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Know history!: John Lydon, cultural capital and the prog/punk dialectic

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Abstract

Johnny Rotten / John Lydon was and remains the first voice of British punk and yet consistently refuses to identify with punk as a subculture. In revisiting his observations on his career with the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd (PiL) in the 1976–1980 period, this article considers how ‘narratives of self’ enable us to gain insights into individual subjectivity and the (trans) formation of identity. Through this material we can investigate the role of Lydon's idiosyncratic cultural capital in his creative process. It is suggested that this investigation requires us to consider ideas of cultural continuity and flow in relation to Lydon, the creative contexts within which he operated and the relationship between progressive music, punk and post-punk in the 1970s.
Popular Music (2003) Volume 22/3. Copyright 2003 Cambridge University Press, pp. 357–374.
DOI:10.1017/S0261143003003234 Printed in the United Kingdom
Know history!: John Lydon,
cultural capital and the
prog/punk dialectic
SEAN ALBIEZ
Abstract
Johnny Rotten / John Lydon was and remains the first voice of British punk and yet consistently
refuses to identify with punk as a subculture. In revisiting his observations on his career with the Sex
Pistols and Public Image Ltd (PiL) in the 1976–1980 period, this article considers how ‘narratives of
self’ enable us to gain insights into individual subjectivity and the (trans) formation of identity.
Through this material we can investigate the role of Lydon’s idiosyncratic cultural capital in his
creative process. It is suggested that this investigation requires us to consider ideas of cultural conti-
nuity and flow in relation to Lydon, the creative contexts within which he operated and the relation-
ship between progressive music, punk and post-punk in the 1970s.
Introduction
How do we account for a musician’s creativity? What credence can we give to
musicians’ perspectives on their intentions? Are they performing automatons,
absolutely determined by pre-existing and historically located musical works and
practices? Or are they creatively autonomous, with a nagging muse pushing them
ever onwards into virgin musical territory? It seems logical to suggest that to be
creative is not to imagine and innovate afresh from an internal genius but to com-
bine and reconfigure existing musical resources into relatively new forms – some-
times in unexpected and innovative ways. With this in mind, this study of John
Lydon (Johnny Rotten) of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd (PiL), addresses
three key questions. Firstly, how do we approach the narratives that Lydon tells us,
and himself, about his historical experiences? Secondly, how did Lydon come upon
the personal resources and cultural capital
1
(Bourdieu 1973) through which he for-
mulated his music? Thirdly, in what way did Lydon’s reconfiguration of personal
and cultural resources place him and the audience in a relatively new performative,
musical and sonic space? Underpinning these questions is a broader issue – does
what Lydon have to tell us require us to reconsider our understanding of the history
of late 1970s rock music and the relationship of progressive rock to punk and post-
punk? His ‘narratives of self ’ (Hall 1992) – personal oral history found in interviews
and his autobiography – form the basis of his and our understanding of his public
identity, and it is through these that we can study and understand Lydon’s nego-
tiation of the cultural terrain of the late 1970s.
What emerges in this study is that we can begin to challenge assumptions
about the historical and dialectical relationship of progressive rock and punk. In
357
Sean Albiez358
Lydon, and his colleagues in PiL, we find evidence of musical continuity as much
as change in their embrace of music and creative strategies seemingly antithetical
to punk. Lydon’s idiosyncratic creative resources and cultural capital emerged in
part from his early active and eclectic consumption of music, including progressive
rock. His post-Pistols career, working with Afrika Bambaataa, Bill Laswell, Ginger
Baker, Jah Wobble, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Leftfield, among others, also demon-
strates a developing interest in diverse musics. Though class conflict is often central
to Lydon’s narratives, the perceived prog/punk ‘class war’ that remains in many
punk histories can be challenged. Cultural capital is not fixed and cannot be
mapped onto an individual’s position in a static model of social class. The class
specificity of cultural capital and its relationship to the social distinctions of 1970s
rock music – with ‘prog’ a cerebral middle class pursuit and punk a visceral
working-class revolt – can be contested and reconfigured through Lydon.
As Medhurst (1999) has indicated, we should be careful of treating autobio-
graphical material as a path to ‘truth’. Yet, equally, we should recognise that such
material usually provides our clearest and only access to an individual’s perception
of their negotiation of a historical context. Lydon’s account of his life in and around
the punk era offers us a critical perspective on cultural capital, its relationship to
creativity and the importance of ‘narratives of self’ (or oral history) in informing
our understanding of personal and popular music history.
Know history!: progressive rock and punk
Punk erupted into my life in the autumn of 1977 . . . Swathes of my existing record collection
had to be disavowed, [but] . . . it was OK to have three Van Der Graaf Generator albums
because Johnny Rotten said he liked their singer, Peter Hammill. (Medhurst 1999, p. 221)
John Lydon’s musical interests always travelled beyond the confines of punk, and
punk itself was not a clear-cut epochal break with the past. The problem with con-
sidering punk as a cultural or personal ‘year zero’ is that we are rail-roaded into
characterising all that came before as the anti-thesis of punk. In television documen-
taries on punk history, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, Rick Wakeman and
Yes are lazily trotted out as prime examples of progressive music’s middle-class
betrayal of primal ‘working-class’ rock and roll (often using exactly the same film
and video clips – see Dancing in the Street, 1996, God Save the Queen, 2002 and The
Punk Years, 2002). However, Hawkwind’s space rock bridged progressive and psy-
chedelic punk, and Pink Floyd’s late-60s ‘Reaction in G’ was a single chord drone
played at heckling audiences in an early defiant punk-like gesture. Therefore, the
characterisation of progressive rock in punk histories as over-elaborate, neo-
Romantic, middle-class, pastoralism is far too simplistic. Furthermore, the later
brutal proto-grunge guitar noise of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp on Red (1974) (a
Kurt Cobain favourite), and Brian Eno’s proto-punk ‘assaultive rock’ (e.g. ‘Third
Uncle’, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), ‘King’s Lead Hat’, Before and After
Science) (Tamm 1995, pp. 111–15) are sonically dislocated from the classical and
Romantic pretensions of some progressive rock. Moreover, West German ‘home-
made’ and experimental Krautrock (e.g. Tangerine Dream, Can, Popol Vuh, Cluster,
Harmonia, Ash Ra Tempel, Neu!), which had a following in the UK, drew on similar
late-60s counter-cultural resources as British progressive rock in creating anti-
Romantic kosmiche/cosmic head music; music that was about both the cerebral
Apollonian and visceral Dionysian pleasures of rock.
Know history! 359
Progressive rock is a slippery term that attempts to contain a diverse range of
music promoting experimentation, individualism, an art aesthetic, and paradoxi-
cally, golden age romanticism and futurist hyper-modernism. Weinstein addresses
this complexity by suggesting,
Progressive rock is rather less than a genre and a lot more than one, too . . . its defining
feature is not a set of concrete sonic elements, such as particular rhythms or instrumentation.
Instead, progressive rock is distinguished by a conceptual trope: the appropriation of non-
popular musical forms . . . the sources are ‘classical music’, jazz and avant-garde music.
(Weinstein 2002, p. 91)
The young working-class Lydon discriminated between progressive artists, specifi-
cally citing Van Der Graaf Generator and Can as ‘influences’. He also enjoyed Miles
Davis, John Cale, Roxy Music and nursed a dub reggae obsession. The esteem in
which he held Hawkwind is evident in the re-formed Sex Pistols performance of
‘Silver Machine’ at Crystal Palace in July 2002. There are also (probably) apocryphal
tales about Lydon being a roadie for Hawkwind on their mid-70s ‘The Space Ritual’
tour.
The personal investment in music of the progressive period – and in the
middle-class cultural capital it was said to represent – by Lydon, Keith Levene of
The Clash and PiL, The Damned (loved Syd Barrett and produced by Nick Mason
of Pink Floyd), Wire and David Thomas of Pere Ubu is revealing. Later post-punk
work by Siouxsie and the Banshees, in conjunction with Robert Smith of The Cure,
traded nostalgically on the late-1960s psychedelic counter-culture, and Julian Cope
has made no secret of his diverse pre- and post-punk musical influences. The polar-
isation of ‘prog’ and punk promulgated in the 1976–1977 period may have as much
to do with internal class and gender politics in the Melody Maker offices (Caroline
Coon versus . . . the rest?) as a real groundswell of anti-progressive sentiment
(Johnstone 1995, pp. 217–18). The Coon analysis of the burgeoning punk scene as a
knowing, working-class kick in the face of middle-class, University-educated pro-
gressives (a narrative Lydon employs, but implicitly contradicts) seems a defining
trope which froze debate on the musical explosion of punk; Laing (1985, p. 121),
Clarke (1990) and Muggleton (2000) have all specifically questioned and challenged
the rigid class identity of punk (then and since). However, Coon’s iconoclastic nar-
rative predetermined the future discourses of punk history, and is frequently repro-
duced in popular television histories of rock and punk.
Attitudes of middle-class progressive musicians to punk are equally revealing
in probing the prog/punk dialectic. Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill
embraced punk due to the similarity of its anti-establishment ethos to that of the
late-60s counter-culture. Hammill presaged punk with his 1975 album Nadir’s Big
Chance, nostalgically exploring the sonic power and simplicity of three-chord 1960s
garage punk. He questioned the performative decadence of progressive and art
rock in the title track, ‘Nadir’s Big Chance’, calling for the destruction of inauthentic
rock music and the music industry, assisted by an assaultive rock noise. Lydon
rated Hammill and stated, ‘Oh Peter Hammill’s great . . . a true original . . . I just
liked him for years . . . if you listen to his solo albums I’m damn sure Bowie copied
a lot out of that geezer’.
2
Hammill and Lydon share a disdain for organised religion
and hypocrisy (a reaction to their Catholicism?), and vocal styles, textures and stra-
tegies that are often similar in all but accent. Peter Hammill recently said of Nadir’s
Big Chance and Lydon’s praise:
Sean Albiez360
it was, supposedly, an influential record . . . Though I still don’t know exactly how influences
work. Some musical things, perhaps, can be traced; but I’d prefer to think that my approach
of get on with what you have to do rather than what people tell you to do would be what
was passed on. And naturally I fully endorsed the smash the system with the song ethos of
punk. Shame the music biz swallowed it all so quickly and easily . . .
3
Ex-Genesis singer Peter Gabriel, a friend and collaborator of Hammill’s,
attended early Pistols’ gigs and viewed punk as a necessary development, saying
‘I didn’t go for the music much, but I enjoyed Rotten. I was interested at that point
because other people who I was with hated them with a venom I hadn’t seen for a
long time . . . anyone who can produce that kind of reaction must be interesting’
(Bright 2000, p. 112). Gabriel incorporated and explored punk in his post-punk
studio albums, with The Jam’s Paul Weller and Hammill lending a hand. The
appeal of punk for Gabriel was in its attitude, anger, apparent authenticity and
ability to provoke which he found increasingly lacking in British progressive
music – but did punk bury progressive rock in Britain?
Typical of the claims that punk extinguished ‘dinosaur rock’ is the following:
‘way back when dinosaurs (Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis et al.) ruled the
earth, it was the Pistols who drove them to extinction’ (Morat 2000). In fact, punk
could not commercially compete with Pink Floyd, Genesis or Yes, pop/rock artists
ELO, Abba and David Soul, and disco in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Laing 1985,
pp. 32–5). The Pistols were extinct well before Pink Floyd (though have risen twice
from the grave!). The progressive dinosaurs remained, on the whole, undefeated
and arguably reinvigorated by punk, with Pink Floyd’s Animals (1977) and The Wall
(1979) accurately characterising the post-punk Lydon mindset. Yes, Genesis and
Phil Collins in one way or another found their greatest commercial success in the
1980s. Therefore, the long-term impact of punk in Britain is arguably over-amplified
due to the academic celebration of spectacular ‘oppositional’ working-class subcul-
tures (Hebdige 1979, and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies) and popu-
lar memories of media-fuelled moral panics. Ironically, in the post-punk era, Lydon
and PiL pursued a distinctly progressive path in an attempt to bury punk.
Lydon and the ‘narrative of self
With this revised history in mind, we should consider how Lydon negotiated this
period as a member of the Sex Pistols and PiL. We should not view him as an
individual creative genius with a fixed core self, but as a cultural agent continually
re-configuring and performing his identity through a process of self-transformation.
Subjectivity and identity have come under much scrutiny in postmodern theory, with
debates becoming increasingly arcane. Hall (1992) and Couldry (2000) are useful
in mapping the issues, with Hall’s relativistic and contingent model countered by
Couldry’s arguments for a consistent model of identity and subjectivity. Although
identity and subjectivity are theoretically up for grabs, the historical Lydon is
remarkably consistent in tone and perspective – if theory questions Lydon’s agency
and self-invention, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Difficulties in mapping
identity and subjectivity do not preclude studying the historical Lydon, his creative
process and his negotiation of the punk era. However, we need to acknowledge the
problems and theoretical challenges of analysing Lydon’s oral history.
In thinking about identity, Hall (1992) describes the rise of the ‘post-modern
subject’, and how the ‘de-centred’ individual of postmodernism constructs a ‘cen-
Know history! 361
tred’ identity that feels constant, tangible and real. This is the strategy through
which the individual makes sense of the world around them and their relationship
to it. Hall suggests,
Within us are contradictory identities, pulling in different directions, so that our identifi-
cations are continually being shifted about. If we feel we have a unified identity from birth
to death, it is only because we construct a comforting story or ‘narrative of the self ’ about
ourselves. The fully unified completed, secure and coherent identity is a fantasy . . . (Hall
1992, p. 277)
At an individual level, Lydon’s ongoing and developing narrative of self is docu-
mented in press and television interviews, his autobiography and musical activities.
But to Hall, this narrative obfuscates the complexity of Lydon’s identities. In analys-
ing this narrative we should recognise that it is a ‘(dis)comforting story’ that is
coming to terms with a complex and shifting identity. At the cultural level, punk
as a phenomenon was the outcome of musicians and consumers negotiating and
commentating on the punk era through their own narration of commonly held, but
differently experienced, stories. Individual musicians and consumers both ‘con-
struct a comforting story’ about their cultural experiences in attempting to create a
stable and unified identity, and this narrative of self is founded on the individualist
myth central to Western culture. Hall suggests that the fully realised sense of self
is only a momentary, contingent settlement.
Our subjectivity is constituted to an extent by the structures of the cultural and
social relations we live within. However, we are relatively autonomous in the way
that we negotiate these structures. We can make claims that our formation of ident-
ity is the product of an active and self-reflexive process throughout our lives. Couldry
suggests ‘the self is understood as an open ended [my emphasis] practice of
narration . . . which, if it succeeds as a narrative can integrate contradictions into a
complex and distinctive perspective on the world’ (Couldry 2000, p. 119). Couldry
counters Hall by arguing that the individual is an active negotiator of experience
who constructs a distinct settlement of identity rather than a contingent and fleeting
one. The narrative of self is a subjectivity that constitutes the individual and has
consistency and integrity. The narrative may contain elements of what Hall calls
‘fantasy’, but it is the foundation upon which the individual negotiates life experi-
ence. Thus we can characterise the histories of those who lived through punk as
distinctive and individual experiences that represent narrative continuity. This
sense of subjectivity as continuous narrative flow, rather than discontinuous narrative
rupture is important. Though an individual’s memories and experiences of punk
are fragmentary, the individual creates a coherent narrative that is re-formed in a
developmental process, but remains relatively consistent over time. Couldry sug-
gests ‘At every level . . . we need to think about cultural experience and cultural
effects as processes, not ‘things’, as necessarily complex, not simple’ (Couldry 2000,
p. 128), but these processes can be subjected to a distinct subjectivity.
Therefore, punk can be studied usefully through examining the narrative
trajectories of musicians and fans. However, though punk’s impact may prove to
have been profound for the individual, its significance may become contradictory
and indistinct if we try to extrapolate from personal oral (hi)stories onto the wider
cultural stage. Punk may have perceptibly changed lives, but it is difficult to say
how or if it ‘changed the world’.
In studying Lydon it is important to acknowledge this problem of extrapola-
Sean Albiez362
ting from the individual to the cultural. However, in making sense of the trajectory
of his narrative of self we can learn more about how musicians are historically and
culturally located, and how the creative process (in terms of music and identity
formation) develops. There are important issues that need to be addressed about
the sources, processes and phenomenological aspects of Lydon’s subjectivity, but
we must assert the validity of approaching him through his perspectives on the
1976–1980 period. He has continually explored self-identity and individualism, the
complexity of his cultural and social identities and his subjective, creative and political
intentions within the fields of popular culture and music. He has acknowledged the
complexity of his cultural persona, particularly in addressing how he became alien-
ated from the ‘role of Rotten’ and reverted to John Lydon in PiL.
In the punk period, Lydon’s identity had been a site of conflict. It had been
appropriated, fought over, and, he felt, misinterpreted by Malcolm McLaren, the
Sex Pistols, the media, the judiciary, the British public, Pistols fans and other punk
musicians. In PiL’s first single ‘Public Image’ (1978), he reclaimed his identity,
explaining how his image had been misrecognised by the public. He suggested the
punk audience only understood him as an enthralling spectacle and imitated him
by adopting elements of his personal style, without ‘getting’ the depth of his indi-
vidualist message. The punk audience’s fantasies created a figurehead for a move-
ment that he despised and wanted to leave behind and disrupt. Lydon asserted that
it is he, and not the audience, who had created ‘Johnny Rotten’ (a performance of
a role created in the mould of Ziggy Stardust). He says his ‘punk’ identity had
transformed and moved on, and that in bidding farewell to the ‘punk Rotten’ he
refuted the audiences, or anyone else’s right to claim ownership over him. The
complex relationship between performance on a public stage and the performance
of identity in everyday life is addressed in ‘Public Image’, and Lydon demonstrates
his realisation of the difficulty in claiming self-invention in the face of the identities
and fantasies projected onto him by the British public.
4
Postmodern theory compels us to consider the death of the centred subject,
but we need to welcome the rebirth of the actor. We should address Lydon as a
crucial cultural agent in the punk moment and get on with understanding what he
can tell us about punk. What Lydon has to tell us is that punk was the discursive
continuation of debates around the Dionysian and Apollonian drives in culture and
popular music, and the contradictory artistic and commercial exigencies of popular
culture. These pre-existed and were re-formulated in punk, and Lydon addressed
them with his idiosyncratic world-view at a particular historical conjuncture, within
a specific (and not to be repeated) set of social and cultural relations. Lydon’s sub-
jectivity is partly an effect of history, but an effect located in a unique historical
moment that he idiosyncratically traversed and narrated. How can we understand
the mechanisms or strategies at play in the relationship between this moment and
Lydon as actor, and how can we understand autonomy and creativity in this pro-
cess?
Creativity and the bank of works
Toynbee (2000) suggests how we can approach creative musical practice in its cul-
tural contexts through deploying Bourdieu’s (1984) concepts of habitus,strategy and
field. In relation to Lydon, this allows us to question the notion of structural relations
alone determining modes of creative expression while acknowledging he is partly
Know history! 363
reliant on these structures in the social production of his music in the Sex Pistols
and PiL.
Toynbee reconfigures Bourdieu in arguing that making popular music is not
an intuitive act of self-expression, but depends on the continual planning, research
and monitoring of the outcome of creative decisions – in this way musicians are
active creative agents though their modes of expression are heavily prescribed. A
musician’s habitus (personal dispositions, attitudes and predilections) pre-disposes
him/her to a set of approaches to playing, writing and performing – Bourdieu calls
these strategies. These strategies are deployed on a field – a prescribed cultural space
of popular music institutions and practices. Musicians are argued to have a ‘fuzzy’
world-view that encapsulates the competitive struggle for capital (economic and
cultural) and a utopian drive – success is measured by capital gains and in the
effective promotion of both libertarian individualism and/or social responsibility –
a kind of (self) conscious capitalism.
Toynbee augments Bourdieu by saying it is the space of possibles that are key
to understanding cultural creativity. Possibles arise in the relationship between the
habitus, the field of musical practice and the likelihood of selection (of musical
works, practices and strategies) from this field. This forms the basis of the radius of
creativity – a figurative space demonstrating the range of the likely creative possibles
of an individual agent. From the radius the creator constructs an individual voice
that speaks through musical and spoken languages ‘already populated with the
social intentions of others’, but the creator ‘compels [them] to serve [their] own new
intentions’ (Bakhtin quoted in Toynbee 2000, p. 46). There is room therefore to
endorse the assertions of artists claiming aesthetic and creative agency while recog-
nising how these are also determined by historical, social and cultural relations.
This limited notion of creative agency needs further expansion. It is crucial to
assert that the individual radius of creativity is not only a given objective space ‘out
there’. Through negotiation, active selection and discrimination, musicians create a
distinct and individual ‘in here’ experience. Their choices are not necessarily pre-
determined by class, race, age or gender, or any other social or cultural marker.
Their habitus informs idiomatic choices that enable them to accumulate cultural
capital and construct a bank of works from which they draw creative sustenance.
This bank is sometimes tangible (a record collection/artist’s recorded works/per-
formances attended) or made so through the creative process (a predilection for
certain sonic strategies and techniques). In Lydon’s case, his bank of cultural capital
embraced progressive rock, jazz, soul and reggae as well as rock and pop, and his
creative musical strategies and techniques were grounded in and referenced these
musics. Like identity, the bank of works shifts, transforms and develops over time
but remains the site or repository of accumulated cultural capital. This bank of
works is the basis of what is commonly called ‘musical influences’, with deposits
and withdrawals made over a lifetime.
How these influences operate on a micro-level is difficult to specify. For
example, in the history and development of folk and country rock musics, there is
a continual self-referential acknowledgement of past influences, from Jimmie Rod-
gers to Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen. In the competitive arena
of rock music this is less explicit and it is within certain sonic continuities that we
can find the bank of works deployed in practice. That is through attitude, tone,
perspective and musical texture rather than specific musicological or biographical
connections. Lydon was inspired by the rock and roll guitar work of the Sex Pistols’
Sean Albiez364
Steve Jones, but (with)drew from his idiosyncratic bank of works in negotiating an
individual space, and creating an innovative voice, within the band. In this, Lydon
did not pay direct homage to any of the artists in this bank, but compelled their
voice to speak through his in an innovative way.
No Future!: Lydon and the Sex Pistols
It was nothing to do with music . . . The sounds of anger are not melodic. (Lydon in The
Punk Years, 2002)
As Toynbee suggests, musical innovation is found either in incremental differences
made by musicians within distinct generic musical fields or by forging unlikely
combinations of possibles between musical paradigms. These possibles are not lim-
ited to musical strategies but also performative ones. This perhaps explains the
ability of the Sex Pistols and Lydon to ‘interrupt’ and question the values of the
British establishment through music that was semiotically, sonically, and emotion-
ally powerful and unfamiliar – but musically derivative. The innovation of the Sex
Pistols music was in the cultural, aural and oral performance in the grooves of
their records and the stages they occupied; that is, in the emotional assertion of an
individualist identity and the anger of their performance, and not in the chords,
rhythms or riffs they played.
The voice, in all senses, of Johnny Rotten seemed unique and it was this that
was the focus of the emotive and assaultive performances of the Sex Pistols. Extra-
polating from the evidence of interviews and the autobiography Rotten, it seems
Lydon’s habitus was informed by an opposition to authority and conformity, partly
due to a reaction to a Catholic upbringing, an adolescent lack of faith in fakes, and
a distinct sense of despair over the British class and education systems. Lydon never
aspired to musicianship, but crucially he loved music – a trait that was actively
shared with and supported by his mother – and listened intently to a wide spectrum
of left field and mainstream popular music. Among the popular musical possibles
or cultural capital explicitly acknowledged by Lydon and others in his autobiogra-
phy or through the Tommy Vance Capital Radio interview in 1977 are the following:
Funhouse –The Stooges, Hawkwind, Captain Beefheart, Tago Mago – Can, T-Rex, Gary Glit-
ter, ‘New Musical Express (NME) Rock types’, Arthur Brown, David Bowie, Alice Cooper,
The Black Byrds (Donald Byrd), The Ohio Players, ‘Soul/Dance groups’, Reggae sound sys-
tems/Dub, Bitches Brew – Miles Davis, The Kinks, Iggy Pop, Nadir’s Big Chance – Peter
Hammill, Van Der Graaf Generator, John Cale, Lou Reed, Life is Just Beginning – The Cre-
ation, Sweet Surrender – Tim Buckley, Neil Young, Dr. Alimantado, Roxy Music, Waiting
for the Sun – The Doors, Irish and Scottish Folk music, Vivien Jackson and the Prophets,
‘never Yes’, ‘not NY Punk’ and not ‘Mike Oldfield, Faust, Henry Cow or Gong’ [but obvi-
ously aware of these Virgin artists before the Pistols signed to the label]
This eclectic selection of musics, some specifically consumed by Lydon, others
‘around’ Lydon in the 1970s, gives some indication of the breadth of his interest in
music, and formed part of the bank of works underpinning Lydon’s musical poss-
ibles. He also had a knowledge and appreciation of what Bourdieu may have
viewed as orthodox cultural capital. For example, in literature, he highly rated
Oscar Wilde and Ted Hughes, hated James Joyce and later read Muriel Spark (from
whom the name Public Image Ltd was derived). As a vocalist and ‘wordsmith’, this
would seem to be essential to acknowledge.
According to his autobiography, Lydon was seldom if ever on the dole before
Know history! 365
the Sex Pistols (working in children’s play schemes and with his father) and could
afford to put together an extensive record collection. This work ethic and experience
is contrary to expectations set up in punk documentaries and The Filth and the Fury
(Temple 2000) which portray social issues such as unemployment (at relatively simi-
lar levels to 2003), and economic and social decay as central to the rise of punk
(perplexingly often backed by images of rubbish on the streets of London in the
post-punk 1978/1979 winter of discontent?). This consumption of diverse musics
became an idiomatic bank of symbolic resources when ‘applied’ in Lydon’s musical
creative practice.
It has to be noted that how subjectivity is formed from, and how identity
connects with, musical tastes is not clear-cut. There is no simple dialogical relation-
ship between musical texts and Lydon as reader/performer. In fact it is better to
describe the relationship as a polyological one across time, as Negus does in ident-
ifying the complex nature of the developments of rock as a genre at a different
cultural level (Negus 1996, p. 163). Frith suggests ‘Music constructs our identity
through the direct experiences it offers the body, time and sociability, experiences
which enable us to place ourselves in imaginative cultural narratives’ (Frith 1996,
p. 275). Lydon’s musical subjectivity and identity developed through the music he
consumed and created, and the imaginative diversity of his familiar bank of works
in his formative years is an important indicator of his musical individualism, and
underpinned the narrative of self he was formulating pre- and post-punk. Though
we may debate the ‘mechanics’ of the relationship of the consumption of music to
Lydon’s identity, we can suggest that Lydon’s subjectivity and identity, like all
listeners, can be located in and mapped through music (and crucially, through what
is NOT in a record collection or bank of works).
Importantly, Lydon indicates that he did not find an affinity with the other
Sex Pistols through his bank of works. Lydon suggests this caused tension with the
rest of the band, who he felt had a restricted range of cultural capital and as such
a restricted sense of possibles. Lydon characterised such tensions by stating ‘Steve,
Paul, Malcolm, Glen, Sid . . . rarely mingled with music or the possibilities [my
emphasis] . . . they would slag off bands and not know who or what they were
talking about. Malcolm guided Steve and Paul into a regressive sixties mod band
vibe . . . I knew more of what I was talking about’ (Lydon 1993, p. 158). We should
not take this at face value, but this is Lydon explaining something of the difficulties
in the social production of music where band members resist compromise due to
the sense their identity is being subsumed into an impersonal whole. This resistance
demonstrates that though a musician may narrate a sense of musical direction, a
band always requires negotiation and the temporary settlement of perceived differ-
ences. Lydon gave an instance of the creative conflict this caused in the Sex Pistols
when he wrote
The band would say ‘let’s do a Kinks-style song’. I’d ask ‘Which album? I’ve got 15. Would
you like to pick out a track? . . . they didn’t know the range of Ray Davies’s music . . . ‘How
dare you know, and why can’t you be like the rest of us? Vague. Muddled. Indifferent’.
(Lydon 1993, p.159)
Whatever the veracity of this reconstruction of exchanges, this example does indi-
cate Lydon positioning himself as an outsider in having other creative priorities
than Cook, Jones, Matlock and Vicious. This positioning is part of the narrative
constructed by Lydon to explain his eventual alienation from the Pistols, and
Sean Albiez366
treated as such is an important insight into musical conflicts of the Pistols and in
the punk period as a whole.
This internal tension between Lydon and the Pistols, between different levels
of knowledge, cultural resources and capital, though apparently the band members
were all of one class, demonstrates the inadequacy of class-based analyses of music
and creativity. To an extent it also demonstrates the inadequacy of cultural capital
as a concept if it is too closely aligned to simplistic notions of class specificity and
social hierarchy. It is untenable to draw an undeviating relationship between a head
of household’s (usually father’s) occupation or employment status, and specific
musical tastes and lifestyles. Bourdieu (1973) suggests that cultural capital – cultural
competences (knowledge and skills) that are inculcated through family and the
educational systems’ investment in the values of dominant middle- and upper-class
culture – enables the individual to be culturally competent in their specific class
position. It also enables families, generation by generation, to financially succeed
and rise through society by economically capitalising on cultural capital. This does
not explain how cultural resources drawn from working-class and anti-
establishment sources enabled Lydon, an uneducated, but bright, impoverished
working-class youth, to creatively and financially capitalise on his seemingly anti-
hegemonic cultural capital. His deployment of cultural capital was clearly founded
on class antagonism rather than deference. Therefore it is important to note that
cultural capital is not dependent on an investment in dominant culture for legiti-
mation. In contemporary society, cultural capital can be oppositional, illegitimate
and deployed against dominant values (as in punk) and still enable the individual
to capitalise on their efforts. This may only be as long as this opposition is symbolic,
sanctioned, cultural and/or containable.
Steve Jones revealingly described Lydon as an intellectual in The Filth & the
Fury, contradicting Lydon’s resolute claims to anti-intellectualism. This is due to
his identification of intellect with University education, the middle and upper
classes and conscious rationality in the abstract rather than direct ‘unconscious’
cultural action. Lydon’s appearance on (ironically) Capital Radio exacerbated the
tensions, creating further cracks in the frail united front of the Sex Pistols, and
caused confusion for the nascent punk audience. Pistols’ manager Malcolm
McLaren was angry at Lydon flaunting his good taste and relatively sophisticated
cultural capital in public. Lydon said of this reaction, ‘it seemed to mean that if I
liked records that I couldn’t be half as ignorant, moronic, violent, destructive etc.
as they wanted to promote me as’ (quoted in Johnny’s Immaculate Conception, 1978).
Lydon, however, was not deploying his cultural capital to dislocate himself
from his class roots and to move upwards through the social order, though his
attitudes to class are ambivalent. He has a strong nostalgic attachment to notions
of English working-class community, and in describing growing up in Finsbury
Park he states it was ‘Very, very violent . . . It was heavy, gangy, but with a very,
very close sense of community – that kind of working-class thing where local pubs
were quite literally community centres’ (Karin 2001, p. 12). However, Lydon dem-
onstrates that to map a working-class subjectivity (whatever that is) onto him sim-
plifies beyond recognition the complex subject performed through diverse personal,
social and cultural markers of identity. Lydon was working class, but his musical/
cultural capital enabled him to imagine alternative identities, and operate within,
around and beyond such an essentialising categorisation – being working class did
not alone define him. He noted, in an unconscious allusion to Bourdieu’s (1984)
Know history! 367
work on cultural distinction, that ‘When you grow up in a working-class environ-
ment, you’re supposed to stay inside and follow the rules and regulations of that
little system. I won’t have any of that’ (Lydon 1993, p. 311). This demonstrates
Lydon’s ambivalence to class as both representing groundedness and, echoing
Bourdieu, social constriction. In fact in Britain in the 1970s these ‘rules and regu-
lations’ were being attacked from many quarters. Punk dramatised social changes
that were eroding deference, the British class system, high and popular cultural
boundaries, and this became conflated with the apparent attack made by the Pistols
on ‘middle-class’ progressive rock. This attack was not launched from a position of
socialist class solidarity, but from a class-informed hyper-individualist stance that
was suspicious of tradition and conformity of any form. Lydon’s identity cannot be
reduced to being working class, but neither can he escape class as it underwrote
his anger and yearning to attack and offend the British establishment.
Lydon felt the Pistols had quickly exhausted their possibilities and his own,
and that his contribution had been little understood or appreciated. Laing discussed
the split within the Sex Pistols as central to a paradox at the heart of the punk,
which unravelled due to the problem of punk identity:
Punk rock possessed an impulse to construct an identity that would be an alternative to the
institutionalised or passe
´identities of the status quo, but would nevertheless be recognisable.
The identity would be associated with all features gathered together under the sign of ‘sub-
culture’. But punk rock also contained impulses which aimed to dissolve identities – of ‘per-
former’, ‘audience’, ‘rock and roll’ – without any concern to make new ones. (Laing 1985,
p.131)
The consistent nihilistic impulse to subvert the establishment or ‘mainstream’ ident-
ity at the heart of Lydon’s Rotten persona left him exhausted. Lydon was particu-
larly exasperated at the formation of the punk subculture and its ‘rules and regu-
lations’ which he felt antithetical to his calls for absolute individualism. Lydon
characterised his politics by writing:
I’m not a revolutionary, socialist or any of that . . . An absolute sense of individuality is my
politics. All political groups that I am aware of on this planet strive to suppress
individuality . . . It’s replacing the same old system with a different clothing . . . it destroys
personality and individuality. (Lydon 1993, p. 311)
Lydon sees himself as committed to the continual re-invention of self, believ-
ing in absolute agency within the creation of identity and this belief formed the
basis of his dissolution of the Rotten persona. Lydon suggests he formed PiL to
enable a more democratic and ‘liberal’ creative process, principally with Keith
Levene and Jah Wobble. Lydon felt PiL would enable him to distance himself from
punk by cutting ties with Rotten. He characterised this shift by saying:
I formed PiL because I got bored with the extremist point of view that I’d had with the Sex
Pistols . . . I attempted to move toward a liberal point of view and see if that could slowly
but surely change society into something more decent . . . PiL [was] much more of a
democracy . . . I thought Ha! The Public Image Limited. Not as a company but to be limited –
not being as ‘out there’ as I was with the Sex Pistols’. (Lydon 1993, p. 270)
Whether Lydon achieved or pursued this liberal viewpoint is debatable, but PiL
was possibly for a time a more democratic collaboration than the Sex Pistols. PiL
also encapsulated the contradiction between the struggle for individual status and
the utopian drive to change the world through music, identified by Toynbee, and
which perhaps was implicit in the cash through chaos ethos of the Sex Pistols. We
Sean Albiez368
should not, however, diminish the contributions of the other Sex Pistols or McLaren
who are as equally important in understanding the band and their music. Lydon
himself argues this by saying
It’s such an intense process being in a band, but some of the books out there never under-
stood that . . . you should never leave any single member in a band up to their own devices.
I don’t care how big-headed the lead singer is, it all comes down to the fact that he must eat
shit in a rehearsal room. The histrionics of the lead guitar, the excesses of the drummer, and
the stupidity of the bass player have to mix on equal footing. (Lydon 1994, p. 160)
In acknowledging the rest of the Pistols, it is interesting that Lydon undercuts
the affirmation of their contributions with a descriptive put down of each band
member (including himself). With PiL it is important to more clearly address the
contribution of Levene and Wobble due to the ostensibly democratic principles of
the band (with no svengali overseeing operations and only trusted personnel
involved in the PiL corporation) while most specifically focusing on Lydon, as this
is the purpose of this study.
Know future! Lydon and PiL
Krautrock is what Punk would have been if Johnny Rotten alone had been in charge – a
kind of Pagan Freakout LSD Explore-the-god-in-you-by-working-the-animal-in-you Gnostic
Odyssey. A sort of very fit Hawkwind without the Doomsday Science-Fiction. (Cope 1995,
p. 1)
PiL were formed post-Pistols in 1978, with Lydon bringing together his friend
John Wardle (Jah Wobble) and Keith Levene – an acquaintance he had met some
time before at an early Clash and Sex Pistols joint gig – and Jim Walker, the
first in a succession of drummers. In considering PiL, it is important to expand
briefly on the roles of Levene and Wobble. Like Lydon, it becomes apparent
that what we find is a musical sensibility and set of expectations of what is
possible with popular music that was enabled and empowered by punk but was
not beholden to it. Unlike Lydon, the subject of obsessive interest, it should be
noted there is a relative paucity of material on the role of Levene and Wobble,
either from the late 1970s or since.
Levene at an early age was listening to ska and rock-steady, and aged ten to
the Beatles’ White Album, Led Zeppelin and early Heavy Metal. This culminated
in what he surprisingly – for the punk audience – describes as ‘my absolute god-
head band, Yes’ and suggests ‘Steve Howe was the greatest fucking guitarist in the
world’ (Gross 1999). He saw five Yes gigs in a row in 1972 and became a Yes
roadie for a short while. He was an accomplished guitarist and mentions the Allman
Brothers, Ornette Coleman prote
´ge
´James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, Charles Mingus, Steely
Dan and American west coast rock (Reynolds 2002, p. 33) as other key figures in
his close field of works. This again is compelling evidence of the need to rethink
the progressive/punk dialectic and the role of diverse musical influences in the
punk and post-punk period. Levene before PiL was involved in the early days of
the Clash, remaining largely uncredited on their first album, and joined the Flowers
of Romance with Sid Vicious. He suggests that in relation to musical creativity he
shared with Lydon a desire to promulgate change, but not to use anger or despair
as negatives. He said, ‘I wasn’t against anything. I call it being positively
negative . . . When people were talking about this nihilist thing and ‘‘no future’’,
my thing was ‘‘know future’’’ (Levene, quoted in Gross 1999).
Know history! 369
Jah Wobble never viewed himself as a musician before joining PiL, but had
an encyclopaedic knowledge of dub. This lack of aspiration to, or reverence for,
rock musicianship – shared with Lydon – resulted in openness to sonic and musical
experimentation removed from the circumscribed field of rock and roll. He was
drawn particularly to innovation through overt hybridisation – by deploying dub
bass in a bleak post-punk soundscape. Wobble left after the second PiL album,
Metal Box (1979), and his later prolific work with world musicians, members of Can,
The Orb and others demonstrates a view of musical possibles that, though embry-
onic in PiL, was a predisposition that evidenced itself in his dub side projects while
a member of the band and soon after.
PiL was a vehicle for Lydon to pursue an avant-garde noise aesthetic he felt
the Sex Pistols only fleetingly achieved when they performed badly. He looked
towards Krautrock, dub and other experimental musics as inspiration. He aimed to
further develop his ‘instrument’ – a voice with remarkable flexibility, an instantly
recognisable ‘grain’ (Barthes 1977) and an ability to draw on various performative
vocal, spoken, part-sung strategies that were more extensive and diverse than the
Sex Pistols’ angry sneer. Recently Lydon was asked how he would define what he
was attempting to achieve in music at the time, and his answer may give some
indication of how he perceived the transition from the Pistols to PiL:
There were no rules. There was nothing to follow. You could do what you wanted. But then
that’s too big a freedom, so you had to focus yourself on specific things that interest just
you. So in a weird way that’s great because you’re not pandering to public taste and you’re
not doing this to be popular and then oddly enough you become popular and you don’t
know why. It’s a coincidence. It’s not a deliberate plan or scheme. No one could ever, ever
put that together as a plan. (quoted in Karin 2001, p. 15)
Lydon ambitiously claims musical autonomy and the ability to escape pre-
existing musical forms in attempting to dislocate PiL from what punk had become
by 1978. He also returns to the idea of ‘rules and regulations’ constraining his crea-
tivity, but this time forges rules of his own making, found through constructing
music through experimental creative practice. We can suggest Lydon was absol-
utely reliant on his ability to negotiate a diverse field of generally left-field musical
works in this exploration, and throughout PiL’s early work the strategies, textures
and musicality of Can, Neu!, Captain Beefheart, Brian Eno, Lee Perry and Hammill,
among many others, can be traced. These were musics that were progressive in
intent and that questioned the constraining boundaries of previous rock forms and
production. PiL were therefore ‘reaching backwards’ through punk as well as
retaining the iconoclastic attitude to tradition and conformity that was often found
in these musics, punk, and indeed, progressive rock.
Considering PiL as a band requires us to question Lydon’s claims of coinci-
dence without a deliberate plan. PiL often seemed to be a band with a master plan,
no matter how contradictory, confusing and unsuccessful this may have been. PiL
in interviews of the 1978–1980 period consistently positioned themselves as both
anti-rock and roll and a communications company with the potential to move into
video and business ventures, including new technologies and advertising. PiL were
aware of themselves as an exploitable record company commodity and in the spirit
of the times embraced enterprise culture. However, they arguably had neither the
business acumen nor economic and cultural capital to succeed in this venture. It
could be suggested that PiL were ironically positioning themselves as a company
in a parody of their label Virgin Records, and of the machinations of the music
Sean Albiez370
industry. It can also be argued that they were critiquing the ‘DIY ethic’ of punk
counter-culturality, as represented in Crass, by suggesting that it lacked ambition
by positioning itself in a backwater of home-spun cultural production. What is clear
is that PiL were not specifically or demonstrably pursuing an explicit or coherent
anti-capitalist critique, even if there was intentional irony in their public pronounce-
ments.
PiL felt they should be able to take Virgin on at their own game. Levene
audaciously stated at the time ‘I’m thinking of ways to work with Virgin and Virgin
to work for us . . . I don’t see why Virgin shouldn’t be a worthwhile company to be
involved in . . . but there seems to be a clash of ambitions . . . It’s simple, we can see
into the future and they can’t’ (‘Company lore and public disorder’, NME 1981).
This confidence may have resulted from a desire to subvert the backward-looking
counter-culturality that had begun to appear in some areas of post-punk by embrac-
ing corporate capitalism as, ironically, a counter-counter-cultural statement. How-
ever, considering the ensuing growth of the Virgin brand across planes, trains, coke
and radio, it would seem Virgin were more clued up on the future of the global
brandscape than PiL, though they had grasped that the rise of new mass communi-
cation technologies and the proliferation of media culture were significant trends.
However, despite this ill-advised but prescient positioning of PiL as a media corpor-
ation, they were the producers of innovative and powerful music that owed a great
deal to the experimentation of post-1960s counter-cultural rock.
Levene developed an improvised anti-rock and roll guitar technique specifi-
cally drawing from avant-jazz and noise experimentalist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer and
to some extent Yes’s Steve Howe (Reynolds 2002, p. 33). Improvisation in itself is
not a peculiarity of avant-garde music, as most rock bands improvise in con-
structing songs. But to improvise towards a rock song is not the same as improvis-
ing to deconstruct the rock song. Levene also had an interest in technical innovation,
synthesizers and, with Lydon, new studio recording strategies and techniques anti-
thetical to punk notions of immediacy (but sharing much in common with progress-
ive Krautrock). It should be pointed out that contrary to expectations, the Sex Pistols
were a relatively conventional rock band when it came to studio recording.
5
Never
Mind the Bollocks producer Chris Thomas (engineer for The Beatles, mixing super-
visor for Pink Floyd and producer of Roxy Music) did not pursue ‘punk immediacy’
in the many guitar overdubs and polished production of the album recorded inter-
mittently over a year. This was done with the blessing of a largely deferential Sex
Pistols (Cunningham 1998) and with Steve Jones also playing bass guitar in place
of Matlock and Vicious. It is also worth noting that in early Pistols live perform-
ances and demos, sound engineer Dave Goodman would create a distinctly Kos-
miche psychedelic wash of sound through using delay and phasing effects on
Lydon’s vocals and guitars that bore some resemblance to Julian Cope’s fantasy
vision of a Lydonesque ‘krautpunk’.
6
Levene discussed his studio strategy in terms that contradict Lydon, suggest-
ing that he saw rules as a way of constructing PiL’s music because they were also
something to challenge and kick against. This reflects the dichotomy between struc-
ture and agency central to creativity within popular music – all popular music
is structured through past rules and innovation is based on new combinations of
techniques and strategies. Levene suggests that the PiL studio process owed some-
thing to Brian Eno’s ‘oblique strategies’ by stating
Know history! 371
It’s almost like I had all these strict rules, but my biggest rule was to break the rules. But
sometimes I’d set up my own rules to kick them down. I had a situation where I was really
into process in the studio and things you could get using the desk as an instrument. That
was meant for perfecting what I used it for was to rip the stuff apart. You could draw an
analogy with Brian Eno . . . He was one of the first ‘soundicians’. (Levene quoted in Gross
1999)
Levene was at one with Lydon in relation to the need to develop and refine stra-
tegies that took PiL to what they felt were the outer margins of (anti) rock and roll.
PiL initially used drums, guitar, bass and vocals as the engine of their sound, but
by Flowers of Romance (1981) these were ditched for free improvisation with unfami-
liar ethnic instruments, cellos, synthesizers and vast drums.
PiL produced uncompromising music that in tone and content was partly
based on Lydon’s personal despair (bereft of the Sex Pistols, his stage name, his
mother through cancer and his friend Sid Vicious). This despair was also targeted
at the punks who had adopted a uniform identity and code of conduct in
response to his calls for people to be themselves, for individualism and diversity.
This despair found its greatest release in Metal Box (1979) which was recorded
and composed in process with improvised songs beginning and ending at appar-
ently random moments. It is bleak but not unemotional – ‘Death Disco/Swan
Lake’ being a malevolent lament for Lydon’s recently dead mother. In common
with Eno, the studio became a key instrument rather than a medium through
which a heavily prescribed rock noise was constructed. Levene drew inspiration
from machine noises in a basement toilet studio bolthole, unlearned and un-
leashed his guitar technique and deployed random synthesizer noise. Lydon in
‘Poptones’ spoke, recited and sang lyrics with a tone moving from sharp clarity
to mumbled incomprehensibility with his voice ‘equivocal’ – no more or less
important than other elements of the PiL soundscape. Wobble improvised dub
bass that complemented rather than copied Levene’s guitar lines. Richard Dudan-
ski and Martin Atkins on drums provided a rhythm that, in any other context
would be described as a 4/4 disco beat – ‘Death Disco/Swan Lake’ was indeed
funereal dance music. PiL were not being flippant with such a description. The
album finishes with ‘Radio 4’, a pseudo-classical instrumental piece created by
Levene multi-tracking synthesized string parts and mimicking Wobble’s bass
style.
Metal Box’s embrace of noise as purposeful message, its improvised and formal
experimentation, its refusal to sustain the Lydon public persona and, for a time, its
democracy of diverse voices created troubling music. An understanding that this
music was a road to somewhere as opposed to the Pistols’ demand to exist and
remain in the present is crucial. Being here now and ‘no futurism’ prematurely
curtails utopian thinking and creativity; the consequence of existing in a hermeti-
cally sealed present is atrophy.
PiL demonstrated the futility and dishonesty of denying personal and musical
history, of the year-zero rhetoric of punk, of working through a regimented and
unreflexive field of musical possibility and of denying the prospect of a viable
future. The ‘Know Future’ of PiL was an assertion that to achieve ‘change’ through
music required the deconstruction of punk/rock and roll as music and industry.
PiL (anti)-intellectualised their music and located it in a different paradigm or field
of works to that of punk. They were at the forefront of post-punk anti-mainstream
experimentation, but adopted the trappings of a capitalist corporation, and Metal
Sean Albiez372
Box embodied this contradictory sense of ‘industry’. If we view Metal Box through
the lens of Weinstein’s proposition that ‘progressive rock is distinguished by a con-
ceptual trope: the appropriation of nonpopular musical forms . . . ‘‘classical music’’,
jazz and avant-garde music’, this album can arguably, and controversially, be
characterised as a re-cast version of progressive rock.
PiL forged hybrid soundscapes from a wide range of cultural and sonic
resources and it was their appreciation of the possibles outside of the immediate
rock/punk field of textual and musical works, and Virgin and Warner Records
financial support that enabled them to pursue this project in the full glare of
(limited) publicity. Much that PiL achieved in their first three studio albums was a
template for later post-progressive/post-rock artists. Their key importance was in
breaking out of generic punk constriction into a more flexible field of creative mus-
ical practice – celebrating hybridisation and heterogeneity over homogenisation,
claustrophobia and creative suffocation. The most interesting British musics since
punk have arguably been those that are not beholden to creative tradition and
which, like PiL, cut across musical and cultural boundaries (e.g. The Pop Group, A
Certain Ratio, Asian Dub Foundation, Massive Attack, Tricky, Big Audio Dynamite,
Alabama 3).
Conclusion
This study of John Lydon demonstrates the importance, and possibility, of taking
seriously the personal narratives of musicians as they experience or reflect on their
creative process. It has suggested how this gives us access to understanding how
Lydon and other musicians deploy their cultural capital in ways requiring us to
question Bourdieu’s theories on the role of objective relations in producing social
identity, and in underpinning musical creativity. Lydon’s active, trans-class recon-
figuration of his personal and cultural capital placed him, his music and the audi-
ence in a relatively new performative and challenging sonic space that was shared
with other post-punk and progressive musicians. In particular, PiL demonstrated
that the class-based prog/punk dialectic is unfeasible as a historical model of
change in popular music in the 1970s. The anti-representational and oppositional
strategies of PiL were clearly antagonistic to some areas of ‘middle-class’ progress-
ive rock, particularly in their opposition to pre-existing and orthodox hierarchies of
cultural taste and value. However, they shared with progressive musicians such as
Eno, Hammill, Neu!, Can and Fripp a counter-culturality, an art sensibility, a dis-
comfort with music as industry, a belief in absolute individualism and a sense of
music’s potential as a utopian cultural force.
Acknowledgements
An earlier version of this article was presented at the No Future Conference, Uni-
versity of Wolverhampton, UK, September 2001. Special thanks to Mark Garland
and Peter Jones for leads and suggestions on the relationship of progressive rock
to punk, and to the anonymous Popular Music readers who helped me clarify
important issues.
Know history! 373
Endnotes
1. For Bourdieu, cultural capital =the cultural Interview (Excerpt)’, 16 July 1977. 6 August
resources an individual has access to through 2001: <www.vub.ac.be/STER/KoenWWW/
family background and education enabling Ph/Links/dig073.txt>
them to have cultural competence and ‘literacy’ 3. Hammill, P., ‘re. Nadir’s Big Chance’, e-mail to
in relation to their relative class position. In this author. 7 September 2001.
sense, cultural capital affirms the social order. 4. He now flits between the names Lydon and
However, in this article cultural capital is used Rotten after reclaiming the right to his stage
more broadly to describe cultural resources that persona after suing Pistols manager Malcolm
can be deployed against, as well as in support McLaren and Glitterbest in the 1980s.
of, the social order. Lydon’s idiosyncratic per- 5. Classic Albums: Never Mind the Bollocks (ITV1,
sonally valued cultural resources were not vali- 2002).
dated by the established social order, but 6. Dave Goodman told me this in 1989 when I
became culturally valuable in constructing recorded a WMTID album at his London home,
works that questioned late-1970s Britain while during an all-night Pistols nostalgia and drinks
breaching the divide of progressive rock and session, and I have no reason to doubt his word.
punk. Evidence can be found on Sex Pistols ‘Sexbox’
2. Rotten quoted in ‘Capital Radio Johnny Rotten (e.g. CD1, Track 14, ‘No Feeling’ (sic)).
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Discography
(catalogue numbers are for the CD version – dates are the original release date)
Brian Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). EG/Virgin Records EGCD17. 1974
Before and After Science. EG/Virgin Records EGCD32. 1977
Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (III). Charisma Records PGCDR3. 1979
Peter Gabriel (IV). Charisma Records PGCDR4. 1982
Peter Hammill, Nadir’s Big Chance. Charisma Records CASCD1099. 1975
Future Now. Charisma Records CASCD1137. 1978
King Crimson, Red. Virgin EG Records CDVKC7. 1974
Pink Floyd, Animals. EMI Records CDEMD 1060. 1977
The Wall. EMI Records CDEMD 1071. 1979
Public Image Ltd., ‘Public Image’, Public Image: First Issue. Virgin Records CDV 2114. 1978
Metal Box. Virgin Records MTL CD1. 1979
Flowers of Romance. Virgin Records CDV 2189. 1981
Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. Virgin Records CDVX2086. 1977
The Sex Pistols (Box Set).Virgin Records Sex Box 1. 2002
Film and videography
Temple, J. (Dir.) 2000. The Filth & The Fury (London: Film Four Ltd)
Classic Albums: Never Mind the Bollocks (ITV1, 2002)
Dancing in the Street (BBC2, 1996). Part 8, ‘No Fun’
God Save the Queen (BBC1, 2002)
The Punk Years (UK Play, 2002). Part 2, ‘Year 0’
... The irony of Rotten's novel appeal was that his perf ormance persona was soon systematised by both himself and many punk bands that f ollowed. Rotten f elt that central to his message was an absolute belief in individual expression, honesty and integrity t hat was widely missed by those adopting a 'punk unif orm', and copying the Sex Pistols power-chord musical template (Albiez 2003). However, it can be argued that more than any other centre of post-Pistols activity, Manchester listened long and hard to Rotten, producing in several cases idiosyncratic new music. ...
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This is a 2012 update of the chapter originally published in Ian Inglis (ed.) Performance and Popular Music by Ashgate and later republished without the updated material in 2017 by Routledge.
... This bookish voracity, the contact with new alternative cultures, and the new interpersonal relationships, usually forged in cafes, allowed the actor to develop what Albiez (2003) postulates as a 'ray of creativity', something constructed through negotiation and selection, while not being mandatorily determined by class, gender or age, since the habitus allows for the "idiomatic choices that allows them to accumulate cultural capital and build a bank of works through which they maintain creative sustainability" (Albiez, 2003: 363;Acord & DeNora, 2008;DeNora, 2000;Toynbee, 2000;Becker, 1974). The bank of works, in this case, objectivated itself in public readings, gatherings, sociabilities, etc, and was the basis of Oliveira's artistic influences. ...
... This bookish voracity, the contact with new alternative cultures, and the new interpersonal relationships, usually forged in cafes, allowed the actor to develop what Albiez (2003) postulates as a 'ray of creativity', something constructed through negotiation and selection, while not being mandatorily determined by class, gender or age, since the habitus allows for the "idiomatic choices that allows them to accumulate cultural capital and build a bank of works through which they maintain creative sustainability" (Albiez, 2003: 363;Acord & DeNora, 2008;DeNora, 2000;Toynbee, 2000;Becker, 1974). The bank of works, in this case, objectivated itself in public readings, gatherings, sociabilities, etc, and was the basis of Oliveira's artistic influences. ...
... The irony of Rotten's novel appeal was that his perf ormance persona was soon systematised by both himself and many punk bands that f ollowed. Rotten f elt that central to his message was an absolute belief in individual expression, honesty and integrity t hat was widely missed by those adopting a 'punk unif orm', and copying the Sex Pistols power-chord musical template (Albiez 2003). However, it can be argued that more than any other centre of post-Pistols activity, Manchester listened long and hard to Rotten, producing in several cases idiosyncratic new music. ...
... The Sex Pistols may have prompted much that followed, but Rotten railed against the regimented, uniformed and soon formulaic musical response of certain sections of the punk audience, to what he believed was his individualist message of "be yourself". (Albiez 2003). This study will first examine the forms that most closely identified themselves as punk before examining the broader legacy of late 1970s UK punk. ...
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This is an unpublished book chapter. It was intended to be the introductory chapter of a book on contemporary perspectives on punk and hardcore. After a very protracted process, and all sorts of publisher shenanigans, the book never saw the light of day. The chapter is an attempt to understand the significance of the 1976-77 punk moment for musicians within and beyond the punk genre into the mid 1980s.
... Recentemente, têm vindo a proliferar esforços no campo da própria crítica e jornalismo para a concretização de biografias que possibilitem uma análise reflexiva acerca do que em sociologia costumamos designar por trajetórias sociais (ALBIEZ, 2003;GIMARC, 2005;MARCUS, 2006;2000b;MOLON, 2007;REYNOLDS, 2006;SAVAGE, 2001;STRINGER, 1992;KENT, 2006). Ora, no domínio científico que aqui nos ocupa, as biografias elaboradas são de outra natureza, pois interessou-nos a heuristicidade de trajetórias de atores sociais específicos na medida em que são tradutoras e incorporadoras de valores partilhados, de sentidos existentes face a um conjunto de práticas (CONDE, 1994). ...
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É conhecido o interesse das biografias musicais. Para além de serem o móbil para o desenvolvimento de muitos trabalhos de investigação, são fundamentais para a consolidação dos consumos musicais e para a própria sedimentação dos pilares da indústria musical, do star system e da pop music. Ao abordarmos a história de vida de João Peste, músico e performer português de um relevante projeto musical na área do pop alternativo, procuramos salientar que o objeto de estudo da sociologia não é, desde logo, o artista singular nem a relação entre o artista e a sua escola e entourage, mas o conjunto das relações objetivas e interacionais entre o agente cultural e outros agentes culturais envolvidos na produção do valor social da obra (críticos, jornalistas, promotores, managers, etc.). A abordagem deste artista e da sua obra prende-se, neste contexto, com a resposta à questão: “quem afinal cria os criadores” na pop arte?
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This blog tells the story of my 45-year on-off love affair with prog rock band Genesis: https://www.willymaley.scot/2021/10/29/last-suppers-ready-or-i-know-what-i-like-about-genesis/
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and Keywords This chapter discusses the evolution of punk in Russia since its inception at the end of the 1970s. It pays particular attention to the changing perception of class belonging and the political engagement of the punk scene in Russia. Whereas in the West punk was a politi cal movement closely associated with its working-class background, in the Soviet Union it emerged as a protest of middle-class intellectuals fighting for the right to be different and to stand out from the uniformed workers' and peasants' collective. This defined the par ticular stand of early Russian punk toward the genre's social engagement and political appeal. Working-classness and political commitment-initial conditions of punk identity in the West-became something early Russian punk was positioned against. The dramatic transformation of Russian society over the following decades inevitably affected the cul tural ideology of Russian punk, and from the 1990s onward it had to find its place and de fend its significant difference amid the realities of "wild" neoliberal capitalism. The chap ter shows how in Russia punk evolved from being a highly individualistic and apolitical practice to one of the most radical and politically committed scenes, closely affiliated with other struggles on the Left.
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This chapter aims to construct a theoretical framework to be able to develop analyses of critique and popular culture, and more specifically of the critique expressed in and by Manic Street Preachers releases. This is done with help of the ideas of German philosopher and social critic Theodor W. Adorno. By exploring the latter’s notion of the ‘windowless monad’, it is shown that his writings present a compelling notion of the critical artwork as both autonomous and reflective: as both distanced from the social context in which it is embedded and, paradoxically, as critically reflecting on the impossibility of creating this distance. The chapter then shows why popular music, according to Adorno, cannot constitute windowless monads: it is too directly embedded in and influenced by standardising social and economic structures to resist the influence of these structures and to criticise them. Following an exploration of the many ways in which authors and artists have responded to Adorno’s critique, it is argued that it is impossible to defend the critical power of popular music completely within the theory of Adorno. However, the chapter then suggests a different strategy is possible: using several ideas developed by Adorno to show what happens within certain popular music releases. This strategy is substantiated by developing a notion of the ‘critical model’ with help of Adorno’s ideas, which refers to the specific way in which an artwork struggles with creating the above-mentioned standards of autonomy and reflection. More specifically, such a model revolves around the attempt to criticise a context of which the critic herself forms part, and that is rejected by this same critic as completely false. Adorno’s notion of the ‘critical model’, it is concluded, can be used to show what Manic Street Preachers releases aim to do, even though they themselves would be rejected by Adorno as well.
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The importance of (sub)cultures presence in specific territories or contexts is well known, and has merited relevant research. This paper focuses on the metropolitan light rail system – the subway – in their lines, entries-exit zones, and vehicles as they were appropriated by the punk movement. We will first and foremost analyze the city of São Paulo, between 1975 and 1985, key moments when both the first punk bands and the first subway lines were beginning to develop, as well as drawing parallels with the situation in Lisbon at the same time.
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