Books, Ballet and Bodacious Backgrounds – Defying Gravity and Defining a Punk Ethic
Jordan Mooney and Cathi Unsworth were interviewed by John Robb on Saturday, 9th of November, 2019, at the Louder than Words Festival
Jordan Mooney, the punk symbol who disappeared from London in the 1980s, has come back to the public eye among shimmering swirls of colour and rock n’ roll. At noon, on the ninth of November, at the Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester, she sits next to the aforementioned shimmering swirls of colour, Cathi Unsworth, who happens to be the co-author of her memoir Defying Gravity, and opposite John Robb, who glows with rock n’roll.
Although all three talk like friends, but there is something surprisingly neighbourly about the Sex Pistols’ darling. Surprising, because the emblem of punk, infamous for crashing chairs and having her top ripped off on the Sex Pistols’ stage, has a reputation which is at once terrifying and terrific, but not necessarily affable. It is her lack of self-consciousness which has made her life into a story so worth telling. When she left Seaford for London, and began, after a quick spin at Harrods, working with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in their unconventional clothes shop Sex, on King’s Road, the shop assistant was known to glare and say “You can’t buy that” to the non-punks browsing the shop. She remembers this.
Punk, she says, is a way of life, a state of mind. Many punks in the 1970s, without the money to wear anything they chose, would save up for specific pieces. Their fashion was careful, and deliberate, Sex was a haven for those who thought about who they were in a city which had forgotten. Jordan, watching people who could buy anything, as they gathered random pieces from the clothes store, felt insult on behalf of those other, more careful customers.
“Why are you buying these two together?” she’d ask, trying to make the non-punks see.
It wasn’t just Sex which attracted the misfits. Both Cathi and Jordan remember a ‘subculture’ of London gay clubs. For Cathi, these would have replaced the ‘pub where the weirdos went’, places like Louisa, a lesbian club where wonderful looking women would go dressed as men. Here, Jourdan admits, gay clubs were places she could feel safe. For her persona, as defiant towards society as it may have been, was made up more to avoid being seen as a sexual object rather than to attract attention.
In any case, it is always easier to be a marginal when surrounded by other marginals. From working the anarchic shop, she was close to Malcom McLaren, Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, still speaks to Stuart Goddard and Vivienne Westwood, who she mentions frequently throughout. She talks fondly of how specifically and brilliantly Vivienne’s mind works, and of Malcolm’s greatest failing as always wanting to be involved in something brilliant and new.
While one or two stories wouldn’t quite make the editorial cut, Jordan starts laughing as she remembers a party, written more explicitly in her memoir, where a bunch of punks had got a big dustbin and filled it with fruit punch, so strong that the attendees forgot most of the party. There was a knock on the metal, and, as the person, described as polished brogues, started asking questions about the gathering, Malcolm said:
‘We’re all fine, yeah, thank you very much’ and shut the door.
It is for these people, who bring smiles to all three contributors’ lips, that the book is not an autobiography, but a memoir. Cathi and Jordan’s words take us to the underground lives of London, the emergent punk heroes and heroin addicts, and seek to enthral us into Jordan’s life at that time. This makes it perhaps the most worthwhile read for a feel of punk life.
Her vibrant memories are captivating, taking us back into the zenith of punk power. Jordan’s life is rather like a story book, and one with a happy ending. She moved back to Seaford, where she worked as a veterinary nurse with four Burmese cats. Still a punk, and still certain punk has changed the course of history, she still says her life hasn’t felt like a story. It’s felt very ordinary, she says.