Monday, March 26

Pretty Vacant

In comments to the last post, Alex called me out on my nomination of the Sex Pistols as the "Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated". I wanted to craft a short pithy response, but I don't do pithy particularly well (snarky? rude? condescending? Oh, I can do that). So in my attempt to justify my choice, I ended up with something that seemed a bit much for a comment box.

First, some personal history. I'm too young to have any concurrent memories of the class of '77 (at 4 1/2 I was all about Batman). Add in the fact that I'm not British, and the very particular cultural and social references the Pistols make don't translate. As a topper, I grew up in a rural/suburban setting and the "disaffected urban youth" identifier doesn't carry any significance.

Bereft of this ancillary weight, I have only the music – Never Mind The Bollocks and a few scattered singles (I don't hold the continued desecration of the corpse of their short career against them). What to make of it; a few songs I really like, namely "Bodies" and "E.M.I."; a few I don't mind, say "Pretty Vacant" and their Stooge-lite version of "No Fun"; the might-have-been-revolutionary-now-not-so-much-fun-even of "God Save The Queen" and "Anarchy In The U.K." (both of which are innocuous), and stuff I can't remember because I didn't care enough to pay attention.

Culturally, I've read about their importance, and understand it as an historic truth. The two Julian Temple films, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury, are both really interesting documents, and really hammer home the non-musical importance of the Pistols; but nothing I've seen, read or heard makes me understand the importance of their music. It really wasn't about the music, was it? How can it be, when the Stooges and Ramones did it better before, the Clash did it better at the same time, and soon thereafter the Dead Kennedys took it further than little Johnny Lydon and company (as did little Johnny with PiL, the much, much better band)? I understand that the Clash and the DKs wouldn't have existed without the Pistols, but that's further proof of their importance to the musical culture, not their music's worth on it's own.

I don't see how they can't be part of the Inaugural Class of the Academy of the Overrated based solely on the 40-odd minutes of mid-tempo mediocrity that they released in their short lifespan. Their historic import will always be there; an inarguably important band for what they did, not for what they put on tape.

1 comment:

Ian said...

I really like "Anarchy in the UK" as a song, and have since I was far too young to get it's cultural significance.