07.02.09 - 12:52pm
My man Simon Doling just linked this for my attention. I was trying to write a comment underneath but my thoughts spiralled a bit too far. First off I started thinking about just how cool a clip it was, and what a cool and brave thing Lydon does here, and how it feels like he’s somehow mashing the future together with the past to tell the present to hurry up, whilst similtaneously burying other pasts, the ex-Johnny Rotten in a white suit getting black kids to dance to that funky, dubby bass. How he somehow got to play Doctor Who twice by being a poster-boy for punk and for post-punk. All the stuff you know or should know about the story of Johnny Rotten. All the stuff that kind of makes it a shame that he’s always been a tosser who now sells butter. Then I started thinking about the impossibility of something like the two worlds in the clip ever meeting in this day and age, some modern equivalent of the harsh, dirgey doom disco with Lydon’s discomforting warble of a dead, bored soul car-crashing into the wholesome generic teen TV rave-up show complete with cluelessly bland, cheesy shithead older-dude presenter, and I found myself grateful once again for the YouTube miracle. The miracle that happens over and over whenever someone sends you one of these links, or whenever your stoned fingers manage to type in “Can” or “The Monks” or “Funkadelic” or whatever. I felt grateful that I live in an age where these lost cultural antiquities of the past can suddenly be manifested for my private asessment, enjoyment or education at the touch of some buttons. It also gives me pleasure to think that those artists who did that cool thing once in a certain place at a certain time will eventually get their kudos from a wider audience, because that feels righteous. It nourishes the thing inside me that often feels like a bitter lie, the idea that you hold onto the faith, you keep your dreams. Furthermore it should engender a sense that, as long as that all-important recording is made (and not lost), it is worth doing that thing you do, and getting that jam tight, that joke right, that little step to the left… right.
But then, because, like any decent object of aesthetic appreciation, this YouTube clip of Public Image Ltd performing in the Spring of the first year of a new decade of what would become 1980s America, has, of course, a multiplicity of possible meanings and interpretations, and I started to think about it in another way. Because, in a sense, both of the worlds are now as dead and gone as each other. That door we see John Lydon kicking in has gone, and so has John himself. They cancelled each other out. That show would never happen any more. John’s a celebrity, get him out of here. But… I’m floundering here. I guess I’m trying to say that that piece of footage, fittingly for Lydon’s oeuvre, contains the seeds of its own demise. Lydon senses the stillborn thing that the show’s format will produce – a mimed performance to a seated audience, and lays waste to it in a classic act of creative destruction. Good old Johnny, he always wants to destroy. A great moment, very cool, captured forever on YouTube, possibly. But, and there are many reasons for this, that moment will never happen again. Shit, if I was getting paid for this instead of sciatica or whatever it is that’s making my right leg hurt like hell then I’d bother to get this right, or buy another chair or something. But yeah, every time that clip is seen it makes the possibility of the kind of sabotage or detournement or sheer spontaneous fuck-youness of the type John Lydon gets away with a little bit less likely, partly because they wouldn’t let you get away with it, and partly because it’s so been done. I mean, people can and probably will try and do that type of thing, but they’ll probably have something like this in mind, and, even if other people write about it like it meant something and still more fools believe them, it didn’t. Those worlds are mutually exclusive now, and it doesn’t matter if you’re holding up a banner in the American Idol audience or punching your fist in the air at a Wolf Eyes gig. Those days are over.
Hmm, that kind of unravels as it goes along doesn’t it?