Pardon me for mumbling. I simply haven’t released my *facepalm.*
In the past few months I’ve been following allegations that multimillionaire Joe Corré – spawn of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren – would set fire to roughly $6,000,000 worth of punk memorabilia. That’s right. Six. Million. Dollars worth. Or five million pounds worth, if you’re across the pond.
Corré’s pyro-maniacal threat was sparked in response to Punk London, an admittedly cheesy, year-long cultural celebration of punk’s history supported by the likes of former London mayor Boris Johnson, The Heritage Lottery Fund, and other emblems of – as Corré stated in an interview – “the establishment.” Whatever that means. (Does it mean white, multimillionaire males, perhaps?)
I wasn’t sure if Corré, who is also the founder of exorbitant lingerie brand Agent Provocateur, would follow through with the burning. It was doubtless a publicity stunt, but would the match be struck? Apparently so. While we were still trippin’ on tryptophan this past Saturday, Corré, who hired a PR firm promote the event, took to the River Thames with Westwood in tow and burned the artifacts on a boat; complete with flaming effigies of David Cameron, Theresa May, etc. Flames engulfed everything from rare Sex Pistols recordings, punk-era merchandise, and clothing that belonged to Corré’s famous parents. The date, November 26th, marked the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols single “Anarchy in the UK,” which is super hilarious because I imagine Corré must have had to get a permit to set fire to things on a boat in the fucking Thames river. Or maybe he just paid the relatively small fine of 5,000 pounds to get out of trouble. That must be chump-change for a man with millions of pounds to actually burn.
Corré’s actions and statements are all so conflicting, hypocritical and ironic, it is difficult to know where to begin untangling such a knot; almost as difficult as figuring out how to get the hell out of an Agent Provocateur “playsuit.”
Where do I begin?
The first problem with Corré’s “thesis” is one of timeliness. To say, as he told The Guardian, that “the establishment” has “privatised, packaged and castrated” punk, and that the movement has become a “McDonald’s brand … owned by the state, establishment and corporations,” is wildly funny to me. Because: no shit. Is it really news to anyone over the age of 12 that punk has been commodified like every other branch of subculture that has ever existed? Where was Corré with his torch in 1988 when the first Hot Topic was opened? Where was he in 1992, when mum Vivienne Westwood accepted her Damehood from The Queen of England, or again in 2006 when she accepted another such honor from the Prince of Wales? Corré has stated that one of his issues with the Punk London affair was its affiliation with the Queen, but I don’t see him setting fire to his mom’s $100 t-shirts over her affiliation.
Another problem is Corré’s warped notion that punk was ever anything philosophically aspirational to begin with. Politico-punk didn’t surface until long after punk was officially declared dead, long after the nihilistic first wave in the ‘70s petered out, which had nothing to do with providing answers for lost youth. And as someone who believed in the “ethos of punk” so much that I had an entire cigarette burned into my left wrist because I found it “symbolic” – that is still hard for me to say a decade later.
Punk is music, sprung from boredom and disenchantment with a previous era. It is a reaction, a notch in history’s belt that is perpetually replaced by the next one. Jerry Lee Lewis. Dylan. The Stooges. Wu-Tang Clan. Nirvana. They all disrupted a previous form, but no one ever wrote a manifesto. To think that punk ever existed in a vacuum safe from historical cause-and-effect is beyond naïve.