Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Jan van Leiden

Johnny Rotten (John Lydon)
6" x 6", marker on paper, 2014
Johnny Rotten is a seminal figure in the history of pop music. On my thirteenth birthday in 1977 I was given a record player. In eager anticipation I had purchased Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols a few days earlier. It was my first record ever. Johnny Rotten was the singer of the band and as such the face of a whole new movement. Punk's influence on our culture goes far beyond the history of pop music. The contemporary art scene of the here and now has a direct link to punk music. Some of the most important artists of the 21st century have direct roots in the punk movement and almost all came of age during punk and the decade following. Some played in bands before they became artists (Mike Kelley for example.) Punk did not just change the sounds and visuals of our culture but changed its character, its being. Punk opened up the world for a generation, and generations to come. Punk is an attitude; it is DIY, it is equality, it is freedom. Johnny Rotten personifies all this. In his 1989 book Lipstick Traces music critic Greil Marcus sketches an analogy between Johnny Rotten (whose real name is John Lydon) and the 16th century Dutch anabaptist Jan van Leiden. In a marvelous piece of criticism Marcus compares the year in which Jan van Leiden was the king of Münster (1534-5) with 1976-7 of the Sex Pistols. According some historians Jan van Leiden led the city state of Münster on the precepts of social equality, political democracy, and communal living. John Lydon, of course, is practically the same name as Jan van Leiden. The top 100 song of the Sex Pistols this year is Pretty Vacant, not from Never Mind the Bollocks but a live version found on the compilation The Greatest Punk Album of All Time. Timeless!

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