Friday, March 24, 2006

"Pretty Vacant"

History plays funny tricks on us all. From the safe distance of a decade or two, our perspective seems to slip sideways, so that we view major events a little from the side, rather than seeing them as they were at the time - up front, wide and tall and long, in full relief.
This is why I think the era of punk rock has slipped from being, as it was seen at the time, a threat to civilization as we know it and a disgusting boil on the face of the entertainment industry, to a charming little sideshow when young people played at being snotty-nosed dropouts.
But anyone who remembers the newspaper headlines at the time will have no problem remembering the shock, the confidence, the blast of fresh air, the extravagance, the clearing away of the old debris, that punk represented.
This song for me encapsulates the moment when punk first arrived on our doorstep. Oh yes, it had been breeding for a while in places like CBGB's in New York or the 101 Club in London, but "Pretty Vacant" brought punk to the masses.
The song begins like a crackling Tannoy announcement, a clearing of the throat - the distorted guitar intro, the tribal drums (later used to such good effect by Adam & the Ants) kick in, before we're held up against a wall by John Lydon's bored, sneering voice. His voice was the real aural image of the Pistols: despite their best efforts, Cook and Jones were not much more than your average pub rock band, but Lydon's voice was another thing altogether.
And the lyrics! When had we ever heard a song using lines like: "There’s no point in asking us you’ll get no reply", "Oh don’t pretend cos I don’t care", "I got no reason it's too all much"... and the immortal shout of "And we don't care!"
It was a manifesto for the bored, the disenchanted and the pissed-off. A lot of punk bands -- the Sex Pistols included -- tried deliberately to shock, but very few of them (The Clash, the Stranglers) had the wit to write songs that shocked but that also actually described things as they were at the arse-end of the 1970s.
Seen from the safe distance of 27 years, punk may not seem like a lot compared to the thugocracy of rap or the pubescent porn of Cristina Aguilera et al, but at the time it was an earthquake, and nothing since then has moved the goalposts with quite the same deliberate, violent determination.

1 comment:

Cocaine Jesus said...

AMEN to that.