Crass’s Penny Rimbaud Doesn’t Care About Urban Outfitters Profiting Off His Band’s Name
A few weeks ago, Urban Outfitters, your cool little sister’s favorite clothing store, started selling a “vintage men’s punk leather jacket” for $375. The jacket had a bunch of crappy hand-painted logos of some of the most notable punk bands of the 70s: the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and Crass. That the company already peddles Joy Division and Sex Pistolsshirts to angsty teens of all ages is a given, and the commodification of punk rock has been going on basically since the invention of the phrase punk rock. But selling a jacket featuring the name of the most famous anarcho-punk band of all time at a price no upstanding anticapitalist could afford seemed, at least, a little problematic. (The jacket was the only one of its kind, and someone bought it.)
Hoping for an angry tirade, I called up Penny Rimbaud, one of the founding members of Crass, at his home in England. Instead he took the opportunity to tell me how much he dislikes the current crop of DIY punks.
VICE: Did you already know about this jacket before I told you about it?
Penny Rimbaud: I hadn’t actually seen the jacket in question, but yeah, I’d heard about it. I personally don’t have any troubles with it. I mean it amused me that Crass is sort of the main feature on it and the Sex Pistols and the Clash dropped down to the bottom. But they haven’t actually used the symbol so it’s not really an unacceptable use; it’s more of a naff artwork than an attempt to sell a Crass jacket.
As far as I’m concerned, if the wealthy want to spend $400 on a rather naff leather jacket and go to book launches and gallery shows and all the things that those literati and glitterati do, then that’s great because it means that we’re getting the name floated around in areas where it’s very difficult for us to penetrate. I actually quite like it when people like Angelina Jolie and David Beckham wear Crass T-shirts.
Do you think Crass fans might be pissed off, at least?
I know that a lot of the DIY punks and the anarcho punks are going, “Oh, bloody rip-off!” Well, they’re not being ripped off. The anarcho punks have been ripping us off since the beginning of time, doing rather pale reproductions of both our music and our art. So as far as I’m concerned they’re just in for what they can get, and that’s laissez-faire [economics] at its most extreme.
I’m quite sure some people who follow us will be pissed off. But they’re not looking at the bigger picture. The sort of people who will be pissed off are the sort of people that are very happy to be working on a very small, almost ghetto existence within a particular genre of thought, a particular genre of action, a particular genre of behavior, and particularly a predictable set of political ideas. Well, the world’s changed a lot in 30 years and I think we’ve got to get hip to that. I want to get out into a bigger outreach because that’s what I’m here for. My business is information and getting it out there. My job is to look for the best outlets, the best opportunities to promote ideas.