album Sneakin' Sally Through Alley was recorded with The Meters in New Orleans, John Martyn's music often veered into thickly-textured funk (Solid Air’s "I’d Rather Be The Devil" from 1972, much of 1977's One World) . There was also a funk feel in songs by groups like Free ("All Right Now"), Little Feat ("Rock and Roll Doctor") and James Gang ("Funk #49"), while Foghat, of all people, featured slap-bass on their boogie hit "Slowride". Even things like Rod Stewart’s "D’Ya Think It’s Sexy" figure, its walking disco bassline very similar to the one that got Orange Juice plaudits on "Falling and Laughing" a few years later.

The same actually applies to reggae: from The Eagles' "Hotel California" to Eric Clapton’s cover of "I Shot The Sheriff" to Robert Palmer's 1975 Pressure Drop to countless other examples, reggae rhythms were widely adopted by the rock superstar aristocracy, and roots reggae was hailed by Sixties-generation rock critics like Greil Marcus as the hot new rebel music of the 1970s, with Bob Marley figuring as the new Bob Dylan. The Rolling Stones, especially Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, became infatuated with Jamaican music. 1976's Black and Blue was steeped in reggae feel. The group took ex-Wailer Peter Tosh under their wing. Tosh toured with them, his 1978 album Bush Doctor was released on the Stones’ own label and it featured a duet with Mick Jagger. Somehow punk erased the (very recent) memory of all this pre-punk white-on-black action, and regarded its own borrowings of Jamaican and black American rhythms as a brand-new phenomenon, an innovative move. Perhaps the difference was that the pre-punk establishment groups had embraced these new styles in a muso way, as an extension of showing off their versatility and virtuosity. And through their musical skill they were able to replicate the styles fairly immaculately, whereas the less adept postpunkers had to struggle with the styles and in the process created something new—more jagged and aggressive and rough-hewn. So instead of the Old Waver's jammy-groovy, muso's hanging out and copping a "feel" vibe, postpunk's appropriations felt tense, neurotic, striving. Or perhaps the postpunk edge lay in the way that bands used funk as a musical signifier for militancy and struggle—ie. it wasn’t just funk, it was punk-funk, or agit-funk.

The more acute end of prog

There were also, intriguingly, certain pre-punk "progressive" figures who remained credible reference points or found a new role in the postpunk period: Brian Eno, Bill Nelson, Robert Wyatt, Peter Hammill, Robert Fripp (who slyly shed his hippie locks and loon pants and rematerialised in 1978 with short hair, a skinny tie, and a technology-boosted, highly conceptual sound called Frippertronics).

Others, like Peter Gabriel cunningly adapted to the new sonic codes: 1979's Peter Gabriel III is faux-postpunk from its lyrical vibes of paranoia and nervous tension right through to the singer’s banning of cymbals and hi-hats from the sessions in order to achieve that stark, "modern" drum sound as heard on records by Joy Division, The Comsat Angels, and Random Hold.

Page xxii


A slightly earlier moment than the Berlin triology in Bowie's style trajectory was also hugely influential slightly later in postpunk's evolution, with the shift to New Pop, whose groups drew on Bowie's "plastic soul"/"plastic funk" phase: Young Americans and Station to Station, in particular the art-funk and art-disco of "Fame" and "Golden Years". Equally influential was Bowie's look of this era, his famous wedge haircut, which would lodge in the image-repertoire of soul-boys and resurface with Spandau Ballet, Japan et al.

Bowie himself would re-emerge to claim his rightful place at the head of New Pop, abandoning his wasted, sickly Berlin-era image and adopting a new blonde-haired, tanned, healthy persona to go with the upful, shiny-sounding pop-funk like "Let's Dance" and "Modern Love." He cleaned up big time, in both senses of the word.

Some bands… Brian Eno.”

—Bono. Quoted in New Statesman, 2/14/97 (Philip Glass piece)

Page xxiii

The personal is political

"Politics" as a category expanded to cover the entire surface of reality, from love to leisure to language itself. This was in some senses a totalitarian, even tyrannical vision—and also a route to despair c.f. Gang of Four's "no escape from society", or the utterly bleak worldview of Guy Debord. The corollary of seeing everything as micro-political—in Debord’s case, teenagers kicking over a dustbin as a proto-political act of resistance—is to see everything as enwebbed in oppression and false consciousness. Debord ultimately killed himself, because he could see no way out. Postpunk would eventually breed its own nemesis in the form of a renewed romanticism and mysticism, a desire for some kind of Outside that transcended the political/social.

plain-speaking demagogeury... Tom Robinson Band and Crass... soapbox sermonising


Rock Against Racism and its sister organization the Anti-Nazi League had emerged to combat the growing street presence of the National Front—the far right political party whose anti-immigration, pro-repatriation stance had become disturbingly popular during the mid-1970s. A key task for RAR was straightening out the perilous ambiguity at punk’s heart—its nihilistic flirtation with Nazi imagery, from the swastika to songs like the Pistols’s "Belsen Was A Gas"—and establish unequivocally that its sympathies were right-on rather than right-wing. RAR’s polemic was that rock could never be anything but anti-racist, given its profound debts to black music.

The initial spur for RAR’s forming was some drunken onstage comments in 1976 by Eric Clapton about renegade Conservative politician Enoch Powell, who in an infamous speech in the late Sixties had predicted that if black and brown immigration from Commonwealth countries continued at its present rate, there would be "rivers of blood" in the streets of Britain. This led to his departure from the Conservative government and eventually Conservative Party as well, but he remained an MP (as an Ulster Unionist) and  his popularity with those who supported restrictions on immigration remained high.  For some in Britain, he was a hero, speaking up for the silent majority who rejected multiculturalism.

The full text of Clapton's outburst:

"Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I'm looking at you. Where are you? I'm sorry but some fucking wog...Arab grabbed my wife's bum, you know? Surely got to be said, yeah this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that's just the truth, yeah. So where are you? Well wherever you all are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. You fucking (indecipherable). I don't want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell. Enoch's our man. I think Enoch's right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I'm into racism. It's much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking (indecipherable) don't belong here, we don't want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don't want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck's sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he's a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he's our man, he's on our side, he'll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he's on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!"

Clapton’s endorsement of Powell’s anti-multiculturalist, anti-immigration opinions seemed both hypocritical and bizarre given the guitarist’s debts to the blues and his recent cover of Bob Marley and the Wailers’s "I shot the sheriff". The fledgling movement announced itself with a letter in the NME on September 11th 1976:

"When we read about Eric Clapton’s Birmingham concert when he urged support for Enoch Powell we nearly puked. What’s going on, Eric? You’ve got a touch of brain damage? So you are going to stand for MP and you think we are being colonized by black people. Come on... you've been taking too much of that Daily Express stuff, you know you can't handle it. Own up, half your music is black. You are rock music's biggest colonist. You're a good musician but where would you be without the blues and R&B? You’ve got to fight the racist poison, otherwise you degenerate into the sewer with the rats and all the money men who ripped off rock culture with their cheque books and plastic crap. Rock was and still can be a real progressive culture not a package mail order stick-on nightmare of mediocre garbage. Keep the faith, black and white unite and fight. We want to organize a rank and file movement against the racist poison in rock music—we urge support—all those interested please write to ROCK AGAINST RACISM, Box M, 8 Cottons Gardens, London E2 8DN. P.S. "Who shot the Sheriff?". Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you!"

RAR’s contention about the inherent blackness of rock'n'roll immediately ran into a problem, though, for one of punk's most striking characteristics was that it was the whitest form of rock yet. Monolithic-sounding and sexlessly aggressive, this was a post-blues hard rock, physically compelling but anti-dance. This sonic whiteness had exacerbated the cloudy ambiguity of punk's political allegiance, causing The Clash's "White Riot"—actually a song of admiring identification, tinged with envy, towards the black rioters at 1976’s over-policed 1976 Notting Hill Carnival—to be misconstrued as a rabble-rousing racist call-to-arms. In this environment, with punk widenly misconstrued as fascist or nihilistically lumpen, RAR moved quickly to create a climate in which bands felt obliged to declare their political allegiances. It soon became nigh-on compulsory for New Wave bands to perform at RAR carnivals and Anti-Nazi League benefits, sharing the bill with Black British reggae groups like Matumbi and Misty In Roots.

More information on the formation of Rock Against Racism — link Anti-Nazi League — link essay on Rock Against Racism — link

Postpunk's wariness about RAR and ANL and belief they regarded music as a vehicle.

Mark E. Smith is one example of this attitude, but John Lydon’s disdain was also quite common, as seen in an interview in the NME, Xmas issue Dec 23, 1978. Claiming to be apolitical, or anti-political, or to know nothing about politics, Lydon specifically targets the Socialist Workers Party: "those hard line lefties have always hated rock music... they're just using it, and using it very successfully too." Lydon went further still and argued that the SWP and the NF were "both as evil as each other. Both a serious threat. God, can you imagine if this was a total Socialist country? How awful that would be: classical music being piped in the streets day and night, all wearing grey uniforms and cloth caps."

Page xxiv

High-rise blocks

The tower blocks of punk’s imaginary--from the Clash’s neck of the woods, Trellick Tower, which to my mind actually has some period charm now — link And I’m not alone judging by I Heart Carbuncles — link

Brutalist architects

Such as Alison and Peter Smithson, well intentioned sorts, idealists.

More here — link

And here — link

Julian House tells me the term Brutalist comes from the french expression for rough concrete (béton brut), but of course in the British mind the word has come to connote aesthetic savagery and inhumane architectural hubris.

Essay (with lots of cool pix) by Owen Hatherley in defence of the brutalists — link

Anthony Burgess

J.G. Ballard

Excerpt from my interview at Ballardian on J.G. Ballard and science fiction, dealing with Ballard's influence on postpunk (and left out of the interview as it appeared)

SIMON SELLARS:In Rip It Up, you hint at the influence Ballard had on postpunk musicians. For those who haven't read the book, could you sum that appeal up here? Is postpunk where the lineage ends?

SR: There’s two main things. One is the way that Concrete Island and High Rise and Crash offered a picture of the changed urban landscape of the UK in the Seventies, what was left after all the post-war regeneration and the 1960s Brutalist movement in architecture--deck-access low-rise housing estates and tower blocks, flyovers and underpasses Another key thing for that was both the novel and the movie A Clockwork Orange. This really fed into punk and postpunk’s imagery, it’s there in Joy Division’s music especially, where there’s an explicit nod to Ballard with the song “Atrocity Exhibition” and more obliquely with titles like “Interzone.”

They were drawing from their direct experience of Manchester, the way that redevelopment there almost repeated the trauma of WW2 bombing, creating this new bleak psychogeography of council estates, shopping schemes, high-rise apartment blocks. But it was filtered through Ballard.

The other thing that was influential was the whole avant-porn side of Ballard, which was often ingested in tandem with Burroughs, the other big postpunk author. All those proto-Cronenburg ideas in Crash to do with perverse sexuality, sex without flesh, and also McLuhan-goes-kinky ideas to do with perverse fixations on celebrities. All that was a big influence on Cabaret Voltaire and other industrial groups. You can see that connection with the way Re/Search--which started out as part of the San Francisco postpunk/industrial culture--has become the literary custodian of Ballard, doing all the interview books and Ballard quotation books.

Another band of Ballard-lovers was Ultravox, who early on, when they were fronted by John Foxx, were a very arty and interesting outfit, kinda Roxy Music meets Ballard, and did songs like “MySex” that are totally Crash-damaged.
Here’s the lyrics:

My sex
Waits for me
Like a mongrel waits
Downwind on a tight rope leash

My sex
Is a fragile acrobat
Sometimes I'm a novocaine shot
Sometimes I'm an automat

My sex
Is often solo
Sometimes it short circuits then
Sometimes it's a golden glow

My sex
Is invested in
Suburban photographs
Skyscraper shadows on a carcrash overpass

My sex
Is savage, tender
It wears no future faces
Owns just random gender

My sex
Has a wanting wardrobe
I still explore
Of all the bodies I knew and those I want to know

My sex
Is a spark of electro flesh
Leased from the tick of time
And geared for synchromesh

My sex
Is an image lost in faded films
A neon outline
On a high-rise overspill

John Foxx should really give J.G. royalties don’t you think? There’s another early Ultravox tune which has an image about masturbating on a fashion magazine lying on a pile of rubble under a motorway flyover, or something!

Then solo, Foxx did songs like “Underpass” and “Burning Car” and “No One’s Driving”. Apart from those and “MySex” the most blatant example of Ballard-worship is The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” from 1978, this pioneering lo-fi do-it-yourself synth-punk tune. The lyric is totally based on Crash--“the handbrake penetrates your thigh/quick let’s make love before we die”-- while its flipside “T.V.O.D.” is this proto-Videodrome ditty about a guy who injects television into his arm. The Normal was Daniel Miller who founded Mute and later with the Grey Area of Mute reissued all the stuff by Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle.

Ballard allusions had become a bit of a cliché by the time I started writing about music professionally in the mid-Eighties--I did a piece on this post-Cabaret Voltaire, Sheffield outfit called Chakk and gave the singer a slightly hard time for overdoing the Ballardisms. Since then I’m hard pressed to think of Ballardisms coming through in music, although this very year this “nu-rave” outfit The Klaxons put out an album called Myths of the Near Future. But the Ballard homage seems fairly cosmetic in this case.

Page xxv

"magic and poetry... disused harbor"


Quoted in Vale V’s Re/Search #8/9: J.G. Ballard (see bibliography). P. 47Jim Callaghan

More info here — link

Kate Bush "Breathing"

The lyrics

Gets inside
Through her skin.
I've been out before
But this time it's much safer in.
Last night in the sky,
Such a bright light.
My radar send me danger
But my instincts tell me to keep
Out, in, out, in, out, in...)
Breathing my mother in,
Breathing my beloved in,
Breathing her nicotine,
Breathing the fall-out in,
Out in, out in, out in, out in.
We've lost our chance.
We're the first and the last, ooh,
After the blast
.Chips of Plutonium
Are twinkling in every lung
.I love myBeloved, ooh,
All and everywhere,
Only the fools blew it.
You and me
Knew life itself is
(Out, in, out, in, out...)
Breathing my mother in,
Breathing my beloved in,
Breathing her nicotine,
Breathing the fall-out in,
Out in, out in, out in, out in,
Out in, out in, out in, out...

Apparently it's from the viewpoint of a fetus in a mother's womb, the unborn child is absorbing the radioactivity via the placenta, but I have to say that's quite hard to deduce from the lyrics, and that interpretation is thrown somewhat by the couplet: "I've been out before/but this this time it's much safer in."

UB40's "The Earth Dies Screaming"

I have a vivid memory of this being performed on the Xmas edition of Top of the Pops, the jolly Yuletide vibe brought to an absolute zero of bleakness, party balloons bobbing desolately on the floor!

UB40, The Earth Dies Screaming

Note cover artwork reproducing the UB40 form for claiming unemployment benefit

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Lust/Unlust [US edition only]

Charles Ball’s indie label in New York, which documented most of the No Wave bands


As used first by Pete Wylie in Wah Heat! Feature in NME, 1/17/81. Paul du Noyer’s piece addresses Wah! Heat’s "race against rockism" (geddit?). Wylie says words like "album" are rockist and declares that Wah! are against all the deadening rituals of the gig, the encores, etc. "If rock is dead then we're not a rock band. If rock has the potential to be an exciting, inspirational thing, then we are... It's rock as a ritual that's the bad thing, when it's not done out of love or passion, when it’s done because that's what you’re used to doing". Yet Wylie's favourite band was The Clash and Wah!'s sound and stance was totally epic-guitar rocky!

TV PersonalitiesMore, vast amounts more, at

Page xxvii

"in which the discourse around the work was as important as the art objects themselves"/ "active criticism"

See Tom Wolfe's 1975 book on the thrall of conceptualism and art as statement/discourse, The Painted Word — link

New Musick

As 1977 whimpered to an anti-climactic end, journalist Jon Savage and a gaggle of his Sounds colleagues heralded the coming of "New Musick" with a special feature package that ran over two weeks in November/December 1977 (November 26 and December 3) and showcased emergent groups like Devo, Throbbing Gristle, Pere Ubu and Siouxsie & the Banshees. Recalling these special issues in an interview with me, Savage said: "Punk had become a cliche and we wanted to continue that sense of newness, of discovery and total science fiction alienation." Savage's intro for New Musick set the scene in a deliberately depersonalised, cybernetics-styled manifesto:

"Program: present data suggest punk saturation/obsolescence in its present form... "Stagnation. Shock tactics used to gain space/attention now redundant. Projex: post-punk projections, contrails. Print-out as follows."

Colleague Jane Suck picked up the thread, identifying Bowie’s Low album of early 1977 as "the watershed", its Brian Eno-informed second side "a soundtrack without a film and not for the nervous". After punk’s fire and frenzy would come "The Cold Wave": music that didn’t flail with rage but was burned-out and numb, superceding insurrection with "somnambulism and acceptance."

Voiced by musicians and journalists alike, the new buzz-lingo--"industrial", "harsh urban scrapings", "catatonic bleakness"--captured this sense of alienation, of negation that no longer exploded into the world but turned inwards, corrosively. Ice queen Siouxsie of the Banshees caught the mood, describing herself as "a very cold person" who rejected "anything communal... I could never be a nurse, helping old people with bedpans... I’ve just got a low tolerance of people that can’t help themselves." (All this seeming to chime with the ant-Welfare, anti-Nanny State rhetoric of Thatcher’s resurgent Conservativism). Siouxsie continued: "Even when my dad died, I just laughed. That was my reaction. I felt completely unmoved.. I suppose I’m a very cold person as well. The fact that I reject anything communal... I’ve had my own door key since I was about seven, just let myself in from day nursery or school or whatever. It may seem like a cosy atmosphere, but we’re all separate people with quite separate lives, not like a family at all." Later she speculated, "Maybe it’s because there’s a new Ice Age coming on." ("The Ice Age" was novelist Margaret Drabble’s trope, in the novel of the same title, for the malaise that engulfed Britain in the mid-Seventies).

Elsewhere in "New Musick" Vivien Goldman wrote about Dub, mentioning Generation X's "Wild Dub", the flip of their new single "Wild Youth", while, bless her, also bigging up John Martyn’s totally unpunky 1977 masterpiece One World as authentic white dub (she must mean the track "Big Muff", said to have Lee Perry’s hand in it, although he’s not credited). She also interviewed "Dennis Matumbi" (ie. Dennis Bovell of later Slits/Pop Group fame) and he did a step by step guide to making a dub records. Davitt Sigerson wrote about disco, hailing Giorgio Moroder as the true master of New Musick, while Sandy Robertson wrote one of the very first pieces on Throbbing Gristle — link In 1978, New Musick and Cold Wave competed with rival terms like "after-punk", but by 1979 "postpunk" had won out as the name.Crocus BehemothMore on David Thomas’ career as local rock journalist at

>>Steve Walsh

Wrote for (among other places) ZigZag where he did some crucial pieces on key postpunk bands such as Subway Sect and The Pop Group. Manicured Noise accordingly were precocious adopters of funk as the righteous non-rock path.

An interview with Steve Walsh about Manicured Noise at Pennyblackmusic website

After an avant-garde start Manicured Noise quickly moved to a sound that was rather close to early Talking Heads, viz this, their most famous, single:

Page xxviii

Changes in the style and methods of rock writing

With the reference to the jammed-out chattiness and veiled references to drugs and chicks, I'm thinking of Charles Shaar Murray here more than the more literary (at times verging on florid) Nick Kent. Kent was a totally lost figure during the postpunk period, his whole sensibility and vision was completely against the grain of the time, whereas the more street-cred oriented and politically-minded CSM gamely went along with the postpunk programme, writing good stuff on Gang of Four, Mekons and few others. But he ultimately remained an early Seventies chap. People like CSM could cope reasonably well with postpunk and then 2-Tone because of its right-on politics, but the "irresponsibility" of New Pop totally flummoxed these guys.

Puritanism and playfulness

The ludic labyrinths of the Morley/Penman style got up the noses of many NME readers by managing to somehow be both too serious/theoretical/abstract and too frivolous/frolicsome at once. Fusing the intensely cerebral and the tantalisingly sensuous, Morley and Penman walked a tightrope between lucid and opaque, rubbing abstract nouns up against each other in a way that seemed to simultaneously caress the music’s sensational surface while penetrating to its absolute core of truth and essence. In the process, they bypassed the middle ground of concrete “substance” that encumbers most rockwriting. They also played mischievous games with form and structure. In one interview, with the Monochrome Set, Morley attributed quotes not to names but to numbers that he’d assigned each member of the band. In a famous piece on Peter Gabriel, he plays a psychiatrist visiting the singer in the latter's padded cell. Except he’s not a singer at all, but someone suffering from the delusion he’s a famous rock star; Morley has to humor him.

A precursor for this kind of formal malarkey took place during the "New Musick" era of Sounds, which Morley admired and even envied its freedoms somewhat. Writing about the industrial groups, for instance, Savage adopted a depersonalized, fractured style. Sometimes he appeared in the pieces as the Journalist: a distancing device that drew attention to standard roleplay and the constructed, fictional nature of supposedly objective journalism, while conjuring a Ballardian, science fiction remoteness. Sometimes his writing would take on the terse, compressed style of a computer read-out, verbs or nouns missing, as if he was just a filter for incoming data ("industrial" culture have something of a fetish for the concept of information).


I expect some stick for having put Bushell in the same group as the other guys but in Sounds in the late Seventies, Gazza did come up with a whole political-aesthetic-cultural sensibility/vision that encompassed a range of contemporary stuff (Oi!, the New Mod, 2-Tone--especially Madness) as well as sketching in a kind of canon too (Slade, Kilburn and the High Roads, Judge Dredd). The antithesis of postpunk, it was based in a sort of anti-artwank, anti-trendy-lefty, proudly philistine, prolier-than-thou stance that in Bushell's mind linked up with a workerist politics (he was a member of the SWP and did his journalistic training under Paul Foot on the Socialist Worker!). Of course it also carried with it some sexism, homophobia, and a nasty streak of English chauvinism. This would all flower in the ugliness of his Oi! compilation sleevenotes and culminate in his revolting career at the Sun as "telly critic" and later as the presenter of the "Bushell on the Box" TV show. [Full Bushell biography at]. Early on, though, Bushell was an entertaining writer (especially in attack mode) and a perceptive critic.

Dave McCullough's harder to tag: Sounds’ own Morley, to an extent, but with his own playful, flamboyantly impressionistic style and pantheon of favourite bands that overlapped with PM’s sometimes but others not (McCullough detested the Cure, for instance). The two of them did make the shift from postpunk to New Pop in perfect synchrony however. An appreciation of Dave McCullough by Kevin Pearce aka John Carney at Tangents — link

Other figures from this period who invented a unified Style/Content Thang include Melody Maker/then NME's Chris Bohn with his noise/sickness worldview and NME's Barney Hoskyns, something like a drastically rebooted and turbocharged Nick Kent—ie. the revenge of rock romanticism against Postpunk's demystified and dessicated schematics—except this incarnation of Dionysus came fully armored against the pretensions of Penmania thanks to Hoskyns' own deep infusions of Nietzche, Bataille, Barthes et al. Great work in terms of insight and reportage was done in more stylistically "normal" and legible mode by such as Andy Gill, Vivien Goldman, Simon Frith, Paul Rambali, Lynn Hanna, Mary Harron, Angus MacKinnon, Paul Tickell, John Gill, Ian Birch, Dave Hill, Sandy Robertson, and many others. Twas verily a golden age for UK music journalism!

There was of course a lot of good stuff being written about postpunk/New Wave in America at the same time: in Village Voice, New York Rocker, East Village Eye, Interview, and many other small magazines/large fanzines; legends like Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus did some great writing on postpunk groups (Bangs on Fear of Music in Village Voice; Marcus scattered writings of the time gathered in Ranters and Crowdpleasers aka In the Fascist Bathroom); there were also figures like Glenn O’Brien and Roy Trakin who championed No Wave or other specific postpunk zones. But generally, c.f. the UK, in America there was less of a sense of a postpunk "climate" of writing—of the approach to and style of writing being changed in response to the new music.

"Bold bracing geometry" —postpunk record design.

For insanely much more, check this fantastic article by Philip Brophy on the record design aesthetics of the postpunk era — link

laundry list of influences... absolute break with tradition

A salutary illusion, perhaps?

some of the politically committed bands felt it was self-indulgent or trivial to talk about music

One example being Ludus, whose Linder opined in one interview that it was "obscene" to talk just about music. The Pop Group also shifted into this mode later on when they became more agit-prop oriented.

Page xxix

But when the question shifted to 'What are we for?'

Other definitions of postpunk that are less positivistic and constructive:

Greil Marcus in "Crimes Against Nature" (p.183 of Ranters and Crowdpleasers, see bibliography) has this idea—"if punk says, 'Life stinks', postpunk says 'Why does life stink?'"— ie. he ties postpunk to the idea of critique, c.f. punk-as-rage.

Tony Wilson's definition, typically, is more existensialist, pinpointing postpunk as a shift towards more interior emotions: "I hate Barney Sumner cos he's always right! What Bernard said once on Radio One was 'Punk was wonderful, it got rid of all the shite'. See, you can't really remember how bad music was in the early 70s. It was diabolical, a total wasteland. So Bernie says, 'punk was an explosion that blew it all away, but it was simple and simplistic. All it could say was, 'I'm bored'. Sooner or later, someone was going to use the simplicity of punk to express more complex emotions'. My reworking of Bernie's comment is, 'Punk was wonderful but all it could say was this one simple emotion: Fuck you. Sooner or later someone was going to have to use that music to say, I’m fucked. And that was Joy Division'".


my article for Monitor issue 6, 1986, on the tenth anniversary of punk -- in some ways the distant seed for Rip It Up and Start Again

my review of Simon Frith and Alan Horne's book Art Into Pop about the artschool influence in British rock and pop, here (and then: 1988) espousing an anti-postpunk/New Pop stance rejecting conceptualism, hyper-selfconsciousness, knowingness, pop-as-intertext/reference-game etc etc.

Art Into Pop
Melody Maker, January 16th 1988

by Simon Reynolds

All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated


Page 3

"ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
This was evidently one of Lydon's favourite rhetorical constructions, as can be seen in the Julien Temple-directed Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury, during footage of the ill-starred Thames riverboat party in the summer of 1977 celebrating the release of "God Save the Queen". Lydon, out-of-sorts and feeling harassed by the press attention, declares, in exactly the same ennui-withered, nasal-drone-tone as at Winterlands, "ever get the feeling you’ve been trapped?"

The Punk and His Music

mp3s of the show, in two parts, can be found here (in the right hand column)

transcription of the conversation between Lydon and his interviewer Tommy Vance here

The show took place on July 16th 1977, in the mid-evening. Rotten's interlocutor was Tommy Vance, whose husky baritone became famous later in the Seventies (and beyond) on his heavy metal/hard rock show on Radio One.

Tommy Vance slightly earlier in his career, when he was a pirate radio deejay broadcasting from offshore.

"you do feel cheated. There should be loads of different things"
During the Capital show, Rotten talked about going to see bands and being disappointed because most groups were homogenized products of a media feedback loop, their attitudes and performance utterly predictable. "That’s the trouble with most punk bands, you can predict what their next song's gonna be, and as soon as they start up you can sing along with the words without ever hearing it before. Which ain’t so funny, that's a real bad night out...". It had all gone horribly wrong. As he put it in a later interview, "One of the first things I was ever quoted as saying was 'I'd like to see more bands like us'. Right? When I said that, I didn't mean exactly like us. Unfortunately that's what happened. Imitations. Billions of them. And I wanted nothing to do with any of them. There were a few originals, but not many.""Cheated" is a pre-echo of his Winterland statement, suggesting either that the comment on that night wasn't spontaneous but planned, or that the sense of punk as a failure, a disappointment, a fraud, had hardened as early as the summer of 1977 and the "cheated" notion haunted his mind right up until Winterland.

records selected by Rotten

The Capital Show 'A Punk and His Music' tracklist

Tim Buckley - Sweet Surrender
(taken from: Greetings From LA, 1972)

The Creation - Life Is Just Beginning
(single, 1967)

David Bowie - Rebel Rebel
(single, also featured on: Diamond Dogs, 1974)

Unknown Irish Folk Music [not apparently The Chieftains as often cited)/ Jig

Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown
(single, also featured on: King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown, 1976)

Gary Glitter - Doing Alright With The Boys
(single, 1975)

Fred Locks - Walls
(taken from: Black Star Liner, 1976)

Yabby You aka Vivian Jackson and the Prophets - Fire in a Kingston
(single, 1976)

Culture - I'm Not Ashamed
(single, also featured on: Two Sevens Clash, 1977). With I-Roy on vocals. The version played is a rare dub, not the album version, to be found on Joe Gibbs & The Professionals compilation CD 'No Bones For The Dogs' (Pressure Sounds).

Dr Alimantado & The Rebels - Born For A Purpose
(single, 1977)

Bobby Byrd - Back From The Dead
(single, 1974)

Neil Young - Revolution Blues Neil Young - Revolution Blues
(taken from: On the Beach, 1974)

Lou Reed - Men Of Good Fortune
(taken from: Berlin, 1973)

Kevin Coyne - Eastbourne Ladies
(taken from: Marjory Razorblade, 1973)

Peter Hammill - The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning
(taken from: Nadir's Big Chance, 1975)

Peter Hammill - Nobody's Business
(taken from: Nadir's Big Chance, 1975)

Makka Bees - Nation Fiddler / Fire!
(single, 1977, the Congo label.)

Captain Beefheart - The Blimp
(taken from: Trout Mask Replica, 1969)

Nico - Janitor Of Lunacy
(taken from: Desertshore, 1970)

Ken Boothe - Is It Because I'm Black
(taken from: Let's Get It On, 1973)

John Cale - Legs Larry At Television Centre
(taken from: Academy in Peril, 1972)

Third Ear Band - Fleance
(taken from: Music from Macbeth, 1972 )

Can - Halleluhwah
(taken from: Tago Mago, 1971)

Peter Tosh - Legalise It
(taken from: Legalise It, 1976)

Along with Tim Buckley, probably Rotten's most dissident choice here was "Fleance" by the classic "head" band Third Ear Band, who recorded for Harvest and whose Medieval acid-folk came garlanded with oboe and recorder, "Fleance" is a courtly love song, all "thine two eyes" and "plight my troth", from Third Ear Band's soundtrack to Polanski's 1971 version of Macbeth; mimed, in the movie, by the young Keith Chegwin!

Also decidedly not with the punk rock/McLaren program were "The Institute of Mental Health" and "Nobody's Business", the two tracks by Peter Hammill from 1975's concept album Nadir's Big Chance. In the album's sleevenote Hammill claimed to have been taken over by the alter-ego Rikki Nadir: "this loud aggressive perpetual sixteen year old" playing "the beefy punk songs".
"Now's my big break - let me up on the stage,I'll show you what it's all about; enough of the fake,bang your feet in a rage, tear down the walls and let us out!We're more than mere morons, perpetually conned,So come on everybody, smash the system with the song,Smash the system with the song!"

For all Nadir's prescient proto-punk menace, Hammill was a progressive rocker: edgier than Genesis, for sure, but middle class, literate, musicianly, and signed to Charisma (alongside Harvest, Vertigo, Chrysalis, Deram, and Virgin, one of the archetypal prog labels of the Seventies). In the Capital Radio interview, Lydon raved: "Peter Hammill's great. A true original. I've just liked him for years. If you listen to his solo albums, I'm damn sure Bowie copied a lot out of that geezer. The credit he deserves, has just not been given to him. I love all his stuff."

Strangely Rotten skipped the chance to combine two of his great musical passions—Hammill and Jamaican music—and elected not to include Van Der Graaf Generator's "Meurglys III (The Songwriters Guild)", from 1976's World Record, a bizarre prog-rock take on reggae rhythm that runs for nearly 21 minutes.

More on Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator: link

More on Third Ear Band: link

Page 4

Myth of the seventies as wasteland
If anything, in The Punk and His Music, Rotten attempts to deprivilege the Sixties: he says of The Rolling Stones "I've never liked any of those Sixties bands"

outing himself as an aesthete
As early as late 1976, the fledgling Sham 69 dismissed Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols as "fucking art students"—innacurate, maybe, but you can see right there the seeds of the disintegration of punk into Oi! versus postpunk, fundamentalist versus progressive, factions.

"the band's threat" "man of taste"—McLaren, NME 12/23/1978.

PiL feature Lydon in Sounds, March 4 1978, discussing the Capital Radio Show: "That really annoyed Malcolm. He complained about it to other people, and Vivienne [Westwood] too... about the records I played. Why didn't I play Iggy Stooge, the Dolls..."

McLaren, from the England's Dreaming Tapes talking to Jon Savage about Lydon as muso and trendy hipster:

"Rotten never had an ounce of musical ability. Whatever he said, he was just an arrogant little shit who thought he knew everything. He hated their music, he hated rock'n'roll. Literally hated it. He wanted it to be fairy-like, like the Sixties. Captain Beefheart. He wanted to be reggae, cos that was in that week. He was a fashion victim in the true sense, a musical fashion victim.

"He didn't have that focus that Jones and Co. had. They were going for the tradition of mutated, irresponsible, hardcore raw power -- Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, MC5, bits of the Faces… He hated all those groups. You can see it now: Camden Comprehensive, Captain Beefheart weekend, round the back with mum's brandy. Pathetic… Rotten had no sense of rock'n'roll, how could you when you went to Catholic church on a Sunday?"

"I love my music"
Some other Rotten comments from the Capital show that break with the McLaren vision of Sex Pistols as anti-music. "I've liked music since the first day I began living. I just like all music... I had a plastic Beatles wig... That's what started me buying records. I felt part of it."... "It's not all reggae, I can't bring down everything I've got, but if I could, you'd be surprised even more. I like all music."

"a constructive... lunatic"
—McLaren. NME 1/28/78. Pistols news story.

On the subject of McLaren’s being incensed by Rotten’s departure from the script."That was pathetic", Rotten retorted to the NME a year later (Dec 23 78), "it seemed to mean... I couldn't be half as ignorant, moronic, violent, destructive... as they wanted to promote me". In other words, it was his constructed lunatic/hooligan image that he was consciously attempting to dismantle on The Punk and His Music. To an extent, it worked: discussing the show, The Sunday Times described Rotten as coming across as "a mild-mannered liberal with a streets of Islington accent". But what really disturbed McLaren was that Rotten had become the darling of the left-leaning media, from NME to The Guardian to Time Out to New Society to ex-sixties types like Caroline Coon: that wet-liberal dream, the gifted working class kid looking to express himself. These had been precisely the sort of Sixties bleeding heart sorts in whose craws McLaren had wanted the Pistols to stick. He became increasingly suspicious that Rotten was a careerist, a closet art-rocker looking to go solo. In the script for The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle movie, McLaren’s name for the Rotten character was the Collaborator. And in the earlier Russ Meyer directed and Roger Ebert scripted abortive Pistols movie Who Killed Bambi? Rotten was to be styled as a hippie—both for viewer dissonance but also, one suspects, because that's what McLaren thought of him as"a sensitive music-loving type.Had Rotten in fact been a hippie? He had been a fan of Ladbroke Grove scene hairies The Pink Fairies; there was a rumor, which he denied, that he used to deal acid at the Sunday Roundhouse gigs, and another that he used to roadie for Hawkwind. Lydon also had long hair, but then again, that was the norm back then.

Page 5

at a playschool during the summer Lydon taught children woodwork and was kicked out for his informal, imagination-oriented approach.

further education... Kingsway College
Kingsway College of Further Education, which was, as Wobble puts it, "the kind of place where kids who hadn't, shall we say, fitted in too well ended up" (The Guardian Weekend - September 7 1996). Although Lydon preferred hanging out with the teachers in the pub, discussing Shakespeare among other things.In The Filth and the Fury, Steve Jones says "Johnny was an intellectual". But he was the kind of intellectual who used "intellectual" as an insult and derided the practice of "intellectualizing" things, e.g. Lydon deriding Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces and dismissing Situationism as "mind games for the muddled classes".

heeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny talking about being a bookworm and autodidact:

"I advanced meself, didn't I? I took every exam that was ever available and I really, really enjoyed it, too. I found education to be not a thing you turn your nose up at and sneer at, but to be an absolute release. But then I always loved books, when I was very, very young I could read and write before I went to school. My mum always got me interested in that"-- Lydon speaking on John Lydon: A Culture Show Special, BBC4, January 5th 2010

Dr Alimantado's 'Born for a Purpose'
Key Lyric "If you feel like you have no reason for living, don't determine my life"
Lydon, during the Capital show: "Now this record, just after I got my brains kicked out, I went home and I played it, and there's a verse in it, where it's like, 'if you feel like you have no reason for living/don’t determine my life'—cause the same thing happened to him, he got run over cause he was a dread. It's very true." According to Alimantado, a bus driver had deliberately tried to run him over in the street, because he had dreadlocks.

Being beaten up Vance asks how many times he'd been beaten, and Rotten replies: "Loads. Loads. That's just London at the moment. That's the way it is—it's a violent town, gangs like in the summer, strolling the streets. It's very easy for a gang to pick on like one person and smash his head in—it's a big laugh for them, and it's very easy for them to say 'what a wanker, look at him run away. What a turd.' I mean, what's he meant to do?."He ultimately blamed the incidents that summer on McLaren, attributing them (June 16 1979 NME] to "all that sort of political manipulation. Well, no more. From now on if I get hurt it's because of a situation I've created and not some pseudo arsehole sitting in an office somewhere." Or Rolling Stone, May 1st 1980: "Malcolm and the press had a lot to do with fostering that image. I chose to walk away from it because otherwise you have all these people out there waiting for you to kill yourself on their behalf." He cited Sid Vicious as an example of someone who was killed by trying to live out a myth. "Poor Sid. The only way he could live up to what he wanted everyone to believe about him was to die. That was tragic, but more for Sid than anyone else. He really bought his public image."

the death knell came
Elsewhere there was a different response to punk's perceived failure and the accompanying desolation and bitterness. NME star writers and star-crossed lovers Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, two of punk's most fervent champions, penned the The Boy Looked At Johnny: The Obituary of Rock and Roll. Published at the end of '78 but written much earlier in the year (during a single amphetamine-fueled weekend that spring, legend has it), the screed captures the absolute nadir of post-punk disillusion in those first few months after the Pistols auto-destruct. The Boy Looked At Johnny concluded that the revolution was defeated: not only was the record industry intact, but it seemed positively rejuvenated and salivatingly eager to market the more tameable New Wave bands. (Indeed, in a Melody Maker mid-1978 feature on the state of the record industry and whither next for British music, John Fruin, managing director of WEA, enthused about the commercial potential of "a whiter, cleaner edition of punk" called power pop—a clutch of Beatles-copyist groups that some elements of the music press were desperately hyping as the Next Big Thing). Dripping with the acrid cynicism of the recently disabused believer, The Boy Looks At Johnny roundly dismisses rock in its entirety as a mere mechanism of social control. Its "illusion of youth rebellion" achieves the counter-revolutionary double-whammy of generating huge amounts of cash for the leisure industry while "channelling... the time, energy and psyche of young people" into a cultural cul de sac. The most crucial aspect of punk, in the Burchill/Parsons view, was its assault on rock itself, aiming to dismantle this safety-valve system and reintroduce youth to the Real (i.e. political involvement, struggle, class war). But the movement "born out of No Fun... ended as a product whose existence was No Threat." Parsons and Burchill's grim conclusion—a reductionist rewrite of punk history—was that the only worthwhile things to come out of the whole farrago were performers like Tom Robinson, who used music as a soapbox for left-wing causes. "The first band with sufficient pure, undiluted bottle to keep their crooning necks on the uncompromising line of commitment... Compared to the Tom Robinson Band, every other rock musician is wanking into the wind." This was the SWP/ANL line: "without a genuine declaration of commitment and the exertion of whatever influence a musician may have," wrote Burchill/Parsons, "...rock and roll is pointless, useless, worthless."

Burchill later recalled what the after-punk crash felt like in an East Village Eye interview (Summer 1981). The rush of History + Amphetamines "made the two years go by very fast; when it was over in 1978, there was a terrible tristesse about, a feeling of being jilted... No one who loved punk will ever be happy again, dear me no, but it was worth it. I pity the young people these days; I wish they could have some of what we had." The same metaphor recurred, with a cynical twist, years later in Burchill's Modern Review slag-off of England’s Dreaming: she compared Savage to Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, with punk as the rotting wedding cake.

"a regressive mod... point of reference"
—Lydon, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (see bibliography). P. 204.

Mod meaning, I think, specifically, The Who's amphetamine-apoplectic, amped-up version of R&B, as in the cover of "Substitute" the Pistols did. The sound of teenage proles on pills, hoping they die before they get old.Lydon recalled in his autobiography ROTTEN: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS (page 158) that "Steve, Paul, Malcolm, Glen, Sid ... rarely mingled with music or the possibilities ... they would slag off bands and not know who or what they were talking about. Malcolm guided Steve and Paul into a regressive sixties mod band vibe ... I knew more of what I was talking about". He also remembered one incident where the boys in the band talked about doing a Kinks-style song, and him, being the aesthete know-it-all, saying "which one," meaning which of the many styles of Kinks song across their substantial discography, with which he was thoroughly intimate.

pinpointed Bollocks failure as a deficiency of dub Yet it's hard to imagine how it could really have taken on this quality (that said, 'Submission' has a subaqua feel, a doomy dubbiness and bass-heavy ponderousness; along with "Bodies" it's probably the most powerful song on the album). Legendarily Vicious and Rotten did do their own mix of Bollocks that was much more bass-heavy and proto-PiL.

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Some like the Clash and the Ruts
The Clash, for instance, offered a rough-hewn skank on "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" (lyrically one of the most complex and interesting songs about white-on-black musical projection/identification/mutual misunderstanding) and on "Guns of Brixton"; they also hired dub wizard Lee Perry to sparkle up "Complete Control", covered contemporary roots classics like "Armagideon Time" and "Police and Thieves," and pulled off a convincing roots facsimile of their own with "Bankrobber" (Jamaican producer Mikey Dread at the controls). The Ruts had a subliminal reggae riddim feel in songs like "In A Rut" and referenced the Rastafarian worldview in "Babylon's Burning". Later they did a dub version of one of their albums.Analysts like Dick Hebdige have interpreted punk itself—the British version of it, at least—as partially based in white youth's yearning for a dissident tribal identity equivalent to the Rastafarians, who were highly visible on Britain's urban streets from the early Seventies onwards. From Subculture: the Meaning of Style: "the succession of white subcultural forms can be read as a series of deep-structural adaptations which symbolically accommodate or expunge the black presence from the host community". Hebdiges says that by tracking this dialectic of attraction-repulsion across race lines, as dramatized through the ever-shifting minutiae of style, music, dance, et al, "we can watch, played out on the loaded surfaces of British working-class youth cultures, a phantom history of race relations since the War."

"part journalism, part prophecy"
—James A. Winders (see bibliography). P. 19

Race Relations Act
- link

"child of Irish/Catholic immigrants... Identification with Black British experience"
See the Capital Radio show and Lydon's choice of Ken Boothe's "Is It Because I'm Black," with its key lines "Something is holding me back /Is it because I'm black?"

"antimusic of any kind. I'm tired of melody."
(original source unknown, cited in later piece Rolling Stone, May 1, 1980)

Lydon in Jamaica

A piece on Johnny Rotten's visit to Jamaica as consultant for Virgin's reggae release

My own interview with Dennis Morris who accompanied Rotten on his trip, also looking at his carere as photographer and involvement in Basement 5.

Here is Lydon's list of reggae artists that Virgin should consider signing

The Front Line Whose logo—a black power fist clenched around barbed wire—potently conflated militancy and martyrdom to serve as a visual icon of radical chic. Reggae connoisseurs find this Virgin imprint's releases disappointing, the production being too "rock" and tidy. Still, the groups and artists were uniformly among the cream of Jamaican roots reggae, or at least, that portion of the cream that hadn't been already sifted by Island! The Prince Far I albums on Front Line, Black Man Land and Dubwise are pretty good as I recall.

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John Lydon interviewed by Janet Street Porter in early 1978 while in post-Pistols and pre-PiL limbo

Wobble... reputation as thug
Wobble from an interview I did with him for The Wire in 1992 (full text in the footnotes for Chapter 14):"It was a very angry, neurotic scene, and it was perfect for me! I was engulfed in rage. There were a lot of fellow malcontents. I've got very happy memories of it, because I don't know what I would have done without that chance to express myself. I dread to think what would have happened... I can't talk about punk sociologically, only subjectively—I just wanted to live. Recently, I popped into a local boozer, and it felt like pre-punk again—a living death, everybody getting tanked up, and then it's back to work in the morning. There's got to be more to life than that. I was very against authority, against formularised structures, and I still am. I'm still very adolescent, without being boringly so. Seeing people in their thirties who haven't matured can be a sad sight. You can't just be against things, you have to offer something as well."

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Keith Levene He characterizes his background as self-made middle class. He grew up in Southgate, North London. "I would say sort-of-middle-class was my background. I'm half-Jewish—my dad's Jewish. My dad used to be a tailor, and then he had a factory churning out these fur-fabric coats. So he wasn't really using his skill. He was a guy that was his own boss, employed people, and really worried a lot. I really inherited that!"

Yes/Steve Howe
Levene roadied for them aged 15 and was awestruck to be in the presence of his hero Steve Howe but the gig didn't last long because he irritated the band by taking every opportunity to mess around on their instruments.

reasons he left the Clash
Mick Jones's tastes lay in a more traditional rock'n'roll direction, whereas Levene wanted a harsher guitar sound and less conventional verse-chorus-verse structures. Levene also claims that Jones was envious of his superior guitar skills and green-eyed about his youthfulness ("Mick was 21 and I was only 18—that really freaked him out") at a time when punk exalted the teenager and lambasted "boring old farts" a/k/a B.O.F.s. Then there was the fact that both of them were competing for the affections of Viv Albertine, Levene's squatmate and future guitarist of The Slits. "Mick got all weird when I started teaching her to play guitar."

Amphetamine After being voted out, Levene drifted through various unsatisfactory groups. With Viv Albertine, Sid Vicious, and Steve Walsh (later of Manicured Noise), he formed Flowers of Romance. During this period he helped Albertine develop her Slits guitar sound, "like a buzz-saw crossed with a wasp" as she later described it. Flowers of Romance split up in February 1977 when Vicious joined the Sex Pistols. After that Levene did the live sound for The Slits during their early days, and played in The Quick Spurts, the first incarnation of Ken Lockie's group Cowboys International.

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Relapse into hard rock tradition Give 'Em Enough Rope got much flak for its hard rock American production by BoC producer Sandy Pearlman. But the flak it received was all in the UK; in America the album was critically well-received and set the stage for the canonization of the band with London Calling, in which the Clash embraced American rock'n'roll and roots music wholeheartedly. London Calling was later anointed Best Album of the Eighties by Rolling Stone. You could also argue that the Pistols greatest sonic legacy is in hard rock—its songs have been covered by Motley Crue, Guns N’Roses, Megadeth, Motorhead, etc.

the name Public Image Ltd
In a piece in Sounds (July 22 1978) Caroline Coon reported that the group had not settled on a name yet but the candidates included the Royal Family and the Carnivorous Butterflies!

"under a tight leash"
Lydon, from his autobiography: 'I formed PiL because I got bored with the extremist point of view that I'd had with the Sex Pistols... I attempted to move toward a liberal point of view and see if that could slowly but surely change society into something more decent... PiL (was) much more of a democracy... I got the name Public Image from a book by that Scottish woman, Muriel Spark... when I was in Italy, somebody introduced her writings to me. I checked out some of her other books when I went home. One of them was called The Public Image. It was all about this actress who was unbearably egotistical. I thought Ha! The Public Image Limited. Not as a company but to be limited—not being as 'out there' as I was with the Sex Pistols".

egotistical actress
It seemed to tacitly acknowledge the truth of McLaren's contention around the time of the split-up in San Francisco: that fame and being feted had gone to Rotten's head, that he was now just like "Rod Stewart."

Acme Attractions Originally selling second hand clothing, the store was on the King's Rd, and perceived by Viv Westwood as a rival. Letts then became the DJ at the Roxy, which was started by Acme's accountant Andy Czezowksi.

a stealth campaign From Filth and the Fury, the Pistols movie, Lydon: "Look, I want to change the music business, right? I want to change all that... but it'll take years. I'll have to do it more skilfully this time. But it'll be with a vengeance. And they don’t know."

money-making as potentially subversive The Sex Pistols had of course been selected as Young Businessmen of the Year in Investors Review at the end of 1977, for their success in getting money out of a series of record companies. So you could draw a line between McLaren’s "Cash From Chaos" and PiL’s presentation of themselves as corporation.

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guitar-wielding guerillas The Clash served for PiL, throughout its early years, as the symbol of what went wrong with punk—and they lobbed insults in their direction in almost every interview they did.

Anti-rock'n'roll image Dennis Morris, source unknown: "We all agreed it would be good to get away from the punk look with which John had been so closely associated. We went to Ken McDonald, who had a shop on the King's Road, to style John. He made all his suits—all those wicked, bright-coloured zoot suits. I designed and shot the first record sleeve with John on the cover with Italian Vogue lettering. The reverse featured Wobble in a sharp suit. On the inner bag Keith Levene was in a blue shiny jacket with Jim Walker, the drummer, and the Mad typeface." There was an ad campaign around the PiL debut with small ads going all the way up the tube escalators.

Keith Levene, from Jason Gross’s February 2001 interview at Perfect Sound Forever: link"This guy, Kenny McDonald, made his suit and all of ours and it made him look good to have the guys from PiL wearing his stuff. We'd wear it wrong and it looked even better. We didn't want the black leather jacket look like these punk bands. So John just decided to hate this guy—that's what happens and there's nothing you can do. He [Kenny] wouldn't be his lapdog and John thought he was a star and wanted that. John named him on our first album on "Low Life."If I recall correctly, it was Kenny McDonald who ran into Levene outside the tube station and told him "Johnny's looking for you, he's starting a band"

Not the Johnny Rotten Band Lydon in an interview with Kris Needs, ZigZag, date unknown: "In this band we are all equal. No Rod Stewarts. We all do equal amounts of work, we all produce equally, write songs and collect the money equally."Ah hah, echo of the McLaren "you're just like Rod Stewart" barb there!

Simon Draper
Richard Branson's second cousin, Mr Music at Virgin, Draper did all the A&R, nurturing the artists, and the signings. But the Sex Pistols were Branson's choice—he liked mayhem more than music and could see they were going to create a lot of mass-cultural impact. Unlike, say, David Bedford.

key 'progressive labels' Virgin's roster also had Wigwam, Clearlight, David Bedford, Ivor Cutler, Hatfield and the North, Ashra, and of course, funding the whole operation, Mike Oldfield.

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"Public Image" cover as fake newspaper
Just one example of a mini-tradition of record covers styled as newspapers, way too long to list here... Wishbone Ash did one in 1977 (a fake newspaper called Arista News, the headline "The Band Most Likely to Succeed in ’77"). And the most recent example: grime MC Lady Sovereign's 2004 single "Random"

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"I hate love... It's bullshit"
— Rotten, quoted in Vermorel, Fred, and Judy Vermorel, Sex Pistols: The Inside Story (London: Star Books, 1978) P. 180

"Fodderstompf" and discofunk From a PiL feature in NME, 16 June 1979.
Danny Baker: "Well do you just reckon rock is dead, or all popular music?"
Lydon: "Oh no, only rock. I still love reggae and I like quite a lot of disco music. I mean you can DANCE to those, right."

"a church... farce"
—Lydon, NBC's Tomorrow Show 6/27/80
More info on Lydon’s confrontational encounter with Tom Synder the host in footnotes for
Chapter 14.

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the Rainbow show
Support from Dennis Morris's PiL-like punky-reggae all-black band Basement 5 and from dub poet Linton Kwesi-Johnson, plus roots deejaying from Don Letts, shifted the vibe slightly away from rock convention.

"time and money down the King's Road"
An allusion to where the punks would hang out in their Mohawks and spraypainted jackets (for years and years to come) and also to McLaren and Westwood’s clothes boutique full of overpriced punk clobber.

"so what... That's history"
—Lydon stage comment quoted in NME, 1/6/79. PiL live review


Incredibly thorough and detailed Public Image Ltd. fansite Fodderstompf

John Lydon's site

Biography page of Jah Wobble's site

Unofficial Wobble fan site

All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated