Generally, this has been the case since the British Invasion. Around that time, the chiming electric pop and faux blues of our well-intended Trans-Atlantic cousins short-circuited the connection rock had with its creators, i. These men and women who had been locked in poverty in inner-city ghettoes and Appalachian hollows had made a desperate and original beat noise; it implicitly meant something because the people who made it were screaming from the underbelly.
Who needs to consider the indignities Wynonie Harris, the Treniers or Sister Rosetta Tharp suffered while making their art when we can just smile and sway to Oasis? Executives connected with the show were fired, and the episode made headlines across the country. Petula Clark was not even a vaguely political singer, but by making an important gesture at a crucial time, she made a political statement that was vastly more impactful than a hundred anti-war and protest songs.
In many ways, the political ideology of the Sex Pistols was incoherent and non-specific. But just by being the Sex Pistols—or more accurately, being the Sex Pistols at the right time in the right place—they became a genuine political band. Notably, in its New York City ideation — , Punk Rock seemed actually apolitical, occasionally touching on nihilism, but not current events. Also, many of its early heroes Television, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Blondie, Pere Ubu made work that reflected intellectual, poetic, or collegiate backgrounds.
Therefore, it had relatively little explicit connection to the working class, and did not reflect working-class concerns. In Great Britain circa , there was an encoded discrimination against the lower class and the lower middle class that was, in many ways, unrecognizable and foreign to Americans.
Likewise, people were regularly deprived of educational and economic opportunities because of their class. I recall being shocked by this when I first visited London. The standard-bearers for Punk Rock, the Sex Pistols, were defiantly and adamantly working class.
Likewise, many first-generation British punk bands wore their working-class or lower-middle-class roots proudly. Since the British working class was a group that was an active target of economic and social discrimination, this gave British punk an implied politicism that American punk rock lacked.
Today, the incident that led to EMI dropping the band seems trivial—until you put it in context. Host Bill Grundy was patronizing, dismissive and insulting to the band, whose accents clearly identified them as working class.
The Sex Pistols playing in Copenhagen. Malcolm McLaren was a brilliant and original cultural instigator, but he was one of the most incompetent and destructive managers in music history. Only a destructive moron who saw the Pistols as a theoretical concept and a publicity-accruing toy and not as an incendiary and important rock band would have made that mistake. I have zero hesitation in saying that if the Pistols had continued with Lydon, guitarist Steve Jones, and bassist Glen Matlock they could have been the freaking Who nothing against Paul Cook, whose martial drums contributed distinctively to the Pistols sound, but he is not the extraordinary and eye-popping talent that Matlock, Lydon and Jones were.
Imagine if those extreme and diverse talents had stayed together, evolved together, experimented together, fought together and continued as the Sex Pistols; their split was not inevitable, but a grotesquerie engineered by McLaren. I think they could have become The Who.
He was interested in chaos, not actual change. But today, potentially destabilizing social and environmental issues are being brought directly to our once-complacent doorsteps, so I hold out hope that the spirit of the late Tom Hayden will infect a new generation of artists in , Hayden wrote an important manifesto, the Port Huron Statement , urging middle class engagement against the horrors of racism and potential nuclear obliteration.
God save the Sex Pistols. Facebook [i] By , Clark and producer Tony Hatch had created some of the most extraordinary, ecstatic and perfect moments in pop history. Tony Hatch should be spoken of in the same breath as Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and Guy Stevens, but we shall discuss that at another time. I have written about this subject in the Observer before. Both of these seemingly small changes show the singer positing a more active, messianic role in the revolution, and I wish these lyrics had been retained.