Anarkia en Andalusia: Greil Marcus, Spanish Punk, and Me
“I think I wrote that punk produced better art than all the avant-garde movements before it. And I meant that.”
So said Greil Marcus, the great rock writer, during his long, introspective, and illuminating interview with Simon Reynolds, which the Los Angeles Review of Books has been posting in mesmerizing segments. In the latest section, part 3 of 4, Marcus discussed Lipstick Traces, his groundbreaking book subtitled A Secret History of the Twentieth Century--in which, as he puts it, “I spent five hundred fucking pages trying to make this case, that the Sex Pistols had an entire tradition — an unspoken, unheard, invisible tradition — behind them. They were the avant-garde taking its revenge on the 20th century, and saying, ‘Now, you’re going to have to listen to us whether you like it or not.’” He got there by way of Dada and the Situationists, and Malcolm McLaren and Johnny Rotten, and the medieval heretics and the Brethren of the Free Spirit—to name but a few.
I had met Marcus while I was fact-checking his articles at Artforum; though he was victim of one of my most famous typos—the “Butthole Surgers“—he hired me anyway to photo edit Lipstick Traces. And when I told him about the punks I was meeting in Priego de Córdoba, the Andalusian town I frequented in the ‘mid-80s, he helped me land an assignment from the Village Voice. The LA Review has just republished my 1988 piece on its blog.
For me, it was a chance at my first big story. For Marcus, as he explains to Reynolds, the story illustrates one of the great truths about punk: “it’s never revived, it’s rediscovered.”
As he describes it, “These kids come up to her and say, ‘We’re punkys, we have these Sex Pistols records, but we don’t know what they mean… Could you translate them for us?’ So she writes all the lyrics to the songs out in Spanish… Now they start singing the songs in Spanish on the street, but they also start hearing the songs in a way they never could before, with all of the rage and the dynamics and exploding walls in the songs intact, but with the slogans and the signposts too. They begin to delve into the history of their own town and discover forgotten anarchist traditions. They discover how the anarchist movement was repressed during the Spanish Civil War. They begin to realize that they are part of a historical continuum. There has been a conspiracy of silence to deprive them of knowledge of their own real legacy. And then they go off and live their lives, with a sense of resentment and deprivation and anger that they didn’t have before. That’s the punk story. And that was not a revival; that was a rediscovery.”
I was delighted to see my old article get new legs. Even now, some of those lyrics still resonate in my head, especially Kortatu’s chant, “La Cultura— es Tortura.” Who doesn’t feel that way sometimes?
Feria in Priego de Córdoba, mid-80s. Photo by Robin Cembalest