It’s tempting to define us by the way we dress, the music we listen to and the bars we go to, 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 rejects jail-term hippy hashish from Morocco in favour of ASBO slimming pills from Boots the Chemist. Speed.
Speed does what it says on the tin, it keeps us awake and makes our life go faster. Sid Vicious, Siouxsie Sue, Patti Smith, Joey Ramone. How many sleepy, obese punks did you bump into backstage in the 70s?
As ‘The Against’, the band Green and I form at art school before becoming Scritti Politti, this attitude of hurtling towards destruction is expressed in our early Punk performances. I become one of The West’s urgent “1 – 2 – 3 – 4!” drummers, propelling us into our next three-chord thrash. Green actually uses five chords but none of our early gigs are filmed or recorded. Phew!
Yes, Leeds. The Clash. The Sex Pistols. The Anarchy Tour.
Gone are the days of, “This number came to me at the airport, kind of channelled. It was the first time my boyfriend and I had been apart since Woodstock and I was keen to record it. But my guitar was already in the hold so I just sang it acappella to everyone right there in the B.A. Business Lounge bar. It was magical, were you there? Hey, amazing man, I thought I recognised the beard. Far out. Well look, I’ve got my guitar up here on stage now. Yeah, that’s right, let’s have a round of applause for my guitar, why not? And of course the guys are here behind me, you know them, right? We’ve been together since, hey… well, look, 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 our nation’s already crumbling infrastructure and its struggling welfare state, wasn’t addressed in any detail. By definition it would have been inappropriate to do so. And anyway, 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. They knew this day would come. The i-ching predicted it, not to mention the Tarot.
New Wave was followed by Rave culture, sub-sonic bass beats and laser shows all powered by the, “I love everyone forever” drug, Ecstasy.
Which brings us to, “Let’s spike the reservoirs”. Am I having an acid flashback? No, but some of us have been here before. Only this time without the hallucinogenic visions that made us hippies of the 60s think the revolution had already arrived.
I was born in 1954. I’ve 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 the man” on the street corners of Manhattan. I can score seratonin and dopamine with no need of a burner phone. I even get paid for it. Here are a few things I’ve noticed while doing just that.
There’s no ‘i’ in team but there is in tribe and it’s right in the middle. None of us want to subsume our personal identity but we’re willing to conform to be accepted. Yes, even us. In every tribe there are parameters, often unwritten, that lead to the inclusion or exclusion of members. The intense pleasure of being accepted is worth the attention I have to pay to remain welcome. We’ll talk more about this in the Q&A.
Within the tribe sometimes I’m in the backing band and sometimes I’m the lead singer. Whichever role I find myself in, and this may change several times in a night, I bring as much energy and focus to playing the triangle as I do to singing the lead vocal. They are different roles with different frequencies but if I dedicate myself to both roles equally I have the best time, learn the most, and build deeper relationships. This isn’t a metaphor, I have a triangle in the kitchen drawer and often play it while waiting for the toast to pop up. This isn’t a metaphor.
A peak experience is like the circus coming to town. I want it to last forever. It doesn’t. By definition it’s not meant to. It lasts for a day and the following three hundred and sixty four days must be spent maintaining the site so the circus can return confidently next summer.
Eventually I dream up and create my own circus, 365. I find the courage to stand in the centre of that circle wearing the Ringmaster’s hat. Whatever youth culture I come from, drugs I take or lovers I betray, this is what I’ve been in training for. I don’t do it solo though. Breathing new life into today’s revolution I gather performers who share my values. Somehow I lead this most spectacular troupe into battle against ‘the mediocre’ and ‘the safe’, even though I’m just a drummer. Are we ready? Here we go.
“One. Two. Three. Four!”