Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

Michael Moorcock The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (1980)
I spent several 1970s summers biking around to my friend Sean's house in the neighbouring village. We would have been about eleven or twelve and I can't recall what we got up to, although I'm fairly certain it involved the duck pond, nicking sweets from the local shop, swapping things, and taking the piss out of Sean's little sister because she was a girl. For an entire summer our soundtrack was Sean's Wombles album, Remember You're A Womble played over and over until we'd ground it down into a flexidisc; the next summer it was 'Something Else' by Sid Vicious, which appealed to me because I had a hunch I probably wasn't supposed to like it, and just like Orinoco and Wellington, the artist was an animated character, or so it seemed from the cover - actually a still from The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

The story doesn't really add up due to the five years dividing  The Wombles' heyday and Sid's posthumous career, but I guess that's childhood memories for you. The important point, if there is one, would be something in the vague direction of the assertion made by Stewart Home in Cranked Up Really High that punk at its best was novelty rock. This is why, three decades later, even squares remember the Sex Pistols whilst the more worthy snarlers of songs about Thatcher and bombs tend to have been forgotten, at least in so much as anything is ever forgotten in the twenty-first century.

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle was a somewhat misjudged and enormously cynical film spun off from the brief career of the Sex Pistols, a supposedly post-modern commentary upon their success which missed the point that, beyond the somewhat clueless and entirely extraneous bullshit of one particularly talentless manager, the band and their music were just about the least cynical ripple to pass across the music industry pond for some time. The confusion may arise from a misconception of cynicism and pointing out when something is a bit shit as necessarily being the same thing; and I doubt it helped that this one band was so heavily mythologised in its day, all that banging on about Situationism and the sodding boat trip: sure the Sex Pistols were significant, and Never Mind The Bollocks is still my year zero, the point at which pop music became self aware and thus conscious of sometimes having turned up to school in the nude - a theory that admittedly probably doesn't stand up to close inspection; but significant or not, they hardly deserved all the smart-arsed conceptual baggage.

In the presumed spirit of Sue Catwoman action figures, Fatty Jones chocolates, and the Sid Vicious Family Album, someone noticed an unscraped patch at the bottom of the barrel and asked Michael Moorcock to write the book of the film, bizarrely resulting in just about the only good thing to come out of the whole mess, at least until Julien Temple decided it was time he said sorry.

Moorcock being Moorcock recycles some of the script, pasting in Jerry Cornelius and a few of his own regulars to come up with something new, a trick akin to a pretty decent beef bourguignon somehow cobbled together from leftover turkey twizzlers and tomato ketchup. The original structure appears more or less intact, or at least there's something resembling the original structure with Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Helen of Troy, Tenpole Tudor, Irene Handl and Lemmy from Motorhead scurrying around inside the workings; plus there's post-mortem cameos from Sid Vicious, Nestor Makhno, Oscar Wilde, and Jesus Christ himself all shooting the heavenly breeze. The story is impressionistic, suggesting narrative rather than actively following it, but nevertheless making all the points the film aspired to make but didn't due to the taint of Gingerbollocks, the failed art student hanging around like a creepy uncle at a wedding proclaiming  something to be Dickensian every five fucking seconds and explaining how it had all been part of his wearyingly chaotic plan, little realising that he's been telling all this to the one guest who doesn't actually speak English or give a shit.

Moorcock's Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, unlike McLaren's, is short, sweet, funny, and doesn't treat anyone like an idiot.

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