Denny Sinnoh's "Akihabara Starlight"

Posts tagged ‘Punk Rock’

Denny’s Classroom — Two centuries of British songwriting, Part 27: “Bodies” by the Sex Pistols

british song

Good morning class. Today in “Two Centuries of British Song and Poetry” we travel back to the late-twentieth century. We will study the origin and development of  “punk rock” theory. (Denny rustles lecture notes on the podium.) We will celebrate and explore the musical and lyrical genius of Mr. Johnny Rotten and Mr. Sid Vicious (now deceased). The song is “Bodies” from the “Never Mind The Bollocks” album by The Sex Pistols, released in October 1977.

Abortion is a serious and controversial topic. There are relatively few pop songs which cover the issue however. Who else to explore this debate than with these preeminent and prototypical late 1970s punk rock icons? (Ahem.) Perhaps it is best if we play the song first. Please hold your discussion points until AFTER the song plays. (Denny senses some distracted students.) The lyrics are here for you to follow along with.

She was a girl from Birmingham
She just had an abortion
She was a case of insanity
Her name was Pauline  (she lived in a tree)

She was a no one who killed her baby
She sent her letters from the country
She was an animal
She was a bloody disgrace!

Body! I’m not an animal
Body! I’m not an animal

Dragged on a table in factory
Illegitimate place to be
In a packet in a lavatory
Die little baby screaming!!!
Body! screaming fucking bloody mess
Not an animal
It’s an abortion 

Body! I’m not animal!
Mummy! I’m not an abortion!

[Spoken]
Throbbing squirm,
gurgling bloody mess
I’m not a discharge!
I’m not a loss in protein!
I’m not a throbbing squirm!

Fuck this and fuck that —
Fuck it all and fuck a fucking brat
She don’t wanna baby that looks like that
I don’t wanna baby that looks like that
Body, I’m not an animal
Body, an abortion

Body! I’m not an animal
Body! I’m not an animal
An animal
I’m not an animal…..
I’m an abortion…..

Mummy! UGH!

We should also enjoy this lovely live version from way back in 1978. This really really takes me back to my youth. I’m the guy with glasses in the third row. 

The lyrics – which are tame by today’s standards – were quite shocking in 1977, as were the Sex Pistols, as was British punk rock music in general. The protagonist of the song is an unborn fetus. It pleads to its insipid mother that “I am not an animal”. To no avail. It dies a “screaming bloody gurgling mess” during an illegal abortion. If you watch the live version, note that at one point Johnny Rotten twists his microphone cord around his neck to symbolize the abortion procedure against the unborn child. Sid Vicious was cutting himself on stage by that time, so the extra blood further illustrates the poetic complexity. The last lyric line is simply “Ugh” — the death of the would-be human baby.

rotten twisting abortion

What would the world have been like if the mother of John Lydon had an abortion?

The music is exemplary punk rock music. When I young musicians, and they sometimes tell me that “the Pistols” are one of their influences. I always say “Do you know what the Sex Pistols were really like?!?” It is true, their album is full of what would now be considered punk clichés. They invented the punk rock standard.  (I suggest that readers view the interesting mocumentary “The Great Rock-and-Roll Swindle” for a fuller story.)

The lyrics do open up a number of questions of course …

Now, I know what you are thinking: How right-wing reactionary they must have been …  writing an anti-abortion song. Of course, the Sex Pistols were anything but conservative – they were very much the opposite actually .. despite the Pro-Life message of this song.

20 week fetus

The 20 week fetus: I’M NOT AN ANIMAL!

I think the reason why they presented this horror show was to shake up the complacency of British society. Abortions by this time were legal, although restricted, in Britain. Middle and upper class British women having abortions would just be another thing for Mr. Rotten to be critical of. He would also be critical of “all the bloody starvation and oppression” in the world as well.  The ant-abortion statement here, I believe, is just another way for him to say “Fuck you England – you’re stupid”. Whatever is the norm, he would seek to tear down. Anything against the British majority — which would make him correct only 80% of the time! (Denny looks out at students to see if anyone is challenged by his last statement).

“God save the Queen – because this is a FASCIST regime … there is no future for you …. and England’s dreaming …”.

(cough). Oh, that one is actually another song for perhaps another lesson. It is thematic of the entire record however. (Denny desperately trying to get a student reaction.)

Now would that also be true for …

(Bell rings: Sound of students packing, getting up, leaving, talking.)  … As a reminder … (Denny speaking over the clamoring sounds of students packing)  … class … please post your comments to the course message board by Monday at 9:00 am. Oh, and I will NOT be in my office on Tuesday … but I will hold an extra hour after my regular office hours on Thursday.

Starlight: 1977 … Hmm … For right or for wrong … the Sex Pistols and punk rock were part of my transitioning to reject drugs, my neighborhood, my school, and my hometown.

“Bad Music for Bad People”

One of the most creative and unique bands in the history of rock-and-roll  music was The Cramps.

“Do you want the real thing, or are you just talking?”

What if American conservative preachers in the 1950s were correct? 

What if rock-and-roll music would turn innocent youth into fornicating psychopaths?  Could American kids be turned into foul-mouthed, juvenile delinquents — full of deviant thoughts and lustful carnal desires?

If it so happens that YOU never succumbed … well then you must have never been exposed to the powerful “Psycho-billy” sound of punk-rock legends “The Cramps”.

The Cramps arose in punk-rock’s formative era of the late 1970s. The core of the group was lead singer Lux Interior and lead guitarist Poison Ivy. (All Feminists note: Ms. Ivy is the most under-rated guitarist in rock music history.) The group was not a major commercial success, but they were greatly influential on punk and “goth” groups which came later.

Their songs used campy humor, sexual double-entendres, and eclectic art from horror comics, B-movies and retro science fiction. … and all in good fun! I might argue however, that in comparison to popular music today, there is nothing overtly profane in these songs. The IDEAS contained within, were highly subversive.

Smell of female cover

Cover art for the “Smell of Female” live album.

Musically, they were a combination of punk, rockabilly, surf, and death rock. The Cramps were usually a quartet, but the lineups changed over the years — until Lux Interior’s death in 2009. They did not use a bass guitarist, but instead utilized a “double-fuzz” guitar. Guitarist Poison Ivy’s playing captures the raw surf-guitar-from-hell sound perfectly.  The Cramps invented and defined the “psycho-billy” genre we know today.

They were the real deal. Other “dark” fashion styles and groups came later, but the Cramps were never the brooding, inward-looking misunderstood suicidal poets. (The way other goths and film majors are.) They were horny not brooding. Lux was the drooling, lapping, lecherous teenage werewolf all other horny teenage werewolves wanted to be. You can brood, you faux goth you … meanwhile Lux just F@#$ed your girlfriend (while Ivy watched).

“You ain’t no punk, you PUNK!” … but I will still share this YouTube playlist of the entire “Bad Music for Bad People” album in all its blatant sex-and-drug themed glory.

“… stick out your can, ’cause I’m the Garbage Man …”

If you want “Some New Kind of Kick” view this slide show of The Cramps concert posters and record art.

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