“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley (1894-1963).
The Buzzcocks and Aldous Huxley might not share a figurative artistic postcode, but in their own separate ways, they were oracles who saw how creativity could reflect our “industrial civilization”. While Huxley’s literary prescience looked unflinchingly at the future in science fiction works like Brave New World, Buzzcocks were busy living by the David Bowie quote: “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”
Buzzcocks were one of the first bands to take up the CBGB mantle of punk rock when it crossed the pond from New York, famously organising the Sex Pistols first gig wherein band members were cavorting with half-dressed members of the public on stage, chairs and tables were being utterly Chernobyled in a seeming mutiny against anything perceived as banal, and a Frenchman began shouting to Pistols guitarist and human-hurricane Steve Jones “you can’t play!” to which the guitarist flippantly replying, “So what?”
This in itself was a moment that illuminated the future in a prescient explosion of chaotic creativity, and sometimes just chaos period. The Buzzcocks helped to crystalise a movement that Patti Smith had previously expressed as “freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are.” Those are words that could’ve been lifted right from the pages of Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza.
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As it happens, on the Buzzcocks single ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ that connection became rather more tangible. The song based on Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World fervently yells about the dangers of mindless contentment and medicated blessedness, in a way that David Byrne would soon master with unerring accuracy on the Talking Heads track ‘Life During Wartime’. Beneath the humorous irony, there is a dark portent about the ways of the world borne out of the delipidated industrial sprawl of the late seventies.
In Huxley’s novel, where culture and art have been expunged from society leaving everyone in a comatose state of contentedness propped up by the Vedic ritual drink Soma, one character even yells: “I am free. Free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.” The track not only lifts that line for the title but explores the same themes throughout, in lyrics like: “Life’s an illusion, love is a dream, but I don’t know what it is.”
Accompanied by a sparse four-note descending guitar line, the song captures an ironic range of emotions. Bob Dylan even featured the song on his collection of 12 tracks to make you happy, proving that bliss doesn’t have to be ignorant and you don’t need a perfect set of circumstances to have a bit of an exultant chuckle. Late great frontman Pete Shelley delineated this in a rather more spiritual sense when he declared to Sound Magazine: “I’ve come to the idea that nothing exists. There is no world. Or it doesn’t really matter if there is. The way I’m affected by things is the way by which I want them to affect me.”
Released on as a single in 1979 with ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ it forms one of the greatest 7” singles of the early British punk era and is a prized possession for many collectors. With both tracks, the Buzzcocks helped to bring to analysis to the anarchy without losing sight of punks inherent fun, and there is an unlikely bespectacled author to thank in part for that.