The Sex Pistols and the Art Movement Dada
An angry, impish singer with red spiked hair screams into a mic. He shows a mocking disdain toward the raucous audience. The bass player poses and sneers playing random notes when he plays at all. The rest of the band plays hard-driving music to match the anger of the vocalist. They are the Sex Pistols. They are rude, obnoxious and rebellious, and even more, they are unknowingly Dadaists.
The beginning of Dadaism and the Sex Pistols
Dada or Dadaism is an art movement that arose from the disillusions of WWI. To the Dadaists, the war confirmed a belief that social structure had degraded, the political system was corrupt, and there was only conformity of both thought and culture. There can be a debate about the Sex Pistols being manufactured by Malcolm McLaren, in which they were the art more than the artist. Regardless, the Sex Pistols arose from the disillusionment of 1970’s England. In Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) own words:
“Early Seventies Britain was a very depressing place with both the colour strike and the UK postal workers strike in full swing. It was completely run-down with trash on the streets, and total unemployment—just about everybody was on strike. Everybody was brought up with an education system that told you to point-blank that if you came from the wrong side of the tracks…then you had no hope in hell and no career prospects at all. Out of that came pretentious moi and the Sex Pistols.”
Understanding the Ugly
Dada is a revolt against traditional art. It is, in essence, anti-art used to express an anti-establishment manifesto. Much like the Sex Pistols, who rebelled against the complacency of modern music and their disillusionment with the government, Dada sought to change the perception of the masses. Their works were often ugly in a traditional sense. Dada rejects the concept of beauty. The art emphasizes the absurd by focusing on the painting of purposeless machines or reusing discarded materials to make their statement on the rejection of traditional art and beauty.
The Sex Pistols have an abrasiveness to their music, an ugliness to them. The band’s music and attitude took a stance in direct opposition to the uninspired complacency of popular music. The Pistols were not the optimistic sound and image of commercial pop. There was no traditional beauty in their music. Much like the art of Dada, there was no clean-cut lines or sophistication with the Sex Pistols. The band questioned authority in their lyrics and antics. They wrote and sang of abortion, a futureless England, comparing the Royal family to a fascist regime and a tongue-in-cheek cry for anarchy. Like a Dadaists, there was no attempt to satisfy the masses. Neither strived for acceptance. Both wanted to change their preferred mediums, so it no longer exists for the appeasement of the bourgeoisie. There is creative anarchy within the art of both.
The paradox that Dada eats itself.
Eventually, there arose a paradox. Dada claims to be anti-art, yet we talk about it today as a significant art movement. It became admired like the art it passionately fought. Even the most cynical and absurd attacks against the status quo began to result in a positive reception to their work. Dada became what it fought against and faded after a few short years.
The implosion of the Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols became what they did not expect. Their music gained acceptance by the disgruntled youth. As their popularity increased, so did the money, drugs, and distractions. They became popular to those looking for something outside the stagnant mainstream music. Their fans sought music that related to them. The fame and fortune fueled the band to implode. They only recorded a single album, but “Nevermind the Bullocks” is arguably one of the most influential albums in the history of music.
The art of Dadaism and the Sex Pistols’ music continues to be appreciated and inspirational. It opened a door where art and music were no longer static due to the conservative restrictions of the past. The time for both was short much like a flame, although as Neil Young sang “Hey Hey My My”,
“The king is gone
but he’s not forgotten
This is the story
of a Johnny Rotten
…It’s better to burn out
than fade away.”
d-_-b “freaking out” – JuiceBoxxx