Hi, anybody else reading this.

As you all know, this is a story set in the heyday of punk, just as it was making the transition from cult status to national (outraged) headlines. And before we dive into our story, I'm afraid you're going to have to sit through a short lecture about punk, all of which is intended to help you draw and understand it better (and my apologies if you already know all this stuff).

As with most popular movements, punk was already in decline by the time the masses discovered it. Its origins lie in the mid-Seventies, when Britain was a really grim place. The pound had collapsed, inflation was spiralling (26%) and unemployment was rocketing (highest among the 19-24 age group), industrial relations were in tatters, Jim Callaghan's Labour government was only just managing to cling to power, the National Front were on the march and Margaret Hilda Thatcher was waiting in the wings like a drooling vulture.

And everything looked grottier in those days. Though things would get far worse under Thatcher, London (where most of this story is set) never looked worse ; the city acquired a chainstore gloss during Thatcher's reign - before then there were lots of grubby, poky little shops that Dickens would have felt at home in. Everything was generally shabbier and more run down - there were over 30,000 squatters in London at this point, and one reason for this was that houses which would later be renovated and rescued and sold for lots of money were then just left to decay. Street graffiti abounded : NF, SWP and anarchist logos, plus lots of slogans (the most prophetic of which was probably 'Tories want war'). A couple of photographic books of mid-'70s graffiti were produced years ago (think there's one by Roger Perry) which might be worth checking out ; for general glimpses of London at the time, I can't think of any obvious movies, but I suppose you could suffer through some old episodes of 'The Sweeney' (poor you).

Generally speaking, the populace was as shabby as the city. Revivalism and nostalgia have since coloured the era's fashions as being more fun than they were - in reality, most clothes were ludicrously cut and badly made, usually in beige or some other pastel colour. Quality was far less of an issue then, and the English looked like what they were : a nation of paupers. (One opinion poll at the time asked people if they'd leave Britain, given the chance ; 50% of those polled said yes).

As to music : circa 1972/3 glam and glitter had been a brief flare of pop energy with a sense of the ludicrous, but no more than that ... and so it quickly died out. Mainstream rock music was in steady decline, the 'progressive' music of the hippie era having degenerated into smug complacency and self-parody (along with its ideals). It was sanitized and safe, and almost never exciting - a few bands were playing stripped-down R&B on the pub circuit, but none of them were making much impact. Heavy metal was (and is) a world of its own, and had even less impact on the mainstream, most of which seemed to be produced by truly dire bands who began with the letter 'E' (Emerson Lake and Palmer, ELO, the Eagles). Youth culture ? Hardly. It was "adult-oriented rock," and it was bland and boring and shite.

If you were young - especially if you lacked qualifications - there was a lot to be pissed off about, and crap pop music was the least of your problems. Careerwise, you were probably already on the scrapheap. It didn't even look like things might get better, and Lydon's "no future" line turned out to be grimly prophetic (though he'd later admit that the punks had been pissed off at the wrong people - youth unemployment doubled during Thatcher's first year in power).

There was no video in those days, and only three channels on TV. No multiplexes. No heroes. No fun. No future ! And this climate bred a disaffected generation who felt themselves to be (to quote Lydon) "outcasts, the unwanted."

John Lydon : "I was a young chap who thought I was severely ugly and nobody would ever speak to me. There was this movement full of people feeling exactly the same way. It was a social way of meeting equally ugly people."

There were small pockets of people like Lydon all over the country, some in the suburbs, some stuck fifteen floors up in tower blocks. All they had in common was a hatred of the mainstream, be it in politics or music, and a deep distrust of their elders, especially the generation that had preceded them. The non-movement grew slowly and organically, generating its own fashions and music for their own amusement (and sod everybody else). By 1977 (when out story takes place), most of them were kids of 17-19 or thereabouts - Johnny Rotten turned 21 that year, though some bands were a few years older (but not many). We have a scene set in the Roxy, the first punk club, just after it opened ; prior to then, punks tended to gather in places where they wouldn't be bothered by outsiders - mainly gay bars and lesbian clubs. Consequently, they melded with others who were hiding out there for similar reasons : prostitutes, people who would once have been categorised as freaks (dwarves etc), plus (of course) gays and lesbians. There was also a lot of contact with the whole reggae/Rasta scene. The resulting crossmix tagged along for the ride, making punk "a carnival of subterranean people."

Musically, punk's roots can be found in rock's grittier and artier veins (the Velvets, Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls, Bowie and Roxy Music), and also in reggae and (to a much lesser extent) electronic Krautrock. Punk bands usually started before they could play at all, so they kept it simple : three chords and an attitude. And it worked : energy plus enthusiasm plus experimentation equals excitement, pure and simple. No matter how sceptical you were initially, if you were even vaguely young, there was no way to avoid getting swept up in it.

And amazingly, it all rested on the shoulders of one man. John Lydon/Rotten was the most articulate spokesman rock had thrown up since Dylan, voicing a set of sensibilities which had the establishment reeling, appalled by the progeny they'd produced. Richard Hell can bitch all he wants to about who invented punk, but even though he coined the term "blank generation", Lydon was undoubtedly that generation's true voice.

That punks were radically different was obvious, and visible. It's not that they looked weird in themselves (if you check out photos of punk audiences, most of them look incredibly normal and average to modern eyes - you probably pass more extreme-looking individuals in the street every day). It's the contrast - they looked so different to what was then the current norm. Short hair really stands out from the crowd, when the crowd all has long hair - and pretty much everybody (male) had long hair, regardless of age or class (and many had facial hair as well - mainly beards and sideburns, but moustaches hadn't yet acquired an exclusively gay association). Punk haircuts weren't just short, but often really badly cut (usually enthusiastically - and drunkenly - self-inflicted). Male punks were - pretty much without exception - clean shaven. No, not even stubble.

As with music, punk fashion was stripped-down and streamlined. If hippies liked something, punks didn't (on principle). Everybody wore flared trousers, so punks didn't - the upshot being that (eventually) everybody wore straight-legged trousers once again. But on a more radical level, punk style was often akin to street theatre - intended to shock, to provoke, an extension of the conviction that aggressive confrontation was always better than apathy (besides, there's something really satisfying in feeling like a bete noir, even in a mundane way). Coupled with various aspects of behaviour (spitting at bands, mock-throttling each other on the dancefloor), to superficial observers the message was clear : "punk looked scary".

Of course, it wasn't. I saw the Damned at the Marquee in early '77 - my first exposure to punks en masse - and I vividly remember thinking, how sweet - all these art school kids have made their own costumes. That's what it was really like. I immediately realised something else then as well - this was Hippie Two. Wear what you like and speak your mind. Of course, as with hippie, it all fell to bits pretty quickly, and the fashion eventually deteriorated into cliché and uniform. But all that comes long after our story - what we're concerned with here is the earlyish days.

Marco Pirroni : "The 1976 punk look was a mixture of absolutely everything. A lot of Ted, a lot of rocker, a lot of fetish stuff, transvestite sort of stuff, a bit of Mod and a lot of Glam. That's what it was. People didn't wear leather motorcycle jackets in 1976. Mohawks didn't exist then, either." Bondage trousers were around, as was bondage and fetish rubberware and leatherware (courtesy of Vivienne Westwood). Coloured leather motorcycle jackets (red, blue or green) hit London during the month our story takes place, so we might glimpse one or two of them. But much of what was being worn was secondhand and deliberately 'unfashionable' (suits from the '40s or '50s), often in appalling condition and/or altered with a bit of imaginative DIY : shirts might be painted (stripes or splatters or slogans or all three), or ripped and customized - often very slightly (a single safety pin). Bizarre earrings and razorblade pendants were popular. Other influences include 'Cabaret', 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'The Rocky Horror Show'.

Clothes (jackets and shirts as well as T-shirts) often had slogans scrawled on them. 'Autonomy for Kids', 'Only Anarchists Are Pretty', 'Be Reasonable - Demand The Impossible' and 'Destroy

!' all came from the McLaren/Westwood shop (but were probably copied widely). Most DIY ones were less highbrow : 'I am an outsider', 'Hate & War', 'I hate true love' etc etc. Johnny Rotten first made an impact on McLaren by turning up in a Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words "I hate" scrawled above the group's name. There were armbands that just read : 'Chaos'.

Punks also flirted with Nazi imagery (swastikas, mainly) - as a means of causing outrage rather than because of any fascist leanings. Only the stupidest of them (hi, Sid) carried it on for any length of time, since it simply didn't work - all punks wanted to do was annoy their parents, but outsiders largely assumed the wrong motives. For that reason, I think we should avoid showing anyone wearing swastikas at all - twenty years on, it looks even more stupid and is even harder to explain.

As with hippie, punk changed the world so radically that you can't really imagine how much, because you've forgotten what the world was like before. Mostly, this was ideological - though most of the fashion and music hasn't endured, the approach to music and fashion has. A lot of grass roots social/political movements started here, it radically altered design/aesthetics and made 'small is beautiful' a sexy concept. The DIY influence spread everywhere like a virus. In short, there was a lot more to it than three chords, a spiky haircut and straight trouserlegs. A lot of gays have said that the visibility of punk made it easier for them to become publicly visible - and women were active participants in punk, in a way that had just never been seen before in youth/music movements.

John Lydon : "During the Pistols era, women were out there playing with the men, taking us on in equal terms. Sexy became not the old cliché of long blonde luxurious hair, mild-mannered and sitting in the corner. Quite the opposite. Punk women were hounds from hell. Excellent. It wasn't combative, but compatible. Loved it."

Though many punks of both sexes were pretty much asexual (disinterest being the eventual side effect of amphetamine sulphate), many more were not. There was an aggressive sexuality at play, with the women often taking the lead - it wasn't about love or romance or dating or relationships. It was simply about sex (usually quick liaisons in toilets involving a lot of fumbling - hence Lydon's famous comment about "two minutes of squelching noises").

And for the first time musically women had a role beyond being backup singers or harmony vocalists. As one commentator noted : "Boy bands were getting up on stage who couldn't play a note, so it was easy for girls who couldn't play a note to get up on stage as well ... Punk made women feel they could compete on equal terms to men." And they did - the Slits, Laura Logic, Chrissie Hynde, Gaye Advert ... It's a long list, and they all played instruments (some of them very well).

Finally, in case you've ever wondered, punk names like Johnny Rotten and Wreckless Eric and Captain Sensible weren't just a joke or a showbiz gimmick. They were genuine aliases, because all these guys were on the dole and so couldn't use their real names - none of them (except maybe Rotten) expected their success to last longer than a week or so. My favourite 'new' ones discovered during the research for this are Lucy Toothpaste and Richard Gotobed (one can only hope they were an item at some point).

Peter (Doherty) now has a ton of books and videotapes for visual reference – he might get some background faces out of it, if nothing else.
PETER : I know most of the books are falling to bits, but I would like them back eventually (no rush). And if you've got enough time to do some reading, I'd strongly suggest that you read John Lydon's autobiography ('Rotten : No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish') for general atmosphere (and a rattling good read), and Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming' for real detail (you'll probably find this one the more useful of the two). Sorry, but I'm afraid you're going to know this period backwards and in minute detail before you're done ...

There are also four films that might be worth seeing (though they're all pretty dreadful) : 'Jubilee' is good on period detail ; 'Sid & Nancy' (it’s good on clothes, but otherwise grim viewing) ; 'The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle' (good archive footage of early Pistols gigs) ; and 'Rude Boy' (made in '79, but - as I recall - a good portrait of London then). Also Don Letts made a film called ‘The Punk Rock Movie’ which might even be out on video (ask around).

The other thing you'll need for reference is a copy of the SANDMAN story 'The Hunt', which you'll find in the 'Fables & Reflections' book collection. It's there that you'll learn about The People, who are originally of Russian origin but spread through all of Europe and eventually on to the New World. (ALISA : before I forget, I wouldn't mind doing a story someday about Vassily as an immigrant in New York circa 1910). And the People are the 'real' basis behind lots of legends (like vampires and werewolves and ogres etc), and they aren't all of one type - the witch Baba Yaga is one of them. 'The Hunt' focussed on werewolves, and the heroine of our story is from the same family ... though they're not exactly werewolves as such - they're not compelled to turn lupine by the rays of the Full Moon, nor do they become mindless and savage. It'd be more accurate to describe them as shapeshifters - they change form by an act of will, and even in animal form there's a conscious/intelligent mind in control. Our heroine Tamara is the mother of Celeste (the young girl in 'The Hunt'), so there'd be a resemblance between the two, and I suggest we make it a strong one.

So, this is a story about someone who is genuinely wild (and used to hiding it) getting the chance to publicly run wild with people who only wished/pretended that they were wild. It's also the story of a band, from first rehearsal to breakup - not an important, earthshaking group, just one of the numerous third division one-hit-wonder outfits that came and went like mayflies that year.

Finally, finally : if there's anything else you want to ask/chat about, feel free to give me a call.

ALISA : Can’t remember if you said this was impossible or not, but … Somewhere in all this (inside cover ? back cover ?) there's a period illustration I'd like to run as a tone/backdrop. It's from a fanzine of the era, and shows three bar-chart guitar chords, with the text : "This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band." You'll find it on page 280 of 'England's Dreaming' (and with a title like that, you really ought to read the book).

Enough prelude. Ahh onetwothreefour ...

[ Marquee Moon, Chapter One >>> ]
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