‘Anger is an energy’, says John Lydon, as the title of his autobiography. As Johnny Rotten, that energy was always close to the surface. But energy changes over time, and i was not alone in my surprise when Rotten was seen on TV selling butter. Not very punk. The energy of my breakfast time is far from anger. The ageing of punks is a challenge: i read Duff McKagan, one of the Seattle punks, writing about how, in his head, he is still ‘punk’ in everything he does. He is still riding his motorbike down the middle of the street in his head, whilst trying to talk to his teenage daughter about making responsible college choices, and fretting about her boyfriends. His rationalisation is that ‘punk’ is a mindset, which can evolve, which made me wonder if we should not all be a bit more punk.
A large part of understanding our own power, as either formal, or Social Leaders, is about understanding gradients of power, and application of consequence. Formal leadership is held in congruence with the system, whilst punk power is held deliberately in opposition. It’s largely a destructive type of power, on one level, to stick it to the man, to tear down the system, but in line with most oppositional forces, it’s strangely unifying in it’s destruction.
The rise of punk itself, as both music form, and social movement, is characterised by the rapid slaying of idols. Punk does not represent dynastic power, evolved over decades, but rather radical and conflicted power, evolved over the duration of the latest 7” single. It stands often in opposition to itself.
Punk is a raw energy, in that Lydon was right, which claims permission to destroy, without obligation to build from the ashes. But the movement of punk, both in it’s purest form, and through the intergenerational influences that continue to be felt, is ultimately one of redemption and growth. Perhaps a clearing out of the undergrowth that leads to a flourishing of the canopy.
Punk reframed both the musical composition, and the context of the music, which is a surprisingly difficult thing to achieve. Viewed in terms of ‘types of power’, this makes punk fairly unique. Perhaps we need to be more punk.
Change is often seen as a process of reframing, deconstructing the old, building the new, but the challenge we face is that the old persists. Sometimes we need to set a fire to start the change.
Punk has always been tribal, has always been uniformed power, and has always been a strangely aggregating force. The imagery of T shirts and album cover, subverted fashion and the wilful strangulation of tune has bought tribes together, in opposition, in internal unity, far more strongly than many more nuanced efforts.
The maturation of punk, the emergence of punk as mindset, not noise, as philosophy, not pure anger, is a fascinating one, and one that made me think that we could all be a bit more punk.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of the common, the delusion of the present. It’s easy to fall victim to comfort and lethargy. It’s easy to start to play the same tune as everyone else, a comfortable, constructive, and known affair. But to change, to create energy, to reform a system, may require the revolt, the revolution, that can only come from punk.
Perhaps we need a new way: to shatter the frame, to claim a space. McKagan describes his first band: cutting their single, printing large sheets of album covers, then stealing the keys to the copy room at school to photocopy more sheets of those covers, before having ‘pasting parties’ to cut and assemble the album. He describes a visceral connection with the music, music as change, music as unity, punk as social movement.
In another context, this would be described as agile, as momentum, as engagement. As any of the hundred ways we try to describe giving a damn.
Perhaps we could all be a little more punk in our efforts to lead, to learn, to change. But this time with less spitting.