Crisis? Punk was all about crises!!
Unlike the traditional and dependable agony aunt of AOR, who would always be there to soothe your troubles away, Auntie Punk was on hand to pour petrol, supply matches and call for all out panic on the streets. Punk dealt with the big issues – but could also turn something merely irksome, into a full-scale red alert of gale force 10 proportions.
Warnings of impending doom combined with the new punk habit of dressing so as to be ready for the forthcoming cultural war, were all part of punk battle chest. So what were these immediate crises that Punk was railing against? And what solutions were on offer?
The Cultural Crisis.
First and foremost was punk rock’s all out assault on “family values” and finding mainstream TV, chart music and most social norms boring. The prospect of being literally bored to death by the dreary, low aspiration, high conformity world in which we found ourselves was an emergency like no other. Somewhat ironic then, that for small town proto punks like us it was often the mainstream TV itself that brought this to our attention, via the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie on the Bill Grundy Today show, and music programmes like Something Else and So It Goes.
Meanwhile, over in West London, concerns were being raised about the apathy of young people, and in particular their apparent reluctance to get involved in change or fight for their rights. The Clash supplied the theme tune.
Written by Strummer and Simonon, the song was allegedly inspired by their experience of the previous summer’s riots at the annual Notting Hill carnival, and the way that they saw young black men who were prepared to stand up to the authorities and police for something they believed in. “White Riot” became their own three chord plea for the white working class to stand up and do the same.
The crisis of Consumerism
With her upcycled military wear, WW2 bomb helmet, goggles and penchant for all things dayglo, Poly Styrene argued the case for self expression and non-conformity by example. Upping the stakes, she also did it through the sort of dental riot shield of metal braces that previous generations of girls would have been advised not to leave the house in, and in doing so she opened our eyes to the possibilities of a future unfettered by the mundane.
Both the Clash and X-Ray Spex were also some of the first bands on board when the newly formed “Rock Against Racism” organised their first carnival in April 1978. Formed to oppose a resurgent National Front along with racially motivated attacks and certain comments made by dinosaur rockers like Eric Clapton. The Punk subculture recognised a potential crisis when it saw one, and worked together to oppose it. Bands like TRB, Aswad, Steel Pulse and Stiff Little Fingers, the Clash and X-Ray-Spex all played their part in RAR’s groundswell of resistance.
In times of crisis, punk rock’s golden rules still apply. Despite the potential for some punk rock cognitive dissonance around our current state of not just complying with new rules laid down by the government, but actually agreeing with them, just remember that punk rock tells us to always pick the side of the greater good. After all, staying in throws up all sorts of other indoor punk pastimes; expect future punk girl posts on home haircuts, making a blogzine, being bored, whether it’s possible to write a song using your phone, and other home based DIY entertainment.