Leaving Normal: JG Ballard 1930-2009
There was a time when a lot of the works (musical, lyrical and beyond) by “punks” were pretty much informed, influenced or even “rehashed” from literature or the ideas presented by books, poems, architecture, art movements etc.
You see, punk rock was pretty “arty” and intellectual back in the day, just like its fore-fathers Velvet Underground. Bands and artists like Television, The Voidoids, Patti Smith, Pere Ubu and more from the nascent “punk” beginnings around New York then were mostly educated misfits who mined from Bukowski, Kerouac, Burroughs and French bad-boys Artaud, Rimbaud, Verlaine etc.
The Sex Pistols was at one time associated with the Situationists, even though it was just the influence brought in by the band’s stylist Jamie Reid and manager McLaren. Even The Ramones was tagged with playing with absurdist, minimalist cheekiness; suggesting that the “brudders” were influenced not only by pop-ditties of the 50s but also the Dadaists.
Later bands who became progenitors of post-punk, from Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Bauhaus etc, mined and extolled new mindscapes from absurdist, depressing writers like Camus. Birthday Party wailed a lot of Brecht. The Gang of Four with their take on Marxism and Joy Division twitched with Ballard.
Just like Brecht with his enduring “Brechtian” characteristic, Ballard birthed “Ballardian”; i.e. “dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments” (according to Wikipedia that is).
Joy Division dragged this into our consciousness via their song “Atrocity Exhibition”, Grace Jones reaffirmed with her cover of The Normals’ “Warm Leatherette” and Tubeway Army rendered everything soulless Ballard-style with “Are Friends Electric?” (not before Bowie’s own “Heroes”, of course).
And of course, there are many more examples where punks or ex-punks spitting high-brow literature via rough rock’n’roll upon impressionable kids everywhere throughout the ages, but I believe it all died out suddenly when it all became a “pose”, and when the likes of Sham 69, The Angelic Upstarts et al came around spouting class consciousness; rejecting all this art-school intellectual “bullshit” for a slice of “real” life on the streets. And before long this return to working-class, everyday-people “realism” inevitably slid into its own mindless pose and moronic emptiness.
I’m in mourning, not so much for Ballard, but for the general lack of lessons learned and inspiration gleaned from such scribes in our collective creative juices presently. And I blame it solely on our continuing submission to the seriously toothless, dumbed-down agents of the current stream of popular culture products bombarding us.
Trash that junk, be a punk and go read a real book for a change!
Tubeway Army – “Are Friends Electric?”
Are Friends Electric?
Tubeway Army (AKA Gary Numan)
It’s cold outside
And the paint’s peeling off of my walls
There’s a man outside
In a long coat, grey hat, smoking a cigarette
Now the light fades out
And I wonder what I’m doing in a room like this
There’s a knock on the door
And just for a second I thought I remembered you
So now I’m alone
Now I can think for myself
About little deals and issues
And things that I just don’t understand
A white lie that night
Or a sly touch at times
I don’t think it mean anything to you
So I open the door
It’s the friend that I’d left in the hallway
‘Please sit down’
A candlelit shadow on a wall near the bed
You know I hate to ask
But are ‘friends’ electric?
Only mine’s broke down
And now I’ve no-one to love
So I found out your reasons
For the phone calls and smiles
And it hurts and I’m lonely
And I should never have tried
And I missed you tonight
So it’s time to leave
You see it meant everything to me
from Replicas LP 1979