I’m not sure what to make of seeing a young person with the Crass logo painted on the back of their leather jacket. I mean these days. What does it mean to them?
Of course I knew what it meant and what it stood for back in the day. I lived in south London squats in 1983 and 84 and many of my er, squatmates were classic scruffy cliched Crass punks. As a result, I regularly went to see anarcho punk gigs at places like The Ambulance Station on the Old Kent Road. Poison Girls. Chumbawamba. Flux of Pink Indians. Annie Anxiety. Flowers in the Dustbin. Rubella Ballet. I saw a lot of Crass-associated punk bands back then. (When Chumbawamba released “Everything You Know Is Wrong” in 2004, I was chuffed to bits.)
I even saw one of the final Crass gigs, a miner’s strike benefit at the Islington Bingo Hall. Between bands they let me show a little video that I’d cobbled together from particularly gruesome WWII footage set to a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra’s “Polka-dots and Moonbeams.” Although I personally was not a Crass punk per se, I definitely had a foot in that tribe and Crass had a major effect on me and the way I see the world to this very day. Something that I am very grateful for.
When the band was actually together, the idea of what Crass offered was greater than the sum of its parts as well as something, frankly, that was significantly based more on the militant anarchist-vegan-anti-vivisection-pacifist-anti-religious pro-environmental stances they took, than the music itself. Crass were many things—many important things—to many people, but listenable wasn’t really one of them (I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s amusing to think about how many of the Crass punk anarchist squatter types who I knew in Brixton were also into early UB40. Not shitting you. That’s what they listened to, not Stations of The Crass!)
A big part of the appeal, like I say, were the ideas, the leafleting and sloganeering, but there was also Gee Vaucher’s brilliant graphic art and and Dave King’s iconic logo that went along with the Crass mystique. This is what their tribe rallied around. It wasn’t about them as people—most fans probably had no idea what they looked like (I didn’t) and they quite literally shunned the spotlight, performing in near darkness—it was about the fact that because of Crass’s orbit and the gravitational pull of their example and lifestyle that you could meet other people who thought they same way that you did. That aspect of Crass fandom was the glue that held that entire scene together, that you could, as Timothy Leary once said, “Find the Others.”
I think this is why young people today still want to wear the Crass logo across their backs. It may seem somewhat anachronistic—like hippie tie-die does—but the romantic notion of what that scene was all about, is, what I think, motivates kids to sport that symbol in 2013. It will never happen again quite like that, but its a testament to how influential Crass truly were that kids who weren’t even born then continue to be interested in the ideas they espoused, some of which have wormed their way far further into the culture than could have been imagined 30 years ago. Widespread veganism is merely one of the triumphs of Crass that can be seen in today’s landscape and you’d better believe they had a lot to do with it. The concept of veganism seemed so far out in the early 1980s in a way that is almost impossible to convey to someone who wasn’t around back then. People were offended by the very concept of it! Although I was already pretty much already a vegan by 1983, I had never in my life met, until falling into the anarcho punk circles orbiting around Crass’s sun, other people who had the same diet. That was a big deal with me.
Which brings me to the second installment of MOCAtv‘s “The Art of Punk” video series and its exploration of the art and iconography of Crass:
We head up to the Anarchist Book Fair in San Francisco to meet up with Gee Vaucher, and founding Crass member, writer, and activist, Penny Rimbaud. We discuss the art and the lifestyle stemming from the infamous Dial House, where they have lived, worked, and created their own brand of anarchistic beauty, for more than 3 decades. We have a sit down with artist Scott Campbell, at his own New York tattoo shop, and talk about how the art of Crass, and one single t-shirt created a fork in his own road of life. Owen Thornton talks some shit. Finally we hang out with British graphic designer Dave King - the creator of the infamous snake and cross symbol, and discuss post war England, hippies, punk, graphic design, and more, that led him to the creation of the symbol made legendary by Crass.