Corré’s bonfire of the punk vanities

Quite a few people have been expressing disgust at the supposed wastefulness of Joe Corré and his five million quid’s worth of punk gear pyrotechnics.

Yes, punk is back! He's going to pour petrol over the lot and VOOM! In place of expensive museum pieces there’ll just be a cloud of black smoke (and maybe the faint sound of cackling laughter down the long-since-gentrified back alleys of Holborn and Soho as the ghost of Malcolm McLaren registers the humour of it). Yeah, OK, it’s a funny old gesture. And it seems to be getting a lot of advance media coverage (more than it’s worth?), but, well, I guess it has a trace of something interesting to it. Burn, baby burn.

First off, though, how many tatty old muslin Destroy shirts and bondage trousers must Corré have stashed in his attic if they’re really worth £5m? Bloody crates of them. All that unsold Sex stock, eh?

I've seen some people complaining that instead of torching his punk stash Corré should ... wait for it ... send the clothes to refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. Er, right. It’s McLaren and Westwood’s son who should help the freezing refugees in northern France, not the combined state exchequers of two of the richest nations on earth.

No, if Corré wants to burn his punk gear, let him. It is his stuff after all. Like Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty with their burning of £1m, Corré’s “extravagantly futile gesture of provocation” might be strictly nonsensical and self-defeating, but that ... doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

As to whether it’s a meaningful or in any way necessary riposte to the heritagisation of Punk London (“40 Years of Subversive Culture”) is maybe another matter. You might say: why bother? It’s a rather over-obvious target isn’t it? And why pin it all on Punk London and the 40th anniversary nonsense? It’s not just this year. Since when wasn’t punk an inglorious mess of hype and image-retailing? The Sex Pistols themselves were initially another type of boy band designed to help market over-priced clothes. Much of the energy and self-creation of the early punk scene was accidental, a by-product of the involvement of characters like John Lydon and the (genuinely anarchic) Steve Jones.

Shoppers seen bargain-hunting for punk gear in Carnaby Street in 1976

Yes, maybe put the fire-lighters away and cool down a bit Mr Corré. How much does it really matter if the mainstream media and corporate London exploits and lays waste to the supposedly sacred history of punk? For Boris Johnson and like-minded chancers, punk will always get reduced to a few snatches of Anarchy and tired old images of a lip-curling Sid Vicious. So be it. Punk’s real value - musically, artistically, attitudinally - is meanwhile in evidence at DIY gigs most weekends in places like Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham (or Williamsburg, or Houston, or the Bay Area, SF).

As Richard Hell says, punk rock wasn’t ever one band, one song or one set of codified behaviours. To use the old cliché, punk is an attitude, and it can be deadly serious (the Sex Pistols at their most gut-wrenching, the jarring vocals on PiL’s Theme) or light-hearted/satirical (TV Personalities, Wire, Damned), or quite a few other things. It can also mutate into superbly aggressive 80s-90s US hardcore, noughties breakcore, the modern grindcore scene or excellent contemporary noise bands like No Form. Dig it kids!

No, maybe Joe Corré needs to stop poring over the websites of minor annoyances like Punk London, put away the Seditionaries dressing-up box and ... go to see a few gigs. It’ll restore his faith. But if he’s dead-set on his bonfire of the punk vanities, he should definitely throw a few images of the dear old Queen herself onto the pyre. It would at least have a savour of McLarenesque provocation.

And by the way … something even older than punk and an even bigger institution in Britain is of course Corrie, aka Coronation Street! How fitting that McLaren and Westwood’s son’s own name should reflect that, a reminder of all that’s cosy and stifling in British cultural life as well as a nod toward the antics of the Sex Pistols in that jubilee year 1977.

A tourist-ified punk (what you might call Carnaby Street punk) has long since become a sort of cosy soap opera, one that “stylists” and marketeers can tap into whenever they’re short of inspiration. And punk practitioners themselves saw this coming (Part Time Punks, How Much Longer). Yes, hyper-self-reflexive and far more knowing than the stereotypes usually suggest, punk was always about fun as well as aesthetics and social comment.

I reckon Mr Corré should soundtrack his punk auto-da-fé with a certain Skids song, TV Stars, the B-side to their punk-pop hit Into The Valley. Altogether now: “Ena Sharples, David Hunter / Meg Mortimer, Stanely Ogden / ALBERT TACKLOCK, ALBERT TACKLOCK …”


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