post punk: johnny rotten

by Art Chantry (

I’m not very comfortable with the new popular label “post punk”. to begin with, it denotes a time frame – it comes after ‘punk’, right? ok, so how do we define 1) “punk” and IT’S time frame and then, 2) define what is punk vs. “post”? there are as many punk chronologies as there are writers. greil marcus seems to take it all the back to the 1700’s. MOJO magazine starts the history of punk with The Sonics (from Tacoma, washington, usa. tacoma invented punk?) wasn’t rockabilly about as “punk” as snot? elvis was the classic definition of ‘a punk’. so, are we talking everything that happened in pop music after punk as “post punk”, then where do we start defining post punk? after elvis? after iggy? after the velvets? after the ramones? after the sex pistols? before joy division? or after joy division? after 1970? 1975? 1980? what? when? how? see what i mean? it gets crazy real fast.

AC:i actually saw the early line up of PiL perform. levene's guitar cost me some hearing. that band was really something to see. crazy intense wonderful and really really dangerous. my girlfriend maire was working that show (she was an early punk promoter) and after lydon invited the crowd up on stage to participate (as he did back then) the resulting chaos and looting got intense. maire grabbed lydon's guitar and was going to take it back into the green room. but lydon caught her and said "where you going with that?" like she was stealing it. she calmly replied, " well i'm working this show. either i save the mics or i save your guitar. make your choice fast". she said he had the scariest eyes she's ever seen in her life.

post punk is a british term. that means it’s provincial. like, new york, britain defines everything through it’s own neighborhood (aka – England, a big neighborhood). it’s got an arrogant myopia that it just doesn’t seem to understand it’s own narrow vision. reading british rock criticism and music history is an exercise in omission and frustration. the writing seems to be more about the writer than the subject matter. frankly, british rock criticism drives me up a wall. it makes me want to bitch slap those clowns. so, when the british music press began to promote the term ‘post punk’ as the new defining explanation of what has happened in pop music over the last 30 or so years, i just laugh. unfortunately, it seems to be catching on. i now hear the term everywhere. it’s sort of how term ‘glitter rock’ became ‘glam rock’. the anglophiles in this country (we’re about the only country in the world who thinks the british are cool) immediately adopted their term as the correct term. why? well, BECAUSE!

yes, there was an enormous change that happened when the sex pistols crashed into the ground. their sheer nihilism was astounding. we had to wait all the way up to curt cobain to find a nihilism that topped the sex pistols’ downward spiral. after british punk took the form to it’s logical conclusion, the pop culture world was suddenly left without an avant guard. the british (especially) were very keen to move on. almost immediately, you began to have a competition to see what was the ‘new thing’ to replace the smoldering ruins of the punk apocalypse.

one of the truly wonderful things about punk was that (especially at the beginning) there was no definition of form or style or approach outside of ‘do it yourself’. any level of intelligence or competence was perfectly ok. what quickly emerged was a plethora of weird music experiments utilizing every imaginable, every conceivable configuration or instrumentation or approach that the fevered teenage mind could concoct. in commercial response, the music biz created ‘new wave”, but it was never defined clearly and seemed as plastic and phony as you would imagine. war was declared.

what was left to rise from the ruins were “genre’s”. after the one-two shattering punch of (first) disco and then the shithammer of punk, accepted pop music convention shattered. in the 60’s and 70’s, the avant guard was on the radio in the record stores. if you wanted to listen to what the latest coolest best most interesting music coming out, you could find it and it was easy to access. you could literally follow a handful of popular bands and be right at the cutting edge of what was happening. particularly since the beatles first lead the way, the cutting edge in pop culture was right in front of your face to see and hear. it was one of those strange times when the underground was above ground, where the really extreme thinking was on the pop charts. there was a sort of unity that had emerged. and exploited.

but after punk, you couldn’t follow the pop charts to hear what was in the pop mindset. you had to dig and find styles and genre’s to listen to. you no longer listened to “rock music”, you listened to disco or punk or black metal or rockabilly revival or puke blues or power pop or acid jazz or glam or industrial or garage or psychobilly or goth or pirate or tribal or world beat or ska or reggae or rap or soul or psych or god knows what… i mean how many different genre’s of rap are there at this point? and each one has an exclusive following that won’t listen to any other kind of rap. that’s what i mean by ‘shattering’. the music broke down into a bazillion little bits and pieces and the audience shattered even further.

the mainstream was gone and the only way you could actually sell a large number of records and become a “star” was to develop a style that crossed-over into as many genres as possible., thus appealing to the pocketbooks of many potential listeners. the success of people like madonna and prince and michael jackson and REM and U2 and even nirvana or ‘nsync meant that their style was ‘pan generic’ enough to attract a composite crowd. going to a major concert venue to see a big touring star in the last 25 years meant encountering huge contingents of these often disparate mutually antagonistic subcultures all meeting in one big room. the results were as

ed as the people. some very weird scenes….

to be continued


AC:they were very very much a part of it, as important as anything. but, it was lydon who dominated the group. no doubt about that. lydon dominates everything around him always. wobble and levene were/are amazing brilliant musicians, no doubt. but, the the longer run, they were no match for the sheer madness of lydon….

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Literature/poetry/spoken word, Music/Composition/Performance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>