For punks, gobbing on the band who were currently on stage was considered the ultimate form of respect:
“Apparently the origin of spitting at gigs came from an early Damned gig at which somebody threw a can of beer at Rat Scabies and he just went up to the bloke, pulled him up by the scruff of the neck and spat in his face. From then on everyone decided spitting was a good idea”.
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There’s an amazing black and white photo of the Ramones performing at the Rainbow Theatre in London which shows the air thick with phlegm on a trajectory for impact with the band.
Joe Strummer was even unlucky to contract hepatitis from a spitting fan.
But this article is not a celebration of punk’s disregard for social or musical convention, or a call for anarchy in the UK.
I don’t like the aggressiveness or the shouting of punk.
I don’t like the hair styles or the clothes either.
In fact I don’t like very much about punk at all.
There was a point during my teens when I would play The Clash’s seminal London Calling album a lot. I copied it onto minidisc from a friend and played it on repeat during my free periods in the art department. I don’t think it helped my painting much.
London Calling was recorded in 1979 when The Clash had already started incorporating more melodic influences like soul and reggae into their music, so it doesn’t really count as pure punk.
What the *&^% is this article about then, you are probably wondering…
Well, there’s an enlightening documentary by the BBC which I recently watched called Punk Britannia that chronicles the rise and fall of the genre in the UK.
Whilst both the visual and aural aesthetic of punk remain pretty unappealing to me after watching it, the do-it-yourself / dont-give-a-fuck attitude at the core of its sub-culture really grabbed my attention.
There’s something about the fiercely independent spirit of punk which could serve a valuable lesson or two to anyone seeking new ways of doing things.</p>
9 things I learned from punk
You only need 3 chords to write a song
Anyone can start a punk band. You just need a guitar and a handful of chords to get going. And skill was less important than attitude. My translation: a restricted palette can be a creativity enhancer. If you want to create something new, having less options means less dithering about your point of entry. There are less reasons not to start. And less things to learn how to use. Pick your power chords and go make some noise.
Do it differently
Don’t do what your parents tell you. Don’t be the person that society expects you to be. Just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. As another famous purveyor of punk sa
"Once something becomes easy to copy, it loses its power"
What’s the best way to be different? Celebrate your individuality. Be confident in your opinions and feelings. Be comfortable in your own skin.
Do it yourself
Punks would pierce themselves, bleach their hair, customise their clothes, write, design and photocopy their own zines. Don’t let a lack of resources or money stop you. Choose yourself. Self-publish your book. Use a plug and play e-commerce solution like Gumroad to begin selling directly to your audience right now. (Of course, building your audience isn’t any easier than it was for the punks. You still need to have a unique voice. But at least you have connective technology on your side) Cut and paste something together… get it out into the world… and see what people think of it.
Don’t chase fame
Don’t do it for the money, or the adoration (or the Facebook likes). The Sex Pistols snubbed the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because induction into it would have compromised their value system. Don’t seek validation from the outside world. Do things because you feel they are right.
In the words of Johnny Rotten himself:
"Do what I want, be honest to myself and then it would do good for others, that’s all, full on".
Honesty creates freedom. Being honest means you have more stories to tell. Being honest is good for you and the people around you.
Don’t ask for permission (ask forgiveness)
Break the rules. Turn the music up too loud. If you do piss someone off, you can always apologise afterwards. But worrying about what people will think before you do something is only ever going to hold your back. Outside of your closest circle of friends, canvassing for opinion isn’t helpful. You’ll just end up playing it safe. Safety is dangerous.
Build your own tribe
There wasn’t much to celebrate about Britain for young people in the late 70s. The economy was in recession. Industry was collapsing. Those kids were alienated man. So they built their own culture, something which made sense of the world around them. It was shocking to their parents, but it gave them an identity. By making a stand it is inevitable that you will push people away. But you will also pull those who are aligned to your principles even closer to you. To build your tribe you have to explore outside of the centre, and outside of normal.
Question and then disrupt the mainstream
Everything about punk flew in the face of what was considered normal in 70s Britain. They had big hair before the advent of the big hair of the 80s. Their clothes had torn fabrics, frayed edges and defaced prints at a time when pristine clothes were the norm. Doing things differently brings down barriers and opens up new avenues of exploration. Without punk there would be no post-punk, no Joy Division or Gang of Four, no post post-punk (whatever that is). Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should too. As Oscar Wilde sa Above all else: rebel
Question the establishment. Take a stance on life. Find your own path. Do your own thing.
You don't do what you want then you'll fade away
You won't find me working nine to five
It's too much fun a being alive
Day 3 of 30 days of writing x Teach everything you know.
Words written: 1033
Time taken: approx 3 hours. I don’t know much about punk, which added at least an extra hour of research onto my writing time. I’m going to concentrate on subjects I have direct experience of from now on.
Posted to life in 2013.