Tuesday, May 10, 2016

George Berger: The Story of Crass (2008 book, review)

This was an easy read, a mostly linear story of a relatively uncomplicated band.

Crass were the archetypal anarcho-punks of the late seventies and early 80s, representing in my opinion, the forces that developed punks from Bowie-inspired teens to angry, anti-Thatcher, pro-union adults.

If the book is correct, Crass managed to incorporate a few problematic elements. They were founded by an upper-middle class hippie, introducing the sort of snake-in-Eden auto-schismatic effect that seems to occur in the origin stories of so many otherwise benignant movements. They pissed off the ordinary London squat-dwelling punks by attempting to placate skinheads. They were of the opinion that you could raise consciousnesses by one-on-one post-gig talking sessions that, as you can imagine, used up one Crass member per person targeted for hours on end.

Their hearts (and dogma) were in the right place, however, and the book quotes long passages from Penny Rimbaud's pamphlets that really brought back to me the anger and despair of those early Thatcher days. Remember the Falklands War? This book does! The marches, the strikes, the atmosphere that lead to Rock Against Racism?

It doesn't discuss the music much, and when it does, it makes it sound borderline unlistenable, which is doing it a major disservice. Because, obviously, Crass's music is TOTALLY unlistenable.

This passage resonated with me.

It's not hard to see how this could happen: Britain still harboured a macho culture wherein 'queer bashing' was still a socially acceptable pastime in many areas. For every kid that was enlightened when David Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson whilst performing on Top Of The Pops, there was a whole gang who denounced him as a 'poof'.

Punk itself had gone from being a decidedly non-macho, gay and woman friendly movement to a place where men strutted around in big boots, leather jackets and Mohicans in a barely related parody of what they thought punk was originally about.

I bought tickets to see The Clash three times. The first time, they cancelled. The second, I forget. (Probably cancelled.) The third time, they played, but I was behind a wall of giant guys in leathers and boots and all I could see was their logos painted on the backs of their leather jackets. So in point of fact I've never actually 'seen The Clash live' even though I have been in the venue when they were playing. I feel I've lived this part of the punk story, at least.


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