May 8, 2013 2:34 PM EDT

In the beginning, punk happened on the streets — a rebellious embodiment of disillusioned British youth, expressed through style and music. Where once its images were reproduced in stapled fanzines, four decades on a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art carries punk into more rarefied surroundings. TIME looks back, through the work of three photographers — Alex Levac, Steve Johnston and Ray Stevenson — to the early days of Punk, by reproducing their gritty images in the photocopied aesthetic of the era. Below, Jon Savage writes about the movement as the introduction to the new publication PUNK: Chaos to Couture.

The many arguments that have since clustered around punk authorship and, indeed, authenticity only serve to
 cloak the fact that it was an impulse that crystallized into an
 idea and a manifesto in various cities throughout the
 Western world during the early 1970s. A word trace on ‘punk’ 
will take you through gay prison slang and 1950s juvenile 
delinquency to the 1960s garage rock ideal espoused with
 increasing frequency after the 1972 release of Lenny Kaye’s 
groundbreaking compilation Nuggets.

The 1960s were over. It was time for a truly 1970s rock 
music. But what could that be? In Paris, New York,
 Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles and London, young fans,
 writers and activists began to grope toward a definition of a 
new rock age. Their enemy was the spectacle, which had, by the early
 1970s,
 successfully incorporated youth rebellion into its armory of repression.
They
 railed against the tyranny of soft rock, the hegemony of the mellow.
 The forward, unitary motion of 1960s pop modernism was 
gone and in its place came an eclectic, restless, uprooted
 culture. The past was up for grabs: not just the
 history of postwar pop music — already thirty years old — but a gnostic 
tradition
 of outcasts and visionaries that began as far back as the late eighteenth century with the Romantics. 
Anything, as long as it was youthful and sharp-edged, as 
long as it helped the new aesthetic, the aim of which was to hone 
everything 
down to a fine point. 

New York was well ahead of the pack: it was both big enough to 
foster an independent rock scene and open to ideas from Europe. Andy 
Warhol and 
Lou Reed were always at odds with the prevailing late 1960s
 counter-cultural
 rhetoric, and their influence hung heavy: in November 1970, the week that 
the Velvet Underground’s Loaded was
 released, the performance art/rock group Suicide printed a flyer for a 
small show 
on West Broadway that read ‘Punk Music.’

Australia's platinum-blond rapstress Iggy Azalea swaggered onto the scene in 2011 with an aggressive ode to cunnilingus (whose title can't be repeated here), but it's been the T.I. mentee's accent, not her sexual confidence, that's ruffled the most feathers in the lead-up to her debut LP, The New Classic, out today. Azalea, 23, raps in a geographically ambitious drawl she's picked from her idols and stints in various American cities; often it's a deal-breaker. You can find it endearing or fake. You can admire her studied dedication to artists she loves, or you can dismiss it as white privilege in action. Azalea defends her style as a technical necessity, but a New York Times story about her fashion career suggests a different philosophy at play: “I know how to play the game and get what I want,” Azalea told the paper. “Do you think what I wore to the Chloé show would really be something that I would wear? No. I picked the outfit out myself, because I know it’s appropriate and I know how to pander." As she warned on her trunk-rattling rags-to-riches tale "Work," you can hate it or love it. Or try to love it, at least. Azalea gets brownie points for the gutsy name, but simply calling your record a classic does not a classic make — rather, her debut is a paint-by-numbers exercise in what a modern rap album should be: a song name-dropping brands here, a chilled-out track asking for alone-time and admonishing hanger-ons there. Beyoncé may have hand-picked Azalea to go on tour, but when Azalea demands listeners "bow down to a goddess," there's rather little incentive to obey. In the past year, Azalea found her footing after a few false starts with a solid string of singles that combined the intrigue of her origin story with hefty beats from producers like The Invisible Men, who handle the most of the tracks here. After discovering Tupac as a teen in small-town Australia, Azalea (born Amethyst Kelly) dropped out of high school, saved up money working dead-end jobs and told her family she was going on a vacation — then never came back. The autobiographical "Work" is by the far the best thing she's done, and it's no coincidence that The New Classic's strongest material — the T.I.-assisted "Change Your Life," the guns-blazing opener "Walk the Line" — also address her unusual American dream with similar conviction and rapid-fire (if at times obnoxiously forced) delivery. But the story wears out its welcome not long after, suggesting she's perhaps already run out of things to say on her supposed classic: The platitudes of "Impossible Is Nothing" await whoever didn't finish putting in their 10,000 hours on Macklemore's own you-can-do-it-too anthem. Azalea has said before that she resisted making any kind of pop record because she was dedicated to rap, but in its final form, The New Classic suffers for trying to have it both ways. Her most successful single to date is "Fancy," which features a redeeming hook by alt-pop siren Charli XCX and probably owes more of its success to the video's Alicia Silverstone-approved Clueless homage than to her rhymes. The most likely candidates for future singles aren't the ones where Azalea attempts a new personal best in words-per-minute, but where she aims for melody ("New Bitch") or outsources that job to someone else (especially Rita Ora on the "Dark Horse" sequel "Black Widow"). Often, the songs don't feel like her own. That may say less about her personal tastes, though, and more about what it actually takes to be a successful female rapper in 2014: Since Azalea dropped her first mixtape in 2011, fans have watched Azealia Banks flounder and Angel Haze bust her way out of release-date purgatory only to bomb. Nicki Minaj's bipolar sophomore album and success with "Super Bass" and "Starships" reveal industry incentive to both spit a mean 16 and impress Taylor Swift, and Iggy Azalea has more or less said the same herself. "I do believe the reason people group me and Angel Haze and Azealia Banks all in the same category," she said last year, "is that none of us have had a hit yet, and once one of us has a hit, we won't be in that same category, and I want to be the first." You have to hand it to her: the girl's got ambition. Too bad the The New Classic doesn't live up to her own hype.
Ray Hamilton—Camera Press/Redux

The city’s biggest hope in the early 1970s was the New York 
Dolls, fashion-obsessed brats from Queens and Staten
 Island. Pop culture mavens and Anglophiles, they adopted 
a wardrobe that fused the wilder excesses of hippie, the
 androgyny of the drag queens, who were omnipresent at Max’s Kansas 
City and in the Warhol entourage, and the glamor of rock and roll: “It
 was more like ’50s gold 
lamé,” said New York Dolls member Sylvain.

Sylvain remembered the look: “I was sick and tired of wearing bell-bottoms. . . . then
 there was the whole thing with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,
 and our relationship with drugs, and that fact that we were
 flamboyant. If you wore a little makeup, influenced in any
way by the best of the late ’60s, The Doors and the Rolling Stones, you 
had to
 have sex appeal. Before we started, me and 
[original drummer] Billy [Murcia] used to put on makeup just to go down
 to the supermarket. Getting dressed up to go 
shopping, it was fun to do that. That’s where we were, and
 that’s what it was.”

Punk began with a feeling of frustration and rage and 
turned it into an idea that could be acted upon. Employing
 deconstruction and self-starter empowerment — the
 DIY ethic — it liberated a generation to create its own
 culture. In this, it returned, for a brief while, rock music back
 to its original teenage inspiration and function, which was 
to be critical, rebellious, unpalatable, to tell an
existential truth otherwise denied in the culture, and to envision
 what the future could be.


Jon Savage is a renowned music journalist best known for his history of the Sex Pistols and punk music, England’s Dreaming. The excerpt above is republished from the exhibition catalog, Punk: Chaos to Couture, Copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

PUNK: Chaos to Couture is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from May 9 – August 14, 2013.


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