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The Sex Pistols weren't around as long as a single-term president.

They lasted a little less than three years, from 1975 to early 1978, though the roots of the band go back to 1973 when a couple of underprivileged hoods from London's Shepherd's Bush borough named Steve Jones and Wally Nightingale stole a few instruments and set themselves up as The Strand, taking the name from a Roxy Music song.

Jones was apparently more accomplished as a thief than a player; he allegedly pinched David Bowie's PA system and guitars from Keith Richards and Ron Wood.

One version of the story--and there are several--is that Jones used to regularly break into Wood's mansion, where Richards sometimes slept in a garden cottage, and make off with their gear. But dig a little deeper into the story and maybe it wasn't quite like that. In Victor Bockris' 1992 biography of Richards, he wrote that Jones did break in, but he only played the guitars. He'd nick a shirt and leave a note: "Steve was here."

Jones and The Strand's drummer Paul Cook went on to be the only competent musicians in the Sex Pistols, with Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten's contributions more conceptual than musical. (To be fair, Rotten--the once and future John Lydon--became much better as a vocalist over the years and had an actorly command of his material even as a Pistol. And even the doomed Vicious eventually learned to thump the root notes.)

The point is that even as punk musicians pretended to hate artists like Richards, Wood, Bowie and other rock 'n' rollers like Led Zeppelin, they actually idolized them. Joe Strummer of the Clash sang "No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones in 1977" but later admitted the Stones were his favorite band. His bandmate, guitarist Mick Jones, openly idolized Richards. You can hear it in his playing.

At least some of punk rock's rage at rock royalty was a contrived marketing campaign. Punk rock was a swindle, Malcolm McLaren and Johnny Rotten were hucksters, and it's fitting that the Sex Pistols' last performance (not counting the 1996 reunion) ended with Rotten asking the audience, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

That's not to suggest there weren't authentic punks and true believers who think the only response to the atrocities of the modern world is nihilism. But most punks were in it for the fashion and the sense of community, and could be integrated into other societies.

Punk rock was by and large a positive force that freshened an art form and gave a lot of people something to think about. Living in the real world makes hypocrites of us all, and a certain amount of Victorian social hypocrisy is a necessary lubricant.

I don't live in a squat but I love the Clash.

I can empathize with the adherents to the Church of the SubGenius, the organization that emerged about a year after the Sex Pistols fell apart to combat the very real conspiracy of normalcy that had overtaken American culture. Pro wrestling fans and Trekkies and those who drill down into elaborately filigreed mythologies do so simply because they find pleasure in thinking about alternative realities.

Still, it might be that there are times when we have to talk straight about real things. It's conceivable that nothing means anything, and a man's a fool who believes in anything that doesn't increase his wealth or power.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Congress is going to come together to formally count the Electoral College's votes and bring the election process to a close. Some members are going to stage a show because they want to curry favor with those who support the lame duck president, because they believe they will increase their wealth and power by flattering these folks.

None of those people, with the possible exception of Tommy Tuberville, a retired football coach who may well believe in the divinity of Donald J. Trump, is deluded enough to think that this election was in any fashion stolen or that their objections will find any purchase.

Certainly we cannot know everything about everything, and mistakes and malfeasance haunt every human enterprise, but as best as we can determine the recent election was run quite well. Election experts in Trump's own administration have declared it "the most secure in American history."

A circus may ensue--and there might be trouble with the mass protest the president is inciting--but in the end the U.S. Congress will certify Biden as the next president of the United States.

Outrageous allegations can be made by anyone without fear of consequences unless you make those allegations to mislead a judge or defame an entity with the wherewithal to sue you for slander. Court challenges require evidence, and the absence of evidence is not, as some seem to believe, actually more evidence of the pervasiveness of perfidy.

Sometimes we are fooled because we want to believe what the huckster is saying. Sometimes we are willing to give ourselves over in open-hearted faith. And sometimes we are wrong.

I'm not sure about the wisdom of common folk; it's preferable to think that because a conspiracy of more than 80 million Americans turned this president out that we might put our faith in the eventual triumph of an ethical majority. But I'm not comfortable with majoritarianism, that Hamiltonian beast, and how thin the margins are.

And how cynical and intelligent the opportunists are.

They see an advantage in committing civic vandalism, in doing damage to our institutions and promoting alternative facts. They believe in nothing so much as their own superiority, their own fitness for high office, and they can justify any means to obtain that.

Johnny Rotten's got nothing on Josh Hawley.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at [email protected] and read his blog at

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