Rock the Cashbah.The commodification of punk. Was it all about the look?
Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
When these durn kids these days talk about punk bands, they always get all misty-eyed and slobbery over the clash. Yet, they think of the Sex Pistols as a total fake industry band. How on earth did this happen?
This little flyer was passed around on the street in front of the Paramount Theater in Seattle the evening of the Clash’s first appearance in that city (i believe it was 1980). The entire street alliance of the local Communist party showed up and marched back and forth along that little side street next to the theater. Every punk worth their salt in Seattle was there in full leather jacketed, Mohawk chain clanking finery. The confrontations between the commies in the street and the punkies waiting in the ticket line were, at best, comical. At worst, there were butts being kicked (literally. heavy booted punks kicked commies in the butt a lot that afternoon.)
After much screaming and yelling and butt kicking (no joke), the commies called the cheering punks a bunch of nasty names and stormed away, heading back to their bohemian lofts in the less expensive part of an expensive city. The punks were very happy that night. First, they chased off the commies and then they got to see their political heroes, the Clash.
This little flyer was being passed around by those same commies that night. Interesting, isn’t it? To begin with, it originated in Austin, Texas. The punk scenes in both town were always closely linked, but these flyers are still confusing. You can see places where they change a few words to make it local. Also, the organizations were both (guttersnipes in austin, slug bait in seattle) punky in origin.
In fact, this text is a Situationist scree. It goes so far as to quote Guy Debord and attack the Clash for being materialistic industry sellouts. This was being distributed by the local commie party? This is all very confusing.
At this same time the world was viewing ‘the great rock and roll swindle’, the movie where Malcolm Mclaren describes the Sex Pistols as his personal version of ‘the Monkees’ to con the world into making chaos make him rich. Everybody began to believe Mclaren and dismiss the Pistols at this point. Today, what we’ve learned is that whoever controls the media dictates our thoughts and opinions. Glenn Beck was probably a student of Malcolm’s.
Malcolm is actually all bullshit. But, because he got to us first and “in spectacle” (aka, media exposure – a movie, even!), we accept it as truth and move on, quite satisfied.
The reality is almost exactly the opposite truth. The Sex Pistols were formed like any other rock band in history. A bunch of idiots making noise formed through idiot references to other idiots. Then they produced a caterwall that almost brought down the British Empire (at least the remains of it). Even worse, they forever changed the world. This is NOT in dispute.
So, how come we think of them as corporate sellouts? Is it because Rotten makes a buck by endorsing some butter? The guy needs to live, ya know. He never got any money from the Pistols until they started to tour as a re-group. A guy’s gotta eat. And butter tastes good. no lie!
So, it’s a mystery to me why the Clash are the “only band that matters” (written by a corporate marketing department) and the pistols are frauds (written by a million young hipsters). To my eye, the situation is exactly the reverse.
If you read about the history of the development of the Clash, how it was formed, it was built along the model almost exactly as the Maclaren’s fantasy of the Pistols. It’s almost as if Mclaren is really telling the story of the Clash in his little movie.
Mick Jones and their manager Bernie Rhodes literally hand picked an auditioned a more players than the Monkees ever dreamed of in order to form their initial band, the London SS. They literally did makeovers on the band members to look punky and stylish just like the kids on the street emulating the Sex Pistols. The Clash were formed as a strictly commercial endeavor to build rock star careers and get rich. That’s the reality of the Clash. Street politics were never more than a gimmick (the sex pistols aren’t single about politics, so we’ll do it.)
On the other hand, the Sex Pistols were so absolutely themselves, no matter WHAT Malcolm tried to do, that they utterly controlled the direction of that band to the point of virtually declaring war on the entire country of England. Not exactly top commercial potential. Rotten was even attacked by people and had his face and leg deeply slashed with a razor. He went to the hospital on the tube and arrived with the razor still embedded in his knee.
Yet, on still the other hand, the clash toured to Jamaica to meet their ‘kindred brothers’ and express ‘solidarity’ in the ska/reggae community. Within a short time, the stupid English tourists were being chased down the street by a gang of thugs bent on robbing them. The Clash ran home as fast as possible and quickly wrote a song about their experience called “safe european home” with the refrain “don’t wanna go back there again.” So, much for rallying the support of the people.
So, the punkies in Seattle beat up the commies in Seattle while waiting in line to see their best selling commercial punk band idols, the Clash. The show inside was absolutely great. The sound was so immensely LOUD that when Mick Jones hit his first chords on his guitar, the room got cold (extremely high decibels can actually lower room temperatures). That was the very first time I ever experienced that (but not the last). It cost me some more hearing, too.
And while the clash performed all their hit records on stage (joe strummer swinging a fire axe around as a prop), they were all dressed in their latest commercial enterprise “Clashgear™”. Yes, they had partnered with a fashion designer and launched a line of fashionable clothing (partly based on military uniforms just like che used to wear) personally endorsed by the Clash – the only band that matters.
That show was a big fucking commercial.
Art Chantry:we’re living ‘roller disco cool’ all over again….
look around you – lady gaga, hip hop, soul divas, glenn beck, oxycontin, BP, jeff koons, i could go on for hours. all total crap. but, man, that rhythm! i could dance all night! (pass me a bean, please)…
…have you read john robb’s “punk rock: an oral history”? in it, the picture he creates of the origins of the clash over time sort of paints a slightly different picture for me. he may not have thought he was portraying a corporate… band in development, but that’s exactly what he describes. the role of bernie rhodes as svengali is beyond a doubt a don kirshner channeling exercise. he makes malcolm look like a piker. and mick jones just wanted to be a rock star. so, did all the other guys recruited over many many many auditions to build the ‘perfect punk band’. even joe strummer. did you know they also auditioned shane pain (mcgowan) and morrisey? MORRISEY IN THE CLASH??? even the decision to “do politics” was totally concocted as a gimmick.
so, i still say what i say. all things being equal out there in punkerville, the clash were the corporate whores, not the pistols. the pistols couldn’t pull it off no matter what they did, because they were so goddam nihilistic and negative and unabashedly anti. that was never the clash’s punk image.
when the clash accepted their RNR HOF induction, mick jones ran back to the podium as the rest left and specifically said thanks to the sex pistols, “without them, we wouldn’t be here.”…
…what about this amazing flyer? what do you folks think about this thing? can anybody explain the intent of a communist group handing out a punk/anarchist diatribe about situationist ideals concerning the clash as money grubbers in 1980 in seattle? what the hell is this thing? why does it exist?…they were never smart enough to decide to be what they were. they just were THAT. like rotten sez in response to malcolm’s claims, “you can’t invent me, i AM ME.”
i think the people they all eventually became (a rather sordid set of yobs, ya know?) speaks very plainly tot he basic class war they fought. it wasn’t some marketing decision at all. it was really THEM….the clash, on the other hand, originally played ROLES. the fact that it actually TOOK in some of them (like strummer) doesn’t change that fact….marshall mcluhan would have been proud of malcolm mclaren. fantasy CAN become reality! glen beck is our savior!…heck, their lyrics actually caused that stock market min-crash back in 88/9 remember that one? it was actually proven to be caused by the sex pistols – over ten years after they nose dived into oblivian! check out greil marcus’s intro to ‘ranters & ravers.”
now, that’s power….