Joe Corre, son of the late Malcolm McLaren, manager of the pioneer punk band the Sex Pistols, burned over £5 million worth of Sex Pistols memorabilia. Yep. Some rich asshole took it upon himself to lecture the rest of us about what is and isn’t punk. His words: “Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need.” And: “Punk was never meant to be nostalgic – and you can’t learn how to be one at a Museum Of London workshop.”
“Has become”? Punk couldn’t exist without capitalism. Part of punk’s genesis, especially its British incarnation, was born in reaction to class struggle—think “Anarchy in the U.K.” or the Clash’s “Garageland,” for example. And does he think his dad and cohorts were pure? McLaren held out from cutting an album with Virgin for a long time, going so far as to try to squeak a deal out of them in which the Sex Pistols would only release a single on the label in hopes of nabbing the attention of one of the majors who’d previously passed them up.
It was Brits, not Americans, who made punk commercially viable. Bands like the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Television, and Patti Smith were cutting albums stateside and getting nowhere in terms of record sales. It was the Ramones who first found moderate success in the UK, and bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash, picking up on and whittling the raw sound of the American acts into their own brand of politically punchy two-minute assaults, and found great financial success as a result. Never Mind the Bollocks peaked at number 1 in the UK—an achievement none of the American punk bands of the era ever accomplished in their homeland.
“Punk was never meant to be nostalgic”? Well, sure, not nostalgic in the sense that you were supposed to long for that time—it was artistic reaction against the time and place it was set in. But that wouldn’t explain the Ramones’ 50s greaser look, a style that proved wildly popular with punks. And while you can’t learn how to be punk by looking at an exhibit in a museum, the physical items manifested by the movement are clues as to how to subvert the vacuum of commercialization Corre claims to despise.
I like punk a lot. I love it. But ostentatious displays like this don’t reinvigorate it or amplify it or keep it edgy, because it continues the exclusivity that hampered it in the beginning, and because it’s not helpful to the people who could’ve been aided by fund raised from selling all that crap, people who are in need because of systems in place that large chunks of punk rail directly against. But Corre has his lingerie company and his daddy’s money, so he can play Heath Ledger’s Joker and watch it all go up in flames.