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The Story Of Crass by George Berger (Omnibus
last, a book about punk that doesnt mention the Sex Pistols!
Not once! Hooray! Berger has provided us balding anarcho-punks with
a book that has waited to be written for far too long.
Crass were Year Zero as far as serious anarcho-punk
is concerned. Their vision, visuals and sound are etched into the
minds of millions. Whereas Malcolm Maclaren and Johnny Rotten played
at attacking the Establishment - spitting all the way to the bank
- Penny Rimbaud and Crass were the real thing. Operating from a
commune in rural Essex, the many people who made up the outfit waged
a guerrilla information war on 'The System'.
Their multi-media approach and sharp image and
imagery established Crass as a rival anti-Royal Opposition. Everything
was called into question, a (simplified) analysis of power was put
forward, icons were ridiculed and an alternative suggested - all
delivered in 2-minute slices to a savage punk backbeat.
The anarcho-punk movement has been practically
airbrushed from history by punks "official" spokespeople,
despite it's continued existence. According to them, punk existed
for about 18 months and comprised of little more than spitting,
swearing and being "ironic" . In a sense, they're right
- the first wave of what is now called punk sold out to major label
companies or died form drugs. It was the fans they left behind that
made up the next wave. Lessons were learned and the time was ripe
for a second assault.
Serious, dedicated and fiercely political, Crass
split the movement down the middle, one half all green mohicans
and cider drinking, the other half all dressed in black with stark
slogans (and cider drinking). Throughout the band's eight year career
they revitalised movements like CND, animal rights and, of course,
the many anarchist groups that came and went during the 80's.
Bergers book labours a bit at the start, detailing early,
pre-Crass performances undertaken by the group - hippy, freeform
affairs. It gets going once the band form as he charts he different
routes taken by the various members on their way to the Crass commune.
Dial house, the name of the commune, has long been a centre of alternative
experimentation and the formation of Crass was essentially a bridge
between the fading hippy movement and the up-and-coming punk rockers.
Combining pacifist thought with aggressive punk music and image
was always a little confusing, not least to Crass themselves. The
presence of National Front skinheads at many gigs was for Crass
an opportunity to talk to and convert them, but for the many anarchists
also at the gig it was a recipe for violence. Crass's naivety in
this regard was seen by many city punks as proof that Crass, hiding
away in a rural idyll, were removed from the realities of urban
life. This negation of reality was to become one of the fault lines
along which the band would split in 1984. Gearing people up for
revolution whilst denouncing all violence as macho posturing was
never going to work.
However, the band remain a huge influence on many the world over
and Bergers book is a welcome addition to the story. Objective and
informative, plus it comes with some excellent photos of a band
that did their best to remain anonymous.