Johnny Rotten does a butter ad and some punk bands sell millions of records- everyone screams ‘sell out’ but does that term have any meaning any more Nina Cresswell wonders…
Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.
The words of MTV, as it erupted onto our square boxes back in ’81. It was the dream goal for any band to even dip a toe in (unless you were Rod Stewart, whom the music station hammered out ceaselessly). Thirty years on the same story lies: you’re on MTV, you’ve made it. Back of the net, two thumbs up, lay down the royal carpet. Unless you’re a punk, apparently. Then you’re a Judas; a corporate slut. All moral loyalties and principles down the drain. Lost the key to your anarchistic veracity forever.
What a load of bollocks.
Too often have I heard that ridiculous expression ”â sell out. So you’re only a true punk if you’re poverty-stricken now? Most rockers are in it for sole love of the music they play, surely there’s nothing wrong with hankering for that radio airplay, recording contract, number one hit? Fans should support the triumphs of bands they relish, not slate them for gaining popularity. Green Day gained international success, won four Grammy awards and sold 65 million records worldwide. Green Day are accused of selling out. The Misfits produce truck-loads of consumer products, and bam! Sell-outs. I’m sure Jerry Only has to pay bills too, he’s gotta keep the flow of devilock hair products coming in after all. If he can make money selling hats, pencil sharpeners, Misfits bloody dildos for all I care, it doesn’t mean he isn’t the musician he was when the horrorpunkers began in ’77. He hasn’t compromised his artistic integrity, it’s just a natural evolution for a fucking good band.
When original Pistol John Lydon agreed to star in Country Life ad a few years ago, comments like this one, from a Guardian forum, ensued:
“Very disappointed to see such a worthy, principled, morally upright man stooping to this. It’s a Swindle!”Â
Exactly. A great rock and roll swindle. Who would’ve thought young nihilist Johnny Rotten would ever dress in tweed and sell butter? That to me screams punk rock. He’s not taking it seriously, he’s got orange bloody hair and a load of piercings for god’s sake. Even if he didn’t, he’s still an individualist, still a fucking punk. If he wanted to exchange his punk rock values for dollar, status or power, surely he’d seize a more prosperous self-promotion than butter.
I even heard this utterance at a Koffin Kats gig in Durham. They’re no colossal MTV chart-busters, but they had a hefty merch stall, and their success is rocketing. “They’re close to selling out, look at all their merch their flogging”Â, one archaic-minded bloke grumbled. These are just three lads from Detroit, playing the music they love, and that money, they told me, gets them from one venue to the next. They’re skint. If that band hit it bigtime, I’d be chuffed to bits. Not moaning about them sucking the tit of the commercialist ladder and other nonsense I’ve picked up from old-fashioned botherers.
This ludicrous sell-out notion needs wiping, and people need to back the dying music industry. Doctors get money for making people better. Music breathes happiness into everyone’s lives, and those with acknowledgeable talent deserve the imbursements they work for. I think Billie Joe Armstrong hit the nail on the head when he said: ‘You can take us out of a punk rock environment, but you can’t take the punk rock out of us.’