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Three chords and the truth: punk's nostalgics

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 13 September 2007


It’s 30 years since the Brisbane punk band, The Saints, released their first and seminal album I'm Stranded on EMI.  Much has been written about the baby boomers monopolisation of both the media and cultural agenda. But very little has been written about a select niche of late boomers (1958-64) who, at BBQ's, dinner parties and the pub, are fixated by the “good old days” of The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Saints and The Go-Betweens.

This article is about my generation: the nostalgic punks who fervently believed in three chords and the truth - and sod everything else. I call us The Lost Generation, because it’s groovier than being tagged with a letter of the alphabet.

Back in the l970s I admired Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page but there was no way I could play guitar like them. Garage punk blew Credence Clear Water Revival, Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan (so passé) out of the water while elevating Joy Division, The Buzzcocks and The Ramones, to name just a few.

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I'll be 50 next year and it struck me as a strange generational hiccup that there are still people of my generational niche propping up a bar at 1.00 am, listening to thrash bands and subscribing to some sort of cultural “other” as signified by that music.

On September 20 Julien Temple’s documentary will be released in Australia. Called Joe Strummer: The Future is not Written, it’ll be a “must see” for all those who want a reminder of the power of The Clash. But as you sit in the cinema, remember that you’re also indulging in nostalgia; nostalgia as entertainment.

My case is this. There’s nothing wrong with “arrested development” but when nostalgia rules attitudes formed in a time that was closer to a fashion than a political force, then one is not far away from endorsing generational and cultural exclusion and prejudice.

By that I mean one is in danger of adopting a “closed loop” to other attitudes, beliefs and forms of music. When one predicates their tastes on a time long gone, then any new form of music, no matter how raw and innovative, bold or exciting, won’t hold a candle to “back then”.

I suggest that this “long look over the shoulder” to yesteryear, is akin to their older boomer brothers and sisters pining for the elusive Almost Famous rock star life with its fanciful escape from the banality and limitations of suburban existence.

Greil Marcus wrote in Lipstick Traces: "Punk is about damning God and the state, work and leisure, home and family, sex and play, the audience and itself.

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If you still follow Marcus’ credo and you’re 50 (and still dream of being the next New Order as you compose songs on your home computer), then reality has not yet whacked you in the face like a screen door. It will.

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I lived in Brisbane in 1978-79. A friend and I had driven from Adelaide specifically to hang out at Byron Bay and be beautiful, but we ended up broke and living in a boarding house in Fortitude Valley with a short tempered Irishman and a pedophile out on parole.

My friend was an avid fan of the poet Rimbaud and the barking mad writings of the Comte De Lautremont. Work wasn't a goer for him.  So I got a job catching chickens in huge pens in South Brisbane. I’d drive over the Storey Bridge at 5.00pm and back over again at midnight. The chicken catching paid for our beer and the cover charge to see bands at the Brisbane Hotel.

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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