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This is the secret the Sex Pistols didn’t tell, which they only acted out : the moment in which the world seems to change is an absolute, the absolute of passing time, which is made of limits. For those who want everything, there is finally no action, only an endless, finally solipsistic reckoning. Thus Debord, over and over, quoting that sentimental line of Bossuet’s, “Bernard, Bernard, this bloom of youth will not last forever” – words that, combined with those that follow them (which, once, out of all times he used the phrase, Debord also quoted), are not sentimental at all. “Bernard, Bernard, this bloom of youth will not last forever,” Bossuet said to the dead saint. “The fatal hour will come – the fatal hour, which, with an inexorable sentence, will cut short all false hopes. On our own ground, life will fail us like a false friend. The wealthy of this earth, who lead a life of pleasure, who imagine themselves to possess great things, will be astonished to find their hands empty.”
There is a hint of transformation here, of resentment, leading – who knows where? There is the certainty of failure : all those who glimpse possibility in a spectral moment become rich, and though they remain so, they are ever after ever more impoverished. That is why, as I write, Johnny Rotten is a pop star who cannot make his fans forget the Sex Pistols, why Guy Debord writes books about his past, why Hacienda is a nightclub in Manchester, England, and why, a few years before he died, Dr. Charles R. Hulbeck again became Huelsenbeck, left the U.S.A., and went back to Switzerland, hoping to rediscover what he’d found there more than fifty years before (not believing for a minute that he would), trying, he said, “to go back to some kind of chaos,” half-convinced that “liberty really never existed anywhere.”
If all of this seems like a lot for a pop song to contain, that is why this story is a story, if it is. And it is why any good punk song can sound like the greatest thing you ever heard, which it does. When it doesn’t, that will mean the story has taken its next turn.
Greil Marcus, “Lipstick traces : a secret history of the twentieth century”, Penguin, 1993