his website looks like he hasn’t come across social media yetThe man in the blue suit is Bernard Rhodes, who delivered a spell-binding monologue for nearly three hours last night at the British Library.
If you don’t know who he is, here’s the CV in the blurb.
I don’t know who was in the audience but they were people of my age who were probably like me 15 or 16 in 1976-77 and like me – blown away by the Sex Pistols and the Clash.
I hadn’t realised till last night, just how intertwined the relationship between Bernard Rhodes , Malcolm McLaren , the Clash and the Sex Pistols was.
Nor had I realised the complex dynamic between McLaren, his g/f Vivian Westwood and Rhodes.
Punk – Vagrants and the Art School
Rhodes came from a Russian/Jewish ghetto in the East End, nursed by the working girls who serviced the American airmen , spending his adolescence in care, the Blitz and Belsen formed the first part of his talk.
Rhodes explicitly linked British Punk to the anger and fortitude of a people who emerged from these scarring experiences and compared American Punk, which came from a softer more affluent world.
Though Rhodes came from deprivation, McLaren didn’t and nor did Joe Strummer (who went to public school). (I found out about punk because I was at school with Sebastian Conran who Rhodes employed in the Clash entourage).
The cultured art school world of Mclaren was compared the open vagrancy of Steve Jones and Paul Cook who Rhodes revealed learn to play with kit stolen from David Bowie’s road crew.
Rhodes brought his two children to the event . They were about the only people in the room under 50. Though the original punk movement lasted only a couple of years (defined here as 1976-78), the message from Rhodes was that he’d done his bit and wanted to pass the baton on.
Frankly this isn’t going to happen in an orderly fashion. There is no obvious place for the terror tactics employed by Rhodes – and especially McLaren today. Rhodes struggled using a computer and his website looks like he hasn’t come across social media yet.
Rhodes has no direct influence over what I do, but without him, I don’t think I’d do it at all. There have been several times lately when I’ve had to think back to when I was 15 and 16 and bunked off school to watch punk bands play in Bournemouth (including the infamous Winter Gardens Clash gig). I never saw the Pistols and my only visits to the 100 Club were for pension rock gigs. I wish I could boast of being there for the 1976 punk festival but I can’t.
Anyone who knew me at school or college will know that I was trying to live that dream right through to 83-4.
But punk was dead by 1979 – killed by the media (according to Rhodes). He’s probably right, Sounds dragged it through Gary Bushall to the ugly world of Oi while the NME trivialised it through the NEW WAVE and ultimately “Indy”.
OI, the New Wave and Indy are historical, but Punk lives on. It really did change the world and Rhodes and McLaren were its great impresarios. Strummer and Lydon were its genius with a supporting cast of Jones, Simenon, Cook, Matlock and Jones.
At the end of the talk, someone asked where Rhodes was when he heard of Strummer’s death. Rhodes spoke very movingly about Strummer crying like a child in his presence the afternoon before. Rhodes said he was not surprised that Strummer died -broken hearted.
Punk and Onwards
Punk has been dead 38 years but its energy has not been lost. Rail as Rhodes does against the BBC and the City and a lot more, Britain is a better place for punk. The man has done his work and is allowed to be self-indulgent. Occasionally he was.
But I never came for a power point presentation. I went to the British Library last night to find out exactly what made punk happen in the first place, and I did.