British journalist and TV presenter, Janet Street-Porter has always had a finger on the pulse, been ahead of the curve, you know, has always been able to avoid a cliche. Her career as a TV journalist in the 1970s put most of her contemporaries to shame, as she brilliantly explored subjects and cultural trends the mainstream decidedly ignored. The week Chicago were at number one in the UK’s Top 40, with the vomit-inducing “If You Leave Me Now”, dear Janet was out making the first TV documentary on The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Punk Rock.
Broadcast on 22 November 1976 as part of The London Weekend Show, Janet’s film “Punk” featured interviews The Sex Pistols (still with Glen Matlock), a band called Clash (before they added a ‘The’) and Siouxsie Sioux. The Pistols also perform “Pretty Vacant”, “Submission”, “Anarchy in the UK” and “No Fun”.
There’s some drop-out, and the video tape is a bit mashed at the start, but otherwise, this is an important moment in pop culture history.
John Lydon must get fed up being asked the same olde questions year-after-year by interviewers who should know better. Just see how many interviews over the past thirty years have kicked-off with rumors of a Sex Pistols reunion, as if Lydon has done nothing since the summer of 1977, and then ask whether he’s still Punk and why isn’t PiL any good?
Understandable, therefore, that Lydon is often contemptuous of those who pose such dumb questions.
That said, I sometimes think Lydon’s aggressive behavior stems from a genuine shyness, as he displays a set of tics and mannerisms consistent form his first appearance on Bill Grundy’s infamous swearfest. You’ll recognize them - the mumbling, the staring, the dismissal of questions with the word “Next” - all used to deflect the more personal probing. Oo-er.
We can see examples of both here in this short interview with Jonathan Ross, from his chatshow The Last Resort in 1990.
It begins with Lydon antsy as Ross reels off cue card questions about The Sex Pistols. Lydon is dismissive, which is interesting in light of the Pistols reunion later in the decade.
When questioned about the rumors of a reunion for £6million, Lydon says he wishes such offers would be given to him direct. Even so, he wouldn’t reform the Sex Pistols at any price.
“I would never repeat myself. And I think everybody knows that about me. You may not like me, but at least I am damned honest.”
He is harsh on Sid Vicious, defending his comments as honesty.
“When you start messing with heroin, you’re kissing goodbye to your life, and good riddance too.”
Fair commnent, but I tend to agree with Oscar Wilde that sometimes honesty is not the best policy, and the truth is never simple.
As for Malcolm McLaren he is dissmissed as “an imitation alcoholic”.
He lightens up about his brief acting career in the Harvey Keitel film Order of Death, going on to tell how he was offered “the ratty little git” in Drugstore Cowboy, a part he would have taken but couldn’t because of commitments. Shame for it would have been interesting casting.
The end cuts off just as Lydon gives a 4-word summing up:
“Life first. Money second.”
A nice thought, which reminded me of Picasso’s line about wealth: how it was always best to be rich enough to live poor. O, that we should be so lucky.
Bonus clip of Lydon interviewed by Margenta Devine from Network 7, from 1987, where the same questions about Sex Pistols, Punk and what he’s been up to all come to the fore. Lydon sticks to his honesty and having fun routine.
Bonus interview with Lydon from ‘Network 7’ in 1987, after the jump…
There was a time when Nation of Ulysses was the most influential underground rock band in the world. It may not have been for a very long time, and it may have been 20 years ago, before Nirvana took punk aesthetics into the heart of the mainstream, but for a while it seemed like everyone who heard or saw this band just couldn’t shut up about them. It’s not hard to see why Nation of Ulysses drew such cultish adulation - they were always about much more than being a simple band. They had a defined visual aesthetic that drew more from jazz and Soviet art than hardcore. They spoke politics. They worse suits. They described themselves in statements that by today’s standards would spell career suicide for a rock band:
We’re not only a political party, but also a terrorist group. The imperative started with the recognition of the colonialization of youth culture by youth imperialists and the establishment. It was initially formed as a response to that, but now we’ve broadened our breadth to encompass a complete destruction of the American legacy. We understand the workings of oppressions big and small.
At the time [they formed] was Ulysses Speaks your primary medium?
Yeah, we were mostly just proliferating literature and bombing buildings, and then we realized the medium of noise not only creates a perfect cover for our organization but it also creates a camouflage for maniacal riotous behavior and provides a context for acting like an idiot and going beyond the structures of everyday behavioral codes. When you see a show, everybody is jumping up and down screaming—if it’s good—and that’s because they’ve been allowed to step outside the boundaries of regular behavior. We want to go one step further. It’s absurd behavior—dancing is incredibly absurd—and we want to take that one step beyond, and that’s why we have so much violence on stage; we’re trying to bring it to the next level. We’re fighting a war there in the room…the room that we took over.
Since you began this mission, have you become more optimistic that you can effectively utilize the facade of populist entertainment to convey the party message?
Yeah…our message is visual, it’s aural, and it’s olfactory. Our message couldn’t be progenitated properly just with sound. We see the whole idea of music as a sound phenomena as really bogus and an idea which has only taken root since the proliferation version of recorded medium, like records. Before then, nobody would have ever thought, “this is only attacking my ears”, because there’s always a visual side to that whole phenomenon. We’re into the true experience, and that’s why the whole idea of music has really aligned us. What we’re wearing on stage and the way we move on stage has just as much to do with the idea that we’re getting across as the sound that we’re putting forth.
Have you been able to stir up as much antagonism as you might have hoped for?
Yeah, you know - the old order; people who sense the dissolution and the proliferatrion of new ideas. There’s a Kill Ulysses conspiracy - It’s called the Kill Ulysses National Workers Socialist Party; they’re just trying to destroy us. Rock and Roll is trying to destroy us.
From The New Puritan ReView, 1991 - read the whole interview here.
Still, for all the word-of-mouth hype that surrounded Nation of Ulysses in their brief but dazzling career, for kids like me who lived in the sticks their music was harder to come across than hen’s teeth - another situation that seems impossible by today’s standards. Back in the days when you had to travel to a big city and visit a specialist record shop in the hope of picking up an import 7”, it was easier to find releases by Ulysses’ UK adherents like Huggy Bear than it was the band’s own originals. Thankfully, the hardcore NoU fan base still exists and has been doing a pretty good job of disseminating footage and material on the internet, ensuring the band’s legacy will live on and attract more fans. Sure, Nation of Ulysses weren’t the first punk act to adhere to hardcore left-wing politics, or to have a well defined look and outlook, but no-one did it with this much goddam style:
Nation of Ulysses “Introduction/Spectra Sonic Sound” live 1991
OK, so the audio quality in that clip was pretty poor, but it gives you an idea of what their shows were like. Plus, I do love that washed out, third-generation VHS-copy look. Here’s another clip of NoU live from 1991 (minus suits):
Nation of Ulysses “A Comment on Ritual” live 9:30 Club, 1991
You can now buy the Nation of Ulysses back catalog direct from Dischord.
After the jump, even better quality footage of NoU live in DC circa 1991, including a further 30 minutes of that 9:30 Club show above (in color)…
Interviews with Television are few and far between. Here’s one which aired a few months ago on MTV Brazil
There’s an amusing bit where a visibly pissed-off Tom Verlaine responds to a clip in which a member of Gang Of Four condescendingly describes CBGB and the Seventies New York City rock scene.
The guy doing the interviewing is Chuck Hipolitho of Brazilian punk band Forgotten Boys. He’s clearly thrilled to be in the presence of musicians he obviously loves but the band is about as warm and fuzzy as a school of Coney Island white fish floating down the East River during the dead of winter. Comeon guys, give the kid some love.
Tom Verlaine, Billy Ficca, Jimmy Rip and Fred Smith together again. When’s the tour?
Another installment with cult figure Kim Fowley, record producer, rock impresario, songwriter and musician. Manager of The Runaways, “animal man” and the original Mayor of the Sunset Strip. “One of the most colorful characters in the annals of rock & roll.” Thrill to gossipy stories of Sly Stone and Doris Day; Sonny and Cher; Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin, Gene Vincent and more.
If you’re a regular reader of Dangerous Minds, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a huge Ramones fan. One of the reasons I started my own punk band in 1976 was a result of hearing The Ramones’ debut album and my love for the group hasn’t diminished over the years. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best rock band to appear in the past four decades. They were essential in the re-birth of rock and roll in the Seventies and their influence has been enormous on virtually every hard rock band to arise since the boys erupted on the Bowery in 1975.
Today is the seventh anniversary of Johnny Ramone’s death at the far too young age of 55. Without question one of the best rock guitarists of all-time, Johnny never really got his due during his lifetime. Fortunately, that’s changing.
Here’s some of my favorite live footage of The Ramones. Performing in London, where they were far more appreciated than in their home country, the band tears it up at The Rainbow in 1977. 26 minutes of pure unadulterated R&R.
Here in it’s entirety is Julian Temple’s very fine 2007 documentary on Joe Strummer.
Featuring members of The Clash, Don Letts, Jim Jarmusch, Bernie Rhodes, Joe Ely, John Cooper Clarke and many more.
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten does justice to a complex and brilliant man who was constantly grappling with his fans’ expectations, his own demons, while all the while trying to age gracefully as the face of rebellion and punk rock music.