Pete Shelley isn’t a household name. The Buzzcocks won’t ever have the attention or allure of their contemporaries The Clash and the Sex Pistols. But, there was always something special going on there, and their influence is still being felt today. They put the raw energy in the music and did something altogether different with their lyrics. Some of it holds up better than others, but Shelley often hit a nerve with lines like, “I love this story / that never seems to happen in my life,” from “Fiction Romance.”
Shelley has, over time, become a punk hero for everything that followed from Joy Division and Morrissey, to the Replacements and The Pixies, to Nirvana and Greenday, and honestly – some of this SoundCloud rap probably owes him a footnote too. Shelley had bars. The band still put on a hell of a show too, actively touring until very recently.
Simon Reynolds at Pitchfork nailed it in his piece, “The First Sensitive Punk: Remembering Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley,”
Shelley’s own aim was to be exactly the same size as life, and somehow put that across onstage or on record, despite the inherent artifice of being a performer. That was his interpretation of what punk represented—the artist as unheroic hero, on the same level as the fans. Approachable, unassuming, self-deprecating, Shelley lived out that ideal until the end.
There’s one song in particular that I found myself hung up on while skimming the catalog over the last few days, “Whatever Happened To?” Somehow they captured how the frantic need for things and experiences always yields to half-nostalgic memories in time, and they captured it perfectly in all of 2 minutes. And man does this one get stuck in my head.
Take a moment and either check out or remember Shelley’s contribution to modern music. He will be missed.