By Johnny Marr.
‘Here’s a chord, here’s another, here’s a third . . . now go and form a band’.
This was the seminal phrase and call to arms from the pages of punk rock’s most important fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. This simple handwritten instruction was the perfect illustration of the youth’s new manifesto: discard the outdated establishment bullshit, go out and be creative, and never mind the bollocks.
The punk movement began as a covert reaction to the uninspired drabness of the UK’s straight culture; it was sharp and funny and switched on. It was about excitement and subversion and being young. But mostly it was about new ideas.
The young and inspired put these new ideas out in an explosion of expression and creativity as they formed new kinds of bands, dressed in their own way (with their own new identities to match). They opened shops and clubs, creating an entirely new kind of lifestyle and aesthetic. Some of them became writers and journalists, some started their own fanzines, and some wrote lyrics.
So much has been said about punk’s revolution in music and fashion that the story of its revolution via the printed word has been overlooked.
There had always been a huge aspect of punk informed by literary culture; Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell started out as young poets and essayists, with the former taking his name from the French symbolist poet and Hell taking his attitude and image (now credited as the invention of the punk look) from Arthur Rimbaud.
The band who are widely regarded as the first ever punk rock group got their name and greatest song from books – The Velvet Underground was a paperback by Michael Leigh and of course ‘Venus in Furs’ was inspired by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s book of the same name.
UK bands too looked on bookshelves for inspiration, with Generation X taking their name from a sixties paperback and the works of Guy Debord and the seminal Situationist International providing some much needed political rhetoric for Malcolm McLaren and The Clash.
The music press too, crucial in spreading the word to the soon-to-be-converted, had never before been more important as a new generation of writers engaged in ousting not only redundant bands but also the old guard of hacks who were responsible for putting those dull stars up in the cosmos in the first place. Every week claimed new blood, but most importantly it brought new creation, bringing with its words and pictures a new creed, new ways, and new stories.
There were stories about the Notting Hill riots, there were stories about Bored Teenagers and there were stories about Being Stranded. There were stories about Outdoor Miners and Germ Free Adolescents and Orgasm Addicts.
All punk was about a story. It was about living the story in your own head, good or bad. Whether that story was fact or fiction didn’t matter, as long as it wasn’t boring.
Punk Fiction brings together stories with the punk spirit in the hope that they might inspire, provoke or simply entertain, as punk did: ‘Here’s a song, here’s another, here’s a third . . . now go and write a story.’
So it goes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Johnny Marr is a musician born in Manchester, best known for his role in one of the UK’s most influential bands of all time, The Smiths. He went on to form Electronic with New Order’s Bernard Sumner and has worked with The Pretenders, The The, Modest Mouse, Johnny Marr & The Healers. He is now a member of The Cribs.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, May 11th, 2009.