Top image: Summer 1977. Jamie Reid’s promotional poster for “God Save the Queen.” © GOD SAVE SEX PISTOLS edited by Johan Kugelberg with Jon Savage and Glenn Terry, published by Rizzoli, special edition released by Anthology Editions.
Johan Kugelberg is a fanatic. With over twenty-five years of industry experience under his belt, he’s helped shake up and serve belter records, while breaking them too.
He’s carved DIY values into stone-faced business and kept counterculture clockwise – with countless contributions to art and music. He’s managed subsidiary labels of Warner Brothers and Atlantic Records and archived anarchy, curating projects like the first major punk auction in history (while, to this day, rocking his baby, Boo Hooray – the Manhattan-based publishing exhibition space that’s outgrown its dungarees). But it’s Kugelberg’s latest achievement that’s perhaps most impressive, all the while juggling jobs, gigs and labels, Johan Kugelberg has written nineteen books. Now, he’s back with another.
God Save Sex Pistols boasts 320 pages of concert tickets, fanzines, unseen band photos and handwritten letters by the likes of Malcolm McLaren. Compiled and co-written by Jon Savage, Glenn Terry and Kugelberg himself, the book runs in tandem with the fortieth anniversary of Anarchy in the UK. This limited print-run is a punk staple.
Cecilia Dinwoodie: The book sounds like a pretty special artefact – even if it’s just to hold. Could you describe it for me?
Johan Kugelberg: In the intro, I describe it as a psycho-geographic drift through the Sex Pistols, with mingling eyewitness reports and rare and strange ephemera. It’s an unauthorized historical documentation. I hope it’s worthy of the immense importance of the Sex Pistols, as cultural instigators and catalysts.
CD: What does editing a book like this entail?
JK: The editing process is not only like sifting plankton, but also trying to identify the most significant plankton, as you are sifting.
CD: Did you get stuck in with the curation and main content at all?
JK: [Yes, but] I had Glenn Terry and Jon Savage by my side. Glenn is the foremost Sex Pistols collector in the world, and a dude who has completely understood the significance of the band ever since 1977. Jon’s book, England’s Dreaming, is truly the yardstick for all other punk-related books – and this one was conceptualised as a visual companion.
CD: Were you around during the dawn of Punk in the ‘70s?
JK: I was born in 1965. Too young for punk, but a close witness to its cultural reverberation which naturally results in a lifelong fascination.
CD: Did you get to talk to John, Steve, Glen and Paul at all?
JK: No, not at all. Their books are amazing, their interviews are amazing – but, in this instance, what we have created is a history book, executed by fans and historians. Our goal is to create something about the Sex Pistols and their time, in a manner where the editorial opinion is as minimal as possible, to give the [reader] enough room to step into that place in time, and have some sort of experience and dialogue with the book.
“Our goal is to give the reader enough room to step into that place in time, and have some sort of dialogue with the book.”
CD: Making a succinct timeline of pure chaos seems like a mammoth task, no?
JK: One dark secret is that punk was never pure chaos! There was documentation, discussion and self-reverence from the very beginning. I also think that all substantial archival work is the story of beginnings, and of reconstructing skeletons. The meat is added in layers. The punk archives I have been a part of, at Yale and at Cornell, are works in progress. History happens – then we try to make sense [of it]. Most historians I know think it takes at least half a century before a narrative starts to be understood.
CD: What’s your favourite section in the book?
JK: Roberta Bayley’s sublime photo documentation of the US tour. Sad, poetic, beautiful.
CD: Did you find anything that perhaps even the biggest Pistols fans would be surprised about?
JK: There were certainly lots of unseen bits that surfaced. I think a lot of the business documents that surfaced actually show that McLaren had some serious logistical business chops in the middle of the chaos.
CD: A lot of your books are treasured collectables, selling for hundreds of pounds online. Are you aware that a copy of The Velvet Underground: New York Art is for sale for £500?
JK: Jesus. Well, I gather that everything in the world is a limited edition, as the sun will go supernova at some point.
CD: You’ve worked with a few bands that were originally signed by Creation Records. Did you work closely with Alan McGee?
JK: I think I met him once together with Roger Grierson from the Thought Criminals. Pelle from The Hives is a close friend, so I hear lots of zingers involving McGee’s dazzling intellectual and idiosyncratic hard partying.
CD: What is music to you?
JK: It alters space, like a smell or a taste, or light or heat, [and] links us to notions of the sublime.
CD: What was the first band that got you hooked on music?
JK: It was actually Sparks. Kimono My House was a big one.
CD: Do you think you’d be where you are now, doing what you’re doing, if it weren’t for them?
JK: I probably would! The first impulse towards creativity is usually something completely random. The way that our minds open to the possibility of art, I think, constantly rejuvenates. For example, pals like Jon Savage, Michael Daley and Jeff Gold constantly expand my horizon.
CD: You were born in Sweden. What was the music like there at the time?
JK: ABBA sucked! This is a truth! Any of this hipster fabrication of them being good is absolute nonsense. The mainstream swill of the ‘70s/’80s was too grim for words. Saying that, there were extraordinary access points for great music in Sweden. I heard ‘60s garage punk and pub rock and punk and krautrock and hip hop for the first time on national Swedish radio.
CD: Do you think it takes a certain type of person to fall madly in love with off the radar music?
JK: Before or after the internet? Everything has changed now, as the access is immediate, which is not necessarily a good thing. It’s a battle between enthusiasm and connoisseurship. The enthusiast is chasing experiences to share, the connoisseur is consuming, based on identity. I think art is meant to be enjoyed – not to define the self, based on consumption.
CD: Does being caught up in the business-side of music ever dampen your out-of-hours love for it?
JK: Hell no! That’s what classic dub reggae or opera buffa is for!
CD: What’s the one band you wish you’d signed?
JK: Oddly enough, Underworld.