In 1970 George Melly, the jazz singer, Surrealist and general bon viveur about town, wrote Revolt Into Style. The book was an overview of the popular culture, music and arts which he knew intimately.
He came up with the theory, if I recall it rightly, that any new aspect of youth culture was at first attacked and denigrated by the mainstream. It was subsequently and profitably subsumed into it, marketed by big business and the fashion industry and sold back to the young consumer.
As I have written in the paper I work for, the Sex Pistols are being used to sell a credit card. You can get a special novelty card featuring the artwork from their only album and first single.
Melly died in 2007, so he was around to witness just the process he described in his book take place on the coming of punk rock, six years after it was published. At first the movement was excoriated as a sinister youth cult and a nihilistic, anti-social rejection of everything middle England held dear. The hysteria it generated at the time is hard to credit now, though the punks didn’t help themselves by attacking, often physically, any musician or DJ they deemed too old and out of touch.
Within months, artfully ripped T-shirts, held together with safety pins, were appearing in high street boutiques, mass-produced by the same fashion companies that had brought us crushed denim loon pants and flared jeans a few years earlier. Record companies were frantically signing any band that fit the stereotype. Revolt had indeed turned into style, though rather more quickly than in previous incarnations of youth culture.
Kids who had been barely aware of the early punk gigs were queuing up to buy identikit versions of the uniform. As a satirical song at the time put it: “Oh, I wanna be me, I wanna be myself/Even though I look like everybody else.”
(Though one might argue that punk, most of which was musically worthless, was itself a con perpetrated by the music industry on the young consumer, so it was probably ideally suited to the process.)
You could see the same thing happening in the case of acid house, or rap music. Revolt into style. RIP George Melly, an acute observer of popular culture. Though I bumped into you briefly at the Edinburgh Festival once and thought you were a bit of a plonker.