God bless social media. Even a modest following contains some knowledge kings and Nick Woj (of Cold World/Nervous Juvenile) is no halfway culture kid. Nick cleared up an age-old mystery for me with the most logical answer I’ve heard for it. You’ve probably seen Dennis Hopper’s 1980 film Out of the Blue if you visit this blog a bit, because it’s a cult favourite round these parts (not least for Hopper’s mad performance, that matches Frank and Feck for wild-eyed mania) — this Canuck production one-third slow-burner, one-third teen punk classic and one-third memorable melodramatics. Linda Manz is a role model for us all, and careful viewers will notice the Public Enemy logo on her wall in the popular Gerry Powell Stencil typeface. Seeing as Chuck D and company didn’t use it for another six years — in fact, they hadn’t even formed by that point — it mystified me. Nick hipped me to Canadian punk zine Public Enemy that the cutting is taken from (and some of its ads for Canadian punk acts like Teenage Head were probably taken from the same issue), a publication released between 1978 and 1979. So that’s a mystery solved.
Then it all gets a bit strange — a punk/power-pop (leaning more toward the latter) group called Public Enemy released a single in 1979 that uses exactly the same lettering (possibly from reading Public Enemy?). And long before Public Enemy brought ultra-woke pro-black militancy to change the sound and attitude of hip-hop, a British white power Oi! group* called Public Enemy dropped a shitty sounding album in 1986 that used the Gerry Powell font again. Def Jam’s Public Enemy were polar opposites of their UK predecessors (though Professor Griff circa 1989 might have shared some views) and formed in 1986, making those letters famous alongside that iconic silhouette in the crosshairs.
So all of this unlocks another question. Was there something non-musical that used the name Public Enemy in that font before 1978 to inspire those lookalikes, or was there just an instant association between the name and matter-of-fact military letters?
*Strange side note: perhaps as a reaction to the forgotten Oi! merchants losing their name, Nazi rocker Paul Burnley (who claims to have left the scene and worked on Harry Potter movie special effects) put out a CD called Paul Burnley Is the Real Public Enemy.