A friend of mine introduced me to Frank Turner a while ago. I like his old fashioned, idealistic enthusiasm. The idea that Rock n Roll can save the world, for example. Bless. He calls out to ‘punks’ and ‘skins’ among others in that song. Are there any of those left? At least ones that aren’t deliberately retro 16 year olds or middle aged anachronisms?
We’ve all seen them. I have friends who are them. They still have their mohawks and their dreads; their middle aged spreads are barely covered with Clash and Ramones shirts (available from Topshop a couple of years ago, I noticed) and they wear boots that cost a month’s what-used-to-be-called dole money. Nowadays, of course, the faces that loom over their No Future t-shirts are craggy and lined, just as middle aged faces should be. No Future. Haven’t they noticed the irony? Duh.
But some of us thought that back then – that there was no future, I mean. In 1979 (an important year in which I started my periods and The Toy Dolls formed) Britain agreed to look after some missiles for the Americans (because obviously we have a fuck of a lot more space than they do), which was very kind of us, but some people got a bit scared. Humans do tend to get a bit jittery when our new next door neighbours turn out to be a gang of gigantic wiping-out machines. CND went into overdrive and my cousin got unceremoniously booted off Greenham Common – where he went bearing “I agree with you” gifts – for being a boy.
And the stuff on TV. Holy shit. 11 year old me genuinely thought we were in The Last Days. Firstly there was loads of stuff about how shit generally we are as a species: Alex Haley’s Roots made snot actually come out of my nose through wailing at man’s inhumanity to man, and so did that mini series Holocaust which may have been criticised for’trivialising’ the events it depicted, but to my barely-formed mind, it bloody didn’t. I was devastated. I don’t think I ever really got over it.
Then there was all that apocalyptic stuff, like Threads, which imagined what it would be like if the UK had a nuclear bomb dropped on it. It featured drably clothed 80s people going about their movingly trivial little lives in the drab 80s landscape before suddenly having their skins peeled off and their shopping bags melted by a fuckoff great roaring mushroom cloud.
I think the whole thing is here:
Just in case you’re in need of cheering up 80s-childhood style.
There was also a series by Terry Nation called Survivors in which nearly everyone was wiped out by a plague called ‘The Death’, and everyone else ran around killing each other to survive. I was allowed to stay up for that one.
So, anyway, school-age me definitely thought the world was a bit on the fucked side, so when I attended careers sessions at school, I nodded in a politely middle-class sort of way while internally noting their extreme pointlessness. Hadn’t the earnest teachers noted that we were on the brink of total annihilation? Not one of them mentioned, amid the talk of how many ‘O’ Levels you needed to become an archaeologist, anything about ways of surviving the apocalypse, or how to make a living once the earth had been scorched and you couldn’t buy Weetabix or Bovril any more.
That was when No Future t-shirts were appropriate. If I had ever seen a No Future t-shirt when I was 11 in Cornwall, I would have worn one too. I did have a very, very vague inkling of the punk movement; there were rumours that there was a real, live actual punk in Plymouth, but, like the Loch Ness Monster, The Beast of Bodmin and the Abominable Snowman, he was probably mainly wishful thinking. And anyway, the story went that (unlike me) he was properly working class. You were supposed to be working class in those days.
We weren’t rich or anything, but I was very definitely not working class. It was so embarrassing. I got away with it a bit because my mum was foreign, and so I was slightly exempt from some of the rigidities of the childhood class system, but at primary school I was frequently aware of my gentle middle class naivety which manifested itself mainly in not knowing much about shagging when I was 7, being horrified and helpless when Jamie Bottono nicked my brand new black suede roller boots, and pronouncing my words like newsreaders did. Once, when making stained glass windows in class, and running out of the required materials, I decided to ask Mrs. McGrady for some fresh tissue paper by pronouncing the word as it is spelled – with a prominent ss sound rather than a sh sound – and I was teased mercilessly for weeks by Maxine. I was a sitting duck.
Anyway, I was slightly too young for punk. It peaked, so I have been informed by those who were there (i.e. old enough to spike their hair up with glue and living in more authentically punk areas than Cornwall), in around 1979. That year again. I was only about 4 years too young for it, so by the time I was positive enough that the world was shit to drop out of it, I dropped out into an only-just post-punk world which was still awash with mohawks and bondage trousers and Crass records and ripped t-shirts and Class War magazines and militant vegans and army surplus and flamingo pink hair dye and dreadlocks and squats and Special Brew and hot knives and amphetamines and the dole and ‘I didn’t go to work today. Don’t think I will tomorrow’ posters.
Youthful idealism. I encountered a lot of that. I even had some myself. Only, ‘youthful idealism’ sounds all lovely and vigorous and uplifting and Frank Turnerish. Like you’d be swept along with it and rush off earnestly to solve the problems of the universe with your Rock n Roll and your enthusiastic pink cheeks and your perfect young people’s skin. Youthful idealism wasn’t like that, though, in the world of squats and travellers and post-punk. It was sort of angry. No, it was very angry.
The Anarcho-Punk scene was massive at the time, and was based on the old and respectablish idea, of course, that all authority is necessarily evil because it warps and controls humans who would be fundamentally good to each other and share their Special Brew and hair clippers and amphetamines and vegan peanut butter if they were just left alone. I used to think that too. Probably because I had never really been outside Cornwall or my family unit where we mostly shared our stuff and were basically kind to eachother. Probably, I reasoned, Jamie Bottono wouldn’t have nicked my roller boots if we lived in an Anarchist Free State. He wouldn’t have had to because… er… well… I would have had to share them with him anyway… or… the state would issue some to him as well… Oh, there wouldn’t be a state. Well… Oh. Maybe we just wouldn’t HAVE roller boots at all… Oh. Well. Anyway. It would definitely be better. Crass said so.
The Anarcho-punks, of course, hated the police. They adopted the Rasta title for them – Babylon (when they weren’t calling them ‘pigs’, like the hippies before them). The police were the visible face of everything oppressive about the state. The adopted title Babylon is wondrous for its absolute idiocy, when you think about it. Anarcho-punks are/were virulently anti-Christian because Christianity is seen as a monotheistic authoritarian religion used to force the population into submission to a hierarchy based on imposed authority.
To Rastas, Babylon is a symbol of evil for precisely the opposite reason. Consider the tower of Babel. The peoples of the world are having a lovely time co-operating and building a tower together which challenges the hierarchy of God, metaphorically, by reaching up to the heavens. God is pissed off by this so he uses his authority to intervene, demolishes the tower – a symbol of human achievement – and scatters people, making it difficult for them to communicate with each other by imposing lots of different languages on them – thereby cocking up their ability to collaborate. (Erm. Good work, God?) But, to Christians, and Rastas, Babylon represents evil because it went against what God, the patriarch-in-the-sky, wanted.
So when the Anarcho-punks call/ed the police Babylon, they are aligning them with a bunch of guys who work together to achieve great heights and are brought down by an authoritarian overlord. Presumably this is the very definition of being an Anarchist. I used to try heroically to ignore this little piece of stupidity, among many others that I encountered in this world of my youth, in order to not be all disillusioned by the ‘alternative’ scene. Today I just enjoy it because I grew up a bit.
And this is the thing I really wanted to talk about. Growing up. Being an adult and the ideas we have about it. What really prompted this blog entry was trundling along in my new old banger listening to another Frank Turner song. It’s about growing up; or rather, it’s about not growing up. Here it is:
Let’s look, for a minute, at Frank’s presentation of adulthood:
- Mortgages and pension plans
- Sitting out the game
- Maturity’s a wrapped-up package deal
- Ditching teenage fantasy means ditching all your dreams
- [everyone tells you] you will have to grow up. Be an adult. Be bored and unfulfilled
- Slaving 50 years away on something that you hate
- Meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity
- All you ever do with your life is photosynthesize
- Sleepless nights that you waste wondering when you’re going to die
- I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up, and most of all I won’t “grow up”
I remember thinking that stuff. It was another reason I fell off what I saw as the hamster wheel of life. You used to be able to buy those t-shirts with “Birth →Work→Death” on in a cheery sort of circle shape
(Although, come to think of it, maybe that was a t-shirt about reincarnation, not futility – or was the circle a design flaw?).
My mum used to believe that everyone should be killed at the age of 30 – and not humanely, either – because over 30 was just horrifically ancient.
The idea seems to be that if you reach a time when you don’t really feel so attracted to getting pissed every night until you vom so much your nose bleeds; trying to screech-flirt in a teenage-pheromone bestenched room over music that makes your face-skin coagulate; trying to dance while wedged vertical on a square of floor so rammed with humans you have to take it in turns to jiggle; shagging strangers who turn out, in the brazen light of day, to be half chimpanzee; and most of all, trying to have a coherent discussion about politics or anything with other people with almost no sense of what went on in the universe before they were born; you become a sort of vegetable. You just sit and exhale carbon dioxide in an armchair. There is nothing left to you other than weeping softly for your lost dreams, working in a job that daily extracts pieces of your soul and flushes them down the toilet and waiting to expire.
I was one of those young people. I resisted adulthood with a tenacity that, now I think about it, was bloody admirable. I was particularly careful to make sure I acquired almost no qualifications of any worth whatsoever. In my History O Level exam I diligently wrote down the lyrics to a (very long) song by The Doors which I felt made me look very profound, and then sat there biting my nails until I could go. I got gloriously stoned behind a hedge before my English Literature O Level exam and was horrified to find I got an A grade anyway. This failure led to extreme measures when it came to A Levels. I went magic mushroom picking instead of attending any exams at all, and finally decided to go and live in a squat just in case anyone tried to make me do any responsibility or anything. Christ. Imagine if I got a qualification. Those led to jobs. And everyone knew what JOBS led to. Arm chairs and photosynthesising. Well known fact.
Many of us, though, who viewed our young selves as rebels, and adults as the upholder of all that is shite with the world, created a MASSIVE lose/lose situation for ourselves and our growth as human beings. We did this by inventing the notion of “selling out”. The idea of selling out is used by twats to make anyone who thinks growing up is actually quite a desirable state of being feel like a total arsehole. It has the effect of keeping many, many ‘alternative’ types in a very unattractive state of perpetual but wrinkled youth. It means that people cling to the same (usually left-wing) beliefs they had as an ill-educated and insular teenager. Those beliefs become part of actual reality for people instead of just some ideas: all cops are bastards, the government is out to get us and serves no other purpose, all rich people are only in it for themselves, bla bla bla. What the beliefs are and how true or otherwise they are is not the point. The point is that they become knee jerk reactions and are perceived as ‘facts’ because they are what we believed when we were young. If I change my mind as I learn and grow and begin to see that there are many sides to every story, then I am selling out. Becoming a fucking Tory. Reading the Daily Bigot in my photosynthesis chair.
AND the sheer bloody unadulterated pleasure of not being a youth any more. Nobody ever tells you about that. The gradual sussing out of who you actually are and what you want to do in the world. Developing the confidence to speak your own mind, with enough learning behind you to know that your opinions are at least vaguely based on something solid. Realising that beauty actually is something other than what’s on the surface of your skin, and that is not just a cliché; that beauty is MUCH more beautiful than you ever realised. Finally understanding the fucking delight of those bits of time when you suddenly manage to enjoy the moment, like when you’re in bed with a cup of tea, it’s raining outside, you’re snug and warm and you don’t have to go to work that day. BLISS. Or when someone makes you laugh and you suddenly realise how much you just plainly adore them with all their flaws and crap bits.
So the moral of this, I suppose, is that we need to accept that metaphorically speaking, punk should be dead. It served a purpose. It did the job it needed to do, and now it’s time to move on. Or, if we insist on hanging on to a bit of it, do it with some glorious irony like these blokes do: