Magazine article The Spectator

The Thinking Man's Punk

Magazine article The Spectator

The Thinking Man's Punk

Article excerpt

Sometimes you absolutely know, beyond the gentlest breath of a doubt, that you're not going to like a person; something you've heard, or read about them, has tipped you over into a flinty conviction that they're not your type. I took a preconception of this sort with me to meet the cult film-maker Julien Temple. He'll be arrogant, I thought, full of humourless guff about rock festivals and his days documenting the lives of the Sex Pistols (Sex Pistols Number 1 [1977], The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle [1980] and The Filth and the Fury [2000] -- though all three films were good).

I carried my conviction with me along Bethnal Green road to Temple's recording studio; into the canteen and up to his table, where, as he lifted his head to say hello, it instantly collapsed. My antipathy, it turned out, had just been a front for a fear of punk. And though Temple is unquestionably hip -- slim in denim, with gelled and tinted hair; handsome, with just a hint of eye make-up -- he's not the least bit frightening. He blushes as he says hello, and within five minutes we're talking about toads: 'They've suddenly appeared near our house in Dorset, ' he says. 'Big fat ones.

Lovely. The kids and I spent a whole day carrying them across the road to safety.' So no need to be scared of Temple, and perhaps not of Joe Strummer either, the late front man of The Clash, and the subject of Temple's new film, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten.

There was no one more terrifyingly cool than Strummer in the late 70s -- he was the thinking man's punk, all peroxide and political angst, a cut above the Sex Pistols' anarchy -- but he and Temple had a lot in common. Both men were hippies in their pre-punk days; both swaggered through their twenties and crashed at 30 (Temple's rock bottom was the appallingly over-budget film of Colin MacInnes's Absolute Beginners, Strummer's was The Clash's last album, Cut the Crap, which didn't). Both men picked themselves up in the late 90s and moved to the West Country, to broker peace between inner hippie and inner punk.

Your life story isn't entirely dissimilar to Joe's, I say to Temple. Is there an autobiographical element to this film? 'Yeah, ' he says. 'In a kind of ghostly way there is. The reason I felt I could do it is because I'd lived it too. Joe and I were born the same year, and we both began by squatting in the same part of town. I was behind Porchester Baths, behind Queensway, in this amazing seven-storey mansion, fantastic stained-glass conservatory and all that and he had another, second squat which was round the corner. We were hippies then.' So when did you become punks? 'In the middle of '76 or September there was a festival of Punk at the 100 Club, and that was the first time I saw The Clash, ' says Temple. 'And suddenly there was this new version of Joe. He had dyed blond hair, total attitude and this huge mockney accent, which was weird because he was a middle-class boy. I said to Mick Jones [guitarist and vocalist with The Clash], "What about that accent?" Mick was so swept away by the new image that he said, "I never noticed it had changed." I mean, come on!' So, did you think Joe was a prat for reinventing himself? I ask. 'No, of course not!' Temple looks shocked. 'As soon as he walked out on stage and started to play I thought he was amazing. I didn't think he was a prat at all; I thought, my God!

Here's a transformation on a Frankenstein scale, it was awesome.' But you weren't tempted to join a band? …

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