This article was first published on CLUAS in October 2007
Never Mind the (30 year old) Bollocks?
John Ford on the Sex Pistols, er, seminal debut 30 years after its release
the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in your human machine
We're the future
"Never Mind the Bollocks? Here's the Sex Pistols" was unleashed upon the world
30 years ago this month. That scary thought led me to reflect on what things
were like in 1977.
I was in London and Liverpool and Dublin in 1977, with my best friends. Three California boys just out of high school, fed up with the usual prospects. Our answer was bicycles, sleeping bags and one-way tickets to Europe to find some adventure.
Musically, we were not current. We hated the establishment music scene in America (Styx, Journey, ELO, ELP, BTO, etc.) but we were looking back, not to the future; was there a future? The Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith hadn't made it into our world yet. We were holding on to The Beatles, The Who, The Band (The Stones were already shot). We went in search of the England we knew from A Hard Day's Night, from Quadrophenia and from Monty Python. We found plenty of that, but we also got to witness the amazing cartoon that was the British Punk scene of 1977.
On a London bus, it was an eye-opener seeing our first "Punks". We grew up in Los Angeles, "The Land of Fruits and Nuts", but this was surely not something we saw every day. Those kids looked so silly, so dangerous and so cool at the same time.
We continued our meek little Beatles pilgrimage (Abbey Road Studios, irritating McCartney at his home, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, etc) sleeping in parks, train stations and in fields as we went. In Liverpool we wanted to find The Cavern, where The Beatles played their 8 hour amphetamine shows in the early years. We saw posters around town for a show that night at The Cavern! Somebody with a silly name, made up from two American icons? Elvis Costello.
We showed up there that night, but didn't go in. We sat out in the alley, listening to the raucous noise coming out and watching the crowd of hardcore punks headed in. We were too scared to go in with that lot. But also, I think we felt that this was their world, their bleak experience of life in 70s Britain. We didn't belong to that experience, but we did learn from it. We learned that "Punk" was not a look or a dress code, but a way of looking at the world, an inclusive, class-free way of thinking, wherein the rock star (or any other rich bastard) was not what mattered. It is us that matter? what the song does for our souls. "Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust".
That was the year of Mrs. Windsor's jubilee, and also the time when the Pistols floated on a barge down the Thames in front of parliament and Windsor Castle screaming their God Save the Queen rampage against the established order.
We didn't really catch on to what the Pistols and The Clash were doing until a bit later, when we returned home to our bland L.A. scene. Then we found the L.A. bands X, The Blasters, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, various Reggae bands and a whole new world of energy, passion, anger and vitality.
God Save the Sex Pistols for kicking us in the ass and getting us started down that road.