'If punk is a style, then punk is absolutely and irrevocably dead and buried. If, on the other hand, punk is an ethos, then our perception of this moment in history changes'.
So says Brent Ables in his mostly splendid article 'A House Full of Pain: How the Greatest Punk Album of the '70s Was Made by Pink Floyd' in cokemachineglow.
Ables goes on to argue (citing Johnny Rotten's famous I HATE Pink Floyd t-shirt):
'The punks didn’t look deeply enough. If they had, they would have realized that for the space of an album, Pink Floyd had already done everything they wanted to do and had done it better. Animals was already the greatest punk rock album of the decade, and punk hadn’t even been christened yet.'
Animals is, by some distance, the most venomous, bleak, cutting, ruthless lyrical document released by a major rock band in the 1970s... ...Waters pens some of the most memorable lines of his career, over the album’s three core tracks, Waters unleashes a furious condemnation of you, your family, your boss, your lover, and the depths of your corrupted festering soul. No one is safe....and the point is that you and everyone you know is totally fucked. What is this but the punk ethos in its purest form?
Ables has an entertaining and decent argument but my sense is that he misses the point a bit.
The point of the Sex Pistols and punk as a thing was to inspire a thousand other bands and create a movement of which the Pistols could be the leaders. Of course it was all about ethos.
Because there had to be more than just the Pistols.
Because people' don't see just the leaders, they mostly see the the followers, new recruits follow the followers.
Which takes us back to this story from Bernie Rhodes (I think it was him).
Rhodes managed The Clash back in the day and was in cahoots with Malcolm Mclaren (Sex Pistols) and Jake Riviera (the unsung 3rd man of the original emergent UK punk scene, and erstwhile manager of The Damned).
Between the three of them they realised that to create a movement no one band could not do it on their own, but 3 bands...
Do the arithmetic.
3 bands (Pistols, Clash, Damned) each with four members.
Say each band member has five 'friends', thats 60 people minimum.
So a triple header gig in a small strip joint in Soho has an instant crowd of 60 or so likeminded bods, to any waif or stray thats wandered in off the street it immediately looks like 'something' is happening.
As more people decide to join in it's no longer a risk, if they 'get it' no reason not to join in now, and the codes, language, style is all there for them.
It's very easy to participate.
So while the Floyd may have had the message, they didn't have the movement.
There were not a thousand bands formed overnight and instantly performin 27minute prog rock epics in the garage to a dozen friends.
There was a huge audience but it was not participatory.
It's well documented that many older original punks were former hippies.
Tony Parsons famously noted (re: the Pistols Jubilee boat party):
'There were a lot of hippies on the boat, all these sweet people from Virgin. There wasn't actually a huge divide between hippies and punks back then that we made out there was. We shared so much that you can only really discern with hindsight. Both groups were determined that they were going to change the way society was ordered, but both wanted to do it while getting absolutely shitfaced'
Pink Floyd's achievement with Animals was to make a prog rock album straight out of the previous counterculture that was (in part) in tune with the current counterculture without cutting their hair or taking in their flares.
Ables takes a final swipe at J Rotten '...thirty-five years later, while Roger Waters goes before the United Nations in defense of Palestinian rights, Johnny Rotten is growing fat from VH1 reality shows and butter commercials'
This is essentially the Bill Hicks point of view that 'any performer who ever sells a product on television is for now and all eternity removed from the artistic world'.
The lesser quoted other part of that Hicks quote is that if the IRS or some other body is on the back of the performer for money then it's passable.
Rotten has gone on record as saying that the butter ad and 'I'm a Celebrity...' fees essentially paid for the Public Image Ltd tour of 2009 so that goes down a pass in my book.
Thanks to Mr Dodds for finding the original Floyd article.