The Big Issue : Edition 436
THeBigissue5–18JuL2013 23 I WAS A data-entry operator on my way to work on the London Underground when I noticed a young woman sitting opposite. She was dressed in a white dress, black boots and ripped stockings. Her hair was white with a bright pink fringe. But the thing that really caught my eye was her large dog: also all white, except for its pink ears and tail. It was 1977, I was 17, and the punk scene was unfolding in London. England was in a state of upheaval. There was garbage everywhere on the streets and a feeling of unrest in the country. People were fed up. Our futures looked miserable. A few weeks later, I went with a group of friends to the Kings Road, Chelsea. We went to shop called Sex where I saw a young woman wearing a garbage bag. This was punk, I was told. I had heard The Sex Pistols’ song ‘God Save the Queen’ on the radio, but I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I heard my parents talking about The Sex Pistols; they had used bad language on TV. It seemed to me that the interviewer had provoked the band members, which resulted in them swearing. But my parents were outraged. They instructed me to never purchase any of their records. (My David Bowie records had already been confiscated, my father deeming Bowie to be a bad influence on me and his music not at all like his favourite, Dave Brubeck.) Soon afterwards, I saw the band on the news again; they were on a boat going down the Thames. Lead singer Johnny Rotten explained what The Sex Pistols were all about. He seemed to be standing up for the working class. I don’t think he ever passed himself off as a musician; the band was just his platform to make us all think about our lives. He advocated asserting yourself and, above all else, questioning everything. He reckoned there were too many rules. It wasn’t about the clothes, the safety pins and the bad attitude. I related to everything he said. It was about being an individual; not giving a fuck what anyone else thought. This was the opposite of my parents’ attitude: they always seemed to be concerned about what people would think. Then, with a group of friends I had bumped into, I saw the Pistols perform. They were playing in a town hall or a school hall – I can’t remember exactly. I do recall being really excited. To be honest, I didn’t really like the music very much: it was noisy, badly played and there were people jumping about everywhere. I had to retreat to a safe zone. But I watched very keenly, and by the time the concert was over I was a fan. I thought they were brave. I thought they were visionaries. The energy was intoxicating. I felt courageous just being there. I was bursting with excitement when I returned home, but I couldn’t tell my parents where I had been. NOW IT’S 2013, I’m a parent myself and Johnny Rotten has reverted to his real name. I went to see John Lydon perform in Melbourne with his band, Public Image Ltd. Just before the show I was told of some controversy he’d caused when interviewed on Australian TV and radio. Yeah, I said, he’s always been an anti-star; that’s who he is! I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t upset somebody. I expect no less! I was pumped. Would the energy be the same? I went along with my oldest son, who grew up with me listening to The Sex Pistols. At the venue, we were surrounded by ageing punks wearing coloured mohawks, safety pins, ripped clothing. They all looked the same – not like the punks I saw in those early days, who all had a style of their own. Two hours late, PiL finally came on stage. I recognised John at once. Although much older, not a skinny boy with bright red hair anymore, he was still very stylish. He was clearly excited to be performing and looked much more comfortable on stage than I remembered. He said “Hello” and I got goosebumps all over when I heard his rough London accent. The band began to play, and then he sang. I was surprised; the sound was no longer raw. All that energy and the feeling of anarchy were gone. It was good, but not the same. Then I remembered some advice offered to me by friends: don’t revisit things from your youth. It won’t be the same, they said; you will be disappointed. I suppose it was silly of me to expect it would be anything like seeing The Sex Pistols in England back in the 1970s. I left before the concert finished. I had seen enough. As I walked to the train station I reached for my iPod and put on an old favourite: ‘Christine’, by Siouxsie and the Banshees, another London band from the 1970s. I closed my eyes and was back there. Now I’m glad I went to that PiL concert. I’m glad John Lydon is still doing what he wants to do. For a moment, you know, I did feel like I was 17 again. » Lorraine Pink, grandmother and punk at heart, is Editorial Coordinator at The Big Issue. What is Johnny Rotten’s ReaL name? LoRRaine Pink knoWs: she Was theRe When Punk began. noW she knoWs that some things aRe best Left behind.