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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Crass Not Punks: Demystification or Recuperation?

Here is a recent Comment by Dylan Clark...

Crass barely made a dent in the USA, so we're way behind in comprehending their significance. My sense from reading Brit scholars is that Crass and other bands (led by the Clash and others) became more political in the late 1970s, when the National Front began to appeal to some punks...

Crassand co. amplified the politics of punk. There was an urgency on the part of the Clash and Crass, to make their anti-Nazism loud and clear, and--for some--to develop not just a politics of negation ("we're not racist"), but a politics of creation, vision, struggle.I would guess that they had a rather unique anarchist bent on politics inthe UK , rather than the more ordinary ("liberal" in the States) left-wingpolitics. DIY, full refusal of power, etc.

The left in the UK, including even the socialists + commies basically had real access to power. It's so
unlike the US!

Anyhoo, I,m really not qualified to speak to the politics of Crass and theUK, at least not to a British audience!

I will say this (authoritatively, harumph, harumph): scholars and historians nearly ALWAYS focus on the bands and celebrities of punk! Such a bias produces very slanted narratives, and largely dismiss the punk on the street. (It's the same phenomenon as historians who tell the history of the US according to its lineage of presidents and generals, without reference to workers, women, slaves, soldiers, etc.)

So the disappearance of Crass results from the same problem.
To see "punk" as Savage and others see it is to miss the whole and misunderstand it altogether.
Hooray for McKay--he shows the depth of DIY. [Quote ends]

I got in touch with Dylan ( ages ago) after discovering this article by him:

Ever since I wrote a review of Dick Hebdige's 'Subculture: theMeaning of Style' for Kill Your Pet Puppy 4 in 81, been fascinated by 'academic' representations of punk - following from these lines by Robert Burn's

Oh wad some power the giftie gie' us
To see oorselves as ithers see us

-especially after discovering Hebdige's book in the locked cabinet part of the social anthropology department
library at SOAS.

With punk, the image that always comes to mind is of the event horizon surrounding a black hole. There was punk as I experienced it viewed from the outside, from a rural teenagers perspective, where the closest to the actuality was when the Rezillos played CD town hall in summer 1977 and only one person had managed toget hold of a copy of God save the Queen under mysterious circumstances (posted through his door in the middle of the night!)

and then there was punk as experienced viewed from the inside by myself in London as a member of the (Kill Your Pet) Puppy Collective. Beyond the event horizon of punk, the reality was far more confusing. The word itself vanished. Instead there were hundreds of distinct individuals, each with their own trajectory across the event horizon, drawn from all over the UK, Europe, Australia, USA, even South Africa. It was never monolithic, never solid or fixed, but in a state of constant flux and change. There were a variety of 'strange attractors' (to use chaos theory) - certain squats or geographical locations, groups, fanzines, ideologies around which clusters would develop- but then they would break up and reform arond another strange attractor.

In retrospect, a degree of self-organisation took place- so that out of the hundreds, thousands even; of potential links/ bonds/ relationships a handful have survived for what is now 25 years. The most intense obviously being that between me and Pinki since it resulted in reproductive sexual union (= we had lots of kids and lived together for 12 years until she died). But there are a whole set of less intense links which have also endured and which have over time generated a fair bit of 'cultural reproduction' - fanzines, records, inspirations, arguements, conversations, letters, e-mails = 'magickal children'.

In comparison, despite spending five days a week for seven years in a work place community, no similar set of long term relationships emerged. I walked out of the factory gates of London Rubber in December 1983 and it and everone who worked there vanished from my life. Not just gone, but gone completely.

Why should one form of intensive subculture; that of the work place, leave no trace: whilst that of another, punk, has left its 'lipstick traces' all over me? To which one should add various other subcultural entanglements, which (e.g. chaos stuff, green/ham stuff, pagan stuff, traveller stuff, etc) although not as strong, are still here in the background/ ambient mix.

But back to Dylan's comment. Whilst Crass may seem to be, from an outside/ cultural studies academic perspective to be at once significant and ignored - only the Pistols and Clash figure in such narratives of punk-
from inside the belly of the whale, Crass seem to be given undue and over significance in those (more perceptive) academic narratives which try to get beyond the recuperation of punk
as a spectactular ' (sub) culture of resistence'.

Focus on Crass and you blot out and obscure/ elide the actuality of punk's diversity and creative chaos. Indeed, there is an argument that Crass were not 'punk' at all. That Crass may have taken and used elements of punk as a subcultural style, but that does not make Crass punk. As members of a post-sixties intellectual avant garde privileged elite, living in their Safe Epping Forest Home [Dial House] Crass aopted the style but not the substance of punk. Dial House was never a squat and its inhabitants never had to confront the 'in yer face' reality which the survivors of the punk squatting scene had to as part of their daily life.

Neither did I. I lived for the duration in a bedsit in Ilford, whilst working for London Rubber . But I did 'marry into' and was intimately engaged with those who were .

To conclude: the choice is between recuperation and demystification.

To promote, to advocate, to fetishise Crass as in any way representing an 'authentic' strand of punk is the way of recuperation. What is needed is to demystify and contextualise Crass and thus reclaim the actulaity of punk from its spectacular recuperation.

I look out the window and I wonder at it all
Staring at the circles that decorate the wall
Everybody's going to come and join them all
But I can't go with no one till I understand the call

Don't come round for me unless you got what I
Don't come round for me unless you got what I
Don't come round for me unless you got what I want

I want some Demystification
I want some Demystification
I want some Demystification about what's going on
From Demystification by Zounds


Blogger Natalie said...

I think we're still a bit out ot sea musically - we have entered the digital/pop landscape wherein there's a fine line between avant garde and radio ready. These days, avant is merely minutes.

It should all come back around, we hope.

7:04 pm  

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