Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Three Continued

On the third day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me 

 Three Punk Rock Playlists 
 Two Digits Throughout History 
 And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

Hope everyone enjoyed a morning full of Social D, Local H, and X.  More Day 3.  Postcount!

  1. 1970’s punk, excepting three pillars 
  2. The Ramones 
  3. The Clash 
  4. The Sex Pistols 
  5. 1980’s through today’s punk

God Save the Clarence: Punk Chronicles Vol.4
- The Sex Pistols -

The Sex Pistols.  It would be hard to name any band in history as surrounded with mythology, misinformation, and made-up memories.  Maybe Spinal Tap or The Rutles.

Most music fans fall into one of two categories:
  1. The Sex Pistols invented punk.  They were the first punk band to make it big, and they were pioneers for all the rest.  Their songs like "Anarchy in the U.K." stand the test of time, and their influence remains visible across the industry.
  2. The Sex Pistols were all hype.  They couldn't play their instruments, but their form of vulgar shock rock made them heroes of the underground, immortalized by public acts of rudeness like the infamous Bill Grundy interview on English television.  They were merely puppets of Malcolm McLaren, and their diminutive half-life is evidence that they were talentless hacks acting the part.

The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.  There is some actuality in each camp:
  • They were one of the first punk bands to break through into commercial success.
  • While their output is extremely limited, songs like "Anarchy" and "God Save the Queen" are among the very best of punk's heyday.
  • Some of them couldn't play their instruments worth a damn. ('ello, Sid.)
  • They were certainly thrust into the public spotlight by that TV spot and other acts of extreme vulgarity.
There are just as many myths needing debunking, though:
  • They didn't invent anything (musically speaking).  The Ramones' debut, The Damned, and a number of other albums predated Never Mind the Bollocks.  And you could argue that Iggy and others from a decade prior fathered them all.
  • They were not devoid of talent; Steve Jones is a respected guitarist, and Glen Matlock did write good songs.
Let's take a step back and provide some overview.

Essential Facts (I say "facts," but any truths about this band are debatable and usually at least embellished.)

The Players
  • John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, sang and whined and shouted and postured (sod off)
  • Steve Jones, played guitars and bass when Sid sucked too bad
  • Paul Cook, drummed
  • Glen Matlock, played bass and wrote music; jettisoned mid-launch
  • John Simon Ritchie or Simon John Ritchie or John Beverley or Simon Beverley, aka Sid Vicious, smacked his bass around and sang a few bits
  • Malcolm McLaren, shop owner (called SEX) and manager of the band, master manipulator
  • Nancy Spungen, screechy girlfriend who was Yoko x 100 but suffered a terrible fate
The Stats and Story
  • Number of studio albums: 1 (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols)
  • Number of RnR Hall of Fame inductions: 1 (sort of... they rejected it)
  • Formed in 1975
  • In 1977, Glen Matlock left. Cited reasons vary, the one I like best is that he was sacked because he said he liked The Beatles.
  • Enter Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten's buddy who'd been window dressing in Siouxsie and the Banshees and just a fan who got in fights at shows. He played bass, but the consensus was among everyone that ever played with him that he had zero skill at it.  No matter, as he wasn't really hired to play bass, but rather complete the look, attitude, and reputation of The Sex Pistols.  Cursing, spitting, sneering, fighting, self-mutilating, and doing extraordinary amounts of very hard narcotics were all part of the job description, and Sid's performance evals were tip-top.
  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols released 10/28/1977.  1.3 million copies sold worldwide.
  • The Pistols imploded in January 1978.  D-bag McLaren had booked them gigs in redneck bars in the American deep south, then waited to see what would happen.  Sid's heroin habit had ballooned and he brawled with fans.  A number of dates were cancelled.  Not one month into the tour, they split, with Johnny Rotten formally announcing the end. Cited reasons vary, as always.
There were a number of reasons why they couldn't sustain this carnival: it was never about the music to at least half the band; they had a self-serving weasel of a manager who fueled chaos without the experience or inclination to actually lead the band somewhere beneficial; a reputation that become bigger than the band, one they had to live up to at every moment, and which elicited hatred from the mainstream masses and violent fanaticism from the disenfranchised. (Sound familiar?)
  • Sid went solo, silly as that is to say.  His take on Sinatra's "My Way" is everything you'd guess it would be and much, much less.  Worth a cringy listen (below).  
  • Johnny Rotten reverted to John Lydon and formed Public Image Ltd (PiL), an eighties band you'd file under "alternative" more than "punk rock." I like "This Is Not a Love Song," "Rise," and "Seattle." He's now 60.
  • Steve Jones and Paul Cook formed a band called The Professionals, then Jones did some solo work plus some acting and disc jockeying in LA.  Pre-Sentence Dave bought his solo album Fire and Gasoline, mainly because it had Ian and Billy on a song or two.  It wasn't terrible, as I recall. Jones is now 61, Cook is 60.  Steve Jones also did a brooding PSA about not doing drugs, the kind of ad that was de rigeur in the 80's. Drugs suck.
  • Glen Matlock formed the Rich Kids upon his departure, and has subsequently been a member of a whopping 15 different bands.  Honestly, it reads like the Monty Python "Rock Notes" sketch that was the genesis of Toad the Wet Sprocket's name. He is 60.
  • Malcolm McLaren created something called The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, a film and accompanying "album" in 1980 that tried to make one last buck off their name, reunion tours in 1996, 2006, etc. notwithstanding. He died in 2010 at 64.
No one involved ever became part of anything that overshadowed their 2+ years as The Sex Pistols. Some parlayed it into serviceable careers in the music and adjacent industries.  John Lydon even has a very reputable body of work behind him.  Malcolm McLaren should've made this list when it came out, and he went on to propel/wreck Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow along the way, but it's worth saying that he somewhat intentionally, somewhat inadvertently created the largest punk rock sensation that ever was.

The legacy of the Pistols was less in punk music but more in the style-over-substance engineered fame for fame's sake that was sadly repeatable through the ages.  How many bands could we name who fit that description?  It was never really about the music.  We're lucky we got a few great songs out of the whole affair.

All of that didn't come without a significant casualty.  Simon/John/Sid.  After the Pistols disintegrated, Sid went to New York with Nancy.  Bad times ensued.  Of all the unknown/mistold stories of the Sex Pistols, what happened the night of October 12, 1978 remains the biggest mystery to most.  Nancy was stabbed in the stomach and died.  Sid found her when he awoke from a heroin-induced slumber. Hypotheses vary greatly, ranging from the Occam's razor postulation (no pun intended) that she was annoying and he was a blithering idiot and killed her, to some interesting third party accusations, to the utterly ridiculous, but the scene has been much investigated and leaves some room for doubt.

After bail and legal counsel (aided by Mick Jagger), some more legal trouble, and an ominous sense of a prison sentence, Sid was hanging with family and some junkie buddies on 1 Feb 1979.  He partied, OD'ed, was resuscitated, and partied some more.  Then some more.  And then he passed out and died.  Allegations include the one that his mom gave him the lethal dose, fearing a worse fate for him in prison. A suicide note was found in his pocket, one which read, "We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye." Horrible all around.  His ashes were scattered on Nancy's grave.  He was 21.

Depraved and disgusting, utterly romantic, pathetic, or sadly tragic, depending on your worldview.

Essential Listening: Never Mind the Bollocks.  That's it.
Essential Viewing: Sid and Nancy.  Gary Oldman,  Chloe Webb.  Ebert gave it 4 stars.  It's gritty, well-acted, and pretty cool. Good soundtrack that includes Joe Strummer.

If you haven't seen it, watch the whole movie, but if you have, and liked it, and want to be reminded of a phenomenal last scene that gave me chills, watch this 2:37 clip again.  I don't know, I used to err on the Sid was pathetic side, but I now think he was victimized pretty fully in it all, and in the end he was just a romantic fool in love with someone who was bad for him but who loved him warts and all in a way that cost them both everything.  Wow.  All right.

Here's your playlist, you stupid gits.


Marls said...

So...Linda McMahon...ummm.....

rob said...

growing the swamp

Marls said...'s got electrolytes