Remembering Pete Shelley
Punk rock was all but dead in 1989 and I missed it.
I’m old enough to have seen The Clash and some other punk bands of the early 1980s in their heyday, but almost all of them had been gone for several years. That’s when I discovered The Buzzcocks.
They also had been part of the late 1970s and early 1980s punk movement and had broken up but had gotten back together.
I was living in New York at the time and went by myself to see them – one of the first times I ever saw a band on my own, although it’s something I do quite often today. I had uprooted myself and no longer lived near people who might have gone with me.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even though I don’t remember a lot of details, like where exactly the show was. I do remember that the car service guy told me it used to be Studio 54 (he may or may not have been correct.)
I also remember suddenly realizing that I was singing “There is no love in this world any more” along with almost everyone else who was at the show. The lyric is repeated over and over at the end of the song “I Believe” – the song the band closed with that night and every time I saw them again.
The result was always the same. It’s ironic how a lyric so anti-social always managed to bring people together.
I lost track of how many more times I saw them, but it had to be something like eight or 10. I bought all their records. I made a mixtape of my favorites, most of which aren’t as downbeat as “I Believe,” although it’s on there, too. Others on it are “Autonomy,” “What Do I Get,” “I Don’t Know What to Do with My Life” and at least a dozen more -- and I listened to it a lot.
It was an interest that none of my friends of that time shared, but that was OK.
Things are different now.
When the word came on Thursday that Buzzcocks’ singer and songwriter Pete Shelley had passed away, I heard it from at least eight different people on Facebook – including some who weren’t even alive in The Buzzcocks heyday.
Today, not everyone realizes the role that The Buzzcocks played in keeping the music alive during the Punk Dark Ages after The Clash and The Sex Pistols, and before Nirvana and Green Day and all the 90s punk bands and everything since. At that time, we thought the music might soon be dead forever and it wouldn’t have been incorrect to say that The Buzzcocks played the same role for nostalgic punk rockers that The Grateful Dead played for many years for nostalgic hippies.
I’m happy to see that their long-term legacy will be considerably more substantial.