Many years ago I wrote a series of articles for a great online zine named Mudkiss. This one documents my love of Generation X and includes transcripts of my original fanzine articles on them written when I was a teenager, plus a later Q&A with Tony James...
Where were you in '75
When there weren't no gigs and we were jive
Having laid my stepping stones through life in the Mother country willy nilly, it was not surprising that they had taken me even to the heart of Generation X. I’m pretty sure I bought my copy of the “Dancing With Myself” 45 by (take note) Gen X – as opposed to Generation X – in Manchester. It was early 1981 and The Barracudas were on tour supporting The Stray Cats, living like dogs, being booed offstage by cod rockabillies and figuratively eating out of cans. To cheer myself up I took a walk to buy the new, comeback single by one of my top bands, Generation – sorry! – Gen X.
Upon arriving for my holiday in that hysterical Summer of Punk, 1977, put to work my one contact, conferred upon me by my fast friend Mark Jones before leaving Canada and made by him on his own pilgrimage the previous year when, per his dream, he had befriended and finally roadied for his utmost heroes, the Flamin’ Groovies, whose singer and guitarist Chris Wilson would one day join my band. I can see myself now, in Earl’s Court tube station, hammering tuppences into the bent slot of an antediluvian ear trumpet device, trying to track down one Geoff Wright, for it was he Mark had known and whom, naturally, would at once and then far more play a formative part in my Pursuit of Punk.
Following a number of failed attempts unhelped by the characteristic subterranean BT signals of the far-off day, I spoke to Geoff who I proceeded to meet at his workplace, also still known at the time as “Generation X” because of all the bands in all of the world that Geoff might have worked for he worked for Generation X, doing the donkey work for slick manager Stuart Joseph.
Of course just like any student of Punk I knew about Generation X and their precocious, precious pop punk artistry. Not long before decamping to The Smoke I had heard for the first time their hit single “Wild Youth” at a party thrown by Toronto’s Diodes, loving at once its faux boot boy bovver, Nu-Slade sheen and managed rowdy punk. My love affair with them hadn’t begun in earnest, but a crush there was and hanging out with one of their minions made me feel pretty cool.
That blessed summer of multiple gigs included several live experiences of Generation X, then at their original line-up peak. A lot of people dissed the band for their airs and graces, but I adored the cocktail of frankly power pop hooklines and grimy, Limey but always somehow fey, well-fashioned punk. Onstage Idol made prescient his name, and the band was tight and – for its time and place – vengefully professional. The highlight of my initiation, though, was a road trip to (now defunct) West Sussex Studios, where I witnessed the band putting together what I later recognised on their debut album as “Youth, Youth, Youth”. While I was there, though, they released a bootleg 45 featuring a demo of “Your Generation” that I feel outstripped almost everything they did thereafter with the possible exception of “Promises, Promises”, and “Dancing with Myself”.
A year later and I had, unbeknownst to myself yet, emigrated. I ended up covering Generation X for SOUNDS, and remember making Billy Idol laugh by saying Patti Smith had broken her neck only to copy Dylan. I wrote pieces on the band, too, for The Pig Paper and even, in its decline, Sniffin’ Glue (reproduced below). I followed the band through its “Kiss Me Deadly” reformation and unto the Idol US years and, of course, James’s Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Indeed, in the company of my late friend Marts Andrups, I heard a very early demo of Love Missile F1-11 at his flat, noted its profligate plagiarism of Suicide and Alan Vega and was greeted with some classic James smugness, which he was entitled to because what he’d done was so fiendishly brilliant and mercenary that it amounted to rock’n’roll grand theft.
Listening now to early Generation X it’s surprising how political and topical they were. By the second album, with its glitzy cover and glitzier singles, there is the patina of Springsteenisms and wannabe stadium fodder afoot. Having not made the stadium (as Idol later did, in spades) the band regrouped and launched a roots counteroffensive with “Kiss Me Deadly”, one of the great British rock’n’roll albums, infused with, for this band, a disarming humility, and a sterling standard of writing and playing flattered by a sawn-off, alternately brutish and nearly balletic Sixties ethos. However, the public was now mostly tired of the posing and promises, promises of the great power punk singles band and despite their impressive track record they dissolved with little fanfare.
Idol and Sputnik I let go after a few sides; they were good, clever, calculated, but they weren’t “Promises, Promises”, which had the trademark Generation X smugness but still retained soul. By the time the solo careers started the soul had been forcefully evicted, leaving a stripped down shark position in its place because, you see, Generation X – well, its engine room, anyway, those original, pedigree punks Idol and James, with all their genuine pop genius – were always en route to something shinier. Mick Jones, James’ old friend, whose band The Clash reinvented rock’n’roll, was from the other side of the tracks and his band lived there happily most of its glorious life whereas James, a sort of pseudo-spiv for a new, more bloodless age, bided his time through the sentimental squalor of punk, waiting for his main chance to ensnare and embarrass the business, which he did in fantastic style when Sputnik massaged and milked the majors.
Interview with Tony James
1. Sigue Sigue Sputnik seem to have not only survived but flourished. What has been the provenance that has made this possible?
Sputnik... well it was always a band about the imagining of the future of rock and roll and maybe reality is still catching up with that band. Of course I see it differently now, my vision flawed by the tools we had in those days - stone age computers and technology but I still love the fundamentals that came together to make it, what I still believe to be, extraordinary - combining Suicide with the Cramps, Donna Summer and T Rex, Bowie and sci-fi and dub reggae... see no one sounds like that band still, it was a very powerful sound and the characters involved were the real thing... one day, one day.
2. What are your personal favorite G/X tracks?
Oh, “Kiss Me Deadly” and most of all "Dancing with Myself", because that track has a magic that connects.you. See, it is so hard to write a song that touches people in a positive, uplifting way, and that song does it - that’s why its used in so many movies and adverts now - you hear that opening drumbeat and it lifts you, but more the lyric is easy to relate to. I love the version by the band "Nouvelle Vague" and it’s their take that is used in the TV series "Glee".
Read here the story of that song - carbonsiliconinc.com
Go to the blog called "First you meet the girl...then you write the hit......"
3. In later life I have developed great affection for Generation X dub. A few words on the genesis and progression of these tracks would be appreciated.
From the first time Billy and I met Don Letts playing dub reggae when he was the shop assistant at Acme Attractions in the Kings Road we loved that music and always wanted to try to make it work in rock and roll. We made that track with the producer Phil Wainman at Utopia Studios in Primrose Hill - hard to believe it was a ground breaking track , “Wild Dub”. It took bands a long time to get it right - to apply the feeling rather than a homage - PIL finally got it right with their first single in my opinion.
4. My fave Generation X track is "Promises Promises". How does its lyric and context strike you now?
I wrote the lyrics to that song sitting in the front room in the flat where I had grown up in Kenyon Street in Fulham where my grandmother then lived. I stayed with her during the early days of Generation X - we had no money for flats in those days. Living with your gran became a punk rock thing!
It was inspired by Mott and it’s a very Mott type lyric. Billy wrote a great tune for it. It was very heartfelt, but still played on that generational thing. Listening to it now... well it sounds too fast! But then everything was. It’s a nice tale of the moment. Did we sell out? I hope not.
5. Of "Kiss Me Deadly" I say: "...“Kiss Me Deadly”, one of the great British rock’n’roll albums, infused with, for this band, a disarming humility, and a sterling standard of writing and playing flattered by a sawn-off, alternately brutish and nearly balletic Sixties ethos." Discuss(?).
Well, kind of you to say. Billy and I were actually heavily influenced by Public Image on that record. But it came out of a lot of internal strife - the band had fractured and heroin had reared its ugly head into our band splitting the friendship of Billy and I and dividing the band into two of the Do ers and Non - it is an impossible presence to deal with. It is still painful to think about although Billy and I have long since made our peace. But there were some magic times and magic songs to come out of it.
6. If you had your Generation X time again what would you do differently, if anything?
Kept Laff and Derwood from leaving... definitely. They were great.... maybe their journey was important for them, but we should have talked more. You don't when you're young though do you. I had this conversation with Strummer just before he died - we were all about communication but we never communicated with each other. Sorry.
7. "Valley of the Dolls" was a brash and ambitious album. To what audience was it pitched; it seems a very singular work against its time, almost defiant, if not petulant.
Hmmm, looking back it was TOO grandiose for its own good. Damn Springsteen. But how great to work with Hunter and we wanted to make bigger music than the scratchy punk music that we started with. We wrote our biggest hit “King Rocker” the night before we recorded it because Hunter sent us home saying - "there's no hit, go home and write one". And we did. But hey, we did play Zeppelin songs in the soundcheck.
8. I get the feeling - I may be wrong - that even the futurism and idiosyncrasies of SS Sputnik don't quite cover your own vision for what is possible for your music and music in general, and even pop culture. Is this so? What is in your vision now?
Oh Jeremy.... Sputnik was my grand design... these days, I'm playing lead guitar not bass, and damn I enjoy that. Why oh why did I not learn guitar all those years ago, it's such fun...so I can live out my fantasy of being in the MC5, play simple rock and roll, write from the heart and from experience, embrace the new counterculture of the internet and have a good time ..otherwise it's not worth doing....and, well as we say, if there's a revolution going on - count me in.
This Canadian Geyser Come to London and Saw Generation X Sniffin’ Glue 12 August 1977
“Youth, Youth, Youth”. I heard that chorus on a tape just once and spent the whole week mentally playing it over and over. Then I saw them live and added four more to my mind’s playlist. A week more and I was writing “Generation X” rule in Underground stations. It must be love.
Y’see Generation X have assets that make you a fan overnight: incredibly well-conceived melodic songs both live and, if you heard John Peel’s show, in the studio. And whether you like it or not, Generation X, with the Ramones, are the Seventies’ premier pop group. Both these bands without the prefabrication of the Chinnichap/Mike Leander epitomise what influences and ideas put to intelligent original use can achieve. An ideal mesh of New Wave speed/energy in combination with attractive music and genuine lyrics, not just the insistent E flat shellshock chords most bands seem to be satisfied with.
Whereas the Ramones are thoroughly American, Gen X could be the “New York” band that deliver on all the promises that overblown scene has broken in the wake of the Ramones prodigious debut.
Billy Idol’s voice constantly surprises me with its flexibility and range. Thrashing around stage during songs his face into contortions befitting of a generation’s crooner (crooner, I use, catch the opening of “Listen”), both guitarists play with a confidence that must reflect the pride in their material.
I don’t usually bother with lyrics but what I’ve caught to songs like “Listen”, “Above Love”, “Youth” and, already a classic, “Ready, Steady, Go”, can’t be dismissed with a routine adjective.
I know, I know, my enthusiasm is becoming redundant, but it’s not often these days a band makes you wish they could get it all down on vinyl.
And now some people look upon Gen X as black sheep because they’re the “pop group” of the lot (apparently a label in disgrace), however when the detractors write a “Youth” I’ll listen to them. Pop may not fit the New Wave image which is why Generation X are so important and impressive, the MAKE it fit and compliment it in return.
Obviously when their singles show up they’ll just as likely appear on the cover of “19” as “Sniffin’ Glue”, Billy Idol may just be the guy to live up to his surname, and the band will outshine clearly the lesser lights and give stiff opposition to current “names”. Whatever happens, if Generation X aren’t chasing their contemporaries by the end of the year I’m going back to mono.
Stu, their manager, tells me a lot of people are jealous of Generation X, and it doesn’t surprise it a bit.
Listen to the ones who will change your world. Jeremy G.
WHY GENERATION X ARE THE BEST GROUP IN THE WORLD
Keep The Sex Pistols (someone is going to have to now), keep The Clash and someone take The Stranglers, please. I've got a group on my side to beat the lot of ya. Now, I ain't gonna run down an itemized list of what it is that has had me mouthin off about Generation X for the past year, ever since I first heard their John Peel BBC broadcast, coz if you can't feel it yourself from their debut LP (Chrysalis # CHR-1169) then I just can't help.
Some things in life are self-evident, okay? Let's just say Generation X are self-evident, as in self-evidently brilliant or self-evidently sincere or self- evidently exciting. Fortunately, through a
twist of fate too kind to believe, I sorta fell in with Generation X last year. Back a year later and they're finally acting the new wave, despite a lot of local press jackals who think they're less than divine though I dunno why.
I hate history so I won't tell you The Generation X Story. Why, you could dig it up yourself out of those yellowing NMEs and thrill as I did each time Billy Idol changed his hair colour. I really couldn't rush in and have you miss that! What I could do (included in the price of this issue) is hammer out this interview with Billy Idol and Tony James, Gen.X's twin turbines .
This chat took place in a plush Brighton hotel suite Generation X booked after having been thrown out of their original choice on first sight. First I talked to Tony James. Billy Idol entered later:
DO YOU ALREADY HAVE PLANS FOR MORE RECORDS?
I always think you should record when you're ready, which is what we did with the album: We took our time. We've written two or three new songs which we rehearse in sound-checks. If I have to write a whole new album in two weeks it's all gonna sound the same. If I rush and try to write three songs at the same time I split my ideas three ways so it's better to take those three
songs and put them into one.
NOW THAT YOUR FIRST THREE SINGLES HAVEN'T MADE THE TOP 30, ARE YOU RETHINKING YOUR APPROACH AT ALL?
No. I like putting singles out. The reason our singles haven't been big is because we don't have any radio airplay. I don't know why. I think we'll put out an EP next of material we had left
over from the album. (These cuts appeared on the North American pressings of the Generation X album). I'd like to get everything out and then get on with the new stuff.
WHY DO PARTS OF THE U.K. PRESS HAVE ANTIPATHY TOWARDS YOU?
Ever since we started they've been down on us. It's always been "They're great, but..." I know what we're doing so I don't really care what anyone else does now.
WHAT'S THE LOW-DOWN ON YOUR ENCOUNTER WITH KEITH MOON?
He was drunk, right? Billy just met him at a reception and he came down to the studio. He walked in and Mark, our drummer, just fainted! Keith's always been good to us: One of the few
from the big groups who's like one of the lads when you meet him. When we met Pete Townshend he punched Mark in the face! Some argument or other. Anyways, we played Keith our stuff and then he played with us on some Who stuff, until he broke the bass pedal. . .
WHY WAS YOUR ALBUM SO LONG IN COMING OUT? COULDN'T YOU HAVE DONE IT ANY SOONER?
We could have done it last summer. We did some recording with our old drummer, John Towe, but it wasn't happening. It was a drag to break up because we knew that if we asked John to leave it would delay the record. But I felt it was better to do it then than in the middle of a deal. You see, we don't need to be carried along on the crest of a new wave. We're quite content to
ride along behind in a boat.
ENTER BILLY IDOL.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE POWER-POP FIASCO THAT WAS INVENTED IN
BRITAIN BY THE RECORD COMPANIES?
Record company people even had to change the way they looked to be involved with punk music and that frightened people. I think they created power-pop because it's nostalgic and reaches back into the past, so they don't have to change. I think that people like us are speaking for ourselves. Whether it's new or not I don't know. I just know it's what we're saying and the way we dress and think. I know our record company find it hard; they don't under-
stand us. I think that's great though, because it makes people use their heads.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE NEW WAVE HAS FAILED AT ALL?
No. I think it did change things. It opened doors for lots and lots of new groups. Not just punk groups either; just people with ideas who would never have picked up a guitar otherwise. It could only have failed if groups like us wren't around. But we're here, so it hasn't failed.
I THINK YOUR SOUND HAS CHANGED A LOT DURING THE PAST YEAR, DO YOU?
A lot of people have said we're becoming more "pop". I think we've always played a sort of punk-strong rock'n'roll though. Music with feeling and emotion which is also the loudest, heaviest music possible: That's what I've always wanted to play. I never wanted to be in a "pop" group because it's exactly what we're not.
WHAT ABOUT THE NEXT GENERATION X ALBUM?
I think it should... I dunno. People say we started out as a punk group but I don't think we did. Not exactly. I'm not saying I minded being labelled "punk", but I think there's always been many different aspects to our music. Now that the one album is out people can see that we were always capable of writing good rock like "From The Heart". But also, more complicated songs like "Kiss Me Deadly". All I can say is that the next album will be even better.