BOOKS - ARCHIVE
Satellite, Vacant, Rotten, 12 Days On The Road, England's Dreaming, The Wicked
Ways Of Malcolm McLaren, I Was A teenage Sex Pistol, Lipstick Traces.
Burgess and Alan Parker
and interview from Record Collector No. 241, September 1999)
Mind The Bollocks, here's Satellite...
A new book on the Sex Pistols
promises to gob all over the opposition. James R. Blandford meets the authors
and dribbles over an obscenely large collection. Interest in the Sex Pistols has
reached another new peak first Virgin treated us to a deluxe set of Japanese
CD reissues, and later in the year, punk aficionados can look forward to seeing
the groups story hit the big screen, complete with previously unseen archive
footage, courtesy of Julien Temple, director of The Great Rock & Roll Swindle.
Just as exciting for collectors is the imminent release of a new book, Satellite,
which promises to be the definitive visual document of the life and times of the
short-lived and eminently controversial punk pioneers.
authors of this new work, Paul Burgess and Alan Parker, are certainly qualified
to carry out the task in hand. Parker is a punk enthusiast who has contributed
to your very own Record Collector, as well as finding the time to pen the best-selling
book, Sids Way, Burgess, on the other hand, possesses all the attributes
required to provide a visual Sex Pistols feast after leaving the Royal
College of Art with an MA in 1986, he has spent the last thirteen years as a successful
designer and photographer, best known in the UK for his illustrative work. He
also has another mandatory qualification:he is an avid Pistols fan and punk collector.
probably asking yourselves why on earth we need another book on the Sex Pistols.
After all, their short but turbulent career has been chronicled endlessly, and
surely everyone knows all there is to know about the godfathers of punk? Alan
us, Paul and myself probably own every single Sex Pistols book, and we felt it
was about time there was one that wed like to go out and buy. You can spend
so much money on Pistols books only to usually find out that a mere five out of
the ninety pages youve bought are of any use at all. What our book does
that none of the other titles do is to actually put everything on show. The Jon
Savage book, Englands Dreaming, is awfully good if you just want to read,
but while its one thing reading about a particular T-shirt that McLaren
almost finished, it makes you even more curious to actually see it! And thats
the role that this book fulfils."
echoes this sentiment: We wanted to visual companion to the other books
there so that people could read the story and then pick up our book and see everything
referred to in the others. We didnt want to put anything in it that had
appeared in other books. Ive actually designed the layout myself so that
the book corresponds directly with our ideas of what we wanted to see as well.
is divided into four distinct sections: Memorabilia, Locations, Photography
and Fashion. Each is copiously illustrated with items ranging from
the bizarre - the 1996 reunion Sex Pistols promotional phone-box prostitute cards
- to the more mundane, such as Westwood and McLaren-designed T-shirts, gig posters
and press kits. On top of this, it also contains a comprehensive discography
and a complete list of every gig the Pistols ever played, as well as a guide to
collectors outlets selling Pistols-related memorabilia. With such a wealth
of information, it seems incredible that the book was compiled over the space
of just one year!
lot of the memorabilia is either Pauls stuff or mine, explains Alan.
But weve also been really fortunate because Pauls got some good
mates Paul Stock and Andrew Wilson who own a big clothes collection.
Theyve held a few exhibitions and theyve lent us everything they have
to put in the book.
reason weve been lucky is that weve both been collectors for so long,
were well in with all the other collectors.
Locations section of the book was probably the hardest to research.
There have been similar books dedicated to the Beatles and we thought the idea
had been done to death, but we then realised that there are a lot of landmarks
in London that relate to the Pistols that people maybe werent aware of.
Of course, that meant Paul and myself had to go around to all these places and
find out as much as we could about them. McLarens old office is now a sports
shop where they sell football strips and the like, so we were stood across road
going I wonder if thats it?
well as a remarkable display of Pistols memorabilia, the book also showcases
a large number of previously unpublished photographs. When we initially
planned that section, we were quite nervous, says Alan. We didnt
think that there actually were enough unpublished photos to fill it. Paul had
been to the Rex Features photo library and a few other places and came back with
tons of pictures which we had to whittle down to an affordable and sizeable number
to fill that section. I think weve done well as there are pictures in there
that I have certainly never seen before. I think that the picture section might
shock a few people, especially those who have been used to buying photo books
featuring the same material over and over again. Weve got an excellent shot
of Steve and John sat backstage each with a bottle of lager, which weve
blown up to a double-page spread. Then theres a fabulous one of John and
Steven Fisher - the Pistols solicitor - outside court in 1977, and Johns
wearing a suit!
course, as with any endeavour of this nature, it was never going to be possible
to catalogue and display everything related to the Pistols. Paul explains:
spent a lot of time going to see people who worked with the band at the time,
so I borrowed and begged a lot of clothes and photographs. However, weve
found even more since the books been finished! I went to see Helen Wellington-Lloyd
- the dwarf in The Great Rock & Roll Swindle - yesterday, and shes got
suitcases full of original artwork and the like. The more people we meet, the
more were seriously thinking about doing a second volume. Nevertheless,
theres plenty in the book to surprise even die hard Pistols collectors,
including Glen Matlocks original hand-written lyrics for Pretty Vacant.
particularly surprising is the fact that the book is almost officially approved:
We havent shown it to many people, but those who have seen it havent
said a bad thing about it. And some pretty important people have seen it. Some
of the people who used to work for McLaren have seen it and Paul showed a copy
to Glen (Matlock). Last night at his gig we were handing out flyers for the book,
when somebody asked, Whats it like? Without any cue from us,
Glen turned round and said, Its fantastic, mate. You should get yourself
one! So, theres approval for you!
is published by Abstract Sounds Publishing
co.uk/pistols) on 24th September 99
A Diary of The Punk Years
Nils Stevenson & Ray Stevenson
Thames & Hudson £9.95
know this isn't a very fashionable thing to say but punk was shit. An overblown
collection of smackheads trying to find some kind of mass personal identity, attempting
to be individuals and walking around looking like Grotbags the witch. Moody-looking
birds and bantamweight, muscleless freaks with no talent who somehow managed to
inspire a witless musical movement that revolved around being rude. l've got no
problem with Iggy or the Sex Pistols, maybe even the Misfits, but it should never
have gone further than that. You want to be an individual, don't travel around
in herds. And if you old punks don't like what I've just said, you probably weren't
much of a punk in the first place. Anarchy! My daddy's chairman of BP! Piss off.
By the way, the book's got lots of nice pictures in it so you can spot all your
old middle-class Tarquin mates dressed like shit to upset mother.
Review, Phil Robinson - Loaded. June 1999
Stevenson - Vacant www.photos.fsbusiness.co.uk/
Ray and Nils Stevenson's official website
ROTTEN: No Irish, No Blacks,
Authorised autobiography by John Lydon with
Keith and Kent Zimmerman
Even now, a decade and a half after everything felt apart, the story of the Sex
Pistols is well worth telling as a corrective to anyone who fancies the pop animal
to be a docile and malleable beast. The outlines are these. Two working class
delinquents (Steve Jones and Paul Cook) and an art student Glen Matlock) hook
up with a maniacal north London teenager named John Lydon, soon rechristened
Rotten. Under the tutelage of a canny entrepreneur (Malcolm McLaren),
who has read the biographies of famous pop impresarios form Larry Parnes down,
they form a band.
- add notoriety - come in a matter of months, fuelled by yellow-press hysteria,
televised profanity and the stirrings of a noisome youth movement, but it is an
odd kind of success. Propelled by McLarens unflinching aptitude for annoying
people, the Pistols acquire their reputation by failing to do most of the things
that conventional pop groups do, ie, by not touring (by any 1977 scarcely a municipality
in England would let them through the town gates), and by being paid huge sums
of money not to make records. Those that do creep out are attended by maximum
controversy and maximum sales. Almost immediately, though, the Pistols blow it.
They make the fatal mistake of firing the one person who knows anything much about
music (Matlock) and replace him with someone who merely looks the part (Lydons
chum, Sid Vicious). McLaren, by this time is more interested in film-making (what
will eventually crawl out of the can as The Great Rock N Roll Swindle),
is storing up trouble by diverting most of the bands advances into celluloid.
Finally, after a catastrophic US tour early in 1978, everything falls apart. Sid,
having apparently murdered his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen, kills himself.
Jones and Cook go off to be ex-rock stars. Lydon returns, eight years later, to
take McLaren to the high court and the cleaners: McLaren settled out of court
for nigh-on £1m in back royalties.
this late stage in the proceedings, nearly everyone involved in this breathless
two-year flurry of noise, death and outrage has had his or her say. Hangers-on
and managerial accomplices have written up the tour atrocities in their usual
affectless way. Matlock, with the aid of a nimble ghostwriter, has produced his
own account of injured innocence, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, and there have been
a number of attempts, notably Jon Savages somewhat overwrought Englands
Dreaming, to weld the Pistols brief career into an apocalyptic social and
political context. The least that can be said of Lydons version - and it
would be stretching things to call this collection of transcribed tapes, affidavits
and sidekicks testimonies a book - is that it is no more self-serving than
no less. The themes of Rotten have a convenient unity: it was me; I did it; they
were my ideas; Malcolm and Vivienne (Westwood) ripped me off; never trust a hippy
(Richard Branson), and so on. Now in his mid-thirties, the old boy hasnt
mellowed an inch. For the second time in 17 years. Matlock is told that he can
drop dead, the mention of McLarens name inspires an almost audible grinding
of teeth, and the finished product shows every sign of having stalled for months
on the desk of Hodders legal adviser.
is another agenda here, though, aside from self-justification and denigration.
We were teenagers making teenage music, Lydon suggests at one
point, which is a welcome response to the egghead theorising about situationism.
At the same time, much of the controversy surrounding the Sex Pistols grew out
of Lydons confrontational lyrics. The social and even personal hatred that
seemed to stare out of their live shows was unprecedented - and Rottens
first TV appearance - unblinking, detached face caught up in a rictus of loathing
- quite horrifying. There is a lot more of this in this book - musings about Her
Majesty and public schoolboys - and the effect is just awful, like listening to
Lennon on God, or Morrissey on practically anything.
or perhaps not so oddly, the best part of this authorised autobiography
(was there ever an unauthorised autobiography?) has nothing to do with the Sex
Pistols or even with Lydons strictures on the Establishment. If Lydon has
anything to say about anything, it is about a priest-haunted Catholic childhood
ground out in the tenements of North London. Lydons early life in a brooding,
cantankerous Irish family in Finsbury Park was clearly a Gehenna of deprivation,
if leavened by human warmth: friends attest to the squalor of the Lydon domicile,
but also to the genuine affection of the Lydon parents. When Eileen Lydon lay
dying, her son sat at her bedside for 10 weeks. School, education, the entire
mainstream world in fact, was no more than a kind of hopeless chimera. The message,
consequently, is the familiar message about channels of working-class advancement,
and the failure of the state educational system to stir any kind of response in
most of the people under its care. The parallels with a performer of a slightly
later vintage, such as Morrissey, whose early career was sedulously exposed in
Johnny Rogans 'Morrissey And Marr: A Severed Alliance', are striking: the
Irishness, the strange, fractured intelligence, the same interest in writers such
as Oscar Wilde, the same absorption in the iconography of the state. Both men
are fascinated by the royal family, and the connection between Lydons
sneering God Save The Queen and The Smiths The Queen Is Dead scarcely needs
to be stressed. Lydon is allowed to call Her Majesty a fing hard bitch,
by the by, which is ironic in a book that discourses so knowledgeably on English
repressiveness and the denial of free speech.
rest, inevitably, is score-settling of a peculiarly rapt and obsessive kind: he
digs at Matlock (for wanting to write pop songs and for fearing that his mother
would be upset by Lydons lyrics); Alex Cox (for the Sid And Nancy biopic);
Sid (for being thick and impressionable); McLaren (for everything). Ominously,
the worst of this contempt is reserved for Nancy Spungen, Sids inamorata,
and a horribly reliable scapegoat for What Went Wrong. There cannot be many more
evil destinies than to wind up dead at the age of 20 under the sink of a seedy
New York hotel room and then, 15 years later, find yourself memorialised as vile,
worn and shagged out, a beast, or (this from
Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders), It wouldnt have surprised me if
Sid or anyone had killed her, she was that obnoxious. (Lydon, it transpires,
had already tried to pre-empt Sid by rubbing dirt on the end of Nancys needles.)
may perhaps have become apparent by now, this is a vain, idle and only obliquely
revealing book, full of wonderful printing errors, contradicting itself from page
to page, and apparently aimed at the type of mid-Atlantic purchaser who needs
to be told that Heathrow Airport is in London, and that you travel into Oxford
Street on the subway. Lydon makes huge claims for his music (and his father is
brought in to assert that my Johnny changed the world) without submitting
them to any kind of sustained scrutiny. The Sex Pistols legacy, apart from
about seven classic songs - their recorded output is pitifully sparse - was to
create the market conditions in which a new breed of pop performers, few of whom
had much to do with punk, could succeed. However, as Lydon seems to loathe virtually
all living musicians, this is not a point he is ever likely to concede. In the
end, the unanswered questions are not musical or cultural (the distinctions between
various late 1970s youth groupings are painstakingly set out), but personal. What
does Lydon really think of Sid Vicious, whom he formed in his own image and then
abandoned to Malcolm, Nancy and heroin? What was his real relationship with McLaren,
who has plausibly suggested that Lydons fury proceeded out of pique at being
paid insufficient attention. As Lydon himself put it in one of his best songs,
Theres no point in asking: youll get no reply.
Review, D J Taylor The Sunday Times. 10th April 1994
the table with Johnny'
No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
THE smell of cordite pervades No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (Hodder & Stoughton
£14.99), the memoirs of former Sex Pistol John Lydon, who, as Johnny Rotten,
more than anyone embodied punks contradictions apathy and energy,
anarchy and engagement, safety pins and fashion sense. Loathed by the rockocracy
he threatened to topple, by monarchists incensed by God Save The Queen,
by tabloids, Tories and puritans, the Pistols and punk were the antidote to the
jingoism and deceit of 1977s Jubilee year. Though often fascinating, Lydons
is inadequate as an account of one of British pops greatest moments. He
is no writer, and the taped monologues that constitute his text are poorly transcribed
Review, Neil Spencer - The Observer. 17th April 1994
DAYS ON THE ROAD THE SEX PISTOLS' USA TOUR by
Noel E Monk and Jimmy Guterman
By the time The Sex Pistols touched down in America in January 1978, it was all
over, bar the shouting headlines and the posthumous merchandising. In a little
over two years they had become the crazed and depraved creatures Malcolm McLaren
often said they were and certain sections of the British media always wanted them
process started when the foursome allowed Bill Grundy to goad them into a bout
of yobbish swearing on television, three weeks before Christmas 1976. It gathered
momentum two months later with the sacking of the most conventionally musical
group member, bassist Glen Matlock, in favour of a psychotic teenage ingénu
who called himself Sid Vicious and couldnt really play.
various bannings and violent physical assaults The Sex Pistols attracted throughout
1977 completed the damage. Despite recording an album, Never Mind the Bollocks,
which conclusively demonstrated the remnants of a fiery resolve and a subversive
intelligence, the group had ceased to be viewed as a musical phenomenon some
months before it came out. Anarchy was their slogan but notoriety became their
obsession: as so often happens with young pop stars, the Pistols began to believe
their own hype and, worse still, act up to it.
had given way to loutishness. Bottles of lager and V-signs were as much their
visual trademarks as spiky hair and bondage trousers. Vicious and his American
girlfriend Nancy Spungen had already been arrested once for drugs, and their relationship,
which increasingly revolved around mutual mutilation and a shared infatuation
with injecting heroin, was undermining what little band unity had survived McLarens
was almost a sideline. Apart from an idiotically tasteless contribution from Vicious,
Belsen Was A Gas, no new songs had been written since the recording of the album
in the summer. Concerts usually had to happen in secret venues under assumed names.
Though Johnny Rotten and the guitarist Steve Jones still took the idea of performance
seriously, and drummer Paul Cook could still keep the beat, Vicious was seldom
in a condition to do anything except prance about and make himself bleed. The
Sex Pistols were now a horrific cartoon of their former selves.
so to America, where their local tour manager Noel Monk, assisted by rock journalist
Jimmy Guterman, takes up the pathetic tale in 12 Days On The Road. There is, alas,
not a lot to tell. Though the short tour was designed to be as confrontational
as possible, homing in as it did on club venues deep in the heart of Southern
redneck territory, America seems to have been surprisingly tolerant of The Sex
Pistols. A few threats of violence were received but never carried out. The photographs
in the middle of this book, portraying fresh-faced fans dressed in flared jeans
and platform-soled shoes, suggest that to many American girls the Pistols were
just another English rock band. Outside the metropolitan hipoisie on the two coasts,
their attempts at being outrageous probably looked rather quaint.
most significant event in Monks story concerns the break-up of the band
after a show in San Francisco. McLaren wanted to fly the group to Rio to cavort
about with the train robber Ronnie Riggs. Rotten read this as an attempt to sack
himself and refused to go.
reports a brief conversation during which Rotten said he was bloody well
fed up and disgusted and that the band was over. Revelations of this nature
do not of course, sell books. Sordid tales of drug addiction do, though, and Monk
and Guterman have spared no effort in assembling material about Sid Vicious. Much
of it is so revolting and/or pornographic that it defies summary: suffice to say
that, by this account, Sid spent his 12 days in a haze of heroin and peppermint
schnapps; sex and self-inflicted wounds were his chief recreations; shooting up
and throwing up his daily rituals. He couldnt keep any food down and wouldnt
wash, Monk reveals. By the time he overdosed after the San Francisco show, Sids
body was a mess of festering cuts and needle marks.
wonder is that he survived for another year.
even the briefest exposure to a book like this, you want to wash your hands. If
you make it through to Gutermans final hypocritical figleaf of an apologia,
you feel quite sick. The Sex Pistols recorded some of the most thrilling
music in all rock and roll, he writes. Not even the vast amount of
cynical exploitation that has arisen in their wake can undermine that. Well,
he should know.
Robert Sandall is the rock music critic of The Sunday Times
Robert Sandall The Sunday Times. 14th June 1992
Great Rock n Roll Swindle'
DREAMING Sex Pistols
and Punk Rock Jon Savage
In The UK: Robert Sandall examines an insiders history of Britains
unique contribution to pop culture the punk movement
Before 1976. Britains contribution to pop culture was mainly musical. The
Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and all the rest, had supplied a famous soundtrack,
but the movie always seemed to be showing somewhere else, usually in America.
Sure, the peace message had been obediently adopted and two-fingered back and
forth at concerts, but none of our young men faced conscription to Vietnam.
Our demos were tame affairs compared to the ones which paralysed France and provoked
a shoot-to-kill policy that left four dead in Ohio. The development of the 1960s
drug, LSD, happened in America: it appeared, from here, to have addled the whole
of California. Even the uniforms of youth culture - from blue jeans to Indian
smocks - were all imported.
by contrast, came with Made In Britain scrawled all over it. The orthodox view
- widely aired at the time and loudly echoed, 15 years later, in Jon Savages
bulky new book, Englands Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock (Faber £17.50)
- holds punk to have been a noisy revolt against the slow death by suffocation
the emotional experience of living in England. Savage, a Cambridge
law graduate who went on to edit one of the fjrst punk fanzines supplies several
old diary entries of his own to illustrate the mood which, he believes, launched
a movement. F*** London for its dullness, the English people for their pusillanimity
and the weather for its coldness and darkness, he wrote in 1975.
that the smoke has cleared, punk looks much more like a rather brilliant product
of the prevailing culture than a commando strike against it. It was nurtured by
an awkward and quarrelsome bunch of individualists who redesigned the rebel posturing
of the, by then, decaying 1960s counter-culture in ways which were unmistakably,
and sometimes reprehensibly, English.
rhetoric and cockney accents, an aura of hooliganism, an intense interest in dressing
up, which also reflected (in the form of leather bondage gear, pierced noses,
nipples etc) a complicated and repressed approach to sex and ones own body,
an insular hostility towards most things foreign, a readiness to dismiss anything
and anybody as boring, a liking for strong, simple tunes: these were a few of
the items that distinguished punks homegrown, hybrid vigour from the flabby,
hand-me-down hippie agenda that preceded it.
Dreaming stares right through most of these attention grabbing ploys.This book
also combines a train-spotters eye for rock trivia with an appetite for
ideological pigeon-holing which is initially impressive, but ultimately wearing.
Themes include punk and the break down of the postwar political consensus; punk
and the erosion of meaning. By the time Savage has finished quoting Steiner, Bakunin
graphics Rimbaud and all the others, punk sounds more like a European avantgarde
manifesto than a series of loud raspberries by the children and younger siblings
of British Woodstock bores .
is not to say that it didnt have its arty side. Top of the list of punks
innovations, in fact, was the art-school attitude. In no other country have art
schools functioned as clearing houses for aspirant rockers - the way they do here.
The punks, figured that an eye for design and style mattered at least as much
as, and maybe more, than an ear for music. It is significant, and not surprising
either, that the original, cut-up and collage punk graphics have weathered better
and are more prominent today than scratchy old punk records.
1976, a lack of musical expertise, while no bar to pop stardom, was at least
an obstacle to be overcome; suddenly it became sexy, a badge of naivety whose
ostensible worthlessness could be brandished - and marketed - rather like a Warhol
soup can. (Sid Vicious, as Savage points out, allowed himself to become a
living symbol of dehumanised vacuity.) But if this keenness to celebrate
the shallow and trashy seemed to link punk to American pop art, its execution
owed much more to a very English spirit of radical amateurism.
having been near an instrument before in your life proved to be a definite
advantage in securing a post in one of the new groups. As a result, none of the
most famous English punk bands -The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The
Slits, X-ray Spex - could match the technical proficiency or frenetic pace
of the American band they all claimed as a key influence, The Ramones. Iggy Pop,
another transatlantic punk idol, was a far more charismatic performer than any
of his young British acolytes. Malcolm MLaren (fine arts graduate and master planner
of the most celebrated punk rock band of them all) recruited The Sex Pistols
vocalist, John Rotten Lydon, precisely because he couldnt sing
or move gracefully. That, McLaren claimed, was the best selling point.
Savage puffs McLarens self-advertised skills as a hustler, punk rock failed
to sell in really large quantities. Influential it may have been, but it was never
that popular at the time. There were plenty of spiky hit singles, but by the standards
of the big blockbuster albums of the 1970s and l980s, punks finest half
hour -Never Mind the Bollocks Heres the Sex Pistols -rates as a commercial
disappointment. In general, the groups who did best out of punk were the ones,
such as The Cash, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Stranglers, who diligently
practised their instruments
and found their way back into mainstream rock. British record companies, panicked
into throwing money at hundreds of shambolic, curiously titled new groups, lost
nearly all of it.
most people, punk registered not as a musical revolution nor even as the death
knell of the flared trouser, but as a hugely engrossing media event. From The
Sex Pistols famous f-words with Bill Grundy on the Six OClock News
rather unedifyingly transcribed here in full - to the acres of socio-cultural
speculation about dole-queue rock that filled the intellectual weeklies,
all tastes were catered for. And although the squalid deaths of Sid Vicious and
his girlfriend Nancy Spungen provided it with a gruesome and pathetic finale,
punk rock was wonderfully, provocatively witty. The American counter-culture of
the 1960s was, at bottom, a pretty serious business. Punk, although it toyed with
ideas of cultural disintegration, was, in its typically English way, suffused
with irony and a cruel, larky humour.
the most engaging aspect of his subject, is the only one with which Savages
exhaustive account seems ill at ease. The facts are all meticulously logged. From
McLaren and Vivienne Westwoods early days running a fetishistic clothes
shop in the Kings Road, right through to punk spin-offs such as Rock Against
Racism, the characters and the -isms have been rounded up with pedagogic thoroughness.
the spirit has somehow gone missing. Although he applauds punks gleeful
negation, Savage never quite recognises it. Confronted with a fictional
list of Sex Pistols merchandise (Gob Ale, Sid Vicious Action Men, Anar-kee-Ora
and Rotten Bars), the author sternly notes: This is a comment on the taming
of the Sex Pistols innocence by the product-orientated music industry.
Unfortunately, such drab, right-on moralising ill suits the riotous and chaotic
Robert Sandall The Sunday Times. 20th October 1991
THE WICKED WAYS OF MALCOLM MCLAREN Craig Bromberg (Omnibus
FILTH and the fury! The swaggering and swindling! Its all here, but placed
handsomely in context between art-school situationist sloganeer and international
pop-culture mogul. Bromberg knows his onions, drawing on extensive first-hand
interviews with hundreds of former friends and stars who escaped McLarens
the Sex Pistols period dominates a good third of this detailed text, examining
both sides of the highly dubious Swindle debate. Teddy Boy style guru Malcy unquestionably
contrived a New Wave in rock - using the New York Dolls as aborted prototypes
and disguising the Pistols ability to play live sabotaging well -produced
demo tapes - but his Svengali strings were quickly snapped by real-life urchins
like John Lydon. "Rotten didn't need coaching", chuckles the author.
Taken to the cleaners in court by both Lydon - of whom he was supposedly
jealous and Vivienne Westwood, McLaren is pinned down by Bromberg as the
greatest and very last victim of the Rock n Roll Swindle. However,
judging by the hilariously incoherent interview with Bill Grundy reproduced here,
competition was fierce. At least Malcy bounced back with Bow Wow Wow - plenty
of sordid stories here - Duck Rock, Waltz Darling and
a hundred other half-realised projects.
Bromberg may be overly cynical concerning McLarens talent for magpie creativity
- after all, this guy brought us hip-hop and Afro-pop at the same time - and gives
too little coverage to the mans recent efforts, but this biography is a
knowing and intelligent attempt to explore and demystify a crucial landmark on
the contemporary popscape.
Stephen Dalton, NME. 7th September 1991
Was A Teenage Sex Pistol GLEN MATLOCK with PETE SILVERTON
- Record Collector. 1990
Have you ever imagined bumping into Glen Matlock, erstwhile bassist and much-maligned
straight-man of the most obnoxious pop group ever, and hearing him recount his
story over a few beers? No need to dream. Here, with the help of an ex-Sounds
scribe, is the full tale, couched in the same no-nonsense style that made Chaucers
The Millers Tale such a lively schoolboy read.
importance of Glens book is that it represents history from below:
many of his recollections sit uneasily when held up against the grand theories
propogated by Malcolm McLaren and a generation of cultural pundits. Was it premeditated
subversion that nearly took the band to Mickie Mosts RAK label? Was McLaren
so far removed from rocknroll to imagine that the Sensational Alex
Harvey Band were men from the Inland Revenue? And was clever-clogs
Johnny Rotten so gullible as to end up leafleting for the Scientologists?
his art college background, Glen Matlock prefers to see the Sex Pistols in more
down-to-earth terms than a deliberate and subversive attempt to appropriate Cash
From Chaos. He recalls his early enthusiasm for rock, all-night Man concerts,
and the musical loves of his colleagues. Pretty Vacant, the anthem
of the blank generation, was actually based on Abbas S.O.S..
Glen also takes pains to stress that, contrary to the myth, the Pistols were actually
a tight, rockin combo who could cover the likes of the Who, Monkees and
Dave Berry with skilful alacrity. He
contrasts this with subsequent punk bands whose only interest was
in finishing a song well within the three-minute barrier.
he was the first band member to encounter artistic cretin Malcolm
McLaren, the manner of his dismissal from the band has left a profound distaste
in his mouth; second only to his iconoclastic disregard for Mr. Punk Rock himself,
Johnny Rotten. So Glens chummy tale, entertaining though it undoubtedly
is, still leaves us waiting patiently for Jon Savages long-promised biography
of the band in the hope of a nonpartisan account of one of the most exciting
phenomenas in rock music.
Was A Teenage Sex Pistol GLEN MATLOCK with PETE SILVERTON
- Q magazine, Monty Smith. 1990
its rudimentary post-modern graphics and a sell-consciously parodic title inviting
comparisons with pulp fiction and trashy creature features, co-authors Matlock
and Silverton are clearly resolute about not setting their sights too high. This
is a horses mouth record-straightener about the history of punk in general and
The Sex Pistols in particular, aimed at those who move their lips when they read.
What few cultural reference points arise are crassly identified for any cretins
who may be looking at the words. Thus its HG. Wellss Mr Kipps and
George Orwells 1984, not the other versions that might readily spring to
mind. Odd, then, that the Fleet St sleazoids should come in for so much flak when
Mattocks prose is so defiantly tabloid throughout. its a simple story,
told for simpletons.
its not uninteresting. As a schoolboy Saturday worker in Malcolm McLarens
Let It Rock (later Sex) fashion shop, Matlock was privy to the whimsical pettiness
of Kings Road clientele. It was an alien environment for young Glen, a respectable
Kensal Green working-class lad. Once hed met Paul Cook and Steve Jones,
both regular customers, it was downhill all the way. Under the influence of Bernard
Rhodes (rather than McLaren), the motley trio formed a group more by accident
than design. The instruments came courtesy of Joness thieving, the clothes
from McLaren (who later billed them for the privilege). The publicity came via
Bill Grundy, a disgruntled middle-aged broadcaster who was pissed off at his producers
insistence that he interview a bunch of yobs.
hopelessly naive, Matlock at least seems to be honest in his endeavours and opinions.
Almost everyone comes out different shades of shit. McLarens a surprisingly
peripheral figure, a shabby opportunist who wished he was the singer,
John Lydon is an intolerable whinger, full of total lies and denial, totally
conceited, arrogant and stroppy just for the sake of it. His mum I think, was
quite pleased with us for taking him off her hands. Cook and Jones are inseparable,
ineffectual, inarticulate, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. All
the other punk bands are strictly second-rate Ramones-clones, unaware that the
Pistols were tight, focused and deliberate, not mindless speed-thrash merchants.
few kind words are reserved for the psycho-junkie who replaced him as bassist
in the band. But as soon as Sid Vicious joined The Sex Pistols, they really were
McLarens toyboys. In the end, he dismisses the Pistols as a total
failure, like premature ejaculation, over in a flash and deeply unsatisfying-
Glen Matlock is 32. PeteSilverton is old enough to know better. * *
additional reviews see "Rattle Your Cage"
man who said Christ was a sausage'
LIPSTICK TRACES A Secret History of theTwentieth
Century by Greil Marcus
There has never been a pop musical phenomenon more interesting to the sociologists
and cultural theorists than punk rock. The Sex Pistols first single, Anarchy
In The UK, had scarcely been out a month in November 1976 before that erratic
guide to rock and roll, New Society magazine, was running excited articles
on the emergence of a new working-class protest dole-queue rock.
The punk attitude -
the sneering, the swearing on TV, the strident je m en foutisme -
soon got hyped to the point where it was widely and quite wrongly accepted that
punk bands in general and the Sex Pistols in particular didnt really play
music at all but just made a frantic, loud and anarchically coded racket.
were a plot, a symbol; they were anything that needed a pundit to explain them
rather than a set of unprejudiced ears to hear the artful, aggressive and
articulate three-minute songs they played. By the time the Sex Pistols recruited
an undeniably incompetent bass player, Sid Vicious, in February 1977, their
chances of being judged on their enormous musical achievement they virtually
re-invented the pop single all but vanished. Over in Berkeley, California,
a writer who had not witnessed the London punk boo-ha at first hand, the learned
American rock sociologist Greil Marcus, began sharpening his quill.
rest is his history of anarchist art movements in the 20th century. Punk
was not a musical genre. Marcus reveals 12 years later. He traces the Sex
Pistols cultural pedigree back through the French situationists and
léttrists, and through American serial killers to the Dada movement. He
also embarks on a supplementary historical trawl which nets French revolutionaries,
English millenarian Protestant sects, medieval heretics and the early Christian
has talked these characters up into an all-star, pan-global anarchist tendency
with the aid of a fireproof argument premised on the ingenious assertion
that his is a history that remains secret to those who make it, especially
to those who make it. He buttresses this presumption with an occultist disdain
for tradition as arthmetic, by which he means and dismisses
the more verifiable sort of carry-overs historians usually address.
points, such as the Sex Pistols manager and designer Malcolm McLarens
interest in the socially disruptive ploys associated with the French situationists,
are duly played down. Mind-bogglingly fanciful connections are offered up in their
place. Johnny Rottens real name, John Lydon, links him (by serendipity,
Marcus suggests) to John of Leyden, a crazed Dutch Anabaptist who briefly ruled
Munster in 1534 and turned it into an anarchist bun-fight: abolishing private
property and marriage, staging black masses in the cathedral and running naked
through the streets.
makes much of the blasphemous opening line of Anarchy In The UK I
am an Antichrist . finding in it not only echoes of the thoughts of
situationist. Guy Debord but also memories of the mad German Dadaist Johannes
Baader who in 1918 announced from the altar of Berlin Cathedral that Christ was,
among other things, a sausage. The arithmetical fact that the Sex Pistols
lyrics never referred so directly to religion again does not discourage Marcus.
In them he discerns the latest glimmerings of notions that have gone underground
into a cultural unconscious because unfulfilled desires
transmit themselves across the years in unfathomable ways.
they do. But the suspicion grows as this secret history unwinds in its jumpy,
ahistorical fashion that Marcus rather enjoys the unfathomable nature of
his subject for its own sake. His academic desire to elucidate and cross-reference
is all but cancelled out by his enthusiasm for sounding as teasingly cryptic
as an anarchist slogan.
all of this seems like a lot for a pop song to contain, Marcus concludes,
that is why this is a story, if it is. Throughout, he flaunts his
love for arcane French intellectualese, alluding whenever he can to the derive
and détournement - rare subversive species of ironic quotation
which he seems keen should not be more widely understood.
most revealing of the authors esoteric motivations are the Acknowledgements
at the end of the book. A few people did not simply help, give advice, read
drafts, or come up with documents, though they did all of that; in the words of
one of them, they were co-conspirators, They cant be thanked, only recognised.
They are, in short, a secret society; a mystical cabal of armchair revolutionists.
Lipstick Traces does not ultimately seek to explain a tradition so much as
it hankers romantically to be a part of one.
Robert Sandall The Sunday Times. 25th June 1989
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