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Stewart Home gave an interview for Lucy O’Brian at a recent conference on Punk. 3AM Bring You The Full Text Of The Interview


SH:"Hi Lucy. Okay, here are the answers to your questions. As you'll see, I don't readily agree with the assumptions your questions contain, so if this doesn't fit with the spin your piece requires then that's just the way it goes. I'm not trying to disappoint, since to do so would be merely to reproduce the most hackneyed punk sub-sub appropriated-avant-gardism (and I'd end up coming on like Patti Smith who seems to believe that artists are special people and she's one of them). However, I do have a position I've been developing for some time, and the assumptions implicit in your questions are pretty much at odds with this.

3AM: What are you speaking about at the conference?

SH:I'll be talking about how what we understand punk to be (or have been) changes over time but there are still some pretty bad understandings of what punk is or was. One might define punk subculturally or as a type of music (personally, I tend to view it as pop music), but regardless of this, the idea that punk was or is in some way radical is a non-starter. Since I understand punk to be a genre of music and genres have shifting parameters, what constitutes punk changes over time. For example, I argued in my book Cranked Up Really High: Genre Theory and Punk Rock (Codex 1995), that the Sex Pistols weren't a punk rock band both because these days they tend to appear in the rock rather than the punk sections of record shops (punk is a receeding object, it is about obscurity and being perceived as "underground" ,whereas the Sex Pistols joined the "mainstream" of the entertainment industry in 1976), and because musically Johnny Rotten's voice is not a monotone bark in the classic punk mould, indeed it is far too expressive to be a part of this genre. Also, the Pistols made bad boogie music (basically they were sad hard rock retreads, like Blue Cheer did it better, and likewise, classic Eddie Harris jazz funk platters from the mid-seventies like I Need Some Money shit all over the tiresome throughput of The Sex Pistols). If one was to accept the Pistols as punk, which I don't, then the idea that they were politically radical is also fairly bizarre. Apart from anything else, the band wore swastika T-shirts (Johnny Rotten had the destroy version, Sid Vicious a straight copy of the repulsive Nazi banner - and many of their camp followers including Jordan and Siouxsie Sioux wore swastika armbands). Clearly, this type of imagery was a way of selling records, rather than a means of realising true human community (i.e. disalienation). Likewise, it is difficult to take Anarchy In The UK as anything but empty posturing, anarchy means without a state, the UK is a state, this song title is an oxymoron (you could have Anarchy In The British Isles, or The World, but not in a state). That said, I also view anarchism as a problematic doctrine that historically has often shown itself to be anything but politically progressive - leaving aside the vicious anti-Semitic bile of anarchism's nineteenth-century founding fathers such as Proudhon and Bakunin, even the less unsavory big names of twentieth-century anarchism are problematic (heavily indebted to the views of the Dadaist Hugo Ball, Rudolf Rocker was into a romanticised neo-medievalism - and influenced by Nietzsche, Emma Goldman extolled "spiritual aristocracy" - hardly the stuff of progressive working class politics, indeed it would probably get you laughed out of the Quality Chop House). I'll also be contrasting other bad boogie merchants with fake "revolutionary" images like the MC5, to the more subversive and proletarian approach of classic "fun" punk bands like The Troggs (while simultaneously demonstrating that Trogg frontman Reg Presley's immersion in crop circle and UFO imaginaries links his cultural interventions to those of people like Sun Ra and George Clinton, who also splashed in the waters of black nationalism).

3AM:Why do you think '70s punk is still significant as a cultural force?

SH: I think punk is hyped up as being an ongoing cultural force by people who are nostalgic for their youth (or else have a career interest in the matter). I think seventies punk was pretty much a coda to the sixties, and pretty much all it did had already occured in the freak culture around groups like Third World War, The Deviants, Pink Fairies, The Edgar Broughton Band etc - or else pub rock, and a lot of "new wave" was repackaged pub rock in any case (Ian Dury and Elvis Costello merely being the most obvious examples). It is also important to remember that there were other musical forms just as big as punk in the late-seventies (northern soul, reggae, jazz funk, disco), but they are less attractive to many in positions of cultural power because they are more obviously outgrowths of what some might call Afro-American - but which I prefer to term after Paul Gilroy black Atlantic - culture. Punk too is a product of the black Atlantic, but the fact that in seventies punk there was a tendency not to syncopate bass guitar lines makes it sound more "white" because, amongst other things, "European" "classical" music suffers from a similar lack of rhythmic complexity (obviously race is culturally constructed, so I would emphasise that punk "appears" "white" to those with an unsophisticated understanding of these matters - i.e. most usually those who perceive themselves as "white", rather than those "blessed" with double-consciousness - I am not saying that punk "is" "white").

3AM:Do you think an academic conference is the right place for punk?

SH:Certainly, punk and the academy deserve each other, and besides, I haven't had any offers of payment for delivering lectures's on jazz funk classics like Bouncy Lady by Pleasure recently.

3AM:What did you personally 'learn' from punk? Memorable experiences?

SH:I think I was changing as a person when I got into punk. You change all the time and those changes are particularly noticeable in the early teenage years. I think I got into punk (and out of it) because I was changing. My involvement was a reflection of those changes, it was more I was changing than that punk changed me. I think a mistake a lot of people make is thinking punk changed them when actually they got into punk because they were changing (they get it the wrong way round) . If I'd been older it might have been the original mod scene or whatever that I'd got into. What I did learn from punk is that pop culture generally reproduces the values of the dominant society even if it projects itself as an "alternative" to it. I was never exclusively into punk, in the late-seventies I also used to like soul music, and the abuse I got from many punks I knew because of this might be described as bigotry. This certainly served to reinforce my opinion that popular culture can be just as problematic as "high" or "serious" culture. I think one of the things that really disgusted me about the punk subculture was the way I was always running into these morons who were boasting about how they were never going to change. Endlessly coming across conservativism of this type is one of the things that caused me to break with punk.

3AM:What do you feel about the fact that many former punks have adopted a laid-back 'hippy' lifestyle?

SH:I'm not convinced there is any need to make a distinction between punk and hippie (although the media image of punk comes more from the freak "revolutionary" end of sixties "counter-culture" epitomised for me by New York political groups like Black Mask and Up Against The Wall Motherfucker, rather than the peace and flowers aspects of it that pundits tended to emphasise from 1967 onwards). I think a lot of former punks have just got older, but it's still a shame they haven't all grown up. There is a place for infantilism in this world, but it should be deployed tactically and not as a life-style choice. Personally, to me, now seems like a good time for a lot of former punks to embrace Afro-Celtic theory (the idea that the Celts were African, which is the basis on which "Celts" were allowed to join the Moorish Science Temple an early black nationalist outfit, of which Nation Of Islam is an offshoot) and declare themselves black muslims. A bunch of Afro-Celt former "punx" declaring themselves to be black nationalists might do more for the cause of world peace right now than "laid-back life-styles". It is necessary to highlight the contradictions of capitalism, but most punks never really seemed to understand that there is a difference between dualism and dialectics. >

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