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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Punk is dead, long live Penny Rimbaud

There was a good appreciation of Crass' The Feeding Of The 5,000 in The Wire magazine the other month where the writer made the interesting point that unlike (say) the Sex Pistols, Crass' scratchy hostility has, over the years, proven reistant to co-option into the cosy rock pantheon. So, while Rotten's crew are now immortalised as "classic" rock and commentators will unhesitatingly trace a line from Hendrix through the Sex Pistols to Nirvana and the White Stripes, Crass still sound unpleasant and untameable.

I get the point. And it's true that their trebly guitars and shouty faux-punk vocals are deliberately abrasive. But, well, nothing's truly beyond the pale in music. (Is it?)

Compared, for example, to the guttural growl of contemporary grindcore, Crass sound relatively conventional to me. Recognisable tunes, lyrics, and all that. Jeffrey Lewis' excellent 12 Crass Songs LP makes this point perfectly, with its cheery indie-folk reworkings of Big A, Little A, Banned From The Roxy and those other timeless anarchist ditties.

About five years ago I caught a nice spoken-word/poetry set from Crass' drummer Penny Rimbaud. Nothing "hostile" about this - still less rock 'n' roll. Instead, it was a hushed affair with the audience hanging on to his little poems and political rants as if they were at a Waterstones author reading. Mind you, he's still happily raging against the machine (Blair, the Iraq war etc). Give me Penny over iconic rock "rebels" like Kurt or Johnny any day.

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