“Welcome to the great punk rock swindle,” declared Joe Corre, son of Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, just moments before setting fire to millions of pounds worth of rare and valuable punk artifacts in London on Saturday (Nov. 26).
Extra security had reportedly been called in to ensure that the previously announced ceremonial burning went ahead without disruption. Although the exact location -- a boat on the River Thames in Chelsea, West London, decorated with the banner “Extinction! Your Future” -- was not revealed by organizers until shortly before.
Speaking from on board the vessel, Corre said he was destroying the items -- which included rare gig posters, one-off recordings and original items of punk clothing that are said to be worth upwards of £5 million ($6 million) -- in protest at the commercialization and mainstream adoption of the once radical youth movement that his parents helped spawn.
Saturday’s date was chosen as it marked 40 years since the Sex Pistols released its debut single “Anarchy in the UK” (Nov. 26 1976), widely regarded as the start of the punk movement in the United Kingdom.
“Welcome to the final act in the establishment’s celebration of punk young London,” Corre told the crowd of curious onlookers, young and old punks and masses of media assembled on the river bank, prior to torching his personal collection of memorabilia.
“Some people are very concerned about the price of these artifacts, but the conversation we need to have is about values,” he stated. “Punk provided an opportunity for the no future generation of the 1970s to create a way out of it. Not trust in the media. Not trust in the politicians. Investigating the truth for yourself.”
“Punk was never, never meant to be nostalgic, and you can’t learn how to be one at a Museum of London workshop. Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need. The illusion of an alternative choice. Conformity in another uniform,” said Corre, hitting out at “40 years of asset stripping and sell offs” from a succession of British governments.
Criticizing the nostalgia industry that has built up around punk since its emergence as an underground movement, he said that its 40-year anniversary came “at a time when you can buy McDonald’s punky nuggets. An Anarchy in the UK credit card at 19 percent APR. Punk rock car insurance and bondage trousers from Louis Vuitton. And London is being socially cleansed and turned into a theme park for corporations, chain stores and speculators who don’t pay their taxes.”
After setting ablaze his personal collection of artifacts and memorabilia, Corre went on to ignite a collection of dummies dressed in vintage punk clothing and wearing face masks depicting a number of British politicians, including Boris Johnson and both the former and current Prime Ministers, David Cameron and Theresa May. All the time a lone drummer played, before a rather lame fireworks display brought the surreal ceremony to a close.
In the run-up to the protest, Corre -- who founded the lingerie company Agent Provocateur partly by selling (and later rebuying) his collection of punk artifacts -- had said that he was driven to torch the items in response to the series of official commemorative “Punk London” events, exhibitions, film screenings and celebrations that have been staged throughout 2016 and which, according to Corre, are endorsed by the Queen.
“Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream. Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a f---ing museum piece or a tribute act,” Corre said in March, when he first announced his decision to burn his collection of memorabilia.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Corre said that had his father still been alive, McLaren would have similarly spoken out “about punk rock now being owned by the corporate sector” and would have “probably” agreed with his decision to destroy its historic remnants.
Corre’s actions have, however, provoked anger from music fans, critics and punk veterans, with former Sex Pistols singer John Lydon calling him a “selfish f---ing lingerie expert” and saying that the he would have been better off selling the collection and donating the money to charity.
One person who did, nevertheless, support today’s protest was Corre’s mother, Dame Vivienne Westwood, who witnessed the burning ceremony. Speaking to the crowd immediately after from the top window of a green double decker bus, she echoed her son's warning about the dangers of climate change and urged people to embrace green energy.
“This is the first step towards a free world,” Westwood said, calling it “the most important thing you could ever do in your life."
As the sun set, a small fire engine boat pulled up alongside Corre’s vessel and extinguished what little remained of the once highly valuable and now smoldering pyre.