The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'sex pistols'
As the Pussy Riot Three prepare to join the civil dead in the Russian gulag, numerous artists in the West have condemned their sentence, some more self-aggrandisingly than others. For example, Glen Matlock of punk marketing breakthrough the Sex Pistols pointed out the similarities between Pussy Riot's protest against the Russian Orthodox Church's complicity in the Putin regime's authoritarianism and his own band's protest against Queen Elizabeth II's inhuman fascist regime, and the sacrifices both bands made for the righteousness of their causes:
"It's bad. I suppose it's similar in a way to what happened with our 'God Save The Queen' single in '77," he said. "But though there was a bit of violence against the band we didn't do two years. That Putin's a twat, isn't he?"Quite.
In honour of this being the Diamond Jubilee long weekend, here is an evaluation of a piece of critique from an earlier Jubilee, namely the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen:
God save the queenWe're not off to a good start. Even if one relaxes the definition of “fascist” (as some on the left of political debate are sometimes wont to), calling Elizabeth II's figurehead reign, floating above the governments of the day, mouthing their words and cutting ribbons, a “fascist regime” would stretch it beyond recognition. One could argue that the song referred to the government of the day, except that it was written in the days of a flounderingly ineffectual Labour government, long before Maggie sent her riot police to smash the unions and said nice things about Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The fascist regime
She ain't no human beingIf one's talking about the office of Queen, that could be considered to be true. Whoever sits on the throne occupies a peculiar role; wearing the title of an ancient absolute monarch, but serving as a mascot of sorts, and being on duty at all times, until she dies or abdicates (and the latter is not possible without scandal). Whereas an ancient monarch's freedom of opinion was limited only by their own power, the Queen has effectively given up the right to express opinions on anything consequential, lest they interfere with her official “opinions”, which change with the composition of Parliament and the will of Rupert Murdoch. (Her son, alas, has not received this memo, and is happy to give his loyal subjects the benefit of his expertise on fields as diverse as homeopathy and architecture.) So, half a point here; the office of the Queen is not human, though the occupant of it, biologically, is, unless you're David Icke.
There is no futureWhen there lines were written in 1977, Britain was in a political, economic and cultural malaise—there was the three-day week, uncollected rubbish was piling up; the Empire was gone, but its memory was still fresh enough that some people believed it wasn't. Ironically enough, one other person who would have agreed with Lydon that there was no future in England's dreaming would have been the aforementioned more-plausibly-fascist-than-the-Queen Tory MP, Margaret Thatcher.
In England's dreaming
God Save The Queen,This sudden lapse into a Californian surfer-dude voice is puzzling. Does Lydon believe that, as a rock'n'roll practitioner, he must adopt an American voice? How does he reconcile the showbiz fakery of rock'n'roll with the professed authenticity of punk as a voice of the people/youth? Or is he suggesting that a US-style Presidency would be preferable to a constitutional monarchy? (Which, a few years after Watergate, sounds implausible.)
I mean it, man
God save the queenFull points for this one; when motherhood statements about “timeless national symbols” and “bringing the country together” aren't enough, monarchists often follow up with “besides, they bring the tourists in”. Though, by some accounts, royal palaces aren't among the most popular of Britain's tourist destinations. Whether this was the case in 1977 is another question.
'Cause tourists are money
And our figureheadAnother one for the conspiracy theorists, it would seem; does the Queen sit at the apex of international organised crime (as US third-party political candidate Lyndon LaRouche claims), or are she and the entire house of
Is not what she seems
Today in heritage rock news: the Sex Pistols are reuniting, yet again, to play a show marking the thirtieth anniversary of their album Never Mind The Bollocks. The show, their first since 2003, will be at the NME Carling Academy in Brixton and tickets will cost £37.50 plus fees. Meanwhile, joining in the punk spirit, EMI are rereleasing four of their singles on vinyl, and underground music magazine NME is running a campaign to get God Save The Queen to number one in the UK.
The Sex Pistols were, of course, known for being the band that Sid Vicious, a violent hooligan, nihilist and drug addict, was in. Recently, comparisons have been drawn between Vicious and a contemporary artist of similar repute, Pete Doherty. Whilst these comparisons may arise, in my opinion, Doherty is no Vicious, and Vicious was the more artistically significant figure. For one, Vicious was not an artist by any definition; he didn't write songs, sing (by any definition of the word) or play any instruments. As such, his appointment as a member of Britain's most mediagenic punk rock group was (on the part of either John Lydon or Malcolm McLaren, depending on whom you believe) itself a work of conceptual art, on a par with Marcel Duchamp framing a porcelain urinal as art and placing it in a gallery. A urinal is not art, but presenting it as art is art — once. The second time someone does it, it is not art but mere copying. (Though the act of copying can be art if it itself is the point; for example Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's recreation of a Cramps gig in a mental hospital, or Banksy's "Tesco Value" riff on Warhol's Campbell's soup cans; that is, if the act makes a new statement on the original, rather than simply reiterating it.) Pete Doherty, however, is worse than not an artist: he's a passably mediocre artist, a middling songwriter and scribbler, who has somehow come to present himself as the Baudelaire of Indie, the great romantic nihilist poet of our age. Sid Vicious, however, had no such pretentions (and, indeed, probably couldn't spell "pretentions"); he was just a violent cretin and made no bones about being anything more. Sid Vicious' career in the Sex Pistols was Dadaist art; Pete Doherty's career is youth-oriented advertising agency copy.
Former NME editor Paul Morley comments on the spectacle of Glen Matlock complaining about the amount of swearing on TV, and asks whether the former Sex Pistol, now a middle-aged family man, has turned against what he stood for, whether he really stood for it in the first place, or whether he has a point:
Clearly, Matlock has decided that as a musician, as an entertainer, he is going to grow old gracefully, even if this means spending most of his time as an unknown. He will not be an expletive-packing Pistol cursing freely into his 50s and 60s, committed to the cause of perpetuating a wild image even as the wrinkles deepen, the flesh softens and the desire crumples. Gene Simmons of Kiss, Alice Cooper, indeed Lemmy are not the right role models for Matlock as he approaches 50, which even if it is the new 40 is not really close enough to the magic years of the 20s where in the old-fashioned sense you can, in a dignified way, wreck yourself, and possibly elements of surrounding civilisation.
Then again, those of us who are watching rich celeb chef Jamie Oliver swear his way through his school dinners show actually might agree with Matlock that there really is too much swearing on television. Middle-of-the-road TV programming freely tosses in the obscenities to suggest there is grit and realism where really there is just frantic emptiness. Matlock might actually be anxious that the swearing is in the wrong mouths, that dull people are exploiting mock controversy as an easy route to commercial attention and that as an ex-Pistol who witnessed the Grundy incident he's responsible for that, and embarrassed by it.