At the time I really didn’t get punk rock. It was too raw and unsophisticated for me. And despite my recent interest in the sound of the Sex Pistols’ records I still feel that punk in general represented a move backwards, that culturally it was a retrogressive step. Contrast this with the much maligned progressive-rock which embodied older notions of excellence, progress, elitism even. With punk anyone could. With progressive only the very gifted could. No prizes for which of these would hold sway.
It’s easy to draw a parallel in the world. There is a distinct immaturity about the populace now. It is reluctant to maintain traditional concepts of development and growth. Excellence as a virtue is all but abandoned in the narrative. Virtue itself is hardly used as a meaningful term. Historically, culture implied something elevated or intellectual; now a culture refers to any kind of collective activity even if debauched. We abandon higher purpose in favour of acquisition, consumption, greed and immediacy. Speed is good too. Anyone who wants it can have it and they want it now; not after ten years of struggle and sacrifice; not after painful mastery of technique; not after careful study of past masters - but now!! Minimum cost, maximum return. That’s the ethos.
Punk was consistent with this. It was immature; it basked in a spirit of nihilistic rebellion; it was primitive, elemental and obnoxious; it behaved liked a deviant teenager determined to hell-raise. Temperamentally, it was more in touch with the emergent world than prog. Prog is like the great Shakespearian epic. Punk is reality television (and Johnny Rotten gets to bite the cherry again).
With immaturity centre stage our society veers towards diminished accountability. The individuals in it seek to do no more than they absolutely have to for their own end. Everything else is somebody else’s job. Blame is preferred to responsibility. The average person is increasingly stuck in an adolescent loop, perpetually stunted.
I think it’s a reasonable parallel to make between punk values and the way we live now. I’m certainly no apologist for the old society. I was pleased to see its passing but it is being replaced with something little better if at all, and that’s a huge disappointment.
I’m a populist in the appreciation of music. I think there is something essential about whatever the current thing is. Music should be judged for its relevance before anything else, and ultimately judged by majority. But I believe it should be created in an elite environment. Part of what gives it its value is the very fact that only a few can summon the requirement. Music should be elitist at the creative edge. That only a few can is what makes it interesting to the wider world. If everyone could, then what’s the big deal? In this sense prog was closer to the essence than punk.
prog is a great Shakespearian epic, punk is reality television
PUNK & PROG
music • 10.01.03