March 20th, 2004

When Did The Last Punk Leave The King’s Road?

Walking up said road through Chelsea after an interview with the inestimable Buck 65, this thought started ticker-taping slowly around my head.

I used to come down from University on regular trips down here in the early Eighties, when the Kings Road was dotted lengthily with mini-emporiums flogging post-punk/new romantic finery to NME-reading fashionistas like myself. It was a time when dressing as a form of pop-cultural assertion was a relatively marginal and tribal activity and one which I took extremely seriously. Here, you could buy cheap, replicated versions of the sort of baggy zoot trousers sported by the imaginary hipsters of Serge Clerc cartoons. To do so wasn’t frivolous or even even vain, to my mind but a necessary cultural gesture. These were trousers of honour. However, at some point during each expedition, I’d inevitably past by a cluster of crusty looking punks congregating sullenly around a bollard. They didn’t present any semblance of menace – they were no danger to anyone, least of all themselves. I suppose they were there voluntarily, trying to catch some of the afterglow of McClaren and Westwood. They were a reminder of Sex (though most definitely not the lower case variety). Yet it was as if they were in captivity, culturally appropriated and caged, as much a part of London’s postcard warp and landscape as the Beefeaters. They were like unpaid tourist attractions. They always looked existentially at a bit of a loss and as I passed them, my gait breaking into an involuntary and self-conscious mince as I did so, I wondered what they made of me in my ballooning trousers and red braces. Like Windsor Davies’ sergeant in It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, I could sense their lips forming the word “poof!” silently. Of course, I could have explained to them that chaps like me didn’t represent some sort of rejection or betrayal but were the direct dialectical descendants of punk (can’t think why I never did). These geezers had missed the point. Punk wasn’t an end in itself but the beginning, the Big Bang that had created rock’s postmodern state, as Dick Hebdige had outlined. But these poor sods weren’t able to progress one inch beyond the Anti Nowhere League.

Still, they lingered, well into the Eighties and beyond. They’re no longer there, now. There must have been a day – maybe in 1994 or 1995 when they trudged off for the very last time, unacknowledged, in a cloud of crusty dust, towards whatever subcultural elephant’s graveyard awaited them. Today, the Kings Road is an array of the usual assortment of haute couture brandnames you can find in reshuffled order along any of the boulevards, malls or avenues of New York, Milan, Paris. There is no one to stare balefully at you, no reminders of anything. We need the punks back down the Kings Road.

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