Last week John Corre, son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood and pictured above, burned £5 million of punk memorabilia. Is that punk or sheer stupidity?
Punk music is a tough nut to crack; is it a genre? A movement? A feeling? Or all three?
It’s even hard to pinpoint the birth of punk music. Unlike hip-hop which can be traced back to the block parties of the Bronx in the 70’s, punk has no substantial identity. Arguably it started with The Stooges and the New York Dolls, whose early records inspired bands from all over the world, but attempting to trace its lineage as well as it’s sound, can be incredibly complicated.
Punk’s hard to define heritage coupled with a litany of sub-genres that spawned arguably more interesting music means that punk is often written off as a three year flash in the pan.
However, it’s a lot bigger and a lot more important than just a footnote which is why this year there are mass celebrations of its 40th anniversary.
Forgetting music-nerd nitpicking for just a moment (What about The MC5! The Sonics! The Velvet Underground!) To me, the birth and existence of punk has two camps: Camp A, lead by The Ramones and a host of other bands that had a common attitude, but an eclectic sound. And Camp B, led by The Sex Pistols and a host of other bands that had a common attitude as well as a shared sound.
And therein lies the division and the beauty of punk: CBGB’s vs. The Roxy, clothes held together with pins due to poverty vs. boutique imitations and street urchins strung out on heroin vs. art school students suffering from freedom and boredom.
One might seem like the genuine article, and the other might look like a cheap copy, but both camps were essential to punk as a whole, and it’s core message: No matter who you are, or where you are from you can do something that matters. That is the true legacy of punk, but over the years – and largely during its inception- this message has been skewered and morphed into a caricature of wilting mohawks and poorly drawn anarchy symbols.
The sad thing is this fabled idea of punk wasn’t created by overblown newspaper headlines that read “The Filth and The Fury.” It wasn’t caused by lyrics filled with nihilism, contempt, and self-destruction. It has been produced by a large group of its audience who heard ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and smashed a window before finding out what anarchy actually meant. And a prime example of the miss-management of punk is the recent events staged by Joe Corré.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Punk and more specifically the Sex Pistols’ debut single ‘Anarchy In The UK’, Joe Corré, son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, stood outside of Buckingham Palace and set fire to rare Sex Pistols recordings, clothing and memorabilia valued at £5 million.
His reasoning? : “I think this is the right opportunity to say: you know what? Punk is dead. Stop conning a younger generation that it somehow has any currency to deal with the issues that they face or has any currency to create the way out of the issues that they face. It’s not and it’s time to think about something else.”
The sheer stupidity of this is staggering. Upon reading the story as well as Corré’s hollow reasons, I felt an overwhelming wave of anger and disappointment at this ridiculous stunt to “stick it to the man!” Burning what is at the very most, a core part of British music history, and at the very least, a giant pile of money, can only be described as fucking stupid.
He told The Guardian, “Punk has become nothing more than a McDonald’s brand…owned by the state, establishment and corporations. It’s time we threw it all on the fire and started again.”
If you ever wanted to know what middle-class Anarchy looked like, this is it. Instead of helping teens to see that punk no longer has any currency with you know, actual physical currency, he chose instead to make a statement that is so pointless I can only describe it with expletives or repeatedly banging my head on the keys of my laptop.
He could have opened a youth centre for underprivileged kids forgotten by the state he is railing against with this moronic stunt. He could have sold the memorabilia and donated it to a charity that the establishment ignores with vitriolic vigor. He could have opened a pop-up museum showing off the memorabilia in towns around the UK that corporations think don’t exist.
That is the spirit of punk. That is the essence of anarchy; showing the establishment that their idea of how the world works will not define the lives of the poor and the mistreated. What Joe Corré has done is only prove that rich men easily get bored and crave attention.
The reason why punk music was so important and remains to be important today is that it was a force of nature so large, complicated and energetic that it is impossible to define. And yes, you could argue that a portion of it was just a bunch of middle-class kids slumming it to piss off their parents. However, it still had the potency to light a fire under every kid who heard it regardless of race or class and inspired them to create art, fresh ideas, and identities that they may not have been able to find if Punk didn’t exist.
I only hope that punk music is remembered for the brilliant riffs of the Sex Pistols, the underrated talent of the Ramones, and the lost kids both in bands and in the audience, who found an outlet outside of chart hits and happy-go-lucky Disco. Celebrate the anniversary of this phenomenal genre by digging out some old tunes and realising just how brilliant that era was, and do your best to ignore attention seekers who took a lyric at face value and are one of the reasons punk isn’t taken as seriously as it should be today.