In late 2017, it’s almost impossible for people under a certain age to conceive of a time when punk was not just a style of dress or a specific kind of music, but an actual threat to public order. Whether it was at the level of governmental power or just some random townies that couldn’t wait to bodily assault the ‘freaks,’ there were a lot of people that just would not even entertain the thought of tolerating it.
In this more enlightened age, the aggressively DIY styling of Midnight Studios can pair up with designer denim mavens Guess based purely on aesthetics without anyone batting an eye. But it’s still difficult not to think about the implied mismatch. To get an idea of just how unlikely a collaboration like this would have been in the early days of punk, let’s go back to one of the first times a notable punk band interacted with establishment popular culture, the infamous Today Show interview of the Sex Pistols.
One of the key differences between punk in the US and punk in the UK was that, in Britain, punk became a part of the mainstream media landscape. This state of affairs would lead to incidents like an up and coming punk band being invited on an ostensibly genial, early evening talk show as an introduction to a mass audience.
If there was ever a plan for how this was supposed to play out, it went out the window in short order. The Today show’s host, Bill Grundy, appeared to have no purpose for having the band on but to provoke them with quasi-sarcastic remarks. This led to vocalist Johnny Rotten muttering the word “shit” as part of a response to one of Grundy’s inquiries. Although he tried to downplay the swearing as the hasty utterance of “a rude word,” as to not call further attention to it, Grundy would not be satisfied until Rotten had been badgered into audibly repeating the word.
The interview devolved further when Grundy’s lecherous comments towards Siouxsie Sioux, at that time a frequent part of the Sex Pistols entourage, prompted guitarist Steve Jones to unleash a (deserved) f-bomb laden string of invective at the host.
The ‘interview’ vaulted the band into the national consciousness. The station that aired the Today show was flooded with outraged phone calls, including one from a man who claimed that having his child hear the members of a rock band say “shit” on television, caused him to have lost such control of his emotions, that he kicked in the screen of his newly purchased TV.
There’s even a happy ending. The decision to invite a punk band on television, and invite them to swear on a live broadcast, for the sole purpose of subsequently expressing outrage that a punk band had sworn on a live broadcast was deemed “sloppy journalism” by Thames Television, Bill Grundy’s employer. He was suspended over the incident, and his career never really recovered. The Sex Pistols went on to become one of the most important bands of all time.