Punk Bunny II

Muslin, silk, label, needle & thread
112 x 9.5 x 92 cms
1997

A framed muslin punk shirt with the Artist’s signature across the front and a silk label reading ‘Gavin Turk 1997’, Punk Bunny I is a homage to the rebellious DIY spirit of punk, the artist's signature is taken off the canvas and onto torn piece of fabric artfully customised with the aid of zips into a shirt. An exemplary piece of DIY couture, this shirt no less a uniform than a military jacket. But is the shirt now art? Or is the artist now a punk? Or is has this shirt, like everything else these days, been commodified and, in its commodification, relegated both punk and art to the realm of the souvenir?

Essays

  • Sid Vicious - Jon Savage SHOW

    Sid Vicious - Jon Savage

    In every generation there are the brave ones: the artists, stylists, intellectuals, the street kids who heedlessly launch themselves into the future, who refuse to be trapped by what is known. Within this small group, there is always a figure who doesn’t necessarily produce very much, if anything at all, but whose whole presence defines his or her time and place.

    Their every gesture, captured in a photograph or on film, appears to sum up the spirit of an era. In the late 1920’s – the era of the Bright Young Things – it was androgynous socialite Stephen Tennant. In the Warhol Factory it was the elfin, amphetamined Edie Sedgwick, who danced the high wire with consummate grace. In British Punk, it was Sid Vicious.

    Sid could have been the front man of the Sex Pistols – and eventually was. He was one of the four Johns – Lydon, Wardle, Beverley and Grey: herberts all from North and East London - who crashed down the Kings Road during 1975, sneering at everything in sight. When McLaren decided to hold an audition for the fledgling “Sex” group, Sid was absent. His friend John Lydon got the call.

    /> Unhappy about this turn of events, Sid became the Sex Pistols ur-fan. He began to get attention for violent behaviour. He was one of the Sex Pistols’ entourage involved in the famous, photographed fight at the Nashville in April 1976. He assaulted rock journalist Nick Kent, and was implicated in an incident at the 100 Club where a glass was thrown and a girl badly injured.

    He was, after all, called Sid Vicious. In later years, Lydon would downplay his involvement in what turned out to be the creation of a monster. Sid was known under a couple of names – John Beverley and Simon Ritchie - but sometime in 1974 or 1975, in the spirit of pop re/creation, Lydon gave him a new pseudonym: Sid after his hamster, and Vicious after the song by Lou Reed.

    It was a joke, a laugh. But re/creation is an unpredictable undertaking. In the Warholian ambience of early London punk, Vicious was a leading character: his name offered him a fast-track to fame, if not notoriety. By the time that the music press began to run features about Punk as something more than just a couple of rock groups, Sid

    was highlighted as an avatar of this new, troubled age.

    In Jonh Ingham’s seminal October 1976 Sounds article, ‘Welcome to the “?” Rock Special’, Sid dominated the pull quotes: ‘I didn’t even know the Summer of Love was happening. I was too busy playing with my Action Man’; ‘I don’t understand why people think it’s so difficult to learn to play guitar. I found it incredibly easy. You just pick a chord, go twang, and you’ve got music’.

    And there was more: ‘I don’t believe in sexuality at all. People are very unsexy. I don’t enjoy that side of life. Being sexy is just a fat arse and tits that will do anything you want. I personally look upon myself as one of the most sexless monsters ever’. In the end was a kind of manifesto: ‘I’ve only been in love with a beer bottle and a mirror’.

    Sid’s comments were a mixture of posturing and candid revelation. They introduce him as a character not afraid to take the limelight, with a catchy – if slightly ludicrous: Sid after all was redolent of the 1920’s – pseudonym that seemed to match the half-serious, half- joking brutality of

    early Punk. Violence was both theatre and tool: to clear space, to reproduce the ambience of England in 1976.

    Unlike the moronic monster of legend, Sid was very sharp, as his friend Viv Albertine remembers: ‘I always felt very uncomfortable with him he was so strict, and so idealistic, and so clever, which people don't seem to realise. The reason he went scooting downhill, he was so idealistic, and he really couldn't stand the world and its pettiness’.

    I first encountered Sid in November 1976, at a Clash show at the Royal College of Art. Standing at the front, I became aware of this person standing next to me, swaying and strutting. I kept watch on him, and was not surprised when he got up on stage, sharing Joe Strummer’s mike, and threatened the students who were busy showering the Clash with beer glasses.

    His threat was blunt and to the point: ‘c’mon cunt and I’ll do ya’. It is this brutal earthiness that characterises Sid’s verbal pronouncements – before his persona and the drugs took him over. In the summer of 1977, he gave an excoriating interview to Fred and Judy Vermorel: ‘I

    think that largely they’re scum and they make me physically sick, the general public. They are scum’.

    By that time, he had become a Sex Pistol. The selection had been made not so much on musical ability – although Sid could play Ramonic bass lines well enough – but on his persona and his friendship with John Lydon. He looked like a Sex Pistol and, as the other three members of the group began to withdraw from all the media attention, he began to take centre stage.

    His slow and wracked downfall was conducted in public. Part of Sid’s problem – which is also the reason for his iconic status – is that he followed a bad idea all the way. He was in love with the New York punk ethos than ran from the Velvets to Lou Reed to the New York Dolls and then Richard Hell and the Ramones: that’s where Nancy Spungeon and the hard drugs came from.

    The photographer Roberta Bayley befriended him during the Sex Pistols’ January 1978 tour of the US, when Sid was going cold turkey. The climactic show of the tour occurred at San Antonio in Texas, when the

    band played under a hail of material thrown by the local rednecks: Sid took up the challenge, and clubbed a sample member of the audience with his bass.

    As far as Sid was concerned, he was the only one of the band who had stood up to the cowboys. He was the true Sex Pistol. But the expectation of his name was all too much. ‘I was sitting with him at the soundcheck,’ Bayley remembers; ‘He said “I wanna be like Iggy and die before I’m thirty,” and I said: “Sid, Iggy is over thirty and he’s still alive, you got the story wrong’.

    A week later, the Sex Pistols broke up and Sid was in Jamaica Hospital after an overdose on his flight from LA. He was all alone, and reflective when Bayley called him up: ‘I’ve got six months to live’, he tells her. ‘Oh well don’t drink. You asshole’. ‘I’ll end up burning myself out’. ‘But what will you do if you go back to London? The same thing?’ ‘Yeah, I probably will die in six months actually’.

    Sid’s self-destruction cast him as an archetypal Romantic hero and the embodiment of London Punk’s headlong,

    heedless momentum that in 1978 was on the point of burn-out just as it was becoming mainstream pop. After John Lydon abdicated, so Sid became the singer: fronting on “My Way” and the group’s two best sellers of the 1970’s, “Somethin’ Else” and “C’Mon Everybody”.

    These Eddie Cochran covers recast Sid as the archetypal ‘Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die’ rock hero. This had been one of McLaren’s names for the shop at 430 Kings Road, and the Sex Pistols’ manager remained in love with the nihilistic, primal drive of fifties rock’n roll. As filmed in “My Way”, Sid was the young gunslinger, the fanatical assassin out to murder a world.

    There was a human being under this: one who did not have much of a chance. The most disturbing moment in “My Way” comes when Sid shoots a middle-aged woman: the idea was that this was not only a representative of the hated hippie generation, but also Sid’s mother, Anne Beverley – the woman who bought the heroin that would kill him in February 1979.

    In the Vermorels’ interview, Sid locked into one of his characteristic rants: ‘Grown-ups have just got no intelligence at

    all. As soon as somebody stops being a kid, they stop being aware. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can be 99 and still be a kid. And as long as you’re a kid you’re aware and you know what’s happening. But as soon as you “grow up”….’

    Sid never grew up. In all his spectacular crash and burn, there was not much that was not the action of a child. This concentration on child-like awareness had, ironically, been one of the hallmarks of the hippies, and had – in the hands of leading exponents John Lennon (“Strawberry Fields Forever”) and Syd Barrett (“Mathilda Mother”) had been just as redolent of emotional damage.

    But then Sid also did it to himself. He bought the script, much of which was already a cliché by the time that he was living it. How wearing was that New York junkie style, that blind sense of Rock ’n' Roll entitlement – with the black clothes, leather trousers, and sunglasses after dark. You’d avoid those people on the street, not because they were dangerous, but because they were boring.

    Even so, there was something in Sid that made the

    script all his own, that transcended his self-destruction. In his thuggish poses and rebarbative discourse, Sid now announces himself as a particular kind of English archetype – the stylised, intelligent hooligan whose sarcasm flays the established, the bourgeois and the boring, who tells a truth that this country never wants to hear.

  • Punk - Jon Savage SHOW

    Punk - Jon Savage

    In Gavin Turk’s “Pop”, the artist is cast as Sid Vicious via Warhol’s “Elvis”. While Warhol sourced a still from the 1960 film “Flaming Star” for his silk-screened multiples, Turk reproduces Sid’s most iconic moment: the filmed performance of “My Way”, where the junk-sodden singer in a destroyed white dinner jacket shoots the audience in a climactic spasm of disgust.

    Both sources are high Pop. Warhol’s images in their various forms: doubled, tripled, colour, black and white are prime exam-ples of Pop Art, while Sid Vicious’ punk de/construction of the narcissistic night-club standard was a Top Ten hit for the Sex Pistols in summer 1978. But they uncover a level of violence and hostility in pop culture that only the bravest seek to explore.

    Before the style went national, London Punk was a British version of Andy Warhol’s high Sixties Factory. Many of the musicians and fans were Velvet Underground obsessives who had followed Lou Reed through 1970’s hits like “Walk On The Wild Side” into his later, more self-destructive “Rock’n Roll Animal” incarnation: pure punk with his plastic clothes, dark shades, and A-head jaw-line.

    There was the same self-reinvention into cartoon pseudonyms Siouxsie Sue, Soo Catwoman,

    Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious only these hard etched characters were not superstars but anti-stars. Early TV footage shows the pure punk gesture: not the rolling back of the eyes or the middle finger, but the look of sheer contempt and disgust with the camera as its subject turns away.

    There was the same sense of simultaneity, of young performers immersed in a complete media environment and seeking to turn it to their advantage by being faster and smarter than those who sought to capture their look, their gestures, their souls. ‘You wanna ruin me in the magazine,’ Johnny Rotten sung in his anti-media tract “I Wanna Be Me”; ‘you wanna cover us in margarine’.

    Before it was swamped by tabloid front pages and music industry money, Punk sought direct engagement with the death drive implictly contained in the mass media: ‘now is the time to realise,’ Rotten exhorted; ‘to have real eyes’. Hence all the groups with names like the Adverts and Magazine, hence songs like “EMI”, Subway Sect’s “Nobody’s Scared”, and the Slits’ brilliant “FM”.

    Both the Factory and early Punk exhibited a blistering, amphetamine derived hostility. Think of Mary Woronov as Hanoi Hannah

    in “The Chelsea Girls” as she assaults Ingrid Superstar and Pepper with a non-stop: ‘shut up shut up SHUT UP’ or Ondine at the end of the same film, turning on Rona Page with a lightning fast, unstoppable strike of violent vituperation.

    Some of this was a pose, derived from hard-faced mentors like Warhol and Malcolm McLaren. Some of it had to do with psy-chological and drug damage. But punk was so littered with nega-tives – nofuturenofeelingsnofun – that its refusals verged on the cosmic. Especially when projected into the wider culture. This was a negation that opposed the easy assumptions of everyday life.

    In summer 1977, the BBC shot a special on Punk in Manchester: “Brass Tracks”. Apart from valuable footage of the early Manches-ter scene, the programme is remarkable for the array of adults – preachers, councillors, journalists, almost every kind of adult au-thority figure – condemning these animals. Punk is disgusting, worthless and indicative of a sick society.

    The actual punks – Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks, Alan Deaves of the Worst, and Electric Circus amazon Denise – sit quietly while vats of shit are poured over their heads. Then they begin to argue

    back, quietly and reasonably, and what they say rips their opponents apart: you don’t know what you’re talking about; you’ve been pro-grammed by the media; we’re not the problem, you are.

    Behind the blank façade, many early punks were highly idealistic. They believed in what they said, they were in it for the art and the self-expression, they didn’t think about any idea of a career. At its best, particularly in London during 1976 and Manchester the next year, this encouraged an active atmosphere of total communica-tion: if you’ve got something, bring it to the table.

    Hence the proliferation of fanzines and punk groups. Participation was the key: ‘I wanna destroy the passerby’. Twenty years into a heavily mediated culture, many Punks instinctively understood what the Situationists, and particular Guy Debord, had defined a decade previously: that the media spectacle fostered passivity and, in fact, worked like a tranquillising drug – soma for the masses.

    ‘Everybody’s sitting round watching television’, Joe Strummer howled on “London’s Burning”. Many punk songs were deter-minedly in the world. They directly addressed the state of the na-tion, and what they saw was not flattering: a country obsessed by the past,

    in particular the Second World War, which it had not won but lost – in economic terms at least.

    The urban landscape of the late seventies was brutal. In cities like Manchester, Birmingham and London there were vast, empty spaces, often filled with rubble: bomb-sites that had never been built on, slum clearance projects stalled for lack of funds. Much punk iconography focussed on urban dereliction: soulless motor-ways, brick walls, corrugated iron.

    Punk had an apocalyptic edge that came from more than am-phetamine. The country had a pre-revolutionary feel, the very strong sense that something was over – the postwar Social contract – and that something new and malign was waiting in the wings. Britain’s fascist party, the National Front, was making electoral gains, while Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservatives prepared for power.

    The whole dysfunction between national image and reality was dramatised by the Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” in June 1977. With almost no support – certainly not from the radical left-wing - the group stood on their hind legs and laid bare the lie behind the pomp: ‘England’s dreaming’. They told a truth that no one wanted to hear, and for their pains were

    turned into pariahs.

    Violence was endemic in Britain at that time. There were major set pieces like the Notting Hill Carnival riot in August 1976 and the Lewisham riot of August 1977 – when anti-fascist protestors tried to stop a National Front march. The Sex Pistols Jubilee boat trip was broken up by the police in a most heavy-handed manner, and then there were the much-publicised tribal Punk-Ted wars.

    Creeping surveillance, the breakdown of law and order, the onset of fascism, the atomisation of society: it all seemed like Burroughs’ “The Wild Boys” mixed with Orwell’s “1984” – the year manically apotheosised by the Clash in their song “1977”. And yet, in the blasted inner urban spaces – when not blocked off by serried ranks of police – there was freedom.

    Occurring just before the massive regeneration programme that began in the 1980’s, the late seventies were the last time that young people could live cheaply near the city centre: whether in squats or inexpensive flats. All the Sex Pistols squatted at some point or an-other, as did members of the Clash and many other groups. The dereliction fostered the rapid city transits that spawned punk.

    />
    The result was a brief, accelerated period when the music and me-dia industries were forced to react to events that they could not control. When the Sex Pistols were vilified by the tabloids after the Bill Grundy show, it radicalised a micro-generation, who could see the difference between reality and its news-managed simulacrum. The adults, in this case, made monster fools of themselves.

    Punk’s problems occurred when it achieved the success that it part sought, part shunned. The whole idea of worthlessness encoded in the term made the success difficult to sustain, while the sheer level of exposure to the mass media meant that often sophisticated ideas were flattened out, turned into consumer disposables, and recu-perated. Punk was fast and asymmetric, but it was soon caught.

    Sid’s peak performance of “My Way” occurred in spring 1978, right at the moment when Punk negation was turning into self-destruction. It is a complex and problematic clip: Sid is unwell, if not extremely stoned, but he summons up a kind of demonic en-ergy directed at the film-makers, at the audience –whom he shoots in the ultimate act of punk media loathing – and himself.

    In this instance, the

    twinning of Sid with Elvis doesn’t look quite so bizarre. Both were self-made creations from problematic back-grounds who were, at various points, a kind of living litmus test for problems in the wider culture. Both were sent mad by fame and/or notoriety, and both destroyed themselves through heavy use of opiated drugs. Here is the human cost of being an icon.

    Thirty years after Sid Vicious’ final overdose, Punk Rock is, like Gavin Turk’s “Pop”, under glass. It is, apparently, in history: its bones endlessly picked over, dismembered and rearranged into lists and rankings, then finally boiled into mushy, nutrition-free gruel – all those sentimental accounts of male bonding. But it has a dark heart and a fearless spirit that is not recuperable.

    It was no accident that “Pop” was part of a show – Saatchi’s “Sen-sation” – that attracted exactly the kind of numbskull press atten-tion that punk did in its heyday. Punk laid down a critique and a challenge - as did the hippies before them - that English culture wilfully refused to take up, or even recognise. What is buried and repressed always breaks out with renewed force.

    Pop then is a

    dangerous ideal, particularly if you are trying to summon up the spirits, if not the demons of your time. Warhol suf-fered for telling the truth, as did all of the Sex Pistols – perhaps Sid Vicious the most. People do not want too much cultural reality, but for the true artist – or numinous performer – there is no choice but dive deep into the collective subconscious.