Interview: Dennis Morris Celebrates 40 Years of Punk with “The Bollocks: A Photo Essay of the Sex Pistols”

Photos by Billy Bennight for The Los Angeles Beat

Photos by Billy Bennight for The Los Angeles Beat

I had a remarkable opportunity to interview Dennis Morris at The Salon (at Automatic Sweat) a while back. The interview was coupled with large prints of his photographic work that captured the most salient and critical moments in the Punk movement. We sat down with large prints of these Punk icons looming over our behind-the-scenes conversation about that turbulent period in music history. One of the most important moments in our conversation about the Punk Rock movement came when Dennis unconsciously drove home the most critical concept of what Punk was about when he referred to this gathering of like minds. He used the word “We” to describe this seminal movement sans race, social class or cultural identity. It was the “We” that collectively changed music, culture and eventually the world. Dennis’ excellent observation rings true even now when Punk as a cultural movement turned 40.

More After The Break

Dennis Morris HZ 1Dennis Morris: Punk started in ’76. The Sex Pistols took off in 1977. We got a double whammy! You can take it as ’76 or ’77: which is great because we don’t have a year!

The Los Angeles Beat: I think mystery is always a good thing.

DM: If you look at the beginning, the birth of Punk, was ’76 of such. But with the Sex Pistols there was that one year of ’77 that the Sex Pistols really took off.

LA Beat: You were with them the whole time? You saw all the chaos?

DM: I saw everything, yeah. Everything you’ve seen I was there. The Jubilee Road trip, to the…

LA Beat: Was that the first time you met Richard Branson?

DM: No, I sort of met Richard previously. Some time around when I was 17, ’75 or ’76. Basically, I was trying to get in as a photographer. I used to go to all the record companies. I used to go to Virgin. I used to go to EMI. You name them! I was always knocking on the doors. ’77-’78 was when I really got involved. It was a great time!

LA Beat: What do you think was the seminal moment with you and the Sex Pistols? What really stands out?

DM: It’s difficult really. When I really started out as a photographer I had no ambitions of being a Rock photographer. My mission was to become a war photographer. I was really inspired by Robert Capa. Also, Tim Page. He worked a lot with The Doors. I have his book. He said, when Jim Morrison died he said, he had to find another war! When he was working with The Doors it was like a war zone! He did a lot of work with The Doors. As you at the height of The Doors, it was chaos! There was a lot of violence, a lot of attacks, like that… He said after Jim Morrison died and The Doors weren’t functioning, he had to find another war. So he went to Vietnam.

LA Beat: Bigger one!

DM: A bigger war! But I was too young to go to Vietnam. Vietnam was in decline as such. So when I got involved with the Sex Pistols and in Bob Marley, I found my war! Because working with the Sex Pistols was a war zone. Because they were really hated by the establishment.

LA Beat: Did Bob Marley have that kind of conflict?

DM: Bob Marley did, especially in Jamaica. That same period again. What was really important about that period, ’77, in particular, was that was the year of the change – universally amongst youth. So Bob Marley represented the youth of Jamaica. They were looking for something more! Change, a bigger piece of the cake and we coming from England, we also wanted ours. We didn’t want any schools and working in factories. We wanted more! We didn’t want to be leaving schools and then be working in factories. The system was getting ready to farm us out to factories. We wanted to be artist! We wanted to be designers: we didn’t want to be doing what are parents were doing. We could see how it destroyed them! The mundane day to day work. We wanted something creative.

LA Beat: More challenging?

DM: More us! Not what the system told us to do. More than the system told us this is your place.

LA Beat: Did you have discussions about this with John  or was it more zeitgeist?

DM: You see the thing is, we, we didn’t have discussions about it. Literally, we were like-minded. You know that thing, when you’re walking down the street. You see someone you don’t know who they are. You look at each other and they give you that nod. Something tells you, you’re like-minded. You’re on the level.

LA Beat: Did you go to the Sex shop?

DM: Yeah, yeah! We did. The Kings Road was the place! It’s kind of strange now, because in some ways was the road to be, everything was down that road, Sex, and the shop like Johnson… Where all the various shops sold, not necessarily Punk cloths, but sold alternative clothes in that sense. It’s where everybody congregated. When I got to America and I got to Fairfax. Fairfax is the Kings Road of LA.

LA Beat: Is it?

DM: That’s where all the skate kids go. That’s where Supreme is! That’s where all the shops are. All those shops on Fairfax. Every Saturday the kids congregate on Fairfax. Shopping, hangout, exchange ideas. That’s what the Kings Road was.

LA Beat: Do you want to say something about the 40th anniversary of Punk?

DM: It’s strange, I do remember, at the time, after the demise of the Sex Pistols. The so-called decline of the Punk movement. Everyone thought, that’s it, it’s over! Punk is the most important movement since the Stones or The Beatles. It was a really important movement! It was a youth movement that basically was never going to die. All it did was to become bigger and bigger! In a strange way, what’s happened is, like all those kind of movements, it gets hijacked by the corporate. For instance, we used to buy all our jeans and stuff at second shops and use to cut and shred them, whatever. Now we go to Gucci or whatever and buy these jeans ready-made for like hundreds of pounds.

LA Beat: Professionally distressed.

DM: Professionally distressed, yeah. But at the time it was so outrageous, you know, do your’s! Now it the same as ready-made. Really, Punk as a movement will never die! It will always be there. For instance you being a young teenager, coming up, listening to Rock music. You’re into the Sex Pistols, Nirvana, you’ve got to be into the Stones, The Doors. The Sex Pistols you have to listen to that album. Then The Ramones, of course. You have to need these records in your collection, just to show, to know, to understand the movement, to understand the music. to understand the energy, to get the vibe! So you can prepare yourself to step out in the street.

LA Beat: For the onslaught!

DM: Yeah, there’s a fine line to saying you’re a Punk and you don’t know anything about the Sex Pistols or the Ramones or any of those bands! You can’t say you’re into Rock music when you don’t know anything about the Stones, The Doors or Zeppelin. These bands are the cornerstone. very important, vital to the history of Rock and Roll!

 

Billy Bennight

About Billy Bennight

Billy Bennight is a writer, photographer and wardrobe stylist with expertise and years of experience in these disciplines. His musical youth started as a Punk Rocker and has expanded into exploring many genres of music, with an keen interest in art, fashion, photography and writing. He shoots celebrity events and red carpets for PR Photos, Photoshot and The Photo Access/Corbis. His images have been published in Vanity Fair, People Magazine and The Los Angeles Times. He's very engaged in life. You can follow him on his Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/billybennightartist
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