Friday, January 31, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 31):"HOME" (1986) PiL

Today is the birthday of Johnny Rotten. Or rather it’s the birthday of John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten. Most of the world first knew him as Johnny Rotten and under that guise he was the new ugly in 1976 when word of Punk fully broke. I did not embrace punk, nor did I embrace Johnny Rotten who seemed to me something of an obnoxious poseur. Posturing as the antithesis of a rock star while becoming, well, a rock star. Though, arguably, Johnny Rotten didn’t. John Lydon did.

One expected Rotten to thumb his nose and split. Do a Rimbaud. Rock sucks. Rock’n’roll is capitalist crap. Come in, piss on the party, fuck off.

But no, he came back as John Lydon in 1978. I wasn’t ready to swallow this “avant-garde artist” who, on album, is working with big names like Bill Laswell. Johnny was the dude who was supposedly telling the music biz to shove it, and now . . .  he’s just another guy putting together a band, studio time, marketing 7” and 12” and all the rest of it. Dub mixes, for Christsakes!  Videos, press junkets. Rather unpalatable, that.

There’s no denying that rock was pretty fucking bloated by 1976. And that it needed something. But is what it gets anything but more of the same? It's always showbiz, maybe by other means, if you want to be generous. Which Lydon rarely is to others.

Anyway, I gave Lydon a wide berth, mostly. Occasionally friends would throw a track or two at me, so I would not escape the Eighties unadorned with the musical stylings of Public Image Ltd., or PIL. Still. It was the Eighties, and that meant videos. MTV. Punk and MTV?  Strange bedfellows, indeed. But no, not punk, post-punk. Gee.

So we have this video for today’s song. I don’t endorse it but I do offer it as evidence of what I’m on about. Lydon in this seems like a demented clown, but not really demented, y’know, he’s just pulling faces for the camera. Real horroshow.  The video for “Rise” is a bit better, mainly because the editing and camera work are better. Aesthetic considerations?  Just seems so wrong, somehow. Like: idn't that kinda like The Beatles doing videos for “I Am the Walrus”?  

Anyway, I recently got a couple PIL albums, on vinyl. Second Edition, from 1980, and album, from 1986. I have to admit I always liked “Rise” but never sought out any more of it, til recently. And I like some of the tracks from Flowers of Romance (1981) that I taped from a friend’s album. Maybe only now I’m ready to listen to this music as historically and artistically significant. I admit that what I was responding to all along was the hype more than the music but that’s the way it was, for me anyway, in those beleaguered years. Sure, I was still nominally “a hippie” in the late Seventies, early Eighties, I still liked guitar solos, OK?  Then came punk and said all that was shit. OK, but why is extended bass noodling with metallic guitars and drone a new height?  I read somewhere that “Albatross” on Second Edition was likened by the band themselves to The Doors. And Levene, the guitarist, recognizes that a guitar part elsewhere on the album was swiped from “Starship Trooper” on The Yes Album (1970).  Yes, Yes!  Jeeze, and these guys were supposed to be the death of prog and psychedelia and all that musicianship. Then you make album with Ginger Baker on, for fucks’ sake. Who’s the joke on, exactly? 

Which maybe is just me finally admitting that Lydon is an ironic and comical character and no hard feelings. What’s more, now that I look back on it, a song like “Rise” or “Home” is exactly right for the Thatcher and Reagan years. It sounds like the Eighties but not in a bad way, and pretty much like no one else. Though, for my money, I’ll still take the Mekons.

This song is a rant from the time when “the bomb” was the great fear. Maybe we have other greater fears today. Still, it does visit the “scorched earth,” “spare no man,” “all is fair in war” tropes that are still very much with us. But fuck all that. When I first heard the song, in 2013, the part that grabbed me was:

Better days will never be
Better days will never be
Better days will never be

Better days will never be


Home sweet home, home, home

No comments: