Tuesday, October 25, 2022

"The Sex Pistols were about destroying the rock monolith; the Clash were about rescuing it…. [Punk was] not just another fashion, Peter York, because a fashion does not turn everything sour with its passing, a fashion does not destroy the hope of a huge money-drenched monolith… A fashion is a tranquiliser; Rotten was the biggest stimulant--Do Something!--this country has seen since Winston Churchill. After the Knowledge the Sex Pistols offered you, how can you ever forgive all these bands for being around?"

 Julie Burchill,  The Face, December 1980

[Rush of History + Amphetamines] "made the two years go by very fast; when it was over in 1978, there was a terrible tristesse about, a feeling of being jilted... No one who loved punk will ever be happy again, dear me no, but it was worth it. I pity the young people these days; I wish they could have some of what we had.

- Julie Burchill, East Village Eye interview (Summer 1981). 


  1. There's always a hidden, self-serving sentimentality lurking behind Burchill even in her leftist prime, and the end of the second quote really gives it away - the immediate urge to say 'too bad, so sad' about all the poor bastards who missed out on three or four years ago, when everything was annihilated so no one can do anything like it ever again, sorry - it's the Gen X stereotype of the smug Boomer who wants everyone to be jealous that it's not 68, but much more explicit and from and about a movement that was supposedly reacting against that

  2. "I pity the young people these days"
    She was 21 when she wrote this stuff - so maybe it was tongue-in-cheek. Or maybe not. The teenage sense of comedown / heartbreak was probably genuine. Perhaps it was a heartbreak she never got over - which would explain the 40 years of stasis in her writing style.

    "Rotten was the biggest stimulant... this country has seen since Winston Churchill"
    At the time, this must have seemed like a very odd analogy. Maybe less so now.

  3. I don't know, I think it's probably more disorienting as an analogy nowadays, not because of Rotten's rightward shift but because of the attempted discrediting of Churchill. Particularly during the Iraq War - when Churchillism and anti-appeasement rhetoric was seen as something to discredit - but continuously ever since, there has been concerted revisionism about Churchill (dedicated imperialist, wanted to send troops against striking workers, supposedly deliberately starved a region in the indian subcontinent, in favor of poison gas bombing Iraqis etc). There was a disgusting book by Nicolson Baker that attempted to equate Churchill and Roosevelt with Hitler and gang, casting the former as war mongers just spoiling for a fight. Human Smoke - the argument was the pacificists and isolationists were the true heroes of the era. From Burchill's perspective, the Second World War is the absolute defining moral struggle of the 20th Century - Good versus Evil. Churchill, ideological warts and all, then becomes the hero in that struggle, the prescient anti-appeaser. And who knows, without Churchill, it's possible a UK government would have sued for peace with Germany and the terms of that peace would have been humiliating capitulation. America would not have entered the war, Germany might then have completely consolidated its thrall over Europe, turned more effectively to wage war on USSR and enslave the Slavic populations. It might have given the Nazis time to develop the superweapons they were furiously pursuing - adding atomic bombs to the far reaching rocket technology they did develop - weapons they would have had no compunction about using at all. So it's Churchill versus Nazi World Domination. (One of the creepiest sleights in Human Smoke is the way that Baker ends his book in December 1941 with America's entry into the world - in his view the triumph of Churchill and Roosevelt's stealth warmongering. This allows him to skip the happy ending - defeat of the Nazis, the liberation of the death camps, etc. And in a refutation of his false equivalence, Churchill is voted out - he leaves office, no doubt puzzled at the ingratitude of the British people but in a peaceful transfer of power - and a Labour government comes in to build the Welfare State. And - rather than enslave and ransack the defeated enemy as the Nazis would have done - the Allies help the Germans to rebuild their country from the rubble.

  4. My comment was less a revisionist take on Churchill and more a note that punk was all about insulting icons like Churchill - hence the wide use of Nazi regalia. So in the context of punk, praising Churchill would be like saying you preferred the original version of God Save The Queen to the Pistols song.

    "From Burchill's perspective, the Second World War is the absolute defining moral struggle of the 20th Century"

    This is true. And it is a lens through which she interprets everything else. Which probably contributed to her support of Serbia in Kosovo in 1999 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq (combined with a contractual obligation to wind up her Guardian readership).

    "Because it wasn't the Serbs who fought with the Nazis in Yugoslavia during the second world war - it was the Croats and the Muslims. (Nazi Muslims! What an absolutely mind- blowingly terrifying concept!)" - https://www.theguardian.com/Columnists/Column/0,,306307,00.html

    "if we'd known about Hitler gassing the Jews all through the 1930s, we still shouldn't have invaded Germany" - https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/feb/01/iraq.comment

    It's actually a surprise that she's come out supporting Ukraine in its current war.

    From what I understand, the Nicholson book has been ripped to shreds by historians of the period. I don't see an equivalence between Churchill and Hitler but I can understand a desire to critically re-evaluate Churchill's legacy.


  "Popular culture is a contradiction in terms. If it's popular, it's not culture."   Vivienne Westwood