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REVIEW: THE ENGLAND’S DREAMING TAPES – JON SAVAGE

FOR DISCORDER MAGAZINE

Jon Savage’s The England’s Dreaming Tapes is the quintessential literary companion to any punk devotee or music zealot prepared to venture into the filth and fury of this genre’s seminal history. The book contains hundreds of hours of interviews that Savage conducted when researching his 1991 book England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond—which has been heralded worldwide as the definite history of the UK punk revolution.

This collection of manuscripts includes interviews with all four original members of the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer of the Clash, Captain Sensible of the Damned, Adam Ant, Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees to name a few.

In his introduction, Savage points out that the interviews were taped in the late ’80s, a time when punk was only a decade old, and so “untainted by layers of myth and historiography.” At times the manuscript really drives this home, especially in Glen Matlock’s interview. The Sex Pistols’ bassist recalls first hearing the fast sound of the Ramones, but insists they never tried to follow suit. “That was the difference between us and the other punk bands,” he said. “‘Anarchy’ is strident, but because we weren’t rushing through it, it gives it more power.” Full of pithy, honest one-liners and moments of sober sincerity, the book is riddled with personal confessions and reflections of a time that was incendiary to say the least.

John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, was quite arguably the voice of his generation. The thin, sinewy, yet strangely baby-faced lyricist and frontman of the Sex Pistols publicly denounced authority, insulted the Queen and sang about cunnilingus to a population bent on killing off the conservative sensibilities that had its stronghold on modern society for too long. Growing increasingly controversial in his old age, Rotten is something of a caricature of his former self, but in his interview he’s somewhat immortalized in the way we’d all like to remember him.

Savage notes in the interview’s preface that it took nearly a year of negotiations with Rotten’s agent before a meeting time was established. Sure to find his interview subject stubborn and tight-lipped, Savage’s cool, relatable conversation style opened up even the most difficult and narcissistic of punk characters. Borderline therapeutic in its delivery, Rotten admits the creative difficulties he shared with Matlock. “He wanted that kind of innocence, and I’m sorry, I was completely the other way,” Rotten said.  “I saw the Sex Pistols as something completely guilt-ridden. You know, the kids want misery, they want death. They want threatening noises, because that shakes you out of your apathy.”

Savage’s 750+ page book fits nicely in a bag pack, purse or fancy attachée. This is the kind of literary gift that truly reveals not only the music that typified and fuelled a generation of rebels and social dissidents, but it sheds light on the politics, fashion and counter-culture attitude of this time in music history.

les pistolets de sexe

 

There’ll Always be an England

Sex Pistols: Live From Brixton Academy

a film by Julien Temple

Fremantle Media Enterprises

“We had a manager once too, and he was a cunt.”

It’s one of those bands that you absolutely must understand in order to form some reasonable opinions about the history of punk music from the tail end of the 1970’s to the present day.  The Sex Pistols have been reputed as the bombastic, chaotic, and non-conformist group who set a whole new wave of classic musical groups to flourish under this new set of anti-social values. While musically, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and singer John Lydon can bring back the magic and spite of the anarchistic punk revolution, Sid Vicious’ absence truly does create a gap in their otherwise seamless performance.  

Without Vicious’ somehow graceful self-loathing, Lydon’s boisterous tendencies to over-dramatize just make him look like a tired caricature of his former self. At the same time though, Julien Temple’s production of the concert highlights the ultimate of an era that defined itself by thriving in an anti-social climate.

the pistols live at brixton academy
the pistols live at brixton academy

The film begins quasi-documentary in style, showing the scores of punks waiting anxiously to get into the Brixton Academy venue. Who would ever go to a Sex Pistols show? This question is self-referential. Aged, balding, overweight alongside a younger, skinny generation of punks who’s only pre-requisites are studded leather and an anarchistic attitude. Rotten describes how a Sex Pistols show attracts “all races, all creeds, people of all colours. So long as their working class I’ll have it.”

Frontman and iconoclastic punk Johnny Rotten (a.k.a. John Lydon) humbly thanks the crowd of belligerent rebels for coming to the “There’ll Always be an England Tour,” and defiantly exclaims that as long as the band lives, there’ll always be a “fucking England.”

The band started off the show with a blistering rendition of the song “Pretty Vacant” from their one and only ever recorded album Never Mind the Bollocks (1977). All the songs are complimented by a rally-like chanting from the predominantly white crowd who knows every single lyric, giving it an ominous, deep vocal glow. Temple takes artistic license during the song “Submission” by giving the camera a watery, green translucence which adds a further dimension of filth around a song about cunnilingus.

a caricature of his former glory?
john lydon: a caricature of his former glory?

To add even further on the dimensions of filth which the Sex Pistols thrive on, here is a list of Lydon’s expressions which he peppered through the set breaks on the DVD. Please bear in mind that this list is but a mere sample of offensive statements which Lydon could surely surpass:

“I’m a very pretty pink cunt”

“I’ve forgotten the fucking words, haven’t I?”

“I’m a fat British bastard”

“You know, all you blokes and girls, want to suck on my nipples!”

“Who’s the biggest fucking cunt? fucking champagne socialists, fucking catastrophe”

and of course

“It’s the eye of the pussy”

The Sex Pistols formed in 1975 when John Lydon was at the sweet and suggestible age of 17. Formerly, the original members were in a band named The Strand dated from 1973, but two years later evolved upon Lydon’s entrance. Together, the fourtet created what many have considered to be the first generational gap in rock music, characterized by boisterous, bombastic hard rock and a destructive, anti-social attitude. Rebelling against the hippy-rock, bell-bottomed, long-haired divergent social groups from the 1960’s 70’s, the Sex Pistols made their own fashion that consisted of KY-Jellied spiked hair, tattered clothing and Doc Martens boots.