I always hated the term ‘new wave’ (punk for people who don’t like punk). And I always hated those ‘women in rock’ articles you used to get. And still do. But I quite enjoyed a recent Radio 4 show called Women of the New Wave.
Pauline Black interviewed some of the key women from the punk and post-punk years in Britain about culture, identity and the choices they made about how to present themselves to the world. In those days, men were affronted by women playing music in the same way that Dr Johnson was about women preaching (and, several centuries later, we still haven’t got women bishops).
I hope men don’t still shout ‘get yer tits’ out at women musicians... although I wouldn’t be surprised. But it was the standard response in the 70s. Under those circumstances, women had to reinvent themselves, define their own image. After all, one of the things that punk was about was reinvention. Which was why Poly Styrene and Siouxsie Sioux could choose what they’d be called and who they would be. And why no-one really cared when they found out Joe Strummer went to public school.
I was reminded of this when I went to see a play called Meeting Joe Strummer. I went nervously because it could have been awful, or a nostalgia fest. Actually it was very funny, very authentic and struck a good few chords.
It’s about two teenage Clash fans, carrying the memory into middle age. It’s about what happens to youthful ideals. It’s about reinventing yourself and keeping your integrity at the same time. And it’s not embarrassed to admit what an utter prat you can be when you’re 16.
It was a very male perspective: forming a copycat band, deciding whether to file albums alphabetically or chronologically, knowing exactly how many times you’ve seen your favourite artist play (and the dates).
But the question of youthful idealism and what you take with you is universal. What does ‘selling out’ mean? Taking the corporate dollar, or finding yourself one day wearing flares? One of the characters summed it up: being true to their hero was about (I paraphrase, cos I don’t do swearing... much) working for social justice while not being a total idiot. Which is pretty much how I feel.
I feel the same about the flares as well.