Artist’s note: the following was written in 1985; where necessary, I have amended the original text for the 21st Century.
The Rise And Fall Of The Teenager
The Beginning and the End
“That’s the way, the way that they chose to walk down that road to the promised land of the Teen Age, and now, that those promises have been betrayed and have been shown-up to be the worthless trash that they were, a convenience of consumer capitalism, they mock and accuse us by their return – at Teen Age’s end.” Jon Savage, ‘Teds’, The Face, June 1982
So we’ll form a rock’n’roll band and change the world…
Teenagers, a term first coined in 1941 in America, when their market researchers ‘discovered’ that the youngsters had lots of money, and nowhere to spend it, had not yet realised the whole sham of the cult movements.
The Edwardians, were the first-ever working-class youth to adopt clothing as a symbol of detachment, and rebellion.
Before the pure ideals had been marred by pop music and advertising, it was they who laid the foundations that were to start, and to ultimately finish the whole Teenage Saga. Romantic, nostalgic, weird, dangerous, and exciting. There are no shortage of words to describe cult movements.
The first Edwardians from the Elephant and Castle district of London, couldn’t have possibly dreamt exactly what they were actually starting, in those fateful early years of the decade immediately after WWII. They were the catalyst of frustration felt by many, due to the war, and the resulting austerity.
They were also the ‘Frankensteins’ of youth culture, creating the monster, that was to roam the backstreets, looking for that elusive ‘street credibility’ (whatever that means).
What the Teds may have lacked in ‘social standing’, was compensated-for in the naïve ignorance, usually associated with children, which, relatively-speaking, they were.
“Very little has come out of the whole teenage development that has more beauty than decorated Rocker jackets. They show the creative impulses at its purest and most inventive. Without any sentimentality, it is possible to say that they constitute art of a high degree, symmetrical, ritualistic with a bizarre metallic brilliance and a high fetishistic power.” Jeff Nuttall, Bomb Culture, Paladin 1969
As youth culture developed, attaining a higher understanding of itself, it became quite a middle-class phenomenon during the sixties, when it was intellectualised, with groups coming through art schools for the first time.
The ‘swinging sixties’, when everyone dropped-out, and dropped acid (not as widespread as people would have you believe, we are assured by George Melly in his excellent, ‘Revolt Into Style’), were, for the most part, boring. Everything was too easy.
The seventies reflected everything that was wrong with western society. Grey concrete jungles dominated the post-industrial inner-city wastelands of every major (Victorian) city in Britain.
Unemployment became the fastest-growing pastime. Thatcher did for full employment, what war is doing for Baghdad as a holiday destination.
The trade union movement was well and truly crushed in 1984/5, in what I believe to be the last of the ‘old fashioned’ industrial strikes, with the miners holding their own, and retaining their dignity.
The Jubilee celebrations of 1977 were a farce. Pomp and ceremony hid the fact that the country was socially well on the road to ruin. The story of two Britains.
The other Britain was the stage; Punk was the backdrop. The players were a motley crew of spotty young city-dwellers, cursing and spitting, causing havoc and panic wherever they went.
For thirty plus years, Malcolm McLaren has been involved in the ‘music scene’. Initially starting with a variety of themed clothes shops, he was later to manage legendary cult group the New York Dolls. It was after his association with this group, who were the on/off darlings of the New York underground scene, that McLaren returned to Britain, with his vision of swindling the biggest swindlers; the rock’n’roll industry.
Initially he envisaged a ‘Bay City Rollers’-type of teenybopper band, who were to storm the charts ála pop stars. Once they had been established as a pop/pap group, they would then make their politics apparent.
Jamie Reid (his collaborator) however, preferred to investigate the possibilities of physical collage, as he couldn’t see Johnny Rotten coming-over as sexy, in any way at all.
This then was the plan. A plan that within two years was to earn them close to a million pounds. (and ten years in court before a Sex Pistols v Glitterbest judgement was reached).
Malcolm McLaren modelling clothes from his Ted clothing shop, Let It Rock, 1972
“The Sex Pistols are an undoubted success based on an idea called Punk Rock, which sets out to trail blaze a path of anarchy and ruin within a culture that chooses to destroy us by making our decisions for us. The media was our helper and lover and that in effect was the Sex Pistols success. As today to control the media is to have the power of government, god, or both. …” McLaren/ Reid, Sex Pistols sleeve notes (Virgin 1979)
The New York Dolls, ancestors of Punk
The sleeve notes provided by McLaren and Reid, were an acknowledgement that they had failed, in their intentions; the Sex Pistols plan had gone seriously wrong, emphasised by the death of Sid Vicious, the band’s second bass player. The only real comfort to be drawn, was that the Punk aesthetic had spread, later to manifesting itself in Rai music, amongst other things.
The Sex Pistols were the last hope of the teenager, a fact still to be acknowledged by anyone in the music business.
I am a realist. The Age of Teen is finished.
The party’s over; turn-up the lights.
Sewing The Seeds
Before 1939, there was nothing even vaguely resembling a cult movement. The clothing styles were practical and drab in Britain, and musical tastes, like the mode of dress, were dictated by the over-thirties, and the middle-aged.
It was not until after the war that things really came to a head.
The ‘Bomb’ had finally arrived.
For the first time, the human race was now so technically advanced, that ‘the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ could be heard, making total annihilation not only possible, but also very probable.
The last era of grandeur disappeared with king Edward VII, but, in the late 1940’s, Saville Row re-launched the Edwardian style, for young Guards Officers. The style was also adopted by some homosexuals, who helped to re-create dandyism, and nostalgia for the era, sporting long full-fronted frock coats and accessories.
This ‘revival’ amongst the upper-classes was the last trace of the style and narcissism, typified by the reign of Edward VII (affectionately nicknamed ‘Ted’).
The media, observant as ever, latched onto this trend, and, like every new fashion idea since, featured it in the popular press.
Once it had been exposed, as it were, it was then plagiarised, not by males from the same background, but by young working-class men, who, no-doubt, wanted to impress the ladies with their outfits.
One or two changes were made to the new mode of dress (‘new’, in that it had not been worn in the working-class context before).
Firstly, the homosexual connotations connected with the style were totally eradicated for obvious reasons, (the ‘lower’, or ‘working’ class tend to be more conservative in the attitudes towards religion, sex, and many other subjects). So, the western gunslinger’s walk, waistcoat, and bootlace tie were adopted to give a more masculine appearance. This feeling of being ‘macho’ was further supported by such films as ‘The Wild One’, and ‘Rebel Without A Cause’, to name but two.
Once the trend had been initially established, the youth of Britain were then commercially exploited by big business.
Mass production was the name of the game, though a lot of small ‘bespoke’ tailors did manage to flourish too.
Many factors contributed to the first hedonistic cult movement on that ‘Road To Teendom’.
Britain became more dependent on America, as the country had accumulated massive debts to pay for municians during WWII; debts which, I believe, are still being paid to the USA and Canada.
After ‘VE Day’, the youngsters, and a great many of their elders, began to wonder what would really follow. Afterall, had the war dragged-on any longer, the whole, or atleast many millions, of the human race would almost certainly have been wiped-out.
In ‘Bomb Culture’, Jeff Nuttall puts forward the theory that we are all modelled, and moulded, by the threat of the ‘bomb’. While I do not totally agree with this, I believe that it does have a greater effect (psychologically-speaking), than the majority of people prefer to acknowledge. We are all creatures of circumstance, changing each day as our experiences culminate, leading to reasoning, and ultimately, to opinions.
To wholeheartedly agree with Nuttall would, I believe be wrong, but further weight is added to his hypothesis by William Burroughs’ “A paranoiac is a man in possession of all the facts”. (Naked Lunch, Corgi 1961)
Or, as Orwell stated “Ignorance is strength”. (1984, Secker & Warburg, 1949)
Many major artists in the period immediately prior to WWII, were preoccupied with an abhorrence of mindless slaughter (echoing back to the 1914-18, and the more recent Spanish Civil War), the most famous probably being Dali’s ‘Premonition of a Civil War’, and Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, both painted around 1936.
Adolf Hitler was Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and, by the end of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, his aims and motives were very apparent.
He professed that the Aryan (white European) race, was the master-race, and he was obsessed with this idea. What he could not come to terms with, was when American athlete Jesse Owens (a negro), won several of the running events, thus shattering Hitler’s theory on white supremity. In embarrassment, he left before the medals were presented.
The British, in their infinite wisdom, chose to ignore the signs, and, even as Sir Oswald Mosley’s Black Shirts were spreading their own form of ‘National Socialism&rsquo’ in the English capital, the Rt.Hon. Neville Chamberlain was overseas in Germany, trying to negotiate a peace pact with the ruling Nazi Party.
All these facts came to light, as the country was in the clutches of a nervous anxiety, called ‘patriotism’, though some did actually question the integrity of the politicians and generals.
“It’s funny how you never knew what my name was
Our only contact was a form for the election
These days I find that you don’t listen
These days I find that we’re out of touch
These days I find that I’m too busy
So why the attention now you want my assistance – what have you done for me?
You’ve gone and got yourself in trouble
Now you want me to help you out
These days I find that I can’t be bothered
These days I find that it’s all too much
To pick up a gun and shoot a stranger
But I’ve got no choice so here I come – war games
I’m up on the hill playing little boy soldiers
Reconnaissance duty up at 5.30
Shoot shoot shoot and kill the natives
You’re one of us and we love you for that
Think of honour, queen, and country
You’re a blessed son of the British Empire
God’s on our side and so is Washington
Come out on the hills playing little boy soldiers
Come on outside – I’ll sing you a lullaby
Or tell a tale of how goodness prevailed
We ruled the world – we killed and robbed
The fucking lot – but we don’t feel bad
It was done beneath the flag of democracy
You’ll believe, and I do – yes I do
These days I find that I can’t be bothered
To argue with you, well what’s the point?
Better take your shots and drop down dead
Then they send you home in a pine overcoat
With a letter to your mum
Saying find enclosed one son, one medal, and a note to say he won.”
(‘Little Boy Soldiers’, the Jam, Polydor 1979)
The 1951 Festival of Britain centrepiece, the ‘Skylon’
Extensive nuclear tests and exercises were executed in the early 1950’s, by Britain, the USA, and, by the new post-war industrial power, the USSR.
The 1951 Festival of Britain hailed the new era of (the splitting of) the atom, a fact which interior designers were not slow to incorporate into household goods.
Nearly every home had an atom-ball magazine rack, or a coloured Bakelite wireless (Bakelite was the first totally synthetic resin, developed in 1907 by Belgian chemist Baekeland. After 1926 it was discovered that this material could be coloured). The 1950’s saw plastic sold in pastel shades, with atom-ball feet and tuning dials.
These objects were considered the ultimate in kitsch as recently as five years ago, and could be picked-up very cheaply in auctions, markets, and junk shops.
Over the past three years in particular, the high kitsch mass-produced fifties objects, have greatly appreciated both as small scale investments, and collectors items.
A new age of prosperity was anticipated; urban planners decided that cities needed modernising, following the examples of Berlin, Dresden, and other European cities, which were obliterated by the Allied advance. So began the huge slum-clearance programmes, which were to ravage inner-cities well in to the 1970’s.
This was the first phase of the destruction of the community.
“Don’t want to go to Kirkby, or Skelmersdale or Speke
Don’t want to go from all I know in Back Buchannon Street.” Jackie & Bridie
Britain, or rather Victorian Britain, was reeling from the many social and economic changes that came-about in the immediate post-war decade. And, by 1953, the first (since before the war) mumblings of social discontent were making themselves apparent.
Under new immigration laws concerning the Empire and Crown Colonies, it made it a very attractive proposition to Britain’s loyal subjects (sic), to move to the mother country, the very heart of the Empire, where things just had to be better.
There was a large influx of immigrants coming over to Britain, coming to become ‘second-class’ citizens in service jobs, though they did not seem to mind.
As far back as the mid-fifties, the African, West Indian, and Asian communities, have suffered from a high proportion of unemployment. Though they were openly called ‘niggers’, everything would be fine, because they were in Britain, arguably the most cultured and civilised country in the world.
How wrong they were.
Landlords and prospective employers discriminated, and signs reading ‘No Blacks No Irish No Dogs’, were almost as common as ‘No Smoking on the left of the Auditorium’ signs at the local Plazas, and Hippodromes (which had not yet succumb to the delights of Bingo).
Running parallel to the arrival of our colonial cousins, was the arrival of Rock’n’Roll, or, as it was often referred to, the Big Beat.
“The Big Beat keeps you rockin’ in your seat
The Big Beat keeps you rockin’ in your sleep
Clap your hands and stomp your feet
You’ve got to move when you hear the Beat
The Big Beat keeps you rockin’ in your sleep.”
(The Big Beat, Fats Domino, London Records, 1957).
Brand New Cadillac? Second-hand Cortina.
“I came to England in 1946, when I was sixteen. Life was dark, enclosed, narrowly stratified for most people, a society based on compromise, on making adjustments to the third best, without even an engine of resentment on the part of the underdogs to energise the thing. I went to school, and that stunned me too.
I’d left China forever, I was faced with an England I didn’t like, so what I did was to invent a future for myself. In the late ‘fifties, one could see the first outlines of change. A Cortina outside the front door, even if it was second-hand, television, the washing machine, rock and roll…” J.G. Ballard, Feb. 1985, Vogue.
The Mark I Cortina; the first working-class car
In the very early 1950’s, the only music available to the masses (i.e. working-class) was either big-band swing which had its heyday during the war years, or, the new wave of crooners, including Sinatra, Vic Damone, and a nervous effeminate little chap, complete with hearing aid, a tortured ‘give us a break’ face, and an American passport.
His name was Johnnie Ray, and it was the neurotic, tormented Ray, who first provoked orgasmic screaming at his ‘pop’ concerts (Ray was the first in ‘pop’, but Franz Joseph Liszt, had high society ladies screaming, and offering personal favours to him, much to the annoyance of their gentlemen friends. Also, the culmination of a Liszt performance would be when he smashed his grand piano to pieces on stage. Contrary to popular belief, 60’s ‘art’ group The Who were not the first musicians to exorcise their instruments, thus introducing an autodidactic performance element into their concerts). If the audience were not frenzied enough at a Johnnie Ray concert, he would simply wobble, and prod the hearing-aid with his forefinger.
An unsubtle applied psychology by the performer, in an effort to gain sympathy as a substitute for adulation.
Gene Vincent also employed this method of crowd manipulation, swinging his callipered leg (damaged by polio in his youth) over the microphone stand to open his act, and would later clutch it in agony, before carrying-on with the concert.
Legendary Soul singer, James Brown, who is ‘reputed’ to have a heart condition, collapses in a heap regularly at each concert, before his manager rushes onto the stage, and covers him with a cloak.
Feeling that he owes the audience his life for lining his pockets, and for turning-up to see him, Brown then insists on re-starting the show, at a risk of cardiac arrest. This is all amid wild, and rapturous applause. What a showman.
In the southern states of America, a young man by the name of Elvis Presley was sweeping the region by storm, with overtly sexual performances of ‘black’ Rhythm and Blues songs, which he fused with Hillbilly and Bluegrass music.
The main objection to Presley’s performance, was due to his gyrating hips. The t.v. companies banned Presley from the waist down because he had a dick.
The music became known as Rockabilly, and it set the trend for a whole wave of singing yodellers to try their luck in the many small Country (music) recording studios. This soon developed into what became 1950’s Rock’n’Roll.
Tommy Steele marked the first true manifestation of British ‘Pop’ music, with his meteoric rise to fame in the mid-fifties.
There were, however, three ‘movements’ that did manage to attract the attentions of the younger elements (that is to say under-30s) prior top Steele’s overnight sensation.
They were ‘revivalist’ (or Trad) Jazz, Modern Jazz, and a splinter of Trad, called Skiffle
In Britain, the Jazz craze swept across the whole country.
Starting in the mid to late forties, revivalist jazz gave the music played in, and around New Orleans by negro musicians during the 1920’s, a new lease of life.
The music had thus far been fairly obscure, though 78s were avidly collected, and played at record recitals, which soon developed into ‘jamming’ sessions, and later full reconstructions of the New Orleans sound.
In ‘reconstructing’, or ‘reviving’ the music, the revivalists acknowledged that their golden age was, and would always remain, in the 1920’s.
“Where it differed was in the way it looked back towards an earlier culture for its inspiration, thus admitting that it believed in a ‘then’ which was more superior to ‘now’ – a very anti-Pop concept.” (George Melly, Revolt Into Style, Penguin 1970)
There was no room for development, as the sounds and rhythms were almost fanatically adhered to.
This fanaticism united the movement under one banner. It was the axis by which it revolved, its philosophy, its Platonian ideal.
It was not until a white English musician visited New Orleans in 1949, did any cracks begin to appear.
Ken Colyer actually played with a lot of the black musicians that had actually cut the 78s, which were highly sought-after in Britain.
The whole movement split right down the middle, over whether the music could be developed, and if it were to be, would it still constitute New Orleans Jazz?
It was during the initial stages of the Trad revival (as opposed to Modern Jazz), that the myriad of tiny basement clubs sprung-up in London, and every major city in Britain, the most famous of which was the Cavern in Liverpool, which was to find international fame not for Jazz, as was originally intended, but from the early 1960s, when it became home to the Beatles.
These clubs tended to attract students, a small Marxist element, and the older generations who had bought the original ‘Dixieland’ records on their release.
Trad, as all-white Jazz music, was fed into mainstream popular culture; it was during this process of acceptance that Jazz music was unceremoniously stripped of its ‘protest’ messages, and also its underlying eroticism.
The climax of white acceptance of negro music, came in the ‘forties, with the big band era.
Swing possessed all the technical aspects of black Jazz, but it still lacked the bite and excitement of the original form.
During the early 1950’s, a small group of black musicians restored the subversive connotations that were to be found in the New Orleans Jazz of thirty years prior, and incorporated them into ‘Be-Bop’ Jazz.
Be Bop, as such, was pioneered in New York, by a group of negro musicians, notably Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Mingus, and, to a lesser extent, Miles Davis.
The music was considered too avant-garde for commercial success, but has remained popular to the connoisseur, handfuls of students, and to enthusiasts, who often stumble across the records by chance, which is what Be Bop was/is about after all.
It, like Pop, looked forward, using jamming sessions to further develop the style.
The complexity of these improvised jams appeared, on the surface, too chaotic, and un-ordered (an argument that was to be resurrected, and used against Punk Rock). Hence, Be Bop has remained relatively ‘underground’, and has not been spoilt by commercialism as much as most forms of western music.
Then came Rock’n’Roll, and with it, one of the most controversial elements of post-war Britain.
The menace of teenage subculture.
Tooting Teds leaving the Crown Court, July 1956; note that the clothing was not yet strictly adhered to, yet the press still labelled them ‘Teds’.
Quiffs, Drapes, Brylcreem, and the Flicks
“It was with the advent of the Laurie London era that I realised that the whole Teenage epic was tottering to doom.
Fourteen years old, that absolute beginner” I said to the Wizard as we paused to hear little Laurie in that golden disc performance of his.
“From now on” said the Wizard, “he’s certainly got ‘The Whole World In His Hands’”. Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners, Alison & Busby, 1959.
The first true ‘teen’ idol that Britain produced, was a young Elvis imitator who, after a brush-up on his image, was marketed firstly as a Dean, Brando, Presley-type rebel.
As his popularity soared, he was then the likeable (?) boy-next-door; Thomas Hicks became Tommy Steele.
Around the same time, a musical film called ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was unleashed in Britain’s picture-houses, and, the ever-increasing numbers (due mainly to the press), of working-class Edwardians, or Teds as they were now known, flocked to see it.
Starring, amongst others, a fat balding chap called Bill Haley, with his backing band, the Comets (yet another influence of the atom/space trend of the 1950’s).
Before, during, and after the film, Teds bopped in the aisles, slashed seats with cut-throat razors (my dad has confessed to this), broke shop windows, and generally caused disturbances, labelled ‘riots’ by the press.
The profound social effect this had on their elders was one of panic, to say the least.
M.P.s spoke up in Parliament, deploring the wanton destruction, and the nihilistic violence of the Teds.
The popular press did their utmost to fan the flames of panic, by sensationally reporting every available incident on the front pages, thus stereo-typing Teds as violent, anarchistic, destructive, and a threat.
The only explanation offered for such behaviour, was that these youths had been born during the war years, and must have been effected psychologically.
Most of the ‘trouble’ could be attributed to the press, as Teds, (in order to be real Teds), went out to do copy-cat attacks, firstly on other gangs, then on the increasing number of blacks.
Typical Teddy boy and girl
This type of premeditated, and organised violence was paralleled in Anthony Burgess’ book, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, the bank holiday beach fights of the Mods and Rockers, to some extent by the Punk/ Ted confrontations of 1977, and football hooliganism of the '70s and '80s.
The Teds not only fought amongst themselves, but started to branch-out, terrorising Beatniks (art students, jazz lovers, and anyone under thirty wearing a Duffel coat), and blacks.
Despising jazz, and the type of people that it attracted (usually middle-class, or working-class that had moved-up to middle-class, by going to college or university, thus polarising themselves from their cultural roots), the Teds would intimidate the growing numbers drawn to the Aldermaston Marches of the late ‘fifties.
After the realisiation of the atrocious destructive potential that nuclear weapons offered, (culminating in the terrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of World War II), many in the West tried to develop bigger, more effective (read ‘destructive’) weapons, as a so-called deterent to the threat posed by ‘International Communism’.
This claim can be disputed, as at the beginning of the 1950’s, the Soviets were far more technically advanced than the Americans, so could quite easily have obliterated the USA, with only marginal loss of population in the USSR.
This decade heralded all kinds of changes, and to an objective observer, it must have appeared that the Superpowers were going all-out for nuclear war.
“Then take” said Mr P “the Bomb. What are you going to do about that?”. Clearly I had a zombie on my hands. “Listen” I said to him, “no-one in the world under twenty is interested in that bomb of yours one little bit”. “Ah,” said this diplomatic cat, his face coming all over crafty, “you may not be, here in Europe I mean, but what of young peoples in the Soviet Union and the USA?”. “Young peoples in the Soviet Union and the USA”, I told him, clearly and very slowly, “don’t give a single lump of cat’s shit for the bomb”. Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners, Alison & Busby, 1959.
The Suez crisis, and the brutal 1956 invasion of Hungary by the Soviets (due to civil unrest, which threatened the solidarity of the Eastern Block countries), saw the Cold War take a grip, and to the average Ted, Beatnik, or whatever, it would probably have looked very bleak, so ‘live for today, because we’ll all be blown to fuck tomorrow’, became the new point of view, and for the first time, teenagers lived for kicks.
In 1958, Rock’n’Roll took a definite turn for the worse.
The BBC tried to stamp-out the craze, by promoting Trad Jazz, on both radio and television.
The Beeb were also at the forefront of the Punk Rock backlash, banning the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’, which inspite/because of the ban, still reached the no.1 spot in Jubilee week (June 1977), though not ‘officially’.
1959. Elvis Presley, the self-proclaimed King of Rock’n’Roll (and there were lots of them), was drafted into the US Army; a move which made thousands of American teenagers respect god, country, and Rock’n’Roll.
Back over in Britain, National Service (=Draft) was still compulsory, and many of the Teds had their pride-and-joy cut-off. The hair, for so-long worn short by the male population, was grown by the Teds, and cultivated into a quiff, with a DA (Duck’s Arse) at the back.
The fact that hair was grown longer than the norm, acted as a kind of defiance; a symbol of rebellion, and of, above all, an icon of dandyism and menace, that the Teds revelled in.
Early Edwardians, setting the style in clothing, and how to loiter
The Teds could be said to be guilty of ‘bricolage’
It “refers to means by which the non-literate, non-technical mind of so-called ‘primitive’ man responds to the world around him. The process involved a ‘science of the concrete’ (as opposed to our ‘civilised’ science of the abstract), which far from lacking logic, in fact carefully and precisely orders, classifies and arranges into structures the minutiae of the physical world in all their profusion by means of a logic which is not our own. The structures, improvised or made-up (these are rough translations of the process of the bricoleur) as ad hoc responses to an environment, then serve to establish homologies and analogies between the ordering of nature and that of society, and so satisfactorily ‘explain the world and make able it to be lived in’”. T.Hawkes, Structuralism and Semiotics, Methuen, 1977.
Therefore, the Teddy Boys’ theft and adaptation of the Edwardian style in the early 1950’s, (a style revived for young men about town), may be then construed as an act of ‘bricolage’. The style did not belong to the working-class, but was seized, almost press-ganged out of its original context, and was immediately ‘dropped’’ by the original wearers.
This was the first time that a fad or fashion had been taken from one social group, and relocated in another.
A similar plundering was to happen in exact reverse, with the emergence of Punk, and its accompanying fashions, some twenty years later.
So why then, in the late ‘fifties, was there a rise of the hitherto unknown entity, the teenager?
Several factors contributed to this new phenomenon.
The post-war industrial boom was created by the war itself; this sounds like a contradiction, but when we examine the numbers killed, the number of jobs created in munitions factories, the maximised efficiency of the farming industry during wartime, and the post-war trading treaties signed with other countries, there are indication of an expanding economy. Post-war Britain also saw a huge expansion in the building trade, replacing the many homes lost during the Blitz.
“Britain was still in 1953 the third richest country in the world. Our car industry ranked second only to that of America, exporting 40% of its output, with a 25% share of the only European market – while a steady flow of new models, with new, more contemporary styling (the Morris Minor, the Ford Consul), gave impetus to an unprecedented boom in car ownership at home.
Britain’s shipbuilding industry easily outstripped competitors, with over two million tons under construction, more than the USA, Germany, and Japan combined.
The fact is that, to an extent perhaps hard to recall today, Britain was still, in 1953, a world power” Graham Muller/John Frost, 1953 feature, Sunday Telegraph, 29/5/83
Young people were, for the first time, employed and paid equivalent wages to adults.
Giving youngsters less responsibility (i.e. very few young bank managers, MPs, etc), and more money, created a whole new market. This was a fact that the market researchers were not slow to exploit, indicating that an expansion in the facilities for teenagers, would be a great financial benefit to any business so inclined.
On the whole, the mid to late 1950s were the first years in which people were bombarded by advertising.
1953 saw the coronation of Elizabeth II, and, in the weeks leading-up to that event, millions of television sets were being installed into British homes for the very first time.
On Britain’s rooftops sprouted a forest still unfamilar H-shaped aerials, as the nation marked the first occasion when more people watched tv, than listened to the wireless. It was to be another four years before television over-took radio in terms of audience numbers.
At the end of 1953, Parliament, after long and furious debate, agreed to give the go-ahead to Britain’s first commercial tv station.
And, it was tv which, along with their ‘disposable incomes’ that were, I believe, the major factors in the meteoric rise of the teenager.
“When the kids discovered that, for the first time in centuries of kingdom-come, they’d money, which hitherto had always been denied to us at the best time of life to have it, namely, when you’re young and strong, and also before the newspapers and telly got hold of this teenage fable and prostituted it as conscripts seem to do to everything they touch. Yes, I tell you, it had a real savage splendour in the days when we found that we’d loot to spend at last, and our world was to be our world, the one we wanted and not standing on the doorstep of somebody else’s waiting for honey, perhaps”. Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners, Alison & Busby, 1959.
Are You Being Served?
“Rock’n’ Roll didn’t create its public. Like a theatre audience, they were already waiting for the curtain to go up and, like a rather old-fashioned theatre audience, they were formally dressed”. George Melly, Revolt Into Style, Penguin, 1969.
With the arrival of television into millions of homes for the first time, and hesitant government approval of commercial television, the teen market was waiting to be seduced by big business.
Tommy Steele and a flood of very young (and they did get younger) pseudo-Amercians covered every major hit that the American recording stars released (that it, with the exceptions of Presley, Cochran, Berry, Vincent, and Lee Lewis).
The ‘uniform’ had been formulated, the money earned, the mode of behaviour developed (?), right down to the swaggering walk (due to thick crepe soled shoes, which were affectionately known as ‘brothel creepers’, or ‘beetle crushers’, which resembled fairground dodgem cars, rather more than shoes), so some serious exploitation was now about to take place.
1957 a Ted fashion competition
Steele left ‘pop’ behind for showbiz, but the castration of the first phase of British pop came with the rise of Cliff Richard (Harry Webb), who dragged pop screaming, into showbiz.
Like Steele, Richard’s first single (‘Move It’) was aesthetically pleasing as a Rock’n’Roll record, containg the standard twelve-bar blues scale, and regulation guitar solo in the middle. But again, like Steele, his style (a 2nd rate Elvis) was diluted for wider audience acceptance.
Pop and advertising ran hand-in-hand. The lowest common denominator was that they both had something to sell.
Richard Hamilton summed-up the ‘fifties as early as 1956, with his collage ‘Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing?’
This piece was intended as a satirical look at the predominant commercialiasm of America in particular. As with everything, the split second that it is created, its opposite is automatically created too.
Some critics slammed Hamilton’s piece for paying homage to the commercialism portrayed but, as with much of art, literature, and dance, many of the intended ‘messages’ are either lost or mis-interpreted for some other reasons, usually because they go against the staus quo in some way.
Richard Hamilton’s ‘Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing?’ heralded the beginning of ‘Pop Art’
Lenny Bruce, the great satirist of the Jazz/ Beat/ Hipster scene of America in the 1950’s, was often jeered by his audience, or arrested by the police. As soon as he said one word out of line, his performance would be cut-short, as he was escorted to the nearest police station, in an orderly fashion (?).
Nothing was sacred to Bruce, including himself (common ground with both Dada and Punk). He would even perform his act between strippers in the sleaziest clubs imaginable.
He was Amercia’s greatest outcast, their greatest son, if only the would have realised. But, I think had they realised to comic genuis of Bruce, perhaps he would not have had anything to kick-back-at; Catch 22.
In 1952, Britain spawned a quite brilliantly funny team called the Goons. They, according to Melly, were our ‘Surrealists’, who I believe have done more to subvert the country than any other group, either pop, comedy, political, or otherwise.
What they did was to take the piss in such a way that it was acceptable to the British public. This was surprising especially after the war that Britain had won (this was a myth; America won the war for Britain; until the intervention of the US, after Pearl Harbour, Britain was struggling to contain the well-organised and equipped Nazi forces).
The older generations still looked upon Britain as the old 19th century colonial power that she once was, and, I believe that it was the Goons that helped to bury this misconception (I say ‘helped’ as Queen Victoria was not buried until 1960, when the High Court lifted the censorship ban on D H Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’, though Margaret Thatcher has stated that she would like to re-introduce Victorian values).
The Goons were the British equivalent of Jarry’s ‘Pere Ubu’; inconsequential, absurd, but if one read between the lines, a frightening monster of what was to come would be revealed, of social disorder and near anarchy; the worst has yet to come, but has made itself apparent in the St. Pauls, Toxteth, and Brixton riots, (plus the unreported ones throughout Britain) during the Summer of 1981.
1958 saw race riots in both Nottingham, and in Notting Hill, London.
Again, it was the Teds, (and Mosleyite supporters) who provoked the disturbances, but where had the Teds really come from?
As mentioned previously, the style was ‘commandeered’ from the revival of the late ‘forties.
Initially, it was re-launched for the upper-class young men, who eyed the Edwardian era of their grandfathers with envy.
Pre-war Britain was also pre-socialist. This had a great nostalgia for the upper-classes (who could, and still, be regarded as Toffs/Tories). Socialism was seen to be detrimental to both country and Empire.
“Although aimed high, it was adopted by Guards Officer and then went seriously askew: by 1949 it had been taken up by some more obvious homosexuals, and that, in 1950 was that. Some early Edwardians must have seen the style on a trip on the bus up West, and thought it fitted the bill: the style was really killed-off when the lower orders started flaunting it”. Jon Savage, Teds, the Face, 1982.
As Mr. Savage so astutely observes, the Edwardians preceded their music (Rock’n’Roll) by some five years, and were, rather more of a development of the war-time black marketeers, the Spivs (“wanna buy some nylons darlin’?”), than a direct result of of Rock’n’Roll. They (the Edwardians), as Melly states, were already here.
Most accounts seem to agree that the first working-class Edwardians appeared between Spring 1952, and the following year, in and around the Elephant & Castle area of London. And, with the help of such publications as the Picture Post, and national press, plus regional dances, the style attracted the inevitable publicity, which was heightened in 1953, when “a John Beckley was dragged from a bus after a running fight, kicked and stabbed to death”. Jon Savage, Teds, the Face, 1982
Considering the areas in which it took footholds, it was hardly surprising that the early Edwardians were involved in crime; it was their birthright, as it is/was in most working-class areas in every major city.
It was also inevitable that the media would seize the now famous ‘Clapham Common Murder’, and run regular articles on the menace of the Edwardians, which of course did much to promote the style and appeal of the ‘teen cult’ to other working-class males.
With the arrival of Rock’n’Roll (imported from the USA), and the mass publicity in the tabloids, the Edwardians, or Teds for short, spread from the Elephant & Castle, across London, and finally, by 1956/7 to the provinces.
The large numbers of immigrants that were arriving from the Colonies, became an obvious target for the Teds.
Intimidation became a regular occurance for the ‘children of the Empire’, and incidents were largely ignored or tolerated so as not to attract attention, or cause a fuss.
With the growing tensions between racial groups, tempers flared as gangs of Teds roamed the streets in search of Asians, or West Indians to beat-up.
The situation got out of hand, and rival groups (black v white) held pitched battles in Nottingham, and Notting Hill in 1958. This was repeated in Hoxton and some parts of the East End (of London) in the early ‘70s, and also Toxteth in 1972, when white residents joined gangs of skinheads against the black community.
Without a doubt, the Edwardians marked the first manifestation of the Teenager in Britain; hopeful, violent, nihilistic, and angry.
Festish and Bondage From McLaren
“The current Leftist ideology is preeminently one of cultural primitivism, more frankly so than any since the Nazis. Young ideologists emphasize the restoration of the tribal community and its drug rituals, and they aspire toward a restoration of magic, astrology, and primitive dress” Lewis S Feuer, Ideology and the Ideologists, Blackwell, Oxford 1975
During the period between 1958 and 1976, there were numerous teen cults, among them Rockers, Mods, Beats, Psychedlics/Hippies, Skinheads, Suedeheads, and Glam Rockers. These were, I feel, only incidental (within the bigger picture), as they perpetuated the Teenage Dream.
The trend was set by the Teds, and, to a large extent, the above movements were just going through the motions. Youth had been established for them, and during the ‘sixties, teenagers were catered for and accepted. They were not particularly liked, but they were atleast tolerated.
As in the ‘fifties, the economy was still expanding at a ‘comfortable’ rate, ensuring almost full employment, but during the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, unemployment began to rise steadily until, by 1975 it had reached a post-war high.
Governments came and went, but the only thing that really changed were the figures for unemployment, which climbed higher by the month. This was due to several factors, among them, the expansion of countries like Japan, whose economy exploded, and grew dramatically during the corresponding period.
With the growth of overseas textiles, car, and electronics industries, it became cheaper to import goods, rather than to produce them at home. (After the miner’s strike of 1984, it became normal to import coal from Korea, as it was cheaper than digging it out of Britain’s coal fields).
This had a devastating effect effect on factory closures and their regularity.
As the political climate suggested, change was in the air, the question was, how would this change manifest itself? Via youth culture, or violence on the streets?
This question was partly answered during the long hot Summer of 1976.
Initially hailed as a godsend by the press, as the days passed without rain, they slowly changed their headlines, until they eventually condemned the weather as ‘unnatural’. How ridiculous. (Less-so now with Global Warming).
What was less ridiculous however, was the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976.
Held each year on the August Bank Holiday, the carnival attracts crowds of thousands annually, in a massive celebration of the West Indian community, their culture, and their music.
1976, with it’s longer than hot Summer (which was officially declared a drought in August, and water was rationed via standpipes), saw tempers flare at the carnival.
‘Sound Systems’ were set-up under the Westway fly-over. The police tried to move the systems and DJs, and were confronted by a group of youth. This incident ‘appears’ to have triggered the ensuing riot.
“The system turned on sound; the sound was intimately bound up with the notion of ‘culture’; and if the system was attacked then the community itself was symbolically threatened. It became hallowed ground, territory to be defended against possible contamination by white groups. Police interference was, of course, vehemently resented and in some cases the mere presence of policemen was sufficient to provoke black youths to violent reprisal. The Notting Hill riot of 1976 can be interpreted in this way as a symbolic defence of communal space”. Dick Hebdidge, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Methuen 1979
Pretty young things were featured in the press, flaunting down Oxford St. in bikinis and beach shorts, but over at the King’s Road something far more exciting was taking place.
A new style: new combination of (bricolaged) styles was being pieced together, drawing elements from David Bowie and glam rock, the mod culture of the 1960s, American punk (garage bands) such as the Ramones, Iggy Pop, Richard Hell, Television, and the original ancestors, the New York Dolls. These influences combined with London pub bands such as the London SS, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the 101ers, gaving birth to what I believe will be regarded as THE most important subculture, its importance surpassing that even of the Edwardians.
As with the Teds, many social and economic factors led up to the sensational debut of Punk.
David Bowie, darling of the glitter-rock era of the early 1970s, was a major influence. Bowie was influenced (at one point) by William S. Burroughs, and employed his famous ‘cut-up’ technique (actually developed by artist, Brion Gysin) of seemingly random juxtaposition, to compose lyrics for his ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’ LPs. The application of this technique can be best observed through the words of ‘Drive-in-Saturday’:
“Let me put my arms around your head
Gee it’s hot let’s got to bed
And don’t forget to turn on the light
Don’t laugh babe it’ll be alright
Pour me out another phone
I’ll ring and see if your friends are home
Perhaps the strange ones in the dome
Can lend us a book to read-up alone”
Shortly before the final demise of American cult group, the New York Dolls, a certain Malcolm McLaren became their manager. It was then no coincidence that it was he, aided by Jamie Reid working on the image, record sleeves, posters, etc., that shot the Sex Pistols into the public eye. The Pistols got drunk, appeared on tv, and insulted the fat ageing (and also drunken) Grundy with a barrage of abuse, in the infamous interview. More by accident than design.
Initially, it was in fact this incident that did more to promote the Punk attitude than any amount of badges, records or t-shirts. It was new, vibrant, and above all, it frightened the shit out of the older generations, later appearing to threaten the whole Establishment.
Punk bands sprang-up all over the country, and there was a large buzz of excitement, to be heard amongst the now thousands of Punks to be found, in the new British underground scene.
Another influence on the visual aspect of Punk was Dada.
Tristan Tzara, a member of the Dada group of artists, caused a stir when he hinted at the ‘cut-up’ method, when he ‘composed’ a poem by taking words out of a hat at the Cabaret Voltaire. The method was outlawed as a valid means of compostition, and Tzara was expelled from the group by Andre Breton.
Kurt Schwitters pioneered the collage method, taking newspapers, bus tickets, sacking, and any other material he desired, to construct the first collages by a major artist.
Punk embraced the above methods, and it was Reid, who combined these, with the May 1968 barricade politics and slogans of the Situationist International, to forge the new style.
Clothing was cut-up, and held together with safety pins (sic.), lavatory chains were hung gracefully in gentle arcs across backs and chests, which were covered in plastic bin liners. Fabrics, disregarded by high fashion, were reinstated with a vengeance. PVC, lurex, and plastics were printed with imitation leopard and tiger skin motifs. Colours ranged from shocking pink, to orange, yellow, and lime green, often in combination.
The winklepicker shoe also resurfaced, as did the ‘brothel creeper’ of the Teds.
Punks conducted the widest act of bricolage ever undertaken by a cult movement.
Anything went if it was slightly associated with kitsch, or the Establishment; it was adopted, then defiled. School uniforms (particularly shirt and tie) were often worn, the shirt emblazened with graffitti, the ties left open, or tied in the smallest knot possible.
For the majority of Punks, there was an unwritten constitution, that was, for the most part, strictly adhered to.
The first Punks (that is 1976) would wear almost anything, as the style was in its infancy. They were in effect the pioneers of the ‘fashion’.
Unlike the Teds, who were largely locally-based, whose main form of transport were the buses, the punks were more of a peripatetic national movement. It was easy to hitch-hike following the bands in 1977, and to go up to talk with somebody, because they too were punks.
Swastikas were worn, not as some critics (and some cretins) believed because sympathies lay with the Nazi ideology, but because the swastika was decadent, in that it was symbol of ‘No Future’, a catchphrase commonly in certain circles, from punk to the present. The wearing of swastikas was more aimed at shocking the older generations, than fascist tendencies amongst the Punks (though there were some nazi punks).
As Siouxsie (lead singer of the Banshees) put it “I love getting peoples backs-up. It’s like laughing at spastics … We are not Nazis … and we’re sick of being shunned because of mis-quotes by sensation-seeking reporters – we don’t need it”. Siouxsie Sioux from ‘Punk Rock’ by John Tobler, (pub. Phoebus 1977)
Siouxsie in her famous cup-less bra
And, as the National Front gained support at the end of 1976, the swastika was promptly dropped as an icon, in favour of the safety pin, razor blade, tampon, condom, lavatory chain. Sid Vicious was one of the noteable exceptions, famed for wearing a swastika t-shirt in the Paris sequence of the film, ‘The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle’.
As punk was so visual, having much of the desired effect on the older generations (I was stopped and searched, attacked, and asked to leave certain stores as a kid Punk), we should look at the other important element in the Punk style.
Unlike the style of the Edwardians, Punk was actually contrived, in that it was developed for a specific purpose; to shock, and shock it did.
“Cultural primitivism is the discontent of the civilised with civilisation … the belief of men living in a relatively highly evolved and complex cultural condition that a far simpler life is a more desirable life” Arthur O. Lovejoy/ George Boas, Primitivisim and Related Ideas in Antiquity (pub. Baltimore, 1935)
Cultural primitivism: a Baluchi child and a Punk (1977)
Discontent was very apparent in the long Summer months. The only thing that I find surprising is that the riots of 1981 took so long in actually happening, as the wave of anti-government, and anti-monarchy feelings were probably higher than they had been since before WWI. Even these were surpassed as a direct result of successive Tory governments, whose policies ravaged the industrial heartlands of Britain, trebling the dole queues in a mere five years.
The sexual element in Punk is another important aspect, that was woven into the appearance of Punk. Androgeny also contributed via the Bowie/ Roxy scene.
Leather, studded garments, and ‘bondage’ gear were all worn by Punks, again to shock. Menace was provided by the para-military guerilla uniforms.
We now have the appearance of the Punks established, vague and dubious as it was/is, with a noted absence of permanent icons; to the punks anything was fine (except flared trousers) and nothing was deemed sacrosanct.
A simpler version of how the style evolved came from Jamie Reid, when I asked him about it.
“It all came about with Sid (Vicious). He was a junkie and a dealer. He owed this bloke a bit of money, and when he got in one day, his flat had been broken into. All his clothes had been cut-up with scissors, including his prize mohair suit. Sid thought “Fuck you; I’ll show you”, and he pinned all his clothes back together, and started strutting up and down the King’s Rd in this suit, just to show that he wasn’t bothered.”
Whether this story is true or not does not really matter; a mark of the Situationists was that they never signed their work.
“… and their odd custom of treating their hair with lime wash, which not only bleached it, but made it stand from their heads like the mane of a horse … ” Ward Rutherford, The Druids and their Heritage (pub. Gordon & Cremonisi, 1978)
Every teen movement that preceded Punk was purely a celebration of the young, by the young, about being young. There were no political overtones in any of the songs, interviews with the groups, or in fact any known cases of fans being attracted to certain groups as a result of their politics, until mid-late 80s free festival bands.
The nearest that Pop came to politics was in the 1960s, when Bob Dylan, and a host of other ‘protest singers’ wrote songs condemning the Viet Nam war and nuclear weapons, and pro-civil rights songs. They were political in that the issues were political, but they were very general in what they attacked, brandishing vague accusations, rather than singling-out the culprits.
Drugs also posed a threat to the Establishment via pop music during the 1960’ in particular, culminating in the famous Drug Squad swoop, when they arrested, amongst others, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull. This gave rise to the ‘infamous’ Mars Bar revelation during the trial, and the subsequent rise in sales of this chocolate bar.
Again, whilst questioning the status quo in a general way, Pop music did very little to make people think, let alone change the world.
With the bands churning-out pap, and the economy still quite healthy during the 60s, it was little wonder that the teenagers were ‘just teenagers, dressing in funny clothes and listening to silly music’.
Even the Teds, who had aroused shock and anguish with their first appearance, had waned into adult acceptance and tolerance:
“As early as the beginning of July, a 19 year old Rockabilly, Rockin’ Mick, was expressing his total and utter disgust of the Punks’ lack of patriotism and, on the issue of the blacks, he said “We’re not against the blacks; let’s just say we’re not with them””. London Evening Standard (5th July 1977)
Again, the press played their part in provoking a massive anti-Punk backlash.
‘God Save The Queen’, second single by the Sex Pistols, despite being banned by the BBC, reached the No.1 spot in the charts during Jubilee week. Lunatics of all ilks joined-in on this backlash. The ill-fated Anarchy Tour of late 1976 was marred by bans up and down the country, and only five of the original twenty dates were played. MP Marcus Lipton stood up in the House of Commons and made this solemn statement “If Pop music is going to destroy our established institutions it ought to be destroyed first”. Val Hennessy, In The Gutter (pub. Quartet, 1978)
Almost every major venue had banned the Punks, and the press mis-quoted the lyrics of ‘GSTQ’, declaring that the Pistols sang “the queen is a moron”, which should have in fact read “they made you a moron”. This, in Jubliee week, when patriotism had once more shown its ugly head, was just not on.
Vigilantes (royalist fanatics) took it upon themselves to administer ‘summary justice’, by carrying-out a series of attacks on members of the Pistols, the Clash, the Boomtown Rats (still classed as Punks in 1977), and the Damned.
The Teds, revived in the early 1970s by, ironically enough, Malcolm McLaren (the Sex Pistols’ manager), were still around in numbers in the late seventies.
It was very apparent from the outset, that Punk would upset and offend (exactly as intended). The very nature of Punk demanded that.
‘Anarchy In The UK’ (Pistols’ first single) had a union jack torn to pieces, and pinned back together on the promotional poster. The sleeve was devoid of all information, text, or images, appearing as a plain black bag. Anarchist styley.
‘God Save The Queen’ had an official Jubilee portrait, with the eyes blocked-out, as in May ’68 graphics; it hinted at scandal and the criminal.
“Nothing was holy to us. Our movement was neither mystical, communistic, nor anarchist. All of these movements had some sort of programme, but ours was completely nihilistic. We spat on everything, including ourselves. Our symbol was nothingness, a vacuum, a void.” George Grosz on Dada, Subculture The Meaning of Style (pub Methuen, 1979)
Ted-Punk fights broke-out due to the opposite ideologies of the two subcultures (ie Ted = royalist/ patriotic/ anti-black/ smart appearance; Punk= anti-royal/ unpatriotic/ non-racist/ ripped clothing and safety pins).
Once again, the King’s Road became the media focal point, as large gangs of Punks and Teds clashed every weekend throughout July and August of 1977.
Johnny Rotten caused yet another a sensation, by going out dressed as a Ted. A few weeks later, the Crown prince of punk was attacked with a razor and machete, one of many such incidents.
A Punk being arrested during the Punk-Ted clashes of Summer 1977
The whole irony of the teen movements is that they are anti-fashion at their time of conception. That is to say that they are anti-whatever the fashion of their time is; it is a reaction against the normal everyday familiarity, but as increasing numbers of teenagers ‘identify’ with a look, it subsequently becomes ‘just another fashion’, which is inevitably replaced by the perpetual discourse of youth.
To be part of a youth culture, one has to have a regular source of income, to keep up with the latest trends. As unemployment has taken a grip of post-industrial Britain, many shops catering for the young have closed, as have clubs, and magazines. The record industry has once more slumped as a direct result. The ‘disposable income&rsquo’ is a pleasant recollection from the distant past.
Punk was taken off the streets, to be marketed as high fashion. Silver safety pins and gold razor blades were appearing as part of couture collections in the quality (glossy) fashion magazines.
Zandra Rhodes’ Spring 1978 collection was heavily influenced by the punk fashions of the year before.
Vivienne Westwood (former live-in lover of Malcolm McLaren) produced clothing initially for McLaren’s King’s Road boutique ‘Sex’, but has gone even further ‘upmarket’, and this year signed a partnership deal with designer of international repute, Giorgio Armani.
Sex Pistols’ singer Johnny Rotten, wearing a Vivienne Westwood-designed shirt
“April 3, 1989 Marakech.
The chic thing is to dress in expensive tailor-made rags and all the queens are camping about in wild-boy drag. There are Bowery suits that appear to be stained with urine and vomit which on closer inspection turn out to be intricate embroideries of fine gold thread. There are clochard suits of the finest linen, shabby gentility suits … felt seasoned by old junkies … loud cheap pimp suits that turn out to be so cheap the loudness is a subtle harmony of colours only the very best Poor Boy shops can turn out.” William S Burroughs, The Wild Boys (pub. Calder and Boyers, 1969)
Shunned as a ‘monster’, youth culture is definitely on the wane, with a predicted fall of 25% in numbers of teenagers over the next 5-10 years (due to mass unemployment and wide availability of contraception). Market researchers are already gearing promotion of new products at the 30-50 demographic, on the assumption that this age group are more likely to be employed.
Never again may there be as many young people in Britain as now, but the facilities for the young are totally inadequate, as we are not a minority. The whole ‘teen thing’ is falling to pieces; the market is strangling itself by moving too quickly. Teendom has become ‘just another business’.
What started with the Edwardians in 1953, the hope and enthusiasm, declined into ‘No Future’ cries of the Punks.
“The Punks were tied to a present time. They were bound to a Britain which had no foreseeable future” Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (pub. Methuen, 1979)
Irony plays a part in the fall of the teenager. Everything that Punk stood for, was turned back on it, and used against it.
While the masses were reading about the danger of Punk in every newspaper, the Hayward Gallery (London), was promoting the first major exhibition of Dada and Surrealism. The aim of this show was to establish the reputation of the individual artis, and to win public recognition for their genius.
There is no future for the youth of today as youth.
Rioting will become common place, as will deaths at football matches, and threats to the Establishment will continue to be monitored. But, as the song says:
“When there’s no future
How can there be sin?
We’re the flowers in the dustbin
We’re the poison in the human machine
We’re the future
Sex Pistols, God Save The Queen (Virgin, 1977)
Punk was Dada’s finest hour.
“Yes Future”; vive la Teenager!