By the 1980s, Punk’s influence had spilt all over popular culture like a rogue pint of especially fizzy snakebite.
As well as those first wavers who had become the new pop royalty, like Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux, the rise of the Punk mentality in mainstream music, fashion and art was starting to take effect. Punk had blown the bookends off previously held beliefs about what was acceptable, or commercial, or even desirable, and that same punk mentality was now opening a gateway to the future.
New provocateurs embraced the DIY ethics, and the ideas generated by the first wave were now gaining traction further afield in underground clubs, fringe theatre and the visual arts.
Just as Jamie Reid had borrowed and subverted his ransom note graphics on Sex Pistols artwork, and the Slits had dabbled with punky reggae, more people had started to borrow and adapt elements from neighbouring subcultures. By the early 1980s Punk’s legacy also included and embraced sub-divisions like street art, underground dance, and gay sub-culture, as it continued to influence mainstream tastes.
In New York City in 1978, a young choreographer who was still cutting her teeth on three chord New Wave, was beginning to utilise these same mix and match, open-ended possibilities which lay ahead.
Dancer, backing singer and drummer Madonna Louise Ciccone was fronting a post new wave outfit called The Breakfast Club. Sounding raw, energetic, and capable of a whole lot more. Moving onto a band called the Emmys and then taking the next step as a solo performer, Madonna “borrowed” as well as anyone. Taking elements of street style, she started to combine it with early electro, underground gay dance music, and added visuals and choreography. The beads, the studs, the black leather gloves….wait a minute, that’s all a bit, dare-we-say….Punk isn’t it?
All which leads us to ponder the big question… “Would Madonna have happened if it hadn’t been for Punk?” To big a question for us, so we asked Lucy O’Brien, writer, lecturer and author of “Madonna: Like an Icon” who told us,
“We might not have had Madonna in the same way. Although she never called herself Punk she was very aware of it, she hung a lot with Punks, there was that whole cultural and political framework that she was very knowing about. She was interested in a lot of Punk New Wave in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she totally took it on board”.
To us, Madonna has always been a singular artist, and one who was aware of the pitfalls of the music industry right from the start. Lucy told us “She came in with a real sub-culture sensibility, and her thing [at that time] was probably freestyle Danceteria, and gay male subculture. There’s a subcultural subtext to her work”.
Cast alongside Rosanna Arquette in the film “Desperately Seeking Susan”, Madonna took her subculture pick’n’mix onto celluloid, and in a recent interview with Jason Bailey in vulture.com, the film’s director Susan Sideman admitted that Madonna’s real life look and persona had a direct bearing on the way the film finally played out,
“It changed, once I got involved. It was set in the East Village, and the character of Susan wasn’t this downtown punk kind of person. At that time she was a little bit more like a hippie traveler. It was more like Diane Keaton, Annie Hall-ish, that kind of a character. And what I thought would be interesting — again, because I was familiar with downtown culture — was to kind of morph it a little bit into the characters I knew, and that I thought could be interesting in that role. And so the character of Susan changed a little bit, and then certainly when we cast Madonna.”
Towards the end of the film’s nine week shoot, “Like A Virgin” was rotating on MTV, Madonna was the front cover of Rolling Stone and then BAMMM …taxi to megastardom for Ms Ciccone.
“Madonna comes from a place that is genuinely feminist, when she started out that was maybe a bit confused, but she’s always been a democrat, she’s always been about the artist. She’ll [still] often work for sub-cultural writers and producers” – Lucy O’Brien
Madonna, icon, innovator and megastar….and quite possibly, somewhere underneath…PUNK GIRL.
Thanks to Lucy O’Brien – lucyobrien.co.uk