Punk and other musings

?What every generation since Hiroshima has had on its lips this generation has blurted out?there is No Future.?

This was a newspaper quote in the documentary ?Chaos: Sex Pistols? which I saw half of last week. I?ll try to catch it again and see the full thing (Documentary Channel). It had a great many interesting observations, but it made me think very hard about what it is to be young and what it might be like now. Malcolm McLaren made an interesting remark about Punk?s shock value saying (I?m paraphrasing but my memory is OK I think), ?back then was a time when people cared about the direction of popular culture. Now they don?t because it has pretty much been bought.? Other commentators talked about a recapturing of the optimism and idealism of the 60s and creative freedom.
    76/77 UK equated to 78/79-ish here (it took that long for trends to sift down to sleepy old NZ). It is worth remembering that time here. Unemployment was rampant, wage freezes, big inflation, Muldoon at the helm. The cold war, nuclear proliferation to the degree that the world could be destroyed three times over was the topic of conversation quite a bit. Election year would feature town hall meetings that were, at least in Socialist Dunedin, a shouting match with Muldoon on the stage and those of us who hated every fibre of his being in the upper galleries and even the Gods (down stairs were reserved for the party faithful?a sea of blue lapping up his ?reds under the bed? rhetoric). At the end of the whole thing, Muldoon strode to his limo out front with minders on every side. There was pushing, jostling?a thin blue line holding the great unwashed back (in their hundreds, many it seemed were students). An egg was thrown and found its mark. The lady I was with stole a blue plastic boater from the head of a Nat supporter and high-tailed down Harrop Street (alongside the Town Hall). Fortunately I was in the getaway car in the Octagon and we sped off, leaving the party member flabbergasted and breathless with rage on the footpath. In the ensuing days phone threats were made to my home because the registration had been taken. The window of the National Party Office had had a brick thrown through it and they figured the hat-stealing duo might be the likely perpetrators and were threatening passing the rego to the police if we didn?t own up. Well we might have done it, we might not (I?m admitting nothing) but they couldn?t prove anything, I ignored them, they gave up intimidating me after a while. (a short memoir from my couch-burning, riotous days).
    There was a pervasive sense of hopelessness back then. An electoral system that would see Labour get more votes but National would win anyway. We had a military alliance with the US that ensured nuclear ship visits and therefore our likely destruction when WW3 happened along. We were powerless to change anything but at least we had a target for our rage, the slugs in suits that presided over the status quo and piggy Muldoon at their head.
    Punk came along more as a DIY ethic than a style, but one we quickly sensed could propel us away from the rotting carcass of civilisation impervious (or so it seemed) to change, into an invented world with a different value system. If we couldn?t get jobs or prosper and were probably going to get wiped off the face of the earth we may as well entertain ourselves along the way. Largely it is a world that refuted pessimism (the vast majority of so-called Dunedin sound songs of the early 80s are in bright major keys). Indeed the punk movement itself was strangely celebratory in its way (rather than a protest movement).
    Enough of memory lane, here we are back in 2009. Another generation living in the shadow of Hiroshima comes of age and gropes its way into conscious adulthood. Bugger! I remember it being an ugly awakening. As an email correspondent noted of the Castle Street rioters they didn?t seem to be poets at the palisades however. Maybe there is nothing more hedonistic and wantonly destructive than rebels without causes. I do like to think about what it must be like to be young now and that leads me back to where this blog started, punk rock, the power to shock and the very idea of recapturing the optimism and idealism of the 60s. And then I realise that the reason we collectively tried in the late seventies was possibly because we could remember something of the essence of the sixties from our childhoods. I remember it very well?the hippies, the ?All you need is Love? euphoria, hearing ?Penny Lane? on the radio and feeling a fundamental sense of change (even as a child I felt that this song was consigning all the competition to the dustbin of history). Hearing ?God Save the Queen? had a similar effect.
    What has the generation born circa 1989?92 grown up with? Not the threat of nuclear annihilation at any rate, that has severely abated since the wall came down in 1989. And maybe nothing so momentous in terms of a cultural sea change that was the sixties and arguably was punk (as many on the doco argued it was). How strange that must be to grow up having never known a revolution of sorts. Or has a revolution occurred to rival the sixties or punk that I have missed?

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