What were we all doing back in the late 70s? It might be appropriate to use the Via Negativa method to find out. Let’s take a look at what we weren’t doing.
We weren’t flying the flag for Peace & Love. We weren’t planning to spike the reservoirs with LSD so the whole world would turn on to a new, psychedelic, world order. Nor were we longing for our particular revolution to be fuelled by meditative discipline, flower-strewn sex or free-expression dancing. That’s what we were leaving behind.
Punk went for short-term nihilistic fixes with no concern for the environment other than destroying it. Dancing was restricted to pogoing with our arms by our sides, while spitting beer at bands onstage. We didn’t spend ‘nights in white satin, never reaching the end’. We dressed in bondage trousers and black bin bags, to be torn off before indulging in ‘2 minutes of squelching noises’ according to Johnny Rotten who, allegedly, reached the end as soon as possible.
And our Joni Mitchells, our Jimi Hendrixes, our Goddesses and Gods? No heroes here mate. We’re all workin’ class. Suddenly. It’s tempting to define a youth culture by the way we dress, the music we listen to and the bars we gather at, but to get to the heart of it we’re better off going underground. Mind the gap, here come the drugs.
Most youth culture stimulants are illegal but some are more illegal than others. Punk rejected jail-term hashish from Morocco in favour of ASBO speed from Boots the Chemist.
Speed does what it says on the tin, it keeps you awake. No visions, no future. Dexedrine was the key ingredient for that decade’s slimming tablets too. Sid Vicious, Siouxsie Sue, Patti Smith, The Ramones – how many sleepy, obese punks did you see??
This ‘speed’ attitude was expressed in the passion of those early Punk performances, with the urgent “1 – 2 – 3 – 4” count in from the drummers propelling their ramshackle mates into their next three-chord thrash. Gone were the days of, “This number came to me at the airport, kind of channelled. It was the first time my lover and I had been apart since Woodstock and I was desperate to record it. But my guitar was already in the hold so I just sang it a cappella to everyone right there in the B.A. business lounge bar. It was magic, were you there? Hey, amazing man. Far out. I’ve got my guitar now, and of course the guys are right here behind me. Maybe this is a good time to introduce my fabulous band.”
In a nutshell, punk rejected any human warmth or empathy. It sneered at any suggestion that society could develop in any other way than by destruction of current protocol in favour of lager-fuelled anarchy. How that anarchy would work in practice, if applied to maintaining a nation’s infrastructure and its struggling welfare state, wasn’t addressed. By definition it would have been inappropriate to do so.
And pretty soon it was brushed aside by squeaky clean New Wave music, fuelled by cocktails and cocaine supplied by some patient hippies waiting in the wings. Followed by Rave culture, sub-sonic bass beats and laser shows all powered by the, “I love everyone forever” drug ecstasy.
Which brings us back to ‘let’s spike the reservoirs’. Only this time without the hallucinogenic visions that made the hippies of the 60s think the revolution had already arrived. How do I know all this? I was born in 1954. I lived within all these youth cultures, either pretending each one was my first or, later, positioning myself as an authentic acid/cocaine/dope/speed/ecstasy survivor.
My current drugs of choice are self-generated. No more “waiting for my man” on the street corners of Manhattan. I regularly make Seratonin and Melatonin in my brain by drumming and singing with large groups of people around the world.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
There’s no ‘i’ in team but there is in tribe and it’s right in the middle. No one wants to subsume their personal identity but they do want to conform to be accepted and there are unwritten parameters that include or exclude members. The intensity of being accepted is worth the attention you have to pay to remain welcome.
Within the tribe sometimes you’re in the backing band and sometimes you’re the singer. Whichever role you find yourself in, and this may change several times, bring as much energy and focus to playing the triangle as you do to singing the lead vocal. They are very different frequencies with very different roles but people will notice if you dedicate yourself to both roles equally. People that matter.
Peak experiences are like the circus coming to town. You want it to last forever. It won’t. Metaphorically the other three hundred and sixty four days must be spent maintaining that bit of common ground so the circus can return next summer.
Eventually you dream up and create your own circus, gathering performers who share your heartfelt values. Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, you find the courage to stand in the centre of that circus ring wearing the Ringmistress/Ringmaster’s hat. Whatever youth culture you came from, drugs you took or lovers you betrayed, this what you’ve been training for.
As the youth of today say, “Own it!”.