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Penny Rimbaud on How Crass Nearly Started World War III

The UK government just released formerly classified documents detailing the time Margaret Thatcher and the CIA got confused and thought a fake telephone call invented by Crass was a piece of Soviet propaganda. This is what the seminal punk band's...

Portrait by David Titlow

Official UK government documents have just been released regarding one of the best things ever done by the only real punk band ever, Crass.

Basically, in 1982, when the rest of punk had started playing sax, Crass made this piece of subversive décollage, splicing together recordings of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to create a fake phone call between the conservative übermenschen.


Here's Crass founder Penny Rimbaud explaining the whole story to VICE back in 2004:

"We wanted to come up with something which might get rid of Thatcher. It was just after the Falklands charade, when she was about to get re-elected. We were told something we knew could seriously dent the Thatcher Empire. Allegedly, the Navy had allowed HMS Sheffield to be blown out of the water by not informing them that an incoming Exocet missile had been picked up on the radar. The other three boats in the grouping were informed and took defensive action. Why? Because one of the ships was the Invincible and on board was Prince Andrew. Given that the information was classified, we decided the only way to make it public was to fake a telephone conversation between Thatcher and Reagan.

"We edited bits and pieces from speeches made by the two of them, creating a conversation which included all the details of the Sheffield. We then sent out tapes to all the major European newspapers, but nothing happened. Thatcher was re-elected, but then, six months down the line, the US State Department announced that they were in possession of KGB tapes 'produced to destroy democracy as we know it.'

"It soon became obvious that it was our tape they were talking about. It was frightening. A bunch of anarchist jokers sparking off a world war? Anyway, the same KGB story eventually broke in the British press and it wasn't long before the Observer got in touch with us, asking whether we knew anything about the tapes. It was unbelievable. The whole operation had been carried out in absolute secrecy, but somehow or other they'd managed to pin it onto us. After a gruelling day of negotiations, we agreed to admit responsibility if they would print the Sheffield details in their article, which, true to their word, they did.


"We did our best to expose the story but even now it's an issue which has never really been given full and proper investigation."

The official documents that were released aren't not wildly revelatory, but they do prove that Margaret Thatcher spent at least a small part of 1983 reading about Crass—something she has in common with most of the 45-year-old punks you see throwing their cider cans at Pret a Manger in Kentish Town. [American editor's note to other Americans: We don't know what this means either but we're assured it makes sense. Just go with it.]

You can read the rest of the papers here.

Anyway, as funny as it is to nearly start WWIII, it's arguably not the finest Situationist dump Crass have ever taken on society. That would have to be the time they gave away a version of a song from their album Penis Envy with a teen girl magazine called Loving. Here's Penny Rimbaud explaining that story:

"We were recording an album called Penis Envy, the last track of which was 'Lipstick On Your Penis' based on the old standard 'Lipstick On Your Collar.' Penis Envy was fronted by the women of the band, it was a very feminist album and 'Lipstick' was about the institution of marriage being little more than prostitution. Having recorded that track, we realized it would almost certainly lead to a copyright prosecution, so we decided to completely rewrite the lyrics. What we ended up with was so convincingly schmaltzy that we had the idea of trying to sell it to a teenage romance magazine called Loving. It was one of those magazines which feeds lies to young girls, sets them up with ludicrously impossible fantasies which they can't follow, won't follow, and don't follow. Magazines like that just create heartache, they remove young people from themselves, set them up to be knocked down.

"Anyway, we called in at Loving's IPC offices as Creative Recordings and Sound Services (CRASS) and said, 'We've just made this recording and think it would be suitable for your publication.' They jumped at it, saying, 'It's great, fantastic. We're about to do a special brides [bribes] issue. How about us doing it as a free flexi?' Which is precisely what it became. They advertised it as 'Our Wedding'—an 'absolute must for your wedding day.'

"They'd bought it hook, line, and stinker, but the lyrics were frightful, banal shit about the social fantasy of marriage, you know, things like never looking at other girls or guys once you've fallen for it. It was total rubbish, but they happily gave it away with their magazine. Now, what kind of loving is that? Shortly afterwards a friend in Fleet Street exposed the scam and the Star printed the glorious headline 'Band of Hate's Loving Message.' I think there were a few sackings at Loving magazine."