Every status update since the dawn of Thomas


Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Punk. Yeah, right on, punk. Am I, in fact, the only person in the multiverse who gets just that faint, niggling hint of annoyance and suspicion every time I hear that word nowadays? Who picks up the undeniable whiff of pretentious airs and graces when that word is applied to anything outside the late ‘70s? Who boggles at the audacity of those who would casually self-apply this word to themselves and what they do?
Why? Why would I feel like that? Well I suppose it’s to do with the perceived status of the word. Punk is about the only musical genre whose credibility is simply beyond question. Words like jazz, metal, techno, hip-hop, country, rock, pop, reggae, d’n’b, “electronica”, indie, house – even funk, for funk’s sake – are perfectly capable of being sneered out as a derogatory pooh-pooh, and happily suffixed with words like “nonsense”, “rubbish” and “bollox”. But you just don’t do that to punk. Well, you can, but people will look at you like you were a) born in the 1800’s and probably listen exclusively to Yes and/or Dire Straits b) a pre-teen girl who idolises Justin Biebles or Jedwank or One True Voice or whatever fresh-faced-clean-living-non-threatening-pop-fodder is spewing out of the corporate mangle at this precise moment. Which is strange; because it’s not like punk has any more consensus on whether the music was actually good or not than in any other genre. Plenty of people don’t like punk. But nobody under 60 – nobody – questions its authenticity. Everyone knows that punk is visceral, angry and nihilistic – punk doesn’t care if you like it or not, in fact it practically wants you to hate it, which is why it’s so cool. It has none of the pomp, pantomime and geekery of metal, none of the self-satisfied corporate cock-suckery that soured hip-hop’s reputation, and seems to have somehow side-stepped the culture-based incomprehension that causes people to refuse to even try to understand, say, reggae, or most electronic dance-based music. Most genres of music are associated with types of people: Your typical fan, who is eminently open to ridicule. Think of a genre and you can always think of a particular kind of worst-case pathetic specimen who likes to listen to it, even if you know this is an unfair stereotype – the stereotype exists. Yuppies. Chavs. Hippies. Red-necks. Teeny-boppers. 18-30 clubber dregs. Jazz-pseuds. Emos and goths (ahh, bless). It’s guilt-by-association – you get enough silly or dull or pretentious or, in whatever way, reprehensible people listening to a type of music and that’s it – its credibility, in the minds of non-fans, is done for. Tainted.
So how has punk escaped this? Well, your typical punk fan is – well, a punk. And only a punk, nothing else. And punks are scary. Not that some hip-hop gangtas and muscles-n-hate metallers can’t be scary - but all punks are scary; it doesn’t matter if they’re weedy or moronic or 14 years old, because they’re all livid, unhinged, self-destructive nihilists who are as likely to nut your face, gob in your chips and knife you in the kidneys as say “Hale-and-well-met, good-fellow”. They “want to destroy passer-by”. That’s what Mr. J. Rotten said. Poor old passer-by. Except that this isn’t true, is it? It’s utter, utter, B.S. – very, very few punks were ever really, fully, 24-hours-a-day like this, by most accounts. Most of them wanted people to think they were. But, like goths, it was an affected pose, a lifestyle fashion choice, like any other pop-culture fad. Punks were just people – hyperactive, speed-fuelled, stroppy, sneery, yoof people, maybe, but still just people all the same. It wasn’t the end of civilization after all. But somehow the stereotype persists that punks really are just like that. Where other genres’ stereotypes have grown familiar and cosy or broadened to incorporate multiple kinds of everyday folks, the punk stereotype has retained its initial shock value and specificity, somehow. Why? Almost certainly because it was so short-lived. We never had time to become familiar and cosy with the punk, or with the kind of general public who listened to punk as a simple matter of personal taste. Whilst the impact of punk had massive pop-culture reverberations, pure punk was a flash in the pan – it was all over, really, by about 1980. Pure punk was non-sustainable. You can be a life-long hippy. But you can’t be a truly anti-everything anarchistic punk and still hold down a day job. Really you need to be dead by your mid-twenties, or you’re just not punk enough. If you survive, you had better be in a state approaching Shane McGowan.
Musically it was also a cul-de-sac, a dead-end. Whilst it may have been a searing blaze of fresh, raw, jettison-the-bullshit energy, what most people seem to forget is that punk was massively conservative and intolerant. It sneered and gobbed at anyone who used anything other than 3 chords on anything other than guitar, bass and drums. Anyone over 25 was too old. And god-forbid you wheel out a synthesizer. When Joy Division, always slightly apart from the pure punk crowd and more accurately described as “post-punk”, did this, Ian Curtis’s girlfriend – the one who wasn’t his wife – allegedly accused them of “sounding like Genesis” (Genesis were the prog-rock enemy to the angry punk-influenced yoof at the time). Needless to say, that’s f***ing absurd; but it amply demonstrates attitudes to variety and experimentation in those punk-drenched times. The Damned got away with early keyboard usage, but only because Captain Sensible made a point of playing three reedy notes shambolically and knocking the stand over at the end of the gig. But their second album was produced by Pink Floyd's (prog/psychedelic) Nick Mason and that was met with howls of derision and seen as a shocking faux-pas that nearly finished them off - despite the fact that any resulting changes to their sound were utterly minimal - a negligible, shoulder-shrugging smidgen more polished and melodic, which would have inevitably been the case whoever produced it. The likes of The Stranglers, despite being in the midst of the punk scene when they started out, playing all the same venues with all the same bands, and clearly sharing much in common in their sound and attitude, were never properly accepted as punk – they had a synthesizer, three of them were too old, two of them could play too well and two of them had facial hair. No chance. This despite the fact that Joe Strummer reportedly split the 101er’s (who often shared the bill with the early Stranglers) after telling Hugh Cornwell “My band is shit, Hugh – I want a band like yours!” – and next week joined The Clash. This conservativism was also a lie – many punk icons from John Lydon (née Rotten) to Rat Scabies later admitted to liking all kinds of diverse musics that they would never have publicly admitted to at the time. In fact, as it turned out, the first wave of UK punk acts did have a broader appreciation of music and more catholic influences that became clearer as they developed: The Clash's London Calling experiments; the Buzzcock's 60's bubblegum pop and repetitive, angular kraut-rock touches; the inherent psychedelia in The Damned and Siouxsie and the Banshee's later goth stylings. Rather it was the music press, the fans and the second-wave copyists who did most to petrify punk into rigid standardisation. Pure punk was such a narrow and inflexible genre that it literally had, to quote Mr. J. Rotten again, “No future” (clever that, see). Those that survived had to veer away from the narrow template. Those that didn’t, imploded. Punk’s lasting legacy was via post-punk – where punk mutated into something else and other genres were infused with some – but only some – elements of its energy, aesthetic and ethos. That stuff had legs, because it was open to endless variation and diversification. Pure Punk wasn’t – it was simply a cleansing fire, a stubble burning sweep to make way for fresh new growth.
So: Let’s return to where I started – why does use of the word “punk” when referring to things nowadays, annoy me? Well, first of all, “punk”, in the pure sense, is as time-locked as ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll – and as such any modern act that claims to be pure punk, without adding any modern spin, should reasonably expect to viewed in the same vein as Showaddywaddy – novelty retro throw-backs. It seems a bit of a conceit to claim to be full-on punk unless you were a) there in ’76-’79 or b) are accepting that you are simply describing your sound as mimicking that of original punk. But more annoying than this is the way the term seems to be bandied around willy-nilly in a way that can seemingly mean whatever you want it to. Sadly, perfectly good acts such as Mogwai, The Prodigy and Sepultura have at some point claimed that they were “punk”. Needless to say, they sound nothing like each other, and none of them would even have come within Walking Distance (that’s a Buzzcocks song. Clever, see?) of being recognized as punks back in ’77. They’d have been laughed out of Bromley. There isn’t even really any identifiable thread in common between them; because it depends which element of punk influence you are talking about: Are you referring to a certain visual style aesthetic? To a lo-fi, amateur do-it-yourself ethos (as if punk was the only genre ever to use this)? To an anti-establishment politicised outlook? To a generally rebellious, bratty, obnoxious demeanour? To an iconoclastic hatred of the “old”? To a genre-based style-template for making records? Or to a commitment to stripped down simplicity (no solos)?
Referring to such elements as “punk” is fine if it’s done knowingly and lightly, but when it’s said in utter po-faced seriousness I just want to tell the speaker to f*** off. I have no problem with a term like “punk-influenced”, but when people insist something vaguely punk-influenced IS punk... oh, right. Spare me, huh? Having pink hair does not make you a “punk” any more than having a synthesizer makes you Genesis. The media do this all the time when talking about the likes of P!nk or Avril Lavigne (who went on record to tell them to stop calling her punk because she didn’t know what that was supposed to mean – good for her!) This is chronic enough, but when people deliberately call themselves “punk”, that’s when my nose really wrinkles with disdain – because not only is it pungent bullshit, a bogus claim; it’s also a really obvious conceited grab at credibility, as if you can somehow summon all of original pure punk’s livid anarcho-political anti-establishment rage, unhinged youthful energy and unimpeachable authenticity simply because you play a cheap instrument badly or have a tongue piecing. Piss off. Punk.

Punk. - appendix 1: reservations about the mythos from someone who Wasn't There.

There are all kinds of unshakable myths surrounding punk that get trotted out again and again as canon. Having grown up with this accepted doom, it tends not to occur to one to actually analyse these myths – and it causes a surprised double-take when one does, and realises these things aren’t necessarily 100% correct. First of all, that “Music had all got pompous, stagnant, tired and boring”: Certainly, there were a fair amount of extravagant rock behemoths, snoozesome trad-rock noodlers, tired hippy hangovers and comfortable, polished MOR blandophiles who were brought down a peg or two by punk’s immediate, straight-up energy and Heath-Robinson approach. Sure, there was plenty of slick, shiny mainstream commercial pap – but then there always is. There may have not been a lot in the top ten album charts of those years immediately before punk that would appeal to da kidz on da street; but, in retrospect, the sheer volume of now-iconic names producing seminal albums full of vibrant, innovative music in the first half the ‘70s makes the charts of the last couple of decades look shamefully paltry and inconsequential. A lot of it may have quite understandably looked distant, dull and alienating to your average stroppy teen living in squalor on an inner-city council estate; but I’m (the) damned if I’m going to adopt the perspective of a stroppy teen as my considered musical-historian-style overview. And yet people do. Whoever they are. Punk’s gravitational claim on credibility is so powerful that everyone just accepts that this was, apparently, the case – and blithely write off the majority of musical output of the time without really thinking specifically about what or who it is that they’re writing off – or whether they properly agree with that. The “serious” music papers may well have been full of prog, and, ok, that’s hard for a lot of people to stomach. Not everyone’s cup of pretentious herbal tea, but it’s not quite fair, or even accurate, to call the more bonkers, out-there, experimental stuff “dull” and “stagnant”, and only the more high-profile were into expensive theatrics. Glam and art-rock was also rife, and an admitted influence on punk, particularly the likes of Bowie and early Roxy Music on the Bromley contingent. Where was this desolate dark-age of music, this terminally tedious and infuriating desert of artistic authenticity? Was 1975 really that bad? Maybe you had to be there.
One thing that is certain is that punk certainly changed the music industry – in many ways for the better, but not in all... In reality, for all the overblown corporate guff it crippled, it also killed off swathes of interesting, artistically credible acts with its conservativism – what they were doing simply went out of fashion. And make no mistake, punk was always about fashion, and image in particular – which brings us on to the next myth – “Punk was back-to-basics, no frills, unpretentious”: Back-to-basics, yes. No frills, yes. Unpretentious, y... noooooo. Punk was staggeringly self-conscious and affected, in the way that only surly teens can be. Every time I see footage from ’76-’79 there is always a slightly uncomfortable moment when all the accrued mythos falls away, just for an instant, and I simply see a gaggle of silly puffed-up spotty yooves gurning away like naggy toddlers and trying that little bit too hard to look nonchalantly wise-assed and intimidating. Grr, look how obnoxious we are. And then I remember that these are icons, worshiped by thousands, and shudder at how age has jaded me. Now that’s nihilism. But punk, as I said, was always about image. It marked a new high in style-over-substance – as long as you had the look and the attitude, the music didn’t really matter – so long as it was fast, simple and nasty. Not that punk didn’t have plenty of good tunes – but it was the image and attitude that drove it, that was the break-through, and if we’re talking about impact on the music industry, that’s one less savoury aspect of punk’s legacy – it ratcheted up the importance of look and attitude for all the po-faced cooler-than-thou underground hipsters. That’s an irony – while the prog crowd may have had a fondness for big theatrics on the stage, their personal image was not really an issue – they were, by and large, thoroughly average looking unassuming blokes with poor personal grooming. Meanwhile, the punks were, in their own way, every bit as image-obsessed as the glam crowd – but often more militant, because their image was about “authenticity”. In this respect Sid Vicious really is representative of the whole thing – only in the band because he looked good, had buckets of ‘tude, and would provide good theatrics –yes, theatrics – on stage and in interviews – never mind that he contributed nothing musically. John Lydon would eventually grow weary and stifled by his own image (and Malcolm McLaren’s insistent control of it) and form Public Image Ltd., who’s first single Public Image drips with palpable distain for the image-obsessed. Punk was eating itself – pretty much marked the beginning of the end for purist punk.
The likes of Malcolm McLaren always wanted punk to be about fashion, of course, and he will tell you again and again how he created UK punk by importing such fashion from the New York punk scene. Myth #3 – “UK Punk started in New York”: Now, in a certain sense I can accept this – there clearly was a big influence from the New York CBGB’s scene that filtered across to UK punk, particularly in many of the fashion touches, and McLaren provides a direct connection here. Also in the simple, stripped-down and sped-up wilful angular ugliness of the sound. But what is infuriating is that when people talk about New York punk and UK punk they seem to just take it as the same thing – and, it’s just... not. The Ramones had long hair, for crying out loud. New York punk such as Patti Smith and the New York Dolls was for arty underground bohemian hipsters, anti-establishment in a grimily subversive way that owed a debt to the likes of the Velvet Underground and The Stooges. UK punk was very much an every-man (or every-yoof) thing, a disenfranchised, working-class youth-movement of sorts – much more political, vocal and angry, from The Sex Pistol’s violent nihilism to The Clash’s outspoken left-wing causes. It’s this side of it that really took hold in the UK, and that’s the side of it that fashion hipsters like McLaren never fully intended or foresaw – and yet it’s impossible to understand UK punk without it.
I’m being over-antagonistic, maybe. There’s clearly a lot of foundation in what I’m calling “myths” here, I just have reservations that such things are often over-stated. It annoys me that you can’t question this sacred canon and expect to retain your street-cred, when in fact there is plenty there to question – the reality is never as simple and unambiguous as the mythos. Maybe you had to be there... and well, y’know, I wasn’t.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

I’m Claire F***ing Rayner (The Following Analysis is Inadequate and a Complete Waste of Time).

There surely can’t be a more tragic example of “male autism” than trying to put ~@lOvE@~ into quantifiable bar charts. There surely can’t be a more telling sign that one has too much time on one’s soft, work-shy hands than spending a good 45 minutes playing around with bar charts of ~@LoVe@~ for no apparent reason. Hey! Wait a minute! I resent that. When I did these I certainly didn’t have too much time on my hands, sir! No, sir, I was procrastinating from going to bed after the rest of the night had been consumed by a tedious WORK vortex. WORK done, I was “unwinding”. This is how I unwind (there may be something wrong with me). I was procrastinating about going to bed because going to bed meant “eyes-close-eyes-open-more-WORK” (a freaked-out dream to put you ill-at-ease for the start of the day if you’re lucky). I did this, even though pissing about with ~@lOVe@~ bar charts was eating into my healthy sleep time and therefore making tomorrow’s WORK that tiny bit wearier and harsher to deal with (there may be something wrong with me). Today I do have too much time on my hands.

So, here’s some bar charts on ~@LovE@~ that I did.

Non Starter #1 (High Physical Attraction/Low Rapport and Stuff In Common):

Finding the sexiest, prettiest vision you have ever dreamed of with your shiny eyes only means that you will try harder to establish Rapport and find Stuff In Common. If, after a brave effort, none are found then it’s a Non-Starter. Lack of the other two is actually a massive turn-off – it just ain’t true that blokes are all about looks and nothing else, and frankly I resent your assertion to the contrary. I know you were thinking it. Sexist.

You will probably try to delude yourself that you do have a Rapport and you do have Stuff In Common, despite massive evidence to the contrary, such is your weak-willed male neediness. But if they just don’t “get” your conversation and have nothing in common with you, then they are obviously either a terrible, terrible person or a boring moron. This is a good thing to tell yourself when encountering jaw-dropping creatures that are simply out of your league.

Friends – Not Close (High Rapport/Low Physical Attraction and Stuff In Common):

Your conversation crackles with both zip and zing; all double-act quick-stuff and rare banter-gold. But without anything much in common and little Physical Attraction you simply do not have that extra motivation to really properly get to know each other. You are “fun acquaintances”. Not, on its own, the basis for Truuuuuuue Loooooooooooove.

Although... to give good Rapport you have to have something in common – a way of speaking, a sense of humour, certain thought processes... aw shit, this is ill-thought-out. I’ve messed it up. Balls. Ok, let’s pretend I didn’t say that and just run with the idea that surface Rapport is not the same as deeper Stuff In Common.

Non-Starter #2 (High Stuff In Common/Low Physical Attraction and Rapport):

Stuff In Common alone is bloodless, rubbish – clearly no interest there, ‘cos there’s no zing! No way in, and no motivating attraction. Who cares what other people say about how “you two would really get on”... ain’t happening. You may well be soul-mates under the surface, but if there is no Physical Attraction or Rapport you will never find this out.

You could be outwardly very different, but have a lot in common under the surface; or outwardly very similar but... don’t. Though that means at a deeper level still, there is stuff that you fundamentally don’t have in common... Ah, this is bollocks. I’ve messed it up again. Stuff In Common is a rubbish criteria. Should’ve stuck with Compatibility. We’re talking about people’s personalities here, and I haven’t come prepared. Could split personality into all manner of measurements – Two?! F***ing two?! What was I thinking of? A cocking wagon load of bouncing balls.

A Crying Shame (High Rapport and Stuff In Common/Low Physical Attraction):

This makes you feel like real shallow ass-hole. And you’re right, you are a real shallow ass-hole for this. Aw, but getting romantically involved with someone you just don’t physically fancy is just a bad idea – it will come back to haunt you and end in more pain, cruelty and unintentional emotional violence somewhere down the line because something in you will simply not be satisfied and that’s no firm basis for the passionate loving relationship. There is wisdom here. Or maybe you’re just trying to justify being a shallow ass-hole.

Oh! But as you get to know someone it’s possible to discover joyful details that you didn’t notice on first glance, and if the other two columns are high enough it can have a halo effect onto the person’s physical form: You find things about them, that you previously wouldn’t have looked twice at, becoming attractive; even things that were off-putting at first can become cute. Yeah, maybe. Don’t kid yourself you’re in any kind of control. If you definitely, simply don’t “fancy” someone, nothing is likely to change this. And that really is A Crying Shame – and the least understandable or explainable reason for not getting together with someone. Shake your fist at the Gods for your shitty luck, like Charlton Heston whenever he passes a half-buried Statue of Liberty.

Work At It, Dammit (High Physical Attraction and Stuff In Common/Low Rapport):

Sheeeeeeit – give it a chance. Only Rapport is missing – cool your funk. Yeah! The more you get to know each other, the easier it gets – it’s like learning a language, but easier. I’ve got plenty of friends who I couldn’t really talk to or figure out at first; but now we shoot the breeze and slap our thighs and finish each other’s sentences like a pair of hearty old sea-dogs. You should always remember this before passing over the opportunity to talk to the cool but awkward girl in preference for her “fun” friend, you shallow ass-hole.

Danger (High Physical Attraction and Rapport/Low Stuff In Common):

Oh my. This one is so, so, so hard to resist that I needed to use three so’s. Grabs you by the head and the balls simultaneously in this two-pronged attack. You will convince yourself this is a viable enterprise even though you know full well that deep down there is no substance here, things will get tired very quickly, and you will end up being kind of embarrassed that you fell for that shit after the fireworks have fallen back to earth. If prolonged may even lead to illusions of deep and meaningful connection but it’s all waffle and no action-slacks. Not a thimble of compatibility beyond the charming well-oiled chat routine, and nothing to hold you together when the rough hits the smooth. If you actually try to make something of it you will realise to your horror that, after the initial high-times, you are left steaming out the top of your bonce with sheer irritation at the very mention of your partner’s activities and interests, since these are now a crushingly tedious and frustrating part of your life, a distancing wedge between you and your partner that you resent with the whole of your howling broken soul. She’s f***ing boring. And annoying. And kind of embarrassing to be with in public.

There is always the outside possibility that this could in theory lead to a fascinating, turbulent relationship – all passion and arguments, stormy emotions and emotional make-ups. You’re always misunderstanding and annoying each other, but you can “get on” so easily that Making Up Is Not Hard To Do. Oh yeah, high romance. Except that viewed from the outside it just looks kind of pathetic and embarrassing. Sheesh.

That Was a Load of Guff, Thomas.

Yes. Well, I hope you enjoyed that exercise in over-analytical, navel-gazing, nit-picking guff; but this is all analysis after the fact. Even if we accept the catastrophic over-simplification that is my criteria, you can’t use these criteria to judge in advance. If you did you’d be some uber-choosy robo-fascist of romance, and, frankly, a dick, and if you listened to me with my tin-pot, Mickey-Mouse, Eddie-the-Eagle-Edwards romantic history, you’d be some kind of drooling pantaloon. I’m painfully single. I think the above demonstrates why.