43. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK (1976)

Earlier this week, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK, offered his Autumn Statement, a report on the state of the economy in the UK, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, the news isn’t at all good — although it seemed for a short time that the British economy might have been bouncing back after a few years of recession, the current forecast seems to suggest that the country is instead headed for a “double-dip” recession.

What has interested me this past week, however, is how many newspaper columns I have read that have compared the current state of the economy to Britain in the 1970s, which is the last time there was a protracted economic slump of this sort. Here’s a great example of an analysis of this sort from the Guardian, which draws a parallel between the ten-year period we’re now in the middle of (2006-2016) and the worst ten-year period in recent British economic history, 1973-1983.

It occurs to me, perhaps we should take these parallels between the 1970s and the present more seriously, and on a cultural level as well as an economic one. Looking back to music in the 1970s, there’s an interesting narrative to be told about the transition from escapist rock (glam rock, prog rock) in the early 1970s into punk in the late 1970s. Admittedly, punk started out in London primarily as a fashion statement self-consciously designed by a few opportunistic entrepreneurs, but it quickly hit a nerve with a disgruntled and disaffected generation, and before long, punk helped galvanize this generation into some serious activist politics in the UK.

I wonder: are we seeing something comparable these days with the Occupy movement? Is there a shift underway from ostrichism to activism? (Please say yes.) How in the midst of all the posturing can we distinguish between the superficial and the substantial, between fashion statements and genuine revolution? And maybe most importantly: how should we channel the anger?  How can we make it about production, not merely destruction? I will contend that the history of punk can teach us a lot.

Anyways, I once taught an FSEM class on the Sex Pistols, and I was AMAZED that almost no one in the class was familiar with the band. I sort of feel like Never Mind the Bollocks should be required listening for every fourteen year old on the planet. And so let’s start with this track — their first television appearance, filmed before they’d even put out a single.

If you haven’t heard or seen the band before (or, for that matter, even if you have), I’d be really curious to hear what you make of this performance. How does it come across? Does Johnny Rotten seem like someone worth listening to, or just a deranged maniac? How scary is he? How smart does he seem? Are there real politics here, or is this just posturing, or an attention-seeking tantrum? Is there substance here, or just style? For that matter, what do you make of their clothes? The paperclip earring? The Karl Marx shirt? And what’s up with the dancing Nazi with the beehive?

Send me some thoughts!

Johnny Rotten

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3 thoughts on “43. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK (1976)

  1. annagreenwood says:

    *sigh of relief* … ahhhhh, punk, sweet punk.

  2. Kelly Smith says:

    I love this song!!!

  3. Bryan says:

    Bollocks was one of the first albums I bought as I went through a bit of a punk phase in 5th and 6th grade (not that I don’t still listen to and love the music) and I loved it at the time because it was fast, loud, and raw and I had never really heard anything like it. I guess the message that the Pistols were trying to deliver in this song was a little over my head at the time, but I now realize the importance the song had then (and how it applies today).

    As far as Johnny Rotten, sometimes I feel like he can deliver incredibly meaningful commentaries on society, politics, and music in an eloquent way and other times he just says “Piss off” and spits on the reporter or something like that. So I take him for what he is: a crazy, erratic, punk, (occasional) visionary.

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