East St. Kilda and Malvern, 1977
It was the first and only time it ever happened. Mum walked over to the television and turned it off with a loud snap.
“I don’t want you watching this,’’ she huffed leaving the room.
“Mum, what are you doing?’’
I had been watching weekly music program COUNTDOWN when host Molly Meldrum had enthused “um..and now a report on the latest sensation sweeping the UK … PUNK ROCK.’’
Perhaps some premonition had warned Mum I might just like this new phenomena a little too much.
Given she and I use to talk about everything and she was an avid reader, teacher and intellect, I was instantly intrigued as to why she didn’t want me to watch.
Next day at my Catholic boys school the dour Christian Brother headmaster brought another boring assembly to a close with a sudden announcement: “Now boys, you might be aware of this new music style out at the moment called punk rock…well I forbid you from listening to it,’’ he pontificated.
“It is musical pornography not fit for your ears. You must have nothing to do with it.’’
Well, that was it. I had to hear this shit right now.
I waited until the lunchtime bell rang and then with a classmate I jumped the school’s high fence and ran up to Glenferrie Road Malvern to Gaslight Records.
I asked the guy with the beard and long hair behind the counter if he had heard this new Sex Pistols record and if so could we please listen to it on the store’s headphones.
He sighed. “It is a gimmick. They won’t last more than a month, but I’ll play you their first single.’’
I snatched the headphones and waited for the music to start.
First there was an explosion of guitar and drums and a call to arms from the singer: “Right now!’’.
Then the opening lines hit me like a sledgehammer.
I AM AN ANTI-CHRIST
I AM AN ANARCHIST
DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT
BUT I KNOW JUST HOW TO GET IT
I WANT TO DESTROY PASSERS BY
Oh gee, oh golly, oh fuck.
It sounded like the musical equivalent of Attila The Hun sacking Rome.
It made every other song I’d heard seem dated.
I had grown up a Catholic, had even been an altar boy, but had lost my religion big time eighteen months prior to hearing The Pistols when my eldest brother Tony was one of the five journalists killed by Indonesian forces in Balibo in East Timor in 1975.
This had left me confused, sad and angry. It didn’t help when a pious nun who worked with Mum visited not long after the ’incident’ and upon seeing everyone in my family crying whispered to me, “They are ridiculous. They should be happy that Jesus has taken your brother early.’’
I couldn’t believe she had uttered such bullshit.
I AM AN ANTI-CHRIST.
Yep I sure was now.
Previously I had never even given music much thought. Sure, my elder brothers had Stones, Bad Company, Bob Dylan and Beatles albums but they hadn’t made much of an impression.
This however was my music. If punk hadn’t come along I probably would have willed it to appear anyway.
I loved the way The Sex Pistols sung about the gritty stuff –
the COUNCIL TENANCIES and THE FUTURE SHOPPING SCHEMES and how they were anti-pop stars with names like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious.
The seemed vital and very much alive compared to the bloated, irrelevant and boring acts that then dominated the pop charts.
I loved it that adults, `proper musicians’, the musical establishment and the guy at the record shop hated them.
It only made me love them more.
I thought it was great how the music was so raw and simple and that The Sex Pistols wore ripped clothes and safety pins.
Anyone could play this.
Years later I got my chance to do just that with a band who were only going to play once. I was asked to play trumpet on one song, so I jumped at it.
We called ourselves Painters And Dockers because of the patrons who drank in the Port Melbourne pub we were playing.
The night ended in a huge brawl.
There was chaos glorious chaos.
For me it was like an alcoholic taking their first drink, a heroin addict having that first taste. I was gone. We have now done more than 1200 shows all over the world.
However, unfortunately like every good revolution, punk came and went.
How do you know when you are old?
When you hear GOLD FM GOOD TIME OLDIES play Anarchy In The UK.
Painters and Dockers, In My Mind. 1988. Red-headed Paulie Stewart on trumpet, in black singlet.
YouTube clip via Andrew Nguyen