Hey you guys,
I was watching Tom Snyder's notorious interview with John Lydon at my dad's apartment the other day. It's featured on the "Punk and New Wave" Tomorrow Show DVD Shout Factory put out not long ago. The DVDs are fascinating in large part because Snyder treats now-venerated giants like Lydon as borderline novelty artists, musical con men peddling facile shock and provocation in lieu of talent or catchy songs. At one point in a panel on New Wave Snyder actually asks his distinguished guests whether Punk and New Wave constitute fads or trends. Note that "a legitimate expression of underclass angst" or "substantive art" weren't offered as options.
The early Public Image Limited-era Lydon interview is all the more jarring for following an embarrassingly sycophantic interview with Alan Carr, the tiny little schlock merchant behind Grease, Rob Lowe dueting with Snow White at the Oscars and the Village People musical Can't Stop the Music, which he was promoting. Snyder performs shameless conversational fellatio on Carr throughout the interview, treating Carr like the second coming of Arthur Freed and Can't Stop The Music as a contemporary 42nd Street.
Then Lydon comes on with Keith Levene and Snyder treats them like homeless people who somehow stumbled into his studio demanding to be interviewed although to be fair Lydon goes out of his way to be an asshole to a host who represents the smug establishment. The tension is thick: Lydon oozes contempt for Snyder and everything Snyder represents. His words drip with sarcasm. His body language is angry and aggressive. There is an exhilarating air of danger and electricity in the air, an invigorating sense that anything could happen: Lydon could spit in Snyder's face or lunge at his throat or simply kill him with words.
My dad viewed Lydon the same way Snyder did: as a belligerent hoodlum with nothing worthwhile to contribute to music or art. It was clearly a generational thing: to me Lydon is a hero and a seminal artist. To my dad and Snyder he was just a juvenile delinquent with no social graces and a record deal.
This made me think about how the transgressive artists I relate to most, the Sex Pistols and The Clash and NWA, are all either dead or old men trading more on the glory of the past than the promise of the future. They went from being angry threats to the social order to safe, canonical figures, from sneering at the bourgeoisie to being a treasured, respected part of pop music history.
This made me feel old. I couldn't help but think about how the ostensibly edgy or dangerous acts that followed all struck me as gimmicky and fake, not unlike the way my dad and Tom Snyder saw Lydon. Prodigy just seemed like Lydon vocals + pummeling electronic beats. 50 Cent just seems like a mumbly 2Pac wannabe (boy he devolved into lazy, complacent self-caricature pretty quickly, didn't he?) Marilyn Manson = David Bowie + Alice Cooper. I can't recall the last time I listened to an Eminem album for non-work reasons.
So here's my question for you, dear reader. Do we revere people like NWA or The Sex Pistols in no small part because history has codified them as important, relevant, seminal artists? How big a role does nostalgia and hindsight play in determining what we hold dear to our hearts and what we dismiss as empty shock? Will future generations revere 50 Cent the way we admire Notorious B.I.G or 2Pac? Will our children marvel that we don't consider Fallout Boy major artists? Will we look like Snyder-like Neanderthals to our kids? Who do you consider Lydon's legitimate heirs in antagonizing parents and liberating kids? Can't we all just not get along?