In the early days of London’s punk rock movement, around 1976, there were no punk clubs per se, so the punks needed somewhere to congregate where they can be who they are and dress how they dress without fear of being hassled. They found such a place at Club Louise, a lesbian bar that also welcomed gay men and punks, just off Oxford Street in London’s Soho district. Billy Idol hung out there every night. Other regulars included Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Siouxsie Sioux, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, members of The Clash and members of The Slits. Writes Billy Idol in his recently-released autobiography Dancing With Myself, “[Louise’s] was a much-needed haven. Back then, the way we dressed would have started a riot if we had set foot in any normal club or pub.”
Idol discusses Louise’s as ground zero for the punks’ plans. “We all congregated there, drinking and socializing, plotting our rebellion. It was our midnight meeting place, our sanctuary. We all walked the same path at that time. Many of the classic-rock bands talked about musicianship but had little to offer us, the disenfranchised and disenchanted… As the gay ladies danced and loved one another, we devised our plans and consolidated a movement. By being like-minded, we ruled the night. We would rock London to its core. The lesbian bar was our spiritual ‘upper room,’ and we, the new aristocracy of the poor, knighted with fire, sallied forth and followed Johnny Rotten into the unknown!”
New York City’s punk scene was similar. Club 82, a drag queen/transsexual bar, was one of the few public places where punks could perform in the early to mid-1970s. The club always welcomed the outcasts, so the punks were part of the family. Other gay bars opened their doors to punks as well. These not only were places that accepted those who are “different;” gay bars also were places where people could experiment with their appearance.
Idol explains the bond between the punk rockers and the LGBT populations by quoting a figure from American history. “Benjamin Franklin once offered advice to his fellow revolutionaries: ‘We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.’ We were a small group of people bored with the repeated clichés of modern life and its stagnant, putrid waters. That is what brought us — and ultimately bonded us — together.”
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