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Anarchy in NYC vs. the U.K.

Legs McNeil and Jon Savage, present-at-the-creation punk scholars, on the spirit of ’76.


Joey Ramone and Debbie Harry.   

Mark Jacobson: Just to start things off in a contentious manner: I thought that punk would avoid the inevitable nostalgia binge. But it doesn’t really seem to be that way.

Legs McNeil: The more we see of the future the more we recycle the past, you know that.

Jon Savage: I definitely agree. One of the things I liked about punk was it was trying to deal with the future. When I heard Television’s Little Johnny Jewel for the first time, the future unfolded before me. I was a young man coming out into the world, and I thought the world was fucked. I needed something to show me the way through this, and what worked was music: the Ramones and later on the British punk groups.

Legs: It’s like when you get a blow job for the first time. It just stays with you forever.

Mark: How long can you live on that?

Legs: A long fucking time, let me tell you.

Mark: So when you hear the music now, does it affect you the same?

Jon: I still play the first Ramones album a lot. Whenever I’m feeling tired, as I do now sometimes when I’m 59, I put on the Ramones and it’s like, Let’s go.

Mark: In New York, there were people who hated disco, and there was rebellion against the hippie movement. Was that the same in England?

Jon: In England, the pop music of the day was beyond hideous. There were three singles in ’76 that absolutely blighted my life. It was “Fernando,” by Abba; it was “Save Your Kisses for Me,” by the Brotherhood of Man; and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” by Kiki Dee and Elton John. Well, hello! I mean, I’m gay, and I don’t like Elton John. That’s why punk happened in the U.K.

Mark: Legs, what records used to really bother you back then?

Legs: James Taylor, Joni Mitchell … We grew up on such great Top 40 radio. It was the Kinks, the Stones, the Beatles, and Question Mark and the Mysterians. We thought, When we come of age, we can drink and hang out, it’s going to be great. Then we came along, and it was all this folk-rock crap. The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and all this garbage. It was kind of like, What happened to the good, hard-driving rock and roll?

Jon: Exactly. By ’75, it was so hard to rock. And if you wanted loud guitar music, which is all I wanted, and all punk was really … loud, noise, distorted guitars. The Clash to me were like the Who and the Kinks. They were just sped up. The interesting thing about the Sex Pistols was you didn’t just like them, you liked them and you hated them. They attracted you and they repelled you, which was quite apart from the fact of whether you actually liked the music.

Legs: When I heard the Pistols for the first time, it was like they stormed the scene we’d been doing for a couple of years. That the music was really good added insult to injury. They kind of ripped off what we were doing in New York, but they added some new dimensions to it too.

Jon: For me, it all went off when the Sex Pistols played on the boat trip, which I went on, and saying “Fuck you” to the queen on the queen’s jubilee. That was completely brilliant. But London has always had an incredible chauvinism about punk. I always saw it as an international movement, obviously because it started in New York. Outside of the Sex Pistols, every single British punk-rock group sounded like the Ramones. That’s how much of an impact that record had.

Legs: I was with the Ramones in L.A. when the Sex Pistols came to San Francisco. I was afraid to tell Joey Ramone that I was going to see them. The rest of that year, Joey was like, “Legs and his new best friends, the Sex Pistols.” It was awful.

Mark: One thing between New York punk and British punk is the class situations are so different.

Jon: Certainly, as far as England is concerned, the class situation is very, very stratified. What I liked about British punk is not that it was just working-class kids, but there were a lot of working-class kids. I mean, the Pistols were real down-and-out working-class kids. But there were a lot of middle-class people involved with them. That’s when you get something powerful.

Legs: America says it’s classless, but that’s complete bullshit. In England, it’s more out in the open.

Mark: When rap music first came around, did it feel similar to the beginning of punk?


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