Archaeology of Punk

Archaeology of Punk : Our Life, Our World

I am freezing cold. Just spent ½ hour standing at a bus stop waiting to go to an Industrial Workers of the World meeting. My own fault. Didn’t wrap up warm enough! And… allowed myself too much time to catch the bus – well it might have been early – so by the time it actually came I was numb with cold and just watched it pass. Now I am thawing out and coming back to life. So instead of Plan A – plotting world revolution in a pub, I must fall back on Plan B – finish writing this. Which has a vague connection with Plan A. I was going to meet Ben Franks in the pub and have a chat with him about anarchism and punk. In his book [Rebel Alliances: AK Press: 2006] on British anarchism, Ben seems dubious about punk as anarchist. Talking about Crass [as = to anarcho-punk] on page 73 he says :

“its vision was often closer to that of pacifist individualism than to radical anti-capitalism. For this reason it was derided as merely ‘prosaic laissez-faire individualism’. On other occasions it promoted ‘an anarcha-feminist sensibility alongside forceful anti-militarism.’. The sizeable following around Crass became interested in environmental direct action, animal rights, vegetarianism and veganism.” [The quotes above turn out third hand: firstly George McKay quoting Tom Vague quoting Simon Reynolds from Q magazine and secondly George McKay quoting Stewart Home quoting Craig o’ Hara: The Philosophy of Punk – which is about USA anarcho-punk. None of these, apart from Tom Vague are primary/ reliable sources.]

And then we have:

“The anarchist-punk agent for change was unclear. On the few occasions it was explicitly elucidated it seemed to reject class, and appeal to the same great hope of the ‘60s hippie culture-’youth’. As a result of such shared characteristics, it is no surprise that punk met a similar fate to that of the 1960s (counter) cultures it originally despised. It became a youth orientated marketing niche, subsumed into the mainstream of corporate business. Punk clothing and records could be found in companies owned by multinationals.”.

So that is us telt then, to speak my native Scotch. Now read on…

Part 1 – Intro.
I have dug out some 25/ 30 year old cassettes. Was thinking about sending them in to KYPP online so the excellent Mr. Penguin could upload ‘em here for you, dear listener, to download. But before posting them off, thought I had better check them out for sound quality. Hmmm. Perhaps not. I guess it depends how ‘authentic’ you want the sound to be. Even with headphones on (so as not to trouble the delicate ears of my teenage kids) still pretty rough. Bit like the Time Team when Tony ‘Baldrick’ Robinson shouts out “Great news, Carenza’s found another skeleton in trench 23 ”. Dead bodies as entertainment.

Anyhow, so far listened to two tapes. One is a collection of Blood and Roses songs/ demos, other a mix of four demos by Raped [who became Cuddly Toys] plus a random mix. I was listening to the Blood and Roses tape when I spotted that “I know where Syd Barrett lives” by the Television Personalities is now up on KYPP. Here is the ‘Comment’ I wrote:

Part 2 – No Comment
Syd Barrett was a punk rocker… hang on just had a flash of deja vu – or is it just a carry over from The Soft Boys/ Vegetable Man comment I made earlier? Doesn’t help that I am listening to some 25 year old + tapes trying to work out if they are still listenable. Its the archaeology of punk. Tape playing now is some early Blood and Roses demos, but it keeps speeding up and slowing down and one track over-recorded with some song off the radio.

Right at the end of side one there is a sample/ quote from a tape of Tony Puppy’s interview with Bob- the Zig Zag one which is on here. Bob says: “They can exploit me, they can exploit the band, but they can never exploit the idea… ”

and then the tape cuts to Blood and Roses live at Centro Iberico – Love under Will and Curse on You. Lisa’s vocal on Curse on You is still -scary. The sheer venom with which she spits out “I put a curse on you… there is nothing left for me to say… except I HATE YOU, GO AWAY ….” ….and the anarchist punks call out for “More, more. more…”. What had happened was that the other bands on that night over ran, so Blood and Roses only got to play two songs. So? So they took the stage, incandescent with rage and laid waste to half of west London.

Then another jump to Adam and the Ants – the song “Dirk Wears White Socks”, the version we spent hours playing and replaying trying to work out the words for back page of KYPP 4…. “gotta concentrate on camp, in a concentration camp”. The sound is coming and going , it is like listening to a pirate radio station, on AM/ medium wave ….from a long time ago, ‘beaming waves from the sea’ … dark and dangerous, disturbing. Occult punk, weaving spells and invoking demons. Really dangerous demons – having just watched ‘Downfall’ on tv, last days of Hitler in Berlin. Going to save this now and recycle as a longer article. [Comment ends]

Part 3: Really dangerous demons?
So what does ‘really dangerous demons’ mean -apart from a tabloid sub-editor style shock horror headline? How about this ?:

“They seem to have some weird notion that if they ignore every limit of taste/ morality this will in some way promote a ‘sensual revolution’ and everyone will come out of their particular closet improving the mental health of humanity no end. This is their rationalisation for the obsessional images of Nazi/bondage/pain which saturate the pages [of Ripped and Torn]” – text taken from “In Transition from R & T to KYPP” – flyer for benefit gig with Charge and Barracudas: the Squat, 13 St James St. Covent Garden Friday June 15th 197? – in Photo Gallery here- as is Page 11 of KYPP 2- from which:

“Fascism is the child of the marriage between repression and frustration” [Wilhelm Reich]
“Love is the Law, Love under Will” [Aleister Crowley]

And now for some Ant lyrics:

“We’ll go to a Berlin nightclub
All the acts are so risqué
Many people have the motto
‘Boy tomorrow, girl today‘

Now’s the time to leave your wardrobe
Just forget your social bent
Bring it all out in the open
We could use your decadence

You gotta concentrate on camp
In the concentration camp
Auswitz [?] the blood lay then
In the concentration camp”

So that the ‘really dangerous demons’ would be occult/ Nazi chic, the idea that in it is embrace of all that was/is transgressive, forbidden, suppressed and denied; punk danced too close to the decadent edge between ‘a bit of a laugh’ and ‘the horror, the horror’ – came too close to the real heart of darkness. [as in Joseph Conrad/ Apocalypse Now]. Maybe it did. Even stronger, yes it really did. But go back to the Wilhelm Reich quote.

Reich was there in the Berlin / Weimar Republic of Cabaret in 1930, where he joined Communist Party of Germany. His book, The Sexual Revolution, was published at this time in Vienna. Advocating free contraceptives and abortion on demand, he set up clinics in working-class areas and taught sex education, but became too outspoken even for the communists, and eventually, after his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism was published, he was expelled from the party in 1933. In this book, Reich categorized fascism as a symptom of sexual repression. The book was banned by the Nazis when they came to power and Reich left, ending up in the USA. Reich was expelled from the International Psychological Association in 1934 for political militancy. [Note : Reich inspired three good bits of music : Hawkwind’s Orgone Accumulator, Patti Smith’s Birdland and Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting. ]

4. Sex and Economic crises
The Nazi’s seized power on the back of an economic crisis, or rather the fear that without strong leadership Weimar Germany would be taken over by communism. Which led to WW2 . Which led to ‘the post-war consensus’ – a mix of state control and capitalism designed to smooth out the extreme economic boom and bust cycles of pure free-enterprise capitalism and so keep totalitarianism [fascist/ communist] at bay. The World Bank and IMF were created at Bretton Woods in 1947 to manage the global economy to this end. For almost a whole generation [= 33 years = 1947 to 1980] this created a prolonged consumer led boom but by mid seventies the cost to the USA of financing the Vietnam war and the oil price shock which came out of the Arab/Israel war of 1974 saw the Bretton Woods (see above on World Bank/ IMF) structure melt down. Result? An old fashioned global economic crisis. Response? A quick turn to the right under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Now you might have thought that all the sixties radicals would have responded to this assault on their newly acquired freedoms by having a real rather than spectacular revolution… so why didn’t they? Maybe because of the fear factor. As I hope most readers will recall, Reagan and Thatcher frightened the shit out of anyone with half a brain cell by re-inventing the Cold War. The spectre which haunted Europe in 1980 was nuclear war – remember all the nuclear armed Cruise missiles? Which provided a neat distraction from the simultaneous outbreak of a renewed class war. They had a bomb, but would they ever really use it? Obviously not, otherwise we’d all be dead.

Back to Wilhelm Reich in 1930s Berlin and the dangerous demons of sexual politics/ the politics of sexuality. What if punk emerged out of intercourse between a crisis of capitalism and a crisis of sexuality? Jon Savage/ England’s Dreaming picked up on this:

Just as McLaren and Westwood simultaneously used and despised sixties libertarianism, the Sex Pistols gained power at exactly the moment when the freedoms of the 1960s were reaching their high water mark. In the summer of 1976 they existed on the cusp of the New Right: nothing shows this more than their confused use of the swastika and their attitude to sex. For despite the free and easy sexual milieu within which the Sex Pistols moved, the strongest element to come over from their songs is sexual disgust….When asked to write a song about submission [BDSM /sexual fetishism], Lydon had produced a lyric with punch line which was a dissolution of the ego, submerged in the mythical female: ‘I’m going down you’re dragging me down/ Submission I can’t tell you what I found/ Submission/Submission/ Going down down/ Under the sea/I wanna drown drown/ Under the water/ I’m going down down /under the sea.’
This accords with the fear of the female described by Klaus Theweleit in ‘Male Fantasies’, his masterly study of the image of woman in the collective unconscious of the German Freikorps, the early fascist shock troops. ‘A river without end, enormous and wide, flows through the world’s literatures: the woman-in-the-water; woman as water; as a stormy cavorting, cooling ocean.’.

Scott Bukatman [Terminal Identity: 1993] takes the fear further:

The fear of women amongst the Freikrops, Theweleit points out, is more than mere castration anxiety : soldier males exhibited the desire to annihilate the female and reduce her to a ‘bloody mass’… Ultimately women exemplify that flow which threatens to wash away all that is rational (all that is the subject) in a final cataclysmic flood, and thus ‘anti-woman’ is a code for anti-life.

Bukatman is talking about cyborgs (e.g. the Terminator movies) in science fiction not punk, but you get the picture. To simplify Reich (ha!) his idea of revolutionary practice connected -intimately, orgasmically – sexual and political revolutions. In which case, to argue against what I think is Ben Franks ‘missionary’ position on punk , punk’s ability to evolve from the Sex Pistols to the Poison Girls and so ‘promote an anarcha-feminist sensibility alongside forceful anti-militarism’ was quite a feat. Revolutionary even.
This didn’t just happen. It got argued out. Take the cover of KYPP 3. Brett’s original illustration of two punks kissing was changed after one such discussion when Val suggested the female punk should wear boots and the male punk some make-up. Hagar the Womb were formed in response to the ‘all boy-band’ line-ups of gigs at the Wapping A Centre. And, strange though it might seem, at least one ‘decadent’ era/ pre- pop Adam and the Ants fan went on to become a Greenham Woman. [Pinki – who thanks to Dave Morris of Stop the City and McLibel trial and Richard Cabut of Kick and Brigandage – even got her obituary as a punk Greenham woman in the Guardian in May 1996]

5. Imminent zing the Eschaton (think KLF)
What am I meant to be going on about? Not sure. I suppose what I am trying to say is that punk found its own way to a vaguely situationist version of revolutionary practice by passing through / becoming a nightmare version of everyday life. By invoking all the really dangerous demons, by picnicking in graveyards whilst singing songs about fascism and war, anarchy and peace and all the other shit, we inoculated ourselves against the sickness of society, half-killing ourselves in the process. Punk did not get
“ subsumed into the mainstream of corporate business [such that] punk clothing and records could be found in companies owned by multinationals ” . We went DIY not corporate business. Was this ‘prosaic laissez-faire individualism’ rather than ideologically sound ‘class-struggle anarchism‘? Maybe it was. But how about this:

Overemphasis on the “class struggle” however, can lead to a misapprehension of the nature of the classes… The proletariat and the bourgeoisie cannot be anything but the living instruments of variable capital [ = workers] and fixed capital [= bosses]: they have their roles to play, but they are in no sense the directors of economic and social life… the existence of a powerful proletariat, united by working conditions but also an entire culture and style of life, and more or less excluded from bourgeois society was in reality nothing but a precapitalist relic, an ‘estate’ in the feudal sense and not a direct development of capitalist development at all. It was precisely class struggles that helped capitalism realise itself ….
[ Anslem Joppe: Guy Debord: 1999]

This is brilliant stuff. No wonder all serious revolution types hate the situationists. Personally, I blame Hegel. Raw Hegel is pretty indigestible, but after soaking for 24 hours and boiling for at least ten minutes you can cook with him safely. In cooked form, what you get is history as a magickal mystery tour. Not sure if there were any gnostic punk bands, but if there had been they would have sung songs about the descent of divine sparks into the material world. Any one for Sting? :

There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution
We are spirits in the material world

But you got it all wrong Sting. The correct gnostic versions is that the ‘spirits’, the sparks of divine fire (= our souls) are trapped in matter and keep trying to escape back to the divine realm. Some Christian gnostics (= heretics to be burnt) went so far as to claim God the Creator was EVIL, and made this world as a trap for naïve souls. Only through the direct action of rejecting the material world could a trapped soul return out of bondage and return to the limitless light, no longer a dweller in darkness. OK, this all sounds like bullshit to the nth degree, but have you ever touched a dead body? Before she died (5th Jan 1996) Pinki / my partner and wife left me a whole set of instructions about what to do after she died. One instruction was that she wanted a proper wake – to have her open coffin in the house, with her dressed up in her best magical robes, with her punk make up on and wearing her Sumerian style wig/headdress. Whicvh with help from Tinsel was duly done.

The funeral was 12 days after her death and … her flesh was cold and hard like clay. Really. To touch/ kiss her was just like kissing/ touching a sculpture made out of cold hard clay. So the ’primitive’ idea that we are lumps of clay mould by a goddess/god and given life by the breathing ( or capturing if you are a gnostic) in to the clay of a divine spark feels/ felt ‘true’. Back to Hegel.

Hegel took this idea and turned it into a stupendous and stupefying work of philosophy as history. He started [ Hegel: Science of Logic: 1812: 1969 translation Chapter I ] by equating pure Being ( = existence) with pure Nothing (= non-existence) and carried on for another 800 indigestible pages. Soaked for nearly two centuries and boiled for nearly 40 years, we get this:

Spirit descends into/ becomes Matter (= Nothing becomes Being?? ) and this starts History moving. For most of History, Spirit exists as an Unconscious Force and so History looks like One Damn Thing After Another. But then, Miracle of Miracles, and Coincidently just around the time Hegel started Writing Stuff, Spirit managed to become Conscious of its Material Existence and bring History – as the Unconscious Struggle of Spirit against/within the Material World – to an End. This Heaven on Earth (also coincidently) was Manifest in the Prussian State of Germany, within which Hegel just Happened to Live.

Don’t quote me on the above, have prob. got it wrong. As no doubt this next bit.

Hegel was a university professor/ lecturer and inspired a bunch of his students who called themselves/ were called ‘Young Hegelians’ and who were so German. Karl Marx was a Young Hegelian, though I don’t think he was actually taught by Hegel. What Marx did was re-mix Hegel, editing out the mystical magickal stuff to create a scientific theory of history in which the Proletariat rather than Spirit become the force which will bring about the End of History. ‘End’ here meaning both ‘final result’ and ‘stop’. The Proletariat being the working class who had been brought into being by the Bourgeoisie Revolution which had overthrown Fuedalism. The Bourgeoisie liked to pretend that their Revolution was the final one but it wasn’t. Once the Proletariat realised that their work/ labour/ backs was/ were the foundation upon which the Bourgeoisie were standing, smoking cigars and sipping champagne – then the Final Revolution would happen. The Proletariat would become conscious of History and choose (or be impelled by the Historic Imperative) to seize the Means of Production and Distribution and bring about a class free society – one in which there would be neither masters /mistresses nor slaves. [So no S’n’M] With neither oppressors nor oppressed, the tensions and conflicts which had previously driven history forwards would end, and so history would end.

Theoretically it should have happened by now. But it hasn’t. So what went wrong?

  1. Ben Franks
    Ben Franks
    February 1, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    I think that one of my points about punk was that it was too diverse to be associated with any single political movement or culture, although I do acknowledge that it in many of its major forms it shares core features with anarchism. I also used substantially more sources, both primary and secondary, in my account thst your posting suggests. Sorry I missed you at the pub. Maybe another time.

    All the best


  2. Lisa Legjam
    Lisa Legjam
    October 16, 2009 at 1:25 am

    Hi, I know this is not a punk issue directly, but I noticed you said, “to speak my native scotch”
    Scottish people dont speak scotch, we make and drink it lol
    We do , however speak scots,
    Just thought id point it out!

  3. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    October 16, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Robert Burns had no problem with using “Scotch” to mean the language, which is good enough for me.

  4. Lisa Legjam
    Lisa Legjam
    October 18, 2009 at 1:53 am

    “Scotch”, when applied to people, is a word long out of use: you get “Scotch Whisky” or “Scotch Pies” or “Scotch Eggs”, but in the modern world using “Scotch” to mean “Scottish People” has a perjorative edge, and should be avoided. Having got the definitions straight you should use “Scots” when referring to the people and language.
    Taken from Scotfax!
    But hey, calll it what you want, I just thought it looked strange, but thats mee.

  5. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    October 18, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Isn’t it time to reclaim this denied part of our heritage? What is wrong with saying it loud ” I am Scotch and I’m proud”?

  6. Lisa Legjam
    Lisa Legjam
    October 18, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “I am scotch and proud of it” It is not wrong, it is a matter of how other people hear it. I personally say ” I am Scottish and proud of it”
    When people hear (or see) the word Scotch, they think of Whiskey, Pies and eggs etc, not our fault at all, just that Scotch seems to relate to a produce of Scotland rather than the actual people and language.
    You can say what you like, but the problem is how other people interpret the word and their definition of it’s meaning. It may well be time to reclaim this denied part of our heritage, but, because these days, scotch and scots have slightly different meanings, I can imagine that to try to get the rest of the world to revert would be a pretty imposssible taks!
    For example, I am Scottish and I am well aware that scotch is also referred to by a lot of people as our language, but because everyone has this other term for scotch, it looks different when you use it in reference to your home country and accent. I dont know how scotch became replaced by scots, or who was responsible but it is now a universal term. I am not saying that I think this is right or wrong, but I dont see any way of getting everyone to hange their understanding of the word! Now I am blethering on lol, sorry. Basically, like I said, most people recognise scots as being a scottish person and Scotch as being a prduct of Scotland and I dont think it will ever revert back to its original meaning!
    I say neither, I just say I am Scottish or I speak Scottish and I come from Scotland! I generally miss out saying scots or scotch, to avoid confusion!
    But that’s just me, you are entitled to say what ou want to say and now I am just blethering on, sorry.

  7. slyme68
    October 18, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    examining language to expose internalised and sometimes unseen attitudes and assumptions born of oppression is a useful conciousness raising tool, but ultimately it’s a red herring as language becomes an end in itself so that it’s modification obscures the original goal – the end of oppression.

    did you know that the origin of the word “yob” is “boy” backwards, implying that yobbish behaviour is gender specific?

    chew on that.

  8. Lisa Legjam
    Lisa Legjam
    October 19, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Wow, I never knew that, cant see myself having a chew on it lol, but thanks for the intervention!
    Even though I dont really understand half of the words you used, i got the basic point you are making!

  9. John No Last Name
    John No Last Name
    October 20, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Not altogether irrelevant in this conversation, but here is a new (Scottish/Scots/Scotch?) band called Twin Atlantic and their new single “You’re Turning Into John Wayne”

  10. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    October 20, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    A very catchy bit of North British rock…

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