We can’t think of any other previous youth movement that inspired so many young people to question the status quo, quite like Punk did. Punk encouraged us to pick up guitars, drums, and pretty much anything else capable of making a noise, and do it ourselves. This cultural explosion was more than just noise though; we talked, we listened, we sought things out and we read. For those us who did start bands or fanzines, or maybe got a massive telling off for an indelibly stained parental carpet while screen-printing our own artwork or painting on clothes, the learning curve was pretty steep.
This kind of trial and error, self imposed extra curricular education was fuelled by the urge to change. It wasn’t that we simply wanted to wrangle our way out of the unbearable claustrophobic choices that our prescribed mid 1970s life seemed to have in wait for us, but more importantly, we found the urge to change ourselves. So Punk was also a movement that pushed us to see beyond what might be expected of us, and we learnt to develop the capacity to be able to examine or reject the things that we might want in return. It helped us define what we wanted, and what we were against, both personally and in the wider world, like dead end jobs
This was an intellectual change. Pretty soon, and via our new favourite bands, records, printed interviews and the accompanying artwork, we started to understand ideas, read books and ask questions that we would have never encountered at home or at school. Post punk was never on the curriculum, but it took us to places way beyond those that the schools had in mind for us. Not quite a generation older than us, artists like Patti Smith pointed us towards William Burroughs and the beat Poets, The Cure sign-posted Albert Camus and along the way we discovered people like Joe Orton, Germaine Greer, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg to name just a few.
We didn’t realise it at the time, but infused with some of these new (to us) and loftier ideas, we too were becoming, dare we say….a bit…er… intellectual. Armed with this new knowledge, we’d connect Blondie to the Velvet Underground via Andy Warhol, via Marilyn Monroe, through Candy Darling, to Berlin period Bowie and back to Lou Reed. As we followed these new connections we grew more able to use them to both widen the path as well as navigate this well of sub-culture with ease. Punk wasn’t just noise, it provided us with a new understanding.
Part of Punk’s big secret was that underlying all the lazily reported yobbish, gobby “Filth and the Fury” stories in the tabloids, Punk at it’s heart was much smarter than that. At once subversive yet sophisticated, and even between it’s own clearly defined battle lines, it was entirely open to interpretation. Punk was about direct engagement, not just entertainment, and being able to think, was part of the new arsenal.