Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A chef

Sometimes I desire the return to punk rock as it was, as I participated in it. And by that I do not mean 'punk rock' as an episode in pop music. That I can live without. What I am referring to is a small gathering of youngsters sitting on the chilly floor of some provincial town's Bash Street youth club observing a punk rock 'chef' in a red and black jumper who is supposed to be putting on a cookery demonstration but says, 'I can't do this', smashes two eggs on the ground and repeatedly declares, 'it's not happening'. It was one of those things about which peple say 'it just doesn't happen', and it didn't happen anyway, or it was 'not meant to be' but all this doesn't, didn't, and was not meant to be also constitutes an occurrence in its own right. What didn't go ahead as a cookery demonstration was part of what we were about, or more than part of it. Maybe it was all of it. It was the sort of thing that became definitively 'what couldn't be'. For us, it was more the thing than the thing we had attended for in the first place. It was the thing to which everything else attached. A trauma, a misadventure, a failure. The flyers leading up to it. The correspondence. The bus timetables. The vague mutual acknowledgement of certain semi familiar faces. The early arrival of those coming from the mining villages. The introduction by the organisers. The old zines on the papering table. The gaze wandering over surroundings. Where am I? What am I doing here? I now consider that we really were a kind of gathering, a congregation of sorts, of all-sorts, but we also wanted to sit facing in the direction of an identifiably stage shaped space nevermind how rudimentary or improvised. We did not want to engage one another too much, we didn't have a lot to say for ourselves. We were useless and we were produced. We thought it was important to explore the historical dimension of this uselessness, even if we didn't set it out in those terms. Why were we so damaged in relation to those who had gone before? Or rather, why was our existential damage so qualitatively distinct from that of the generations that had gone before us? We wanted to flock together, like little birds at the airport, overcoming territorial instincts in exchange for 24 hour light and an extra degree of warmth. We gathered but we also desired to look in the direction of a comedian, a poet, an agitator. We were an audience, we wanted to react, we didn't want to be the act. Certainly, a desultory air hung over everything we turned up for, but for all that, this failure of the event was still more compelling than any conceivable realised content - if it had gone ahead, like some miracle, then so what? Our defeat, or generalised defeat, defined us. What didn't happen, the concrete non-event, was more 'us' than anything we might have seen through to completion which would only have been let down by the impoverished scale of its success. At the end of her or his non-performance, the chef recognised me as a non-regular and asked if I would like to buy a zine. I didn't but didn't say so. I understood implicitly that within the milieu a transaction was the major indicator of participation, just browsing would signal  outgroup proclivities. I asked her or him when the last issue had come out. She or he said 1997. I felt the stirrings of contempt. What interest could an old fanzine about punk nosh, maybe with a title like 'rabid recipes', hold for me? What had this so-called chef been doing in the intervening years when she or he was not serving up subsequent issues? It was only then that I realised that from the standpoint of this, our momentous non-event in the youth club, 1997 was still some time in the future - acid house hadn't happened yet. I took out some money to buy a copy of the fanzine only, like a conjuror holding my hands out (sleeves slipping back), to slowly unfold a red 50 I did not know I had from the crumpled blue five I thought was my only cash. The collective cry resounded, 'chips', and I knew I had just then become the next performance. All of a sudden, these people were expecting me to provide a slap-up feed down the chip shop. I felt an immediate and unfamiliar pang of regret at the prospect of others spending my new found good fortune before I had even adjusted to holding it in my hand. Even if I didn't know how it had got in my pocket, wasn't this money mine? For the moment, I couldn't come up with a believable excuse but it would have been difficult for me to deny in that moment that I didn't want to play my part. Just as much as they wished to be my friends, I now desired to give them the slip.