Tag Archive: punk


UNKNOWN PLEASURES by Peter Hook (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

joyPop-pickers of a certain age and diehard hipsters out there surely won’t have missed that the title of yesterday’s post on Ricky Gervais’ ‘Afterlife’ featured a quote from the Joy Division song ‘Heart And Soul’.

This track, from their second and final album ‘Closer’, includes the tortured lines: “Existence, well what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can. The past is now part of my future. The present is well out of hand”.

Anyone pausing to reflect on such lyrics would probably conclude that the author was either a) deeply troubled or (b) that he had been reading a little too much outsider fiction. Both of these were true of the band’s tortured lead singer Ian Curtis who hung himself on 18th May, 1980. Continue reading

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SIGNIFYING RAPPERS by David Foster Wallace & Mark Costello

(Back Bay Books, 2013 – originally published 1990).

“Can blue men sing the whites, or are they hypocrites?” was the surreal and satirical question posed by the Bonzo Dog Band in 1968. In Signifying Rappers, David Foster Wallace (DFW) and Mark Costello are more in earnest when they ask themselves “What business do two white yuppies have trying to do a sampler on rap?”

In both instances, the question could be reframed as ‘What do privileged white people know about the music of disenfranchised blacks?’

Section one of the DFW & Costello’s book is called ‘Entitlement’ and, in it, they seek to convince the readers that they are qualified to analyse rap music despite being of the ‘wrong’ class and color. We learn of their frustration with Punk and other supposedly anti-establishment music which has been appropriated by the mainstream as the acceptable (i.e. unthreatening) face of rebellion. Continue reading

I was thoroughly entertained by the BBC 4 profile on John Cooper Clarke and it was a pleasure to see that he is miraculously still in the land of the living after kicking his longstanding heroine addiction.

It’s heartening too to see that he is winning a whole new audience, some of whom were alerted to his genius when a neutered version of Evidently Chicken Town featured on the closing credits of an episode of The Sopranos.

This is still one of his funniest and powerful poems even when the emphatic adjective has been altered from ‘fucking’ to the milder ‘bloody’. Film of his performance in the documentary shows that there’s nothing to beat the original when it comes to the venomous delivery of peerless lines like:

“a fucking bloke is fucking stabbed
waiting for the fucking cab
you fucking stay at fucking home
the fucking neighbours fucking moan
keep the fucking racket down
this is fucking chicken town”.

Poems like this and Beezley Street (which rhymes with uneasy cheesy greasy queasy and beastly) are Britain’s answer to Desolation Row although comparisons to Dylan are exaggerated for someone who has passed the best part of two decades without writing anything new. Continue reading

The British Music Experience in London’s 02 Bubble (the venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome) is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of popular music in Britain.

“Like Rock’n’Roll,  there are no rules” we are told in ‘pre-show’ introductory video but you can’t take food and drink inside or take pictures so as Nick Cave might have said “That’s just bullshit, baby!”

The main exhibits are divided into seven ‘Edge Zones’  taking visitors on a sonic journey from skiffle to grime. The time-line begins and ends with two 17 year segments (1945-1962; 1993-2000).

Of course, structuring history like this is somewhat arbitrary but presumably the curators wanted to avoid neatly dividing the history into decades. Ending one edge zone in 1975, for example, gives the curators scope to focus the next room to what the guide booklet describes as “more outspoken styles in reaction to the intensity of prog rock and the frivolity of glam”

Punk quite properly dominates this 1975-85 zone but, slotted after Bowie and before Brit-Pop,  no videos or artefacts can hope to capture what Simon Reynolds called the “apocalyptic rupture” in the nation’s cultural history.

Turning entertainment into education is a largely thankless task at the best of times although the BME organisers have done their best to create a lively interactive space. You can for example, navigate a map of the UK to pinpoint key events near your home town. A Gibson Interactive Studio also literally gives you the hands on experience of using guitars, drums and keyboards to make your own sounds (recordings can be stored on your ‘smart-ticket’). You can also use a vocal booth to record yourself singing or make a prick of yourself mimicking the steps of dance crazes through the ages.

I may be old but...One of the problems with an exhibition of this kind, however,  is that archive photos and footage simply don’t have the impact they would have had in the pre-internet age. Nowadays, anyone can make their own sound and vision retrospective online without needing a any museum guide.

Displays of memorabilia which includes Dusty Springfield’s pink mini-skirt, the Ziggy Stardust outfit and Rat Scabies’ ripped drum kit are interesting but these static objects hardly bring history alive.

Visiting on a Tuesday morning, there were very few visitors – the finale show which is supposed to give you the sensory experience of watching band in a stadium setting felt a bit sad with just me and my daughter in the room!

Our music experience ended by the inevitable exit through the gift shop. For reasons best known to her, my daughter bought an Iron Maiden T-shirt and I splashed out on a matchbox-sized pack of gum for the slogan ‘I May Be Old, But I Got To See All The Cool Bands’. 


After the passing of Ari-Up from the Slits last October ,the sad news today is that another female Punk icon has fallen at a shockingly early age.

Poly Styrene (Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) died yesterday of cancer aged 53.

Poly understood the DIY message of Punk better than most as she realised it wasn’t about slavishly following a set look or wearing an official uniform. She recognised that the whole ethos was not about  jumping on a rebellious bandwagon but about finding your own self expression.

For women, Punk Rock was particularly liberating as it meant you didn’t have to look like you’d just stepped off a catwalk onto the stage. Poly looked frumpy and awkward but this was a major part of her appeal as it mocked the celebrity image that dominates the media to this day. Continue reading

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