Turns out we had nothing to fear from spiky-haired, insolent youths. But we should have been a lot more concerned about middle-aged men in suits.
The UK survived the punk revolution just fine. Yes, it made the country a bit noisier and angrier for a while, but there was a lot to be angry about at the time.
As for the middle-aged men in suits, they would ultimately do a much better job of bringing the country to its knees, although it took another couple of decades to get there.
The UK used to be the national equivalent of a blue-stockinged maiden aunt who spends her time persuading people to get along with one another and play fairly, usually over a pot of tea and some digestive biscuits.
Now we’re like the coked-up nephew living in his mum’s garage, who can’t hold down and job or a girlfriend, and frequently comes home much the worse for wear, covered in blood from a fight he’s had with his dealer.
I am an anti-Christ
I am an anarchist
Don’t know what I want
But I know how to get it
Johnny Rotten’s lyrics could have been written about Britain’s political classes today. Plenty of people who don’t know what they want, but they’re pretty damn sure they know how to get it.
The net result — anarchy. Half the country hates the other half with a passion bordering on some sort of psychological condition…a feeling that’s entirely reciprocated by the other half of the country.
Shouting and posturing rules the airwaves, the Twitter feeds and the Facebook groups.
I don’t think that’s how Karl Marx saw revolution happening. It wasn’t the proletariat that caused this mess, it was the elite.
Ironically, all this came about because the elite…the men in suits…wanted a slightly bigger share of a pie they already had a much bigger share of than all the rest of us put together.
You might think I’m taking a political position here, but I’m not. I think all politicians are equally deserving of our contempt, whatever side of the debate they’re on. Collectively, either by being too infused with personal self-interest that they failed to realise they’re destroying the country, or by being too incompetent to do something useful to stop that happening, they’re all guilty for the state of the UK at the moment.
And that’s not even a party political observation. There are elites on both sides, who support the same ends, even if for different reasons. Both sets of elites mindlessly pursue their own interests…the effect on the country as a whole never enters their minds, it seems.
In the name of sordid self-interest, neighbour has been set against neighbour. family member against family member, workmate against workmate.
It’s maybe not anarchy quite like the Sex Pistols saw it, but the effect is exactly the same.
The UK is still a country where, if someone bumps into you on the street, you say sorry to them, not the other way around.
The way to get into a conversation with someone is to say “Sorry for interrupting, but…”
And if you’re in the Q&A section of a conference presentation, people say “Sorry for asking, but I didn’t understand this point you made…” We apologise for asking questions in the section of proceedings specifically put there for questions to be asked. That’s the sort of country we are.
As a nation, the UK has been more accustomed to apology than anarchy.
At least until recently…
I want to destroy the passerby
’Cause I want to be anarchy
No dogs body
Anarchy for the UK
The Sex Pistols, more or less, summarise every major political party’s manifesto in that short verse.
Politicians complain that they don’t get the respect they think the deserve any more. But they’re completely tone-deaf to the idea that they’re behaving in ways which directly lead to us doubting both their sanity and their competence.
From his vantage point in Highgate Cemetery, Karl Marx must be laughing his head off.
Back in his day, London was the place you went when things got a bit too uncomfortable in your home country, when the apparatus of the state started to get a bit too interested in what you were getting up to and a series of unpleasant developments, such as a long jail term or execution, looked increasingly likely.
The UK took in free-thinkers, artists, revolutionaries and people who came second in presidential elections from all over the world. All were welcome, as long as they did nothing that was considered too likely to upset the established order of things over here.
The architect of communism saw out his days in safety, under the protection of the British monarchy.
Ironic isn’t it?
Two diametrically opposed philosophical standpoints were able to rub along together just fine, only a few miles across London from one another. See, it’s not impossible…
“Anarchy In The UK” wasn’t even a big hit when it came out as the launch single from their “Never Mind The Bollocks” album in 1976. Originally signed to EMI, the band had their contract terminated after an expletive-filled TV interview which scandalised the nation.
That can’t have helped distribution…
In the years since, the importance of “Anarchy In The UK” to popular music has been fully recognised. Rolling Stone magazine had it as number 56 in their Greatest Songs of All Time listing.
“Anarchy In The UK” is also one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll list.
And, although the Sex Pistols were by no means the world’s first punk band, they were the band which took punk mainstream. After the Sex Pistols, the floodgates opened and the pop charts for the next few years would be dominated by bands full of angry young men (and the occasional angry young woman).
Ultimately, though, punk rock was like any other sort of art. It had its supporters and its detractors. There was plenty of it around and you didn’t need to go to an obscure underground club to find it.
But equally, if you didn’t like it, you could easily do something else…turn off the radio, pop a different album on the turntable, switch to a different TV station while Top of the Pops was on.
Art doesn’t force you to consume it. Art invites you to consume it.
The choice, either way, is yours.
Real anarchy, it turns out, is something that’s impossible to get away from.
Whether you’re for it or against it, you’re swept up in a collective madness which magnifies divisions in a society more used to getting along with one another politely, if a little stiffly, in a land where courtesy and tolerance towards others was historically seen as the defining social graces.
The Sex Pistols weren’t describing their own experiences in 1970s Britain with “Anarchy In The UK”…
How many ways to get what you want
I use the best, I use the rest
I use the enemy
I use anarchy
’Cause I want to be anarchy
It’s the only way to be
…they were foretelling the future…
Here’s the Sex Pistols with punk rock’s greatest anthem… “Anarchy In The UK”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/5moTxUGPZXgGmosl4rIELm