Punk History Goes Up in Smoke

The Sex Pistols’ debut single Anarchy in the U.K. was released 40 years ago. To mark the occasion, Joe Corré — son of punk icons Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, the band’s manager — set fire to $7 million of rare punk memorabilia, along with effigies of politicians, on a boat on the Thames. The blaze is said to have included an original acetate copy of Anarchy in the U.K., clothing belonging to Westwood and Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols’ lead singer), and a Sid Vicious doll.

Corré, who founded the lingerie label Agent Provocateur, organized the blaze out of disgust for Punk London, a series of events celebrating the 4th decade of the anti-establishment movement, a festival apparently supported by the Queen. “Rather than a movement for change,” he laments, “punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act.”

“It’s time we threw it all on the fire and started again,” he told The Guardian. “I think this is the right opportunity to say: you know what? Punk is dead. Stop conning a younger generation that it somehow has any currency to deal with the issues that they face.”

Vivienne Westwood also made a speech about climate change at the event, stating, “My job as an activist is to try to make things clear so that we can understand things and find the solution.” If his father were alive, Corré says he, too, “would have taken this opportunity to say something. Whether or not he would have agreed with burning all the stuff — and I think he probably would have done — I think he’d think it was kind of hilarious.”

There’s been plenty of opposition to the ceremonial act, however. John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten) ridiculed the idea, calling Corré a “selfish fucking lingerie expert.” Corré should’ve sold the collection, he said, and donated the proceeds to the homeless or bought guitars for young people.

“I don’t think he’s had anything relevant to say for the past 10 or 20 years,” Corré riposted. “The job of the state is now taken up by the charity sector. These things are becoming corporations in their own right. Punk rock to me is not about music. I don’t know what 28,000 guitars would really do.”

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