photo & text by nacrowe
once i ventured outside of listening to the original seminal PUNK bands THE SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH and THE RAMONES in early high school, i ended up discovering THE DAMNED and the first record i came across was their third album MACHINE GUN ETIQUETTE (CHISWICK, 1979). and its interesting because given THE SEX PISTOLS ABRASIVENESS, THE RAMONES regimented sonic MILITANCY and THE CLASH's inclusive ECLECTICISM, i wasnt really sure what to expect. and i think that is something people forget about the first wave of PUNK ROCK in the late 1970s, the sheer diversity of it.
anyway, i was a bit caught off-guard when first hearing tracks like "ANTI-POPE," "LOVE SONG," "MELODY LEE" and especially "SMASH IT UP" because of their ACCESSIBLE pop hooks and TRADITIONAL song structures. maybe it was because of the fact that at the time i had also been made aware by my classmates of HARDCORE bands from the 1980s like BLACK FLAG and DEAD KENNEDYS, but my initial reaction to THE DAMNED was BEFUDDLEMENT. the accessibility of THE DAMNED seemed more in keeping with later melodic HARDCORE bands like BAD RELIGION and DESCENDENTS than their peer bands listed before. i guess with a great band named like THE DAMNED i was expecting something more like MOTORHEAD or at the very least something politically radical like CRASS.
looking back it is that odd mixture of disparate elements that marks the band with members like vocalist DAVE VANIAN, guitarist CAPTAIN SENSIBLE and drummer RAT SCABIES. each looks like a member of a different band, VANIAN an iconic proto-GOTH figure, CAPTAIN SENSIBLE looks like a saturday morning children's cartoon character and RAT SCABBIES a DEGENERATE a la SID VICIOUS. in a scene that had such a massive influence on the sound and philosophy of multiple generations of musicians to come, THE DAMNED and this album specifically provides a template for how to create a COHESIVE message from DISPARATE viewpoints. i dont really understand them and decades later im still attempting to figure them out.
and maybe that is what their legacy is for me. an interesting ART project wrapped around BRILLIANT pop music constructed during a unique period where rules were seemingly being rewritten. or in their case, reinterpreted. not my favorite original PUNK band, but THE DAMNED are well worth investigation and MACHINE GUN ETIQUETTE is a decent enough starting point as any.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i was pretty frustrated watching the documentary THE DAMNED: DON'T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD (THREE COUNT FILMS, 2015) about the legendary first-wave BRITISH PUNK ROCK band. i've never been much of a fan of THE CLASH so in my eyes the two seminal groups of that movement in ENGLAND were always THE SEX PISTOLS and THE DAMNED. whereas THE SEX PISTOLS were all about NIHILISM, SELF-DESTRUCTION and the piss and vinegar embodiment of a seething underemployed and underrepresented underclass of BRITISH youth in a time of economic and social upheaval, THE DAMNED were the ARTIER, IDIOSYNCRATIC cousins who were better musicians and songwriters, and more than a little bit more interesting. that's just my opinion obviously.
ii thought this film was a missed opportunity. the majority of this documentary gets into the minutiae of THE DAMNED's career and the ensuing lineup changes over the years, which truthfully was not that compelling and felt like one bitter ROCK N ROLL cliche after another. none more dull that the selfish allure of money. there was also this undertone of self-pity due to their career being less profitable than that of their peers. i understand how such is interesting for them, but as a viewer that is not really my concern. we all know THE OFFSPRING, GREEN DAY and BLINK-182 made more than the bands they copied (cough, cough, THE DAMNED, THE BUZZCOCKS and DESCENDENTS). nothing new about that story.
the film only really got into their legacy in the last 10 minutes of the film, specifically their influence on the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene of the late 1970s and into the 80s HARDCORE scene thereafter. THE DAMNED famously played in LOS ANGELES at THE STARWOOD in 1977 that got the ball rolling for influential bands like THE GERMS, THE WEIRDOS, X, THE SCREAMERS, THE GUN CLUB and THE BAGS who in turn paved the way for second-wave HARDCORE bands like BLACK FLAG, DEAD KENNEDYS, ADOLESCENTS, T.S.O.L., SOCIAL DISTORTION, FEAR, DESCENDENTS and BAD RELIGION among countless others. remember, THE SEX PISTOLS final gig was in SAN FRANCISCO in 1978 and they never made it to LOS ANGELES. THE DAMNED was the de facto PUNK ROCK entry point for musicians during that period in CALIFORNIA and thus the scene is undoubtedly a major part of their legacy. the underutilized interview participants alone showcases a murderer's row of major players in the history and evolution of PUNK ROCK including the likes of CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), MICK JONES (THE CLASH), LEMMY KILMISTER (MOTORHEAD), CHRIS STEIN (BLONDIE), GLEN MATLOCK (SEX PISTOLS), NICK MASON (PINK FLOYD), JELLO BIAFRA (DEAD KENNEDYS), IAN MACKAYE (MINOR THREAT / FUGAZI), DAVID GAHAN (DEPECHE MODE), JACK GRISHAM (T.S.O.L.), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), BILLY IDOL (GENERATION X), GAY ADVERT (THE ADVERTS) and DEXTER HOLLAND (THE OFFSPRING) among others. for more information on the topic definitely check out the following books: JOHN DOE's UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (reviewed HERE), ALICE BAG's VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (reviewed HERE), HENRY ROLLINS' GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG, (reviewed HERE), KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE (reviewed HERE), and KEITH MORRIS' MY DAMAGE: A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR (reviewed HERE),
so yeah, i thought they should have leaned into what made them unique amongst their peers and what managed to translate into the next generation of bands. it is that LINEAGE that i find more interesting than petty squabbles over songwriting credits and royalty payments. its too bad the director didnt lean harder into such as that topic was by far and a way the most interesting at the closing at the documentary.