It’s not that Punk was entirely dour…it’s just that when it was ready for its close-up, nothing spoke louder than a well placed scowl.
Ever since we were very young, smiling had been part and parcel of our everyday life. We smiled because we were happy, and at other times because it seemed polite to do so, either way smiling was the key to getting along. It was especially encouraged in photographs, and as birthdays, Christmas and summer holidays were all documented on the family Kodak, smiling was essential for everyone. We did it, our parents did it, as did almost everyone in magazines, pop groups and on the television.
Until the mid 1970s that is…
BANDS: PRE-PUNK SMILING VS POST-PUNK SCOWLING
When Punk Rock arrived, it did so sneering, scowling and eye-rolling, all the while dragging its sulky feet along the pavement with an anti-charm offensive all of its own.
Nothing displayed our disapproval with the world, mainstream culture and any sort of authority louder than an appropriately sneery expression. Whatever we were wearing, which at the time was unlikely to be a full Westwood, usually just something appropriated from the local jumble sale, or in our case school uniform, nothing set it off better than a really good sneer or scowl. It was the easy, instant and distinctly sour cherry on top of our newly found disapproval of everything that had gone before. The sneer was an important and necessary component in our armoury which included smart ar*e comebacks, ripped clothes and doing the opposite of what was expected. It was a cunning and visible sleight against the expectation of having a youthful, cheery disposition, and an enthusiasm for getting along. A scowl was equally as powerful but in the opposite direction, and neatly spanned the breadth of both our fledgling nihilism and our budding creativity. It was the cognitive dissonance that we took out onto the streets and photo booths. No fun, was definitely the new fun. Still is.
Above, Billy Idol, master of both the sneer and the scowl, Viv eloquently demonstrating “pissed off” without ever resorting to stereotypes and Gaye Advert shows that even a photo shoot for Record Mirror cannot make a dent in her dark, black, punk rock mood.