CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (12)
August 12, 2020
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite punk songs, c. 1974–1983.
“PUBLIC IMAGE” | PUBLIC IMAGE LTD. | 1978
When “Johnny Rotten’s new record” arrived in record stores as an import, wrapped in a parody tabloid newspaper, sometime in the fall of 1978 (the paper is datelined September 31), no one knew what to expect. J. R.’s life made the newspapers in the UK at least weekly and sometimes daily then, as he walked away from the smoking wreckage of the Sex Pistols like an action hero from a plane crash, on his way to a new franchise installment. It could be epic, or it could be a monstrously prolonged fart. He and his crowd were not above releasing one-joke nuisance records, and this could have been one of them.
Instead, when we put the needle down on the 45, fresh from the store, we heard Jah Wobble start playing a two-chord bass riff, echt-punk, that was suddenly tipped and rebalanced by Jim Walker’s syncopated, reverberating drums — they were playing dub! And then, after Rotten/Lydon tested the mic (“Hello hello hello”), Keith Levene burst in with his guitar part, a concise phrase of echoing brightness, a perpetual-motion hook. You could hear all kinds of musical currents in that phrase: German bands like Can, Cluster, and Harmonia, or New Yorkers like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, or for that matter Robert Fripp. It didn’t sound a thing like punk, and yet it sounded like the next step.
It didn’t matter what John Lydon was singing, and it sure doesn’t now — self-justifying tracts, however well-crafted, seldom survive their minute. His voice, on the other hand, is incantatory, as he economically uses his limited range to convey manic insistence. So you have that possessed muezzin atop the muscular dreaminess of the guitar, and that atop the widescreen dub/disco bottom supplied by the rhythm section. The song sounded like nothing else. We skanked to the bass and drums, but the guitar made us jump — it really made us want to fly, but you know gravity.
“Public Image” was unlike anything we’d heard, but it was like all the music we were listening to then compressed into a pill. Little on the subsequent album matched it — except maybe “Annalisa,” which is punk with a couple of extra syllables, making it like a cossack dance — but the Metal Box, which came out about a year later, is the deserved follow-up and the band’s apotheosis. (Once Wobble and Levene left and Lydon dragged his shifting skeleton crew into the arenas, all was lost.) “Public Image” was our anthem, for weeks, possibly months. On the flip is “The Cowboy Song,” which we only played once.
CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): Series introduction by Josh Glenn | Mimi Lipson on Flipper’s “Sex Bomb” | James Parker on The Jam’s “Going Underground” | Dan Fox on The Cramps’ “Human Fly” | Adrienne Crew on Bad Brains’ “I and I Survive” | Devin McKinney on Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” | Deb Chachra on The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love” | Mark Kingwell on The Demics’ “New York City” | Jessamyn West on Dead Kennedys’ “Kill the Poor” | Douglas Wolk on The Homosexuals’ “Soft South Africans” | Josh Glenn on The Freeze’s “This is Boston, Not L.A.” | Stephanie Burt on Sorry’s “Imaginary Friend” | Luc Sante on Public Image Ltd.’s “Public Image” | Miranda Mellis on X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” | Adam McGovern on The Clash’s “Washington Bullets” | Mandy Keifetz on Germs’ “Forming” | Gordon Dahlquist on The Sex Pistols’ “Problems” | Anthony Miller on The Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy You” | Deborah Wassertzug on The Mekons’ “Where Were You?” | Tor Aarestad on Gang of Four’s “Return the Gift” | Marc Weidenbaum on The Pop Rivets’ “Dream of ’63” | David Smay on The Rezillos’ “(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures” | Vanessa Berry on The Cure’s “So What” | Chelsey Johnson on The Slits’ “Typical Girls” | Lynn Peril on Crass’s “Smother Love” | Mike Watt on The Dils’ “You’re Not Blank”.
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): Animated TV series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.