By Maggie Boccella
“A lot of men have, historically, been very frightened of me.”
Those are the words that come out of punk icon Jordan Mooney’s mouth as she discusses her sense of fashion in the 70s that would ultimately become iconic – her Mondrian-style makeup and spiky hair sprayed solid so that it sticks up a good two feet off her head. After complimenting Goldblade singer John Robb’s shoes without knowing who he was (oops!), I’ve sat down on a backless, stumpy little chair in the back of Rough Trade Records, the original home of vinyl records and the punk movement, to listen to this incredible woman tell her story. She tells it with an incredible grace and humor that makes me admire her even more than I did when I first watched Jubilee back in February, and when asked if she felt her provocative way of dressing made her a sex symbol of the time, she says with a straight face,
“I felt all woman, but of my own choosing.”
And those words will stick with me perhaps for the rest of my life. Jordan Mooney is not a name that’s become household standard like Adam Ant or Mick Jones, but it’s a name that matters to the fabric of the punk scene in the UK perhaps more than either of those I’ve mentioned. Jordan Mooney is a name that, as a feminist, I feel like I should’ve learned ages ago. Jordan Mooney is the name of a woman who worked with Vivienne Westwood back when she sold rather….interesting rubber and leather clothes at a shop on London’s King’s Road, and who was part of the very first gigs put on by the Sex Pistols. Jordan Mooney is the name of a woman who starred in director Derek Jarman’s punk film Jubilee, managed multiple bands, and became a symbol of what punk in London was in the late seventies and early eighties.
It’s hard to describe who Jordan is without going off on a pages-long tangent. The best I can do is use the term “casual badass”, because she’s done so much and rooted herself firmly in the history of one of the most influential movements in Britain’s cultural history. (And the world’s, for that matter.) Needless to say, to get to see this woman I’ve grown to admire so much in person is not a thing I ever thought I’d get to do. Celebrity, however vague and strange that term might be in reality, is not a thing one runs across in their daily life. But sometimes the stars align just right, and sometimes one of your heroes writes a book and you get to go to its launch on a Tuesday night because you have nothing better to do and you wouldn’t pass it up for the world.
To hear her speak in such an intimate setting, this woman in her sixties with bright purple hair and a shirt with a picture of bare breasts across the chest, sitting on a stage with only about twenty people in the audience, it felt like sitting at the feet of my feminist grandmother. (Almost an atheist’s version of a come to Jesus moment, if you will.) Her stories about being a woman in a man’s world felt overwhelmingly like stories that my heart that still doubts its own abilities needed to hear. Along with some good-natured poking fun at her past self and those she’d worked with (“once [Adam Ant] got really famous, there was no woman that was safe”), Jordan spoke on what it meant to be called a muse (“it’s a little bit of a dumbing down of what people can be”), and the feeling of having to come up into a world filled with only blokes to prove that you’re not mean and scary because you wear leather and makeup, but that you want to make just as much of a difference as they do.
I fell into punk in a very roundabout way – came for Dirk Wears White Søx while on an Adam Ant binge (oops), and ended up staying for the sheer girl power of the movement, of which I have not seen to such caliber anywhere else in music history. And Jordan is no small part of that female power that anchored punk as a movement and as a genre.
“There aren’t many periods in history where women are as important [to a movement] as men,” she noted on stage, and she’s incredibly right. Punk produced some of music’s best frontwomen – people like Ari Up, Siouxsie Sioux, and Poly Styrene, who anchored the anarchist, eff your rules alternative movement with their lyrics and their passion for wanting something more out of the world just as much as Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious did. (At one point, Jordan noted that the Pistols “weren’t sort of…ordinary-functioning blokes”, which I can’t help but agree with.)
The punk movement also produced her, who managed Adam & the Ants and wore makeup like a panto character and turned into a figurehead for alternative fashion before alternative fashion was a thing. Her entire life and all of these moments are chronicled in her new book, Defying Gravity: Jordan’s Story, written with author Cathi Unsworth, who was just as delightful to listen to as Jordan herself. Both women were incredibly well-spoken, and retain a special quality that sets them apart from the crowd that I couldn’t quite place.
When, luckily, I got to be the only one to ask Jordan a question at the end of the night and broached the subject of how she maintains her sense of uniqueness and style in an increasingly commercial world, she looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Keep true to yourself, really. That’s all it is.”
Jordan Mooney is as sparky and witty as she was in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee forty years ago, and a woman I’m sad I didn’t know about before now. She’s the first Sex Pistol, and ultimately a woman concerned with empowerment and truly being the best version of yourself and doing it on purpose.
“That punk ethos is in your head,” she says. “It’s not in what you wear….it’s really about empowering yourself.”
Well, if that’s the case…get me some safety pins and call me a punk.
(Defying Gravity: Jordan’s Story is available for purchase in the UK now. The book releases in the US on September 5th.)
A Freddie Mercury groupie born about thirty years too late, Maggie Boccella has settled for being a supersonic woman on her own. She lives her life with as much grace as Anakin Skywalker did approximately five seconds before he got his legs lightsabered off, and one day hopes to achieve an aesthetic somewhere between David Bowie, Poly Styrene, and mid-eighties Carrie Fisher. You can follow her at @maggierachael_ on Instagram and @maggie_rachael on Twitter to watch her be an angry feminist, or at @maybphotos on Instagram to see visual proof of her bizarre life.