Entertainment Television

Monday 19 August 2019

Punks are still with us, but where are their successors?

  • Punk (Sky Arts)
PUNK pioneer John Lydon
PUNK pioneer John Lydon
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The basic model of western society used to entail a kind of bewilderment on the part of older people, at the crazy behaviour of the young - at their rage and frustration and the ludicrous ways in which they'd give vent to such feelings.

It was assumed that the rage and the frustration were irrational and immature, the result of a lack of understanding of the world which would eventually pass when the young would become the old - and it was understood that this pattern would keep repeating itself with each generation, and that that was how the world worked.

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Except something has gone wrong with this basic model, fundamentally wrong as you can see if you're looking at the four-part series Punk on Sky Arts.

Here we have a lot of elderly people such as Iggy Pop and John Lydon and Debbie Harry and Viv Albertine, and they're recalling the ferocious energies of the late 1970s which are generally known as "punk". And it seems reasonable to them that they responded in the ways that they did, to the multifarious miseries of that period.

They were right then, and they're right now, and yes, their 1977 selves would view the 2019 versions as impossibly old in years, if not in spirit.

But why do we have to look as far back as punk, to find such rage against the ways of the world? Was there something uniquely terrible about that time, or are we missing something here?

I mean, there were some horrible individuals in positions of power back in the 1970s, but none more horrible than the ones of the present day - and by the way, climate change is actually about to set much of the world on fire.

Yet the attitudes which we came to call "punk", are now to be seen mainly in documentaries such as this, brought to us by people in their sixties and seventies, trying to remember what was happening during the 1960s and the 1970s.

Indeed there were hundreds, even thousands of bands composed of such individuals, engaging in their own forms of protest against the enemies of progress at that time.

Where are they now?

I mean, where are their equivalents now, at this time of supreme danger for all that is good and true? Where is there anything like this concerted cultural response to the dark forces which now oppress us?

Several of the contributors to Punk remembered this noise which brought them all together on both sides of the Atlantic, not a specific noise, more of a generalised roar of discontent. How did that noise reach so many of them, and why is it not reaching so many who should be their natural successors?

After all, it's not as if there aren't millions of people today who are deeply angry and frustrated about nearly everything, yet they are not connected in the way that, say, The Clash were connected to The Ramones, or the Sex Pistols were connected to Iggy Pop - different sounds, to be sure, but all possessed of this attitude which was as powerfully defined as the original energies of rock'n'roll itself.

Maddening though it seems, maybe a lot of it just comes down to luck - rock'n'roll was a coming together of many strange musical elements, and many strange people, at a certain time in a certain place. punk too had an exotic pedigree.

We were reminded that The Ramones were going nowhere, until they came to England and were hailed as gods by the London punks - who themselves had an eclectic range of interests in everything from reggae music to the sort of radical politics to which their American soulmates did not relate. And yet it all came together somehow.

We like to think that these things are brought about by some great unifying intelligence - certainly a Malcolm McLaren wanted us to think that - but increasingly punk seems like a series of tremendous accidents, the like of which may never be seen again.

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