1979

When I was 9, I traveled to the UK with my family.

We saw trendy punks in London. There were hundreds of them. They wore a lot of tartan and leather and had bright hair and they used to play chicken by leaning out over the subway platforms to make people think they were going to fall onto the electrified lines.

I thought they were annoying. My sister, who was 11, thought they were cool.

There were no punks in Canberra at that time. Or if there were, they probably just looked like skinny guys in black coats. So these ones were pretty different, for us.

In the midlands we went to Birmingham and there were hundreds there, too. We walked into a town square and it was completely full of them. We wanted to sit down but there was nowhere to sit. One of them got up to give us a seat. He had a mohawk. My mother was charmed.

On the way back we stayed in London again and I went to a record store in Soho and brought a Cure album and the Local Heroes Sw9 on cassette. I also used to listen to the Pretenders a lot, at that age. But the Clash were still three years away, for me.

I could have gone and seen them, if I hadn’t been, y’know, nine.

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About sjmckenzie

Writer. Celticist. Banjo picker. Family Man.
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8 Responses to 1979

  1. k- says:

    When I was 9, it was 1976 and I was listening to Pink Floyd and knowing that something was wrong. I discovered the Clash and the Ramones a few years later.
    When I was 14, I went to London. In was 1981.
    We also went to Barrow-in-Furness and the Lake District. I didn’t see any punks there. We also went to Edinburgh, but I don’t remember much about the city except for the castle and drinking half a pint in a pub.
    When I was in London, I saw some punks around Kings Row. But I saw more on the postcards sold in tourist shops. They were usually smiling female punks with multiple piercings or blokes with tri-colored mohawks above the tagline “Welcome to London.” On the streets I recall seeing one big huge punk, holding a can of cider, bending over talking very kindly to an elderly lady. I thought that was really cool and I can still see it in my minds’ eye. I went to a store and bought leather “punk” boots (but more Adam and the Ants). The boots didn’t actually match, which is why I could afford them. I also got a bunch of patches and buttons, mostly of The Exploited and The Clash. I was ridiculed when I got back to the South (in the US). But wearing my dad’s old Army jacket with the patches got me noticed by a group of fellow travellers in the street one day. We became friends. They were in a band. They came quasi-famous and we still joke about our bad hairstyles back then.

  2. xxadaxx says:

    1979 is my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song.

  3. janet5 says:

    I saw punks on TV in 1979. A national news show ran a story about “punk rock culture” in England, and I clearly recall the footage of a punk girl wearing visible stockings along with something with lots of zippers. The fact that I remember it suggests that it really left an impression, although I don’t know why. I think it just seemed peculiar, more than anything.

    In 1978, when I was ten, I saw the words “Sex Pistols” spray-painted on a wall in my home town. I assumed it was dirty and felt horribly embarrassed.

    Punkerdom didn’t begin to settle upon me until. . . holy crap. Thirty years ago. In fact, thirty years ago this month. I should play a single chord over and over again on my guitar to celebrate.

  4. Steve says:

    “I…felt horribly embarrassed.”

    This is most sane peoples’ reaction to the Sex Pistols. Kudos that you reached it without even needing to hear them.

  5. I went to London in 1997, which is 1979 spelled backwards. A good friend’s mother wanted him to go see the pope in Paris at “World Youth Day.” I tagged along because my mom bought me a ticket. So that I could “get some culture.” I saved up a week’s pay (150 bucks) and quit my job so I could go to Europe for ten days. It sucked. I remember noticing on the train to the airport that I had forgotten to pack any tapes for my walkman except for the one that was in the thing, a mix with Avail – 4 AM Friday, Lifetime – Hello Bastards, Bouncing Souls – Maniacal Laughter and some 1.6 band 7 inches. I hated all of those albums by the time I got back.
    It was pretty much the only time I have ever been anywhere. By the time we took the hovercraft to Dover we were completely broke. We tried to hitchhike on the M20 from Dover to London. That didn’t work. We almost got run over and nearly fell to our deaths a couple of times on those stupid white cliffs. Apparently they have never heard of guard rails in England. The first night in England we finally passed out on somebody’s lawn in a trailer park off the highway near some shitty town called Folkestone. I was surprised that they had trailer parks in England.
    Yeah, so anyways, we desperately sought out punks because we didn’t have enough money for hostels and we assumed that somebody would surely put us up in some type of Young One’s-esque accommodations if we could just find a kid with the right haircut. But we didn’t see a single punk. None. We did get put up for a night by a nice girl who we met at some weird heavy metal goth bar in Soho. But mostly we slept in 15 minute spurts on the subway and bitched about how snooty everybody was and how stingy they were with their spare change.

  6. Steve says:

    I do like how you only made made it ten miles down the road from Dover on your first night. And, did your friend get to see the Pope?

    Actually, apart fro the Pope, this is pretty similar to Bill Bryson’s account of first coming to Dover as a young man. He spent the first night on a park bench.

    All of my failed hitching / sleeping under bridges type stories come from Australia. By the time I got to the UK as an adult, I was 25, and had some money. And I was living in in London a few years later, in 1997, and saw a lot of punk memorabilia in Camden but no sign of any real scene. All the people I met socially were all bitter cunts who hated each other, and all they talked about was music festivals and who was shagging who.

    I think I had a better time when I was 20, sleeping under bridges and going to the St Vincent de Paul’s for food vouchers while I was waiting for my dole cheque to clear. I don’t remember actively hating that. I do remember hating London.

  7. k- says:

    A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Popes reunion show. Not the Shane McGowan back-up Popes, but the 1980s-90s indie rock Popes. They were great. Also, I hate most of what I’ve read by Bill Bryson.

  8. mackthinksthissucks says:

    There should be some type of notification thingy that informs one when a thread is replied to. Actually, there probably is something like that. Anyways, no we didn’t see the pope. I wish that motherfucker had been having his stupid youth day in Brisbane. Probably would have had a much better time…

    K, the only Popes I know besides the creepy fellow in Rome and Shane MacGowan’s band are the Smoking ones. They were pretty good on that one album…

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