JONES: LONELY BOY
Publisher: William Heinemann
November 2016 (UK)
It's been a story long anticipated;
Steve's perspective on the Sex Pistols.
Aged 61 - yes, 61! - Steve finally
has his say. It may seem like he's kept us waiting, but I'm glad he
has. Steve is often regarded as the Pistol who really didn't care, but
that's not strictly true. He does care, and the length of time now
elapsed since the Sex Pistols has allowed him to be open and truthful
about all aspects of his time in the band, both back in the day and
during the reunions. This might seem strange coming from a
self-confessed deviant with whom crime was his major partner for much
of his first 30 years, but if there's one thing this book teaches you,
it's well, don't judge a book by its cover.....
The book is not a day-by-day
commentary on the Sex Pistols - Steve didn't keep a diary. Lonely Boy
is the life story of a boy caught up in the centre of a musical
upheaval he helped create.
But, let's forget the Sex Pistols
to start with. Steve was a kid born into a chaotic life, one in which
love was hard to find but neglect wasn't. Happy memories such as his
grandfather's nicotine rag, are few. Unhappy memories are easier to
find, especially once his step-father came on the scene. Treated as a
nuisance and even sexually abused by the new man in his mum's life,
Steve's MO was soon set: a need to escape his home life. The sexual
urges he perceived to be normal in a boy his age was something else he
was keen to explore "...all the shit I started getting into - thieving,
drinking, drugs, with birds - was basically about trying to leave that
sense of discomfort behind."
Some of Steve's teenage antics,
both sexual and criminal, are breathtaking in endeavour and danger.
They are plentiful too, protected only by his "cloak of invisibility".
Confessions are offered on all fronts throughout the book, Ariel Bender
from Mott the Hoople being just one! Steve is still amazed that his
mates stood by him while he shagged their girlfriends, although he
notes wryly it does get brought up now and again by Paul Cook (known
affectionately as Cookie throughout). On occasion he did feel he wasn't
without charity in this department, and "took one for the team",
shagging "that horrible bird" Nancy. His only regret would appear to be
that he didn't have Siouxsie, although he did come close.
It's sometimes said that music can
save you, well in Steve's case it did, although it would come to almost
kill him further down the line. You do wonder what would have happened
to young Steve if he hadn't latched onto music, or the music onto him;
hearing 'Purple Haze' and 'The Dock of the Bay' being two pivotal
wake-up moments. Although Steve came out with the classic Pistols quote
"we're not into music, we're into chaos" in 1976 which became a punk
manifesto, he admits that for himself and Paul it was always about the
music. They were both massive Roxy Music fans, but loved rock in
general, taking in Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Kinks, and The Faces.
Their focus on the music (Steve never bothered much listening to
lyrics) would put them at odds with some of the Sid Vicious outrage
that would follow, although again Steve admits to being guilty of going
along with a lot of the post-Grundy shock tactics. The Bill Grundy
episode was the watershed moment for Steve, after which he firmly
believes everything changed for the Sex Pistols, and not for the
Steve's bullshit free view of the
Pistols is refreshing. Without him, there would be no Sex Pistols. It's
not a boast, it is true. The band developed because of and in spite of
his chaotic life. This wasn't a project, it just happened.
Along with his best mate Paul and the pair's willingness to graft when
it mattered, what unfolded would lead along a path neither could have
imagined. Steve still looks back on Malcolm McLaren warmly,
acknowledging the important part he played in his life. Even so, he has
no sympathy that McLaren made nothing out of the band, after all, he
squandered all the band's money on making the Swindle film, ensuring no
one other than Richard Branson made money from the Sex Pistols. The
reunions were meant to address this. Steve, by and large, enjoyed the
1996 tour, which was "...our time to get some appreciation from the
punters. Plus we could play better with Matlock... so people who got
into us later got a bit of a bonus". However, following the 2008 tour
which left a bitter taste, only a vast amount of money would tempt
Steve back to being a Sex Pistol.
Throughout, Steve steers away from excuses. Nor does he
fish for sympathy. He knows what he did, and is at times remorseful, at
other times not. As he points out was the case with Sid, he was
responsible for his own actions and resultant consequences. No one made
them behave the way they did. There's no preaching on show either; this
includes drugs. He admits that without speed to help him focus he would
never have mastered the guitar. His later descent into heroin addiction
is bleak enough to tell its own story - there's no need to offer
advice. The void left following the Pistols' demise coupled with an
addictive personality meant he was susceptible to anything that could
It may all sound grim, but the
book is far from dark, thanks to a wry sense of humour and a
non-vindictive approach to his past and the personalities that inhabit
it. He just says what he feels.
The book's title 'Lonely Boy'
isn't just a nod to a track from the The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle,
it is the feeling that underpins his life to this very day; his
inability to form a proper relationship with a woman the most obvious
of its manifestations. Steve Jones in 2016 may be a million miles away
from the teen tearaway, super-stud guitarist in the notorious Sex
Pistols, but in many ways he is still the same. Lonely Boy is the life
story of a man still moving forward, away from the turbulent childhood
that shaped him. A life of which the Sex Pistols were just a part.
Steve has walked an exciting and
often treacherous path from a dank Shepherds Bush to a sun drenched LA.
He's 26 years sober and enjoys a life in which he feels settled. It's
been a struggle, but by the time you reach the end of the book, there
is no doubt he's earned it. No one can begrudge him that. Steve Jones
has always said just what he felt like - as Grundy would have testified
- and 40 years later this personalty trait has given us more than a
rock 'n' roll autobiography. It's given us an enthralling, engaging
human story. It can be harrowing, hilarious, and often touching, but
above all, Lonely Boy is life-affirming. Thank you, Steve Jones.
Review by Phil
2016 book reviews