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Crass

Crass

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Published by Bob Sokolosky

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Published by: Bob Sokolosky on Dec 02, 2011
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02/18/2013

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CRASS JOURNAL:A record of letters, articles, postings and e-mails,February 2009 – September 2010concerning Penny, Gee and Allison’s ‘Crassical Collection’.
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 Mark HodkinsonPOMONAPete Wright  22nd March, 2004
 Dear Mark, I was sent a copy of your book, ‘Crass - Love Songs’ by Gee recently. Havingread your introduction, and the preface by Penny, I felt moved to write to you. Crasswas a group functioning on consensus with the occasional veto thrown in for goodmeasure, so I thought you might be interested in a slightly different view of the proceedings. From the nature of your introduction, I’d say that you have a prettythorough grounding in certain aspects of the band. I’d like to broaden the context.Things were fine when we started gigging, before we had any status orinfluence. The main discomfort I felt and still feel about what the band promoted,started when I realised that Thatcher’s sordid right-wing laissez-faire was littledifferent from what we were pushing. It was an unpleasant shock. Neither Thatchernor we considered the damage done. We concentrated on the ‘plus’ side always. Tosay that everyone can ‘do it’, and counting it a justification when the talented, themotivated, or the plain privileged responded, while ignoring the majority whocouldn’t ‘do it’, and those who got damaged trying, is a poor measure of success.Just as Putin has become the new Tzar of Russia, Crass used the well worn paths to success and influence. We had friends, people with whom we worked andcooperated. We were educated, socially connected. We networked, lied, cheated,intimidated, tricked, bought, bribed, mocked, flattered, self-deluded, andaccommodated all manner of contradictions to maintain our ‘rightness’. And weworked hard.The early ad hoc nature of the band led to some weird rationales. The Anarchybanner at gigs was there purely to stop us being co-opted by the far left or right whowere circling at the time. That’s all it was, an inspired move, suggested by Penny, I think, because who the hell knew about the academic aspect? It was what we said it was. This was England. Anarchy is as bollocks in this country, as it is bourgeois onthe continent.The barrage of querulous questions that ensued crammed us into defining acod ideology, a chimera of individualistic libertarianism. Blue-black.The parallels between Crass and the opposition penetrated everywhere. The‘apocalyptic’ nature of our outlook, our ‘all or nothing’ message, reflected the State pacifying its population through fear of total destruction. It’s not easy to put forwarda reasoned analysis of the use of bogeymen to justify State oppression, if the supposedradicals are plying the same trade to bolster an identical ‘us and them’, ‘all ornothing’ mentality. I think it was about 1982 when I came across an article by an Australianscientist/scientific journalist who suggested that if all the nuclear weapons in theworld were launched, arrived and exploded at the same time – an unlikely worst case,but go with it – then the net result, excluding the highly improbable occurrence of acatastrophic crust split or some such, would be that most of northern Europe and parts of north America would be a wasteland. Since most people in the world livesouth of the equator, and the weather systems north and south hardly mix, the result for this majority would probably be a move to the right in their governments and amarginally increased radiation count. Our big bombs just weren’t that big. The Apocalypse which we projected on the rest of the world was our local apocalypse,
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limited to ourselves. “We are the world.” Oh yeah? It’s the same today. Me iseverything.The writer’s coda to the Crass world view was that it made fighting forsubstantial reforms virtually impossible. The view we promoted was the view the State promoted. The grooves run deep.The early quality of Crass was a much more hopeful, anarchic, irresponsible‘fuck off to the system’, inchoate, intelligent and insidious.The central premise of your book: Crass lyrics as love songs troubles me.What can I say. It seems almost churlish to carp, although I get a mischievous image,as Crass members wax lyrical about love, of maudlin alkies crying into their SpecialBrew. The Crass people were personable, affectionate, hospitable, but the Crassengine was something altogether darker.Those poignant claims – yes I’m as guilty – of a bedrock of love and sensitivitydriving all that bilious doggerel and poetry was the lure of mystification that floodedthrough the last thirty years, like the uncritical taste for alternative medicine and self-centred views of the beast, ‘human spirit’. Hand in hand: State, media, and us prolesalike. We were all at it. Still are. I wonder when we’ll be able to face up to the essential nature of evangelism,of proselytising. Forceful persuasion requires a platform plus charisma plus bigotry(plus the promotion of the same message in a different package if possible). That works well.Crass was bigoted. A singleness of message, a polar view shorn of checks andbalances and considerations. The nature of the people who are good at this is bynature skewed. Balanced people don’t cut it.Bigotry is widespread. Rarer, is that extremist edge to society which allowsthe centre to adjust as it sees the need. The raw material for this edge is always thefuckup people, and they usually get more fucked up in the process. That’s the cost. I feel we failed. We were the raw material, but somehow we fluffed it.The pacifism that ran through the Crass output is something else that has pretty much escaped examination. If you can get what you want by your class,education, charm, money, contacts, location – where is the need to fight? In the far off  places where the shit that this country generates is manifest, the difference betweenthe pacifist and non-pacifist, is that the first chooses to suffer to change things, whilethe second chooses to inflict suffering on the opposition. In this country pacifism is aconvenience, a safe, assured parking bay. And part of the Crass pacifist ‘message’ was the recognition of the exposedand public nature of our lives, and the danger of kids screwing up theirs with seriousbut naive, ‘on message’ bravura. It was also a sharp cut-off point to what we were prepared to do. We could shout as loud and as violently as we wanted, while holdingtight the lid.When Penny kindly offered me ten minutes of stage time at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Anti-the-coming-war gig last year, and I got an unsettling glimpse of the retro programme, my concern was how, despite all this, was it possible tocommunicate my reservations. An audience can’t really hear what a band is saying,so I hired an actress to fake a stage invasion half way through our allotment, andchallenge me with all the things that I wanted to challenge both the other performersand the audience with. Lord knows, I’d been years challenging myself. The centralaim for me that night was for us to ask ourselves, “Is this enough? If it’s not going to
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