My Rotten Reasoned Religion, Chapter 1
When I was a senior at Miami Christian School in 1977-78, my friends and I heard about this group called the Sex Pistols who played this music called punk rock except they really didn’t know how to play music and they vomited onstage and they stuck safety pins in their cheeks and they had names like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and all their lyrics amounted to was ‘no future’.
The concept sounded like fun. Except that we hadn’t actually heard what this music sounded like.
This led to some interesting jam sessions with my drummer friend. I had just gotten my first electric guitar and a small amp with distortion. I had also gotten a metal slide (a/k/a bottleneck). I was a fan of Zeppelin and Hendrix. I also hardly knew how to play. No big deal if we were doing this ‘punk rock’ stuff, right?
My friend, on the other hand, was entering his fourth year of drum lessons. We started pounding away at random. He doing continuous drum rolls. Me raking the strings while sliding the slide as high up as possible, preferably right over the pickups. Feedback was required.
The results ended up sounding like free jazz or “LA Blues” by the Stooges (which I had never heard at that time…punk rock enough, I suppose). Or maybe Billy Cobham on amphetamines jamming with Lydia Lunch. This was very early in 1978.
A bit later my friends managed to borrow an import copy of the Pistols’ notorious LP, Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols. I didn’t get to hear it with them. My first question to them was ‘are there guitar solos?’
I don’t recall getting a very clear answer, and soon afterwards I bought my own copy of the US version (a sticker on the back proclamed the inclusion of ‘Sub-Mission’). I wasn’t that impressed at first listen. It sounded like heavy metal with (of course) no guitar solos and weird nasal vocals. And the instruments seemed to be played competently enough.
The lyrics didn’t fail to live up to the hype, though. The first song talked about the communist call and the Berlin Wall. The second song was my introduction to abortion in popular culture, with its graphic imagery and the f-word repeated six times in one verse. The ‘hits’ delivered on their promises of mayhem: God Save The Queen ended with the anthemic “no future” refrain and Anarchy In The UK (which ended even more momentously with “get pissed, destroy,”) even stopped my discipline-challenged (but mostly harmless) friends in their tracks with its opening proclamation of “I am an antichrist”. Even the class of 1978 at MCS had its limits.
After a few plays, I noticed I had a much easier time remembering how the songs on that record went as opposed to those on some of the Hendrix records I had taken to collecting as of late. I would never give up my fanhood of Hendrix, but I realized that there was a different aesthetic at play here.
We preserved it for posterity in our senior yearbook, as we managed to get ‘God Save The Queen’ onto the top ten favorite songs list. This was aided a bit by my presence on the yearbook staff.
But by far the most abiding memory of those days was being called upon by my POAD (Problems Of American Democracy — fancy name for ‘Civics’) teacher to justify, as a Christian, my purchase of the Sex Pistols’ album. The answer I gave him was to the point, direct, and appropriate for someone with no street smarts that just turned 18: I Iike it, so I bought it.
Now, I never was a very good rebel. My most defiant act was saying the word ‘suck’ during a skit in chapel the previous fall, and that was part faux pas and part ignorance. The whole place exploded in laughter except for the teachers who got apoplectic. I was totally embarrassed and apoplectic myself. I never liked getting in trouble. I’ve also had a much easier time expressing myself in writing. I’m not a natural born debater.
So the answer I gave my teacher about the Sex Pistols was born of ignorance and awkwardness and not defiance. The reality was that I was still trying to figure out punk rock and I was trying to figure out Christianity too.
To be continued whenever I get to it…