Tokyo Damage Report

SEX PISTOLS

Here’s how unhip I was. The first time I ever heard punk, was on a school bus. The school bus driver was playing it! Shameful!
 
I had seen pictures of punks before – crazy lookin’ dudes with bondage plaid pants and giant Mohawks, hella metal shit in their ears. But at the time I listened to Metallica and Slayer. And those dudes were hella musically extreme, but they looked pretty normal , really. jeans and t-shirts. So I figured that punks looked way more crazy than Slayer, they would have to sound even more crazy than Slayer. Like if you had played me a tape of CRUDE SS or GAI, I would have said, “OK, that sounds about right.” But when Mr. Bus Driver put on a tape of Never Mind The Bollocks, it was so . .. I dunno, so ‘regular rock music’ sounding that I didn’t even recognize that it WAS punk.
I’d heard they had a song called God Gave the Queen or Rod Made a Queen or something like that. So when they started singing “God Save The Queen” over and over, it gradually dawned on me. . . .”This is. . . punk? Punk rock? Naw, couldn’t be. But . . . nawww.”
 
 
 WHAT I IMAGINED:

WHAT I HEARD:

 
But I like SEX PISTOLS now. Sure, the music is – in retrospect – pretty conservative, predictable 1-4-5 chord changes. . . but they had that VOICE. I figure, the music HAD to be really basic and conservative, because Homey’s singing was so off-key, if they had tried to do anything musically interesting, his singing would have become totally undecipherable. I just wish they had done less covers of songs they liked – Stepping Stone, Don’t Gimme No Lip, etc. – and done more covers of songs they HATED, like My Way. They should have done a whole album of Yes and Floyd tunes, just destroyed them.
 
Plus the lyrics – there are so many layers of irony, sarcasm, and subversion it’s hard to untangle. 
 
There’s no point in asking, you’ll get no reply
Oh just remember I don’t decide
I got no reason it’s all too much
You’ll always find us out to lunch

Oh we’re so pretty
Oh so pretty
we’re vacant
Oh we’re so pretty
Oh so pretty
A vacant

Don’t ask us to attend ‘cos we’re not all there
Oh don’t pretend ‘cos I don’t care
I don’t believe illusions ‘cos too much is real
So stop you’re cheap comment ‘cos we know what we feel

Oh we’re so pretty
Oh so pretty
we’re vacant
Oh we’re so pretty
Oh so pretty
we’re vacant ah
But now and we don’t care

 
He could have said “Pretty people are vain / it gives me a pain / in the rain / cunt!”
That would have been boring.
Or he could have said, “I don’t care / I’m stupid and unaccountable for my own actions / which is rad / cunt.”
Also boring.
 
But he didn’t he flipped the script, including both of the above sentiments, plus their opposites, all in this short-ass song. AND he made it interesting! He was like, “I’m gorgeous, I’m one of those pretty vain pop stars! Look at me with my green teeth that match my hair, and my lazy eye and my zits! Us pop stars have to look sharp, because we sure can’t make it on our wits. We’re a pretty dim bunch, actually, us glamorous celebs.”
 
Plus when he says "a potential H-bomb!", I kept hearing it as "Protect your wife’s bum!"
 
So there’s that.
 
I can’t think of another band except maybe DEVO who had such a funny, convoluted relationship to mainstream success. Most punks try to be DIY, the Clash famously struggled with being major-label commies. But the Pistols were hella about being famous and rich. But it was OK, because they were so up-front about it, they were like a parody of the greed and ego of the average entertainment-industry person. They were writing lyrics about the amount of money they got in their contract, writing lyrics dissing old labels. . . DECADES before rappers did. How amazing is that?
 
Nowadays, punk is about girls, or some of it is about dead-serious issues like animal rights, or how hawd your crew is?But, one of the things about early punk that got lost. . . was the gleeful nihilism of demanding totally impossible, contradictory things.
 
It’s one thing to have a song demanding shit that should happen but probably won’t: nuclear disarmament, worldwide veganism, assassination of the pope, etc. It’s quite another to demand shit that is CATEGORICALLY, PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE, or to demand stuff that is LUDICROUS or demand TWO CONTRADICTORY THINGS at the same time. But nobody does shit like that anymore, and it’s sad.
 
 But the Pistols were like “I want anarchy! And money! I’m disgusting and spotty and hunchbacked! I’m a gorgeous pop star! I have no values, plus also may I just mention fuckkity fuck fucking cuntitty cunt-face cunt! I’m joking. But totally serious about revolution. Or am I? Only one way to find out for sure : Buy my designer limited-edition anarchy pants! Wheeeeeeee!”
 
How can you even dispute such an agenda? I mean, you can argue with someone who thinks corporations are evil, or that pollution is bad, or white people are superior. But you can’t even begin to argue with Rotten and company – because their whole ethos isn’t even ideas! It’s anarchy!
 
Also funny was their ‘reunion tour’ in 1996 – it was, by all accounts, a total flop. That’s not why it was funny. What’s funny is that this band that was famous  for just being crude, this band that was basically banned and hounded out of existence by the media for being too shocking . . . the reunion tour failed because between ’77 and ’96, the ENTIRE WESTERN WORLD had degenerated to the point where Pistols’ levels of crudity, vulgarity, and nihilism had become NORMAL. There was no shock left – they had nothing to sell.
 
It’s like if I went to Mongolia and was like, “Behold! I am white man from future time! I have fire-stick and magical music box!” and I whip out a record player, and the Mongolian dude is like, “Man, what’s wrong with you? I got an Ipod.” You know, but in reverse – everyone else devolved to the Pistols’ level!
 

Malcolm Maclaren is also funny. He keeps saying the Pistols were only sucessful because of his subversive brilliance as a producer. If it was HIM that made it happen, why have all his subsequent bands gone nowhere? Somewhere there’s a magnificently embarrassing interview  of him promoting his "duck rock" breakdance album, surrounded by Bronx homeboys, acting  like he accidentally discovered some lost tribe of Africa. Anyone have a youtube of that?  It’s really creepy. My point is, fuck him, and therefore fuck pedantic know-it-all fucks who say "Oh, sex pistols weren’t punk because they were a band put together by a manager for the purpose of selling his clothes."

 

Hey, kid: the whole swindle was part of the act – in case you missed  the title of their movie. It was a piss-take on the state of ALL mass-culture celebrity, like how George Orwell did a piss-take of fascism in 1948 by calling his book 1984. But the swindle bit was only one of many bits that the Pistols were doing at the same time, and if you were half as smart as you think you are, you’d realize that bands can have more than one bit. So

a) duh

b) shut up

c) unt

5 comments Tags: ,

5 Comments so far

  1. Adam W October 20th, 2009 4:04 pm

    “the gleeful nihilism of demanding totally impossible, contradictory things.”

    Amen, Boudreaux… finally someone was able to put words to that nostalgic gut reaction I get when one of my semi-mainstream friends asks “What the hell did you people SEE in that ridiculous music/culture?”

  2. Jack Carver October 20th, 2009 9:05 pm

    Hah, i totally relate to the crude SS reference, when i first saw a punk with his spiked mohawk and studded leather the first thing i thought was “this guys music and life is probably hardcore as fuck” only to be led to some average sounding rock band (before i discovered obscure Japanesecrasherburninghardcorecrustgrind), but I think it was the sex pistols attitude that made them, not their music.

    P.S. I love all of these October blogs, keep them up!

  3. 23 Wolves October 21st, 2009 5:12 pm

    Yeah, I have been digging your music writing a good bit – insightful and funny and shit. Anyhow, I wanna say that McLaren did strike gold twice, cause Sigue Sigue Sputnik is really awesome. I think they are really kind of a logical extension of some of the stuff the Pistols were doing, in an even faker way, which rules.

  4. admin October 21st, 2009 5:30 pm

    @23wolves: Aarrr! I shoulda known he was behind Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I think those guys should get the credit for making the first rap videos, even though they weren’t rappers.

  5. Marblehead November 3rd, 2009 8:23 am

    The funny thing is that Steve Jones hates punk and considers the Sex Pistols to be a rock and roll band. When he had his radio show he was far more likely to play Raphael Saadig or She&Him than a Buzzcocks tune. I’m positive I never heard NOFX or Rancid on his show.

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