[28.10.06] [Andrew Gallix]
ONE HUNDRED PUNKS RULE: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY DELUXE
3:AM: Where did this idea of giving "a face to the unknown soldiers of punk rock" come from?
JD: These people had never been acknowledged before, and it's a simple equation, no audience = no show. If none of the "fans" had believed in it, Punk Rock would have died in a packet in a lavatory; the bands, clothiers, promoters etc would have had very little meaning. The "what is Punk Rock?" argument still rages, and it's a very simple answer: it's the Punks themselves. I wanted something on this 30th anniversary, to come from within. Pick up any magazine today, be it Gardener's Weekly, Granny's Own or the most trendy music mag, and it's almost impossible to tell the difference, they all seem to come from the same DTP package, and every single of them in these next 2 years will be doing a "Punk special", telling us our own history. I wanted to do something with the original get-off-your-arse spirit, and the Punks themselves had become marginalized, forgotten. You have to remember: it was very dangerous being that way in those times. The stories are not just from the cities, but small towns and villages. They didn't get paid either; it truly was a passion. I lost someone who was very dear to me in 1979, and then again in 2005, both punk rockers, and wanted to do something in their memory, and it occurred to me that all my fellow punk rockers would know someone that for one reason or another didn't make it this far and -- bang! -- 100 Punks was born.
3:AM: I understand that the initial idea was to collect 100 photo booth pictures in 100 days: how did you go about collecting them?
JD: It had to be done at good old Punk Rock speed, so I used the reign of the Roxy Club as my deadline -- its first run as a club was a mythical 100 days. A picture a day. I had one or two old ones, most had gone firewards, but it struck me that others must have them, in the back of drawers, scrapbooks, in the attic. So I asked local newspapers to run a "Were you a punk?" article, asking for them. Also, Punk 77, Trakmarx, Punk and OI, and the God Save the Sex Pistols websites, were very helpful. I set up a website for the project, and after a slow first week, they flooded in, from all over the world (a lot of these people had emigrated). The result was that I was able to complete the pictures in 70 days, working roughly 14 hours a day, I ate, slept, drank and dreamt 100 Punks. Now I have over 100 living with me.
3:AM: The pictures have been Warholised, as it were: who did that and how?
JD: Interesting parallel, as I would like these subjects to have quite a long 15 minutes of fame. They all look quite heroic to me. Well, initially, I wanted to screenprint them all (the whole project has been funded by the T-shirts I make) but I realised that this would take too long and be cost prohibitive -- the process of making 100 2-feet-by-3-feet pictures was going to be expensive enough. Also, I really wanted it to be something, like punk, that anyone could do if they wanted to. Utilising materials and tools that anyone could have access to, if you use your noodle. I thought back to how I saw the world in those days, of how I made my own clothes and posters etc, and it was vibrant, day-glo...alive and large. So I did colour separations on a computer, printed that out, over printed, then reverse printed a screenprint version onto acetate, blew the whole thing up, added a little paint and grime, then assembled the buggers with lashings of gaffer tape. The end result looking like a cross between X-Ray Spex world and screenprinting. Something that could be done at anytime, day or night, and also a one-man operation. A lot of the pictures came in, in a bad state of decay, after 30 years of obscurity. They were not at their best -- kind of like dogs with cloudy eyes -- so this was the perfect treatment for them, almost like bringing them back to life. It's been fantastic to do, I felt like I got to know every single person. Without a doubt, the single best, most fulfilling project I have ever done.
3:AM: In the presentation of the exhibition, you draw a parallel between photo booths and punk. Tell us more about this pleasing congruence between style and substance...
JD: Well, it just seemed the world was ripe for the DIY ethic in those days, the photo booths were beautifully calibrated to take great pictures, no matter what you did inside. Photocopy machines, give you this wonderful style, and it's at your fingertips. Dymotape, safety pins, the old (expensive) Letraset, even splattered typex and household paint, anything that moves! All fantastic stuff. I think a lot of it may have been a hangover from the war generation, the make-do-and-mend mindset. Unbranded, self-made stuff had more prestige then, it was a badge of honour to have made it yourself. What a brilliant thing, Punk: it was up to you how it looked, sounded and moved. The old necessity being the mother of invention attitude. Also, there was just no money about for young people to spend. Sadly the herd mentality is prevalent now, and it's the brand that's the new naked emperor, but things are cyclic, it'll come back.
3:AM: The way in which the portraits are exhibited is also in keeping with the spirit of punk. How do you organise your "art attacks", and what sort of response have you got so far?
JD: The organisation is very loose really: they go to the places they used to frequent, like Trafalgar Square. The church one, had to be slightly organised, just to gain access, but it was fantastic to see 60 of them, sat in the pews, looking quite a lot like an old school assembly, shuffling, bored and flicking the Vs! These are ongoing though, and if anyone wants to help take the full 100 up the King's Road, it's going to happen. The reaction is quite good really, people are interested, and the Punks still cause a bit of unease with the authorities. The Police moved us on very quickly from Buckingham Palace as did the heritage people at Nelson's pad, funny that, you can put your dirty feet all over those lions, but set up some pictures... They were accepted well in Devon in the woods, by the beach, and I took them on a steam train and a boat cruise there. They will also appear soon at film premieres, in fact, anywhere they are not invited. So if anyone wants to help out, contact me.
3:AM: How did Soo Catwoman come to be involved? What is she up to these days?
JD: Soo is a wonderful person, just how you would think -- a true individual, warm, kind, super smart, and with a full-on bullshit detector! I ran the concept by her and she loved the reasons and execution of it. She was very supportive and we chewed some ideas back and forth. I never really wavered about the validity of the project, but I must say her love and support has been a bedrock to the 100 Punks. She helped me with the church art attack, and made it all so much easier than it could have been She's been like a sister to me. Soo was kind enough to write a fabulous foreword for the book of this that I'm hoping to get published, It's quite breathtaking, her writing, and really takes you back to that pre-punk time. She's up to many things, it's not for me to speak for her, but I can tell you, she's very happy, healthy, beautiful and with some fantastic things in the pipeline.
3:AM: Are any of the "unknown soldiers of punk rock" less unknown than others?
JD: Kris Needs who edited Zigzag magazine has also played a great part in this. His enthusiasm for the project really gave me a good kick in the pants, I used to read his writing when I was a mini punk, and I can't thank him enough, for the energy and encouragement, he has also contributed a foreword, plus his picture was a good un! John Robb also helped, Rat Scabies spread the word a bit, Andy Blade and Dee Generate have been great, so many have helped, but I guess what you are asking is about celebrity punk fans -- the Jonathan Rosses and Phil Jupituses of the world. Sadly, those people are so mired in the world of celebrity, that unless they happen to be your cousins, they are impossible to get hold of with out going through agents etc, negotiating rights and fees, and that's pretty much the antithesis of what this is about, but if they read this and wish to be included...
3:AM: The pictures cover a pretty long period -- from the origins to 1984. Why did you choose 1984 as the cut-off point? I presume there are fewer pictures from the very early days, is that right?
JD: I chose 1975 as the starting point because I wanted to show the variety of styles that were smashed together, from the glam (almost Rocky Horror) to Teddy styles and the influence of gay culture, or terrace-type allegiances. How the participants looked before the Punk Rock tag was placed on it. A lot look quite tame by today's standards, but it took a lot of guts to even have a slight dash of colour about you then. The most represented years are in fact 1977-79, that's just how it panned out, and the 80s make up the least. I chose 1984 as the cut-off point as it was the Orwellian year and the uniforms became black.
3:AM: The exhibition must highlight the way punk style developed (the appearance of mohicans, for instance) and its transformation into a uniform (studded leather jackets etc).
JD: It does indeed, I always saw Punk Rock as a wake-up call and not a blueprint. It's fair to say that a uniform did evolve, not just in style, but also behaviour and sound, but it's all relevant if ,for one moment, it made you feel free and question things, then it did its job. The studded jackets I think came out of necessity, a kind of armour, as punk bashing became a national sport -- and we are talking about grown men, here, attacking scrawny teenagers of both sexes. Funny how now something once so despised by almost everyone is regarded as one our greatest cultural achievements and almost a national treasure. We're in the V & A for gawds sake! I prefer the DIY look we had, but must say that if the later forms of punk made you feel alive and gave some sense of reason and change, then I can only applaud it. Punk Rockers are outsiders, not outcasts.
3:AM: Which pictures are your favourites? Did you include a picture of yourself in the exhibition?
JD: I truly like them all, I wasn't sent a single duff one. I like them for different reasons, for example, Gaye Advert and TV smith sent me their passport photos from the time, and I love that, the actual passports that went through customs. You can see the embossing on them. Others look sad. I love the Gunn sisters, who just look downright naughty! Or the wondrous Pauline Beck, she looks like the girlfriend we all wished we had at the time -- she looks as though she would teach you something. Some are very tender: Zillah and Gem Stone look like that, Zillah pulling Gem's nose. One boy took his kitten into the booth with him , his name was Spider and the kitten's name is Oi. Spider! Fantastic! Or the Southend crews that packed themselves in so tightly, four or five to a booth. The ones where there is a little fella tagging along with his older mates, or the boys that went into the booth, drunk and on poppers after being dumped by their girlfriends... All of human life is in there, as the saying goes. They show new friendships and haircuts, lost loves, hopes and dreams and at the end of it all a lot of fun and creativity. There is a picture of me in there, I am punk Number 101 as it's not a photo booth picture: I lost all those over the years. But it means something to me. It's taken with my great aunt, in a garden in 78. I'm wearing my best Destroy shirt, all swastika and beheaded queen, and she in her granny attire, but our arms are linked and the gulf between us is nil, we are just people. Punks do love their grannies.
3:AM: How did you get involved in punk and how important has it been for you?
JD: My story is similar to a thousand others. Right time, right place, right situation. I had a very abusive, tortuous stepfather and a mother who wouldn't or couldn't listen. I had been brought up too well when my father was alive, and was very quiet and respectful of adults. The adult world seemed to be grooming me to become an intolerant, belligerent, bigoted nasty piece of work. Suddenly, in 1976, a lifeline was thrown to me in the form of Punk Rock, and I realised I could say no, question things. There was no turning back. I was in a newsagent, looking for comics, and these two odd magazines jumped out at me, one was Zigzag and the other was Sniffin Glue. I was fascinated, and went to buy them, but the lady whose shop it was, was horrified and swore blind that they were not hers, so I could have them for free. Someone had been reverse shoplifting, to turn someone else on. It would have happened anyway, but it was a fast track to my own autonomy and I will be forever grateful for that. Instead of being insular and bound to repeat the behaviour of my stepfather and the line-towers, I was able to concentrate on the sound and look of something new, a personal revolution. It wasn't me that was wrong, I was just different, and there were many more like me. It was a liberation. It's remained with me all my life, and always will, the best kick start a kid could have. There is a bit of Punk Rock in everything I do: it's an unlimited form, ever-changing and all-encompassing. It imbues a certain sensibility -- that rules are to be revalued, to think outside of the box and confront and challenge. It allows you to make it all up, and try something new, to think and really run free. How important? As important as breathing.
3:AM: You used to be in a band -- China Doll -- whose name adorned many a leather jacket circa 1980...
JD: I don't know about the jackets, but I loved China Doll. No idea where the others are, but I'd like to know as they have all the stuff (recordings, pictures)! We were like so many others at the time, destined for nothing, having a great time of it, feeling like we meant something, then splitting up before our time. To be honest, I never realised that anyone did like us. Best way to describe us was Siouxsie and the Banshees with a male singer. I think our best times were had with the UK Subs in 81, nice guys and the gigs were rammed still. The demos we hawked around were engineered by one of the Lillywhite boys and recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport. That was as far as our fame got. Familiar story: just another punk band going nowhere. We bought our own tickets to that place, but I wouldn't change it for the world, I loved it! [Picture: China Doll in 1980. Johnny Deluxe is on the far left.]
3:AM: What have you been doing since those heady days?
JD: In the mid to late 80s, I moved to Los Angeles to carry on with music, and became involved with the US version of the Forbidden Planet comic bookshop, which was a lot of fun, as that comic book scene was going through its own punkification. I also did smart bars at the early LA raves, got caught up in the riots, did some bad telly, made and sold skulls to Universal and Paramount studios, and recorded an album with a certain heavy rocker, who shall remain nameless. Met some very strange and illegal people in the Nevada desert. I came back to London in 93 and became the stage manager at the Raymond Revue Bar in Soho. Since then, I've been periodically performing with the popular beat combo, Fist Fuck Deluxe and making naughty-but-nice T-shirts with Yes! Future! I love making something from nothing, long may it continue. Vive le Punk!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Andrew Gallix is 3:AM Magazine's Editor-in-Chief. He writes fiction, teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris and claims to live his life like a string of beads tossed from a frilly balcony. Check out HisSpace.