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You're Not Punk

Punk as I knew it has a political purpose. What is classified as 'punk' music these days is absolutely empty and gutless.

by Penny Rimbaud
Dec 1 2005, 12:00am

Photo by David Titlow

I've got no allegiance whatsoever to punk as a form of music. Never really did. Punk as I knew it has a political purpose. What is classified as ‘punk' music these days is absolutely empty and gutless.

I genuinely believe that if it hadn't been for Crass and the movement which grew out of it, punk would now only be remembered as another old dame in the rock and roll pantomime; just the same old attitudes dressed up in a different costume. The Pistols certainly didn't do anything more radical than Elvis Presley, the only difference was that Elvis could handle his drugs better than they could.

Crass wanted to change the world, and in some respects we did, but nowhere to the degree that we set out to. We wanted to undermine the prime institutions of the State and everything that it represented. We went to great lengths to do that. The rock and roll swank of performing in a band was simply the platform we used.

What we did as activists was much more important to us than the music. We were always looking for some way of moving beyond being just a band. In our history we had dealings and run-ins with all sorts: Baader Meinhoff, the KGB, the CIA, the IRA, MI6, Margaret Thatcher. You name them, they all tried it on. When you compare that to bashing away on stage, you can see where we were at. I guess our interest in performance was secondary.

Punk in the hands of the showbiz world is an absolutely pointless farce. It means nothing. Fine, rock and roll can be fun, you can have a good night out, but what's that got to do with punk? All these reformed punk bands and major label acts who like to think of themselves as punk are okay if you want a laugh and a good old jump around, but it's nonsense to imagine that it's anything to do with what punk was really about. Punk was a way of life, not a pop fad.

If you're a band there's a degree to which you have to make a commitment to put forward a public image, and the only way you can do that is to keep up a personal front. In the end we found it impossible to keep up that front, which is one of the reasons we stopped—1984. Very Orwellian.

The lyrics, music and imagery of Crass were involved with global politics, but ultimately I think the effect we had on people was more on their personal politics. Punk used to be a massive cry against inequality and injustice, but then it became incorporated into the mainstream. I detest people who allow that incorporation to happen. It makes me angry. Time and time and time again you hear youth expressing its voice. Time and time and time again you see that voice destroyed by drugs, self-indulgence, stupidity and sell-outs. It's sad.

But for all that, you have to go on believing in possibilities, believing that people want something better in life, looking for something outside of ugliness, vulgarity, cruelty and exploitation; something that has a meaning, that's got connection. But every time there seems to be a possibility of that happening, it gets knocked down. It was like that with the Clash. Everyone was so excited because finally there was someone talking politics and saying things like "I'm so bored with the USA", and then the next month what are they doing? They're snorting coke and doing big gigs in the USA: big deal, guys.

People are so endlessly let down by their heroes, but I guess that's their fault. They shouldn't have heroes, but that's the society we live in: big heroes, little people. Sure, I acknowledge that there are people who might see us as heroes, but those are the people who completely missed our central message— "There is no authority but yourself". However, I know from the letters we continue to get from all over the world that many people were deeply and properly moved, not toward their pockets, but in their souls. That's because it wasn't a matter of us saying "Come on, buy our latest fucking album", no, we were trying to let people know that their life was important, that it was the only one they'd ever have, and that they should try to live it their way, whatever that way was.

We offered information, and I do believe that a lot of that information was real and correct. When I say correct I mean actually presenting something of value which people could take hold of and say "Yeah, maybe I could make something of my life". The thing we wanted to help people understand was a sense of autonomy and authenticity of the individual human soul. Just as soul is constantly demeaned in the media, so it is undermined by drugs, inside or outside, but in the end it's the only thing we've truly got. As personalities we're just a series of remarks picked up on our journey through life, and, sadly, this becomes what we think we are. But beneath all that we've got something we were born with, something we die with, something which exists beyond time, and that's our deepest inner soul. I guess I'm talking about a kind of immortality. To me the purpose of life is to connect with that inner soul, because by doing so we actually become part of life's continuum. If we exist as separate entities, as individual personalities, there's no reality to life and no continuity beyond it.

There's a connectedness between everybody and we all breathe, we all eat, we all sleep and we all have an inner soul which enables us to do that. It's all so obvious and natural. That's a starting point, and that's what we were actually (well, I was) attempting to promote through Crass. Yes, the lyrics of Crass were a lot to do with "the bomb" or "the State", but what I was saying was "look beneath all that, look beyond it, and where do you find yourself?" If you can do that, if you can find your soul, you connect with all humankind, with all of life.

We all exist in a day-to-day reality of lies and deceit, and nobody will ever make any sense of it. That's why we need to allow for tenderness, for silence, for contemplation. We need to find our own soul within all this mess. We've let ourselves become commodities, pawns in the marketplace. The only way we can get out of that is to realise that our personality, the very thing we think we are, is no more than a costume of ideas. We all like to think we're someone special, so we mouth the right words, dress up in the right gear, but it's all projection, all so fucking irrelevant.

But for all that, I believe people want to connect. Deep down they're tired of being no more than an idea of themselves. That's why people look for more, that's why they have sex, why they smoke dope, why they go on binges. They probably won't find the answer that way, but all the same, they want to connect. People want to know that they're alive, but let's face it, in a consumer society, that's no easy job.

The Greatest Crass Hits In The World...Ever! LOVE SONG FLEXI
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 realised 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.
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.

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