|White Punks on Dope|
The smug and self congratulatory coterie of coke heads who ruled the music biz in the mid-Seventies were abruptly elbowed aside by a bunch of spikey-haired iconoclasts who also liked powders, but preferred the more accessible rush of amphetamine sulphate. Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, the 'hip young gun slingers' hired by the New Musical Express to give the rag some punk cred., ranted about the virtues of speed - "the only drug that makes you sit up and ask questions rather than lie down and lap up answers" - and contemptuously declared: "Smoking dope causes dulling of attention, sluggishness, silliness, a mouth that tastes like a Turk's turd, and increases the appetite to such proportions that prolonged smoking leads to gross obesity".
..."Marijuana would never have become as inevitable as stereophonic sound to rock music, had it not helped to perpetuate the mood of affluent complacence prevalent in the sixties (whose culture has since slung like a monkey on the shoulder) and been nurtured in the seventies by a cult of Jamaican religious fanatics, the Rastafarians, whose stoned sexist/racist/mystic gospel has been welcomed with open wallets by the white ex-hippie entrepreneurs who, before they converted to the capitalist faith, believed in very much the same doctrine as the Rastas."
While Burchill and Parsons became notorious for snorting speed off their desks at the N.M.E., where it had been customary to pass a sacramental joint around editorial meetings, the punks were not truly anti-pot, no more were they anti-coke. But they were fiercely against hippies and all they stood for. If the hippies, who were so terminally uncool, smoked dope and were laid back, the punks would rather sniff glue in order to appear sharp and dangerous. The greatest punk icon became the self-destructive Sid Vicious - dubbed by Nick Kent, 'The Exploding Dim-Wit' - who eventually killed himself with heroin. In December 1976, Sid was moved to remark that "Pot is not drugs, pot is for dropouts. Only hippies like pot."
In fact, despite protestations to the contrary, the punks always smoked pot when no one was looking. In John Lydon's autobiography, Don Letts explains how he became DJ at the seminal punk hang out, The Roxy: "I took the job at first for the money. I thought the punks were just a bunch of crazy white people. I didn't really tune into it. When I became the deejay and started meeting them, I picked up on what they were doing. I got the job first, and then got all my black mates to work there. Everybody who worked there, besides Andy (Czezowski), was black. We used to make joints before we went to work to sell to the punks over the counter. The people would come up and say, 'Give me two beers and a spliff. No, make that two spliffs and a beer.' They couldn't roll Jamaican cones."
At the time, in an interview with the fanzine, Sniffin' Glue no. 7, dated February, 1977, Letts explained: "Like, to me, the reggae thing and the punk thing... it's the same fuckin' thing. Just the black version and the white version. The kids are singing about change, they wanna do away with the establishment. Same thing the niggers are talking about, 'Chant Down Babylon'; it's the same thing".
The senior figures of the punk movement, led by Johnny Rotten, prided themselves on their knowledge and love of reggae music and it became de rigeur for punk bands to play on the same bill with reggae acts, or as Burchill 'n' Parsons put it: 'throughout 1978 and 1979 every punk show was preceded by interminable Rasta music'. The Clash formally initiated the punk/reggae alliance when they recorded a version of Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves on their first LP. When Bob Marley heard it, he was sufficiently inspired to write a tune called Punky Reggae Party, which appeared as the flip side of, Jammin' (with a Lee Perry-produced dub version on the collectable 12").
The abrupt demise of punk is documented by The Clash single, White Man In Hammersmith Palais, which records the feelings of a white reggae enthusiast attending a concert featuring reggae artists live and direct from Jamaica. Contemplating the scene, Joe Strummer laments the lack of commitment among the New Wave of groups that was then flooding the charts, 'turning rebellion into money'.
By that time, the Sex Pistols were history and Sid Vicious was heading nowhere, fast. Johnny Rotten - now going by his real name of Lydon - was recuperating in Jamaica, where he'd been sent by his record label under the pretext of doing some talent-spotting and where he was photographed for the N.M.E. sharing a fat spliff with Big Youth.