I was 15 in 1977. An impressionable age where I had just realised that Donny wasn’t actually going to come and whisk me off me feet. I’d just had my first real broken heart – my first boyfriend had gone off with someone older with the same name as me and a leather jacket. She looked a bit like Suzy Quatro and I looked a bit like Marianne Faithful. Rock-not.
So, in many ways, I was ready for punk. I was rebelling against so many things. I clearly remember copying ‘The Scream’ and adding the caption ‘Money is the Root of All Evil’. I lived, by this time, in an ever-so-middle-class area where, as a working class teenager, I just didn’t fit in. All I really needed was a Che Guevara t-shirt and a beret and I would have found my fashion niche.
However, what I discovered were bin liners and tampax. Spray in hair dye and hair products. Jet black kohl. Safety pins. Red lipstick. So I made a plastic dress, wore the tampax and safety pins as earrings. I backcombed my hair and sprayed it blue and red, setting it with a full tin of hairspray. I even invented a safety pin that looked like it pireced my nose when it didn’t. I snarled and swore and had sex.
I smuggled a ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ LP into the house and when I heard my dad coming in I hid it under the sheepskin rug, smiling to myself as we all sat and watched Dallas, knowing it was still there. Of course, he found it and smashed it in two. Which only made me more rebellious.
I was aware of Malcolm and Vivienne even then, like two alternative parents watching over the development of my psyche. I loved music and fashion and had followed their styles and mimicked their facial expressions, internalising their look and metaphorically spitting it out at anyone in authority. I was convinced I was Debbie Harry’s twin sister as I whispered the words of ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’ into my then-boyfriends ear as we danced our teenage dance to adulthood. This continued until about 1980/81 when I started to dress more like Madonna’s early punk.
Despite my attachment to fashion and music, I still had time for politics. The sort of loosely felt politics that all intelligent young adults know are playing a part in their lives but don’t yet understand fully. All I knew was that I was my own person and I wouldn’t be pushed around. That I was strong. That I was an individual with sound values and that I would never ‘sell out’. As I grew older, had children and built a career, I became that authority that I had rebelled against for too long. As a parent and employer whether I liked it or not I was now ‘them’ in the ‘them and us’ scenario. I looked around, and all the people I had idolised were also leaders.
Malcolm was continuing to influence music and was omnipresent. Vivien was seriously into fashion politics, an icon of our time, over time. John Lydon went on Big Brother and made butter advertisements 🙂 All of these people endured and sat in the backgrounds of our lives, presenting us with an alternative view from what we ‘should’ be thinking. I recently smiled secretly when my eldest daughter showed me her latest purchase – a Vivienne Westwood basque. So the story continues generationally.
For me, this has played out in my basic intentions and allowed my to see both sides. I could have become even more embedded in the pink romantic world of love than I was already conditioned to in my early teens, but punk allowed me to be a person outside this construction; a place where the focus was off the conventional expectations and on to society. Ironically, punk engendered empathy. It’s terribly seductive to go for the materialistic side of everything at the expense of others, but punk, believe it or not, was also about fairness and equality. It was about ‘look at me, I’m different, but even so I deserve respect.’ It was about the ability to look at society and wave two fingers defiantly at conformity and the system. Punk extremism made good headlines and it became about drugs and spitting to the media, but the underlying message wasn’t lost on this ageing punk.
Inevitably, I had to live in the world, I had to pay my taxes, I had to have a home powered by nuclear energy, I had to watch as wars rage on, I had to eventually resort to flat shoes and my uses for safety pins, bin bags and tampax became more conventional. I could have become bitter about the empty message of punk as I fell back in line, yet I didn’t. I remained an individual and realised that even though there were issues I didn’t like in the world I could work within the system to add my own contribution in order to help keep it to keep them safe and fair for other people. Each day of my life I can see opportunities to ‘sell out’, usually for money but sometimes for ethics, opportunities where I would negate my values and forfeit my individual ethos. So far I haven’t, and I have my punk days to thank for this, the time when I learned to be different, to stand out and to not care about what everyone else thought, for no other reason than because I knew it was right.
Malcolm may be gone but punk still lives on and Vivienne’s designs still endure (like last year in Sex in the City) and the ethos of that era lives for me in a generation of people who are prepared to take part in society as individuals, and not necessarily for the money. People who challenge and are not afraid of change. People who look inwards for their ideals, not outwards. I’m happy with my enduring authenticity and with my difference.
Bye Malcolm and thanks.