Polarisation in punk music, Siouxsie to Crass


This music video from England says about itself:

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Happy House (LYRICS ON SCREEN) 📺

This song is by Siouxsie and the Banshees and appears on the album Kaleidoscope (1980).

The lyrics of Happy House are sarcastic. as their author Siouxsie explained. They are about a house which is happy on the surface, but is not that happy below the surface.

These lyrics are an example of polarisation. Polarisation in a sense which is close to the original meaning of the word in physical science, of polarisation of light in a prism, different from how polarisation is often mentioned now in political discussions.

This 2013 video is called Prisms in Physics: Physics & Science Lessons.

Superficially, rays of light are white. However, when you pass those rays through a prism, they turns out to be not white, but various colours from red at one extreme to violet at the other extreme (the ultraviolet and infrared sides of light are not visible to the human eye).

When, about 1970, the word polarisation started to be used in Dutch politics, it was close to this physics meaning. To show that something that is superficially homogenous is in fact heterogeneous. One might expect the Dutch communist party using the word to denote that while superficially the interests of capitalists and workers were the same, in fact they were divergent. But not the communists used the word polarisation. It was liberal centre-left (more centrist than left) political party D66. Then, about half of Dutch MPs were in parties based on religion: a big Roman Catholic party and two big Protestant parties. D66 argued that in these three parties, common religion superficially united all party supporters. But under the surface, conservative and progressive tendencies within these parties diverged. By polarisation, subjecting the Christian parties to research by a prism, the superficial party unity might end.

Today, the word polarisation is often used in politics to denote artificially causing divisions and hatred. While originally, it is about showing that in fact there are divisions which already existed before the ‘prism’ showed them. Showing there is far less unity than there seems to be when one looks superficially.

In what way do punk song lyrics differ from other lyrics?

That ‘physical science-like’ definition of polarisation is evident in many punk music lyrics. Contrary to images of perfection and harmony, projected by television advertisements, politicians or religious leaders, these punk lyrics may confront such images with harsher realities.

According to research in Britain, in punk lyrics love and sex are mentioned three times less than in mainstream popular music. And political and social issues six times as much.

There is often polarisation in lyrics about political and social issues. I will show that in songs by various bands: the Ramones from the USA, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the UK Subs and Crass from Britain, and Cheap ‘n’ Nasty from the Netherlands. Bands representing often very different strands of where the worldwide post-1975 punk explosion went. But still, having in common writing realistic lyrics exposing real problems hiding under superficial harmony. What did not happen so often in pre-1977 mainstream popular music and ‘hippie’ lyrics, often depicting a seemingly harmonious world.

This 1977 live music video is the Ramones – We’re A Happy Family.

The lyrics describe a United States family which supposedly has every political and religious establishment approved reason to be happy: ‘I’m friends with the president, I’m friends with the pope‘. But under the surface, the officially straight father is gay, and the family depends financially on drug deals. Admitting both in public is anathema to the establishment. Polarisation lyrics.

This music video shows the 1979 song Icon by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Its lyrics are about religious leaders demanding that people give up their own eyes which can see reality for artificial eyes which whitewash reality. Artificial eyes sent by privileged people who profit financially (‘the guilt is golden’) from instilling feelings of guilt in common people.

This music video is called Siouxsie And The Banshees – Regal Zone (1981) Köln, Germany.

What Icon says about religious authorities, the song Regal zone says about political authorities. Especially royals, similar to the present crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Princes claim to act ‘for the good of the land’, while oppressing and torturing people.

This music video is the 1978 Crass song Angels.

The lyrics say:

The angels are on T.V. tonight, grey puke, celluloid shit.

The army have sent a mission to Ireland, just to see to it.

Kojac is on the streets again, grey puke, fucking shit.

The army say they seek peace in Ireland and they’ll see to it.

The first and third lines of this first verse are about fictional crime series on TV, Charlie’s Angels and Kojak, in which invariably the good guys win and the bad guys lose.

The second and fourth lines are about the reality of the British army fighting in Ireland, with human rights violations as consequences.

This 2010 video from the UK about the USA is called UK Subs – New York State Police.

The UK Subs sing about a police force which is supposedly always on the good side, stopping murderers, rapists etc. But which in reality brutalises a band on their way to a concert, making the USA look like a police state.

This music video is called Cheap ‘n’ Nasty – Covergirl (Full EP) 1981.

Now, to Dutch band Cheap ‘n’ Nasty. A band which knows the UK Subs, the Banshees, Crass and the Ramones from doing fanzine interviews with them and/or playing with them.

But which nevertheless differs from all of them. However, they do not differ so much that there is no punky polarisation in the songs on their Covergirl EP; written by bass player/female lead vocalist Terry. Let us look at the title track, Covergirl. And to No more violence on TV, the last track on the EP.

Covergirl says that beneath the seemingly glamorous lives of photo models there is just emptiness. Male bosses rule over a world of superficiality, which figuratively makes the cover girls ‘sick’. At the time of writing, the author did not yet think of literal sickness, of anorexia problems which later became a major controversy in fashion.

And No more violence on TV says that religious hypocrites try to get television to depict the world as a world without violence. While both Christian and other religious writings, eg from ancient Greece, often mention violence. And non-realistic TV may make children bored, resulting in them attacking each other violently.