Next morning I call McLaren at home and he promises me a ride to Wolver Hampton, a suburb of Birmingham, to see the first date of the Sex Pistols' "guerrilla tour" of Britain. Since they are banned everywhere, they will be playing under assumed names. Tonight it is to be the Spots, an acronym for "Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly." In the meantime, I make a phone call to Bernard Brooke-Partridge, Conservative member of the Greater London Council and chairman of the Arts Committee – the man primarilly responsible for banning the Pistols in London.
"I will do everything within the law to stop them from appearing here ever again," he says. "I loathe and detest everything they stand for and look like. They are obnoxious, obscene and disgusting."
"Doesn't the question of who should decide what's disgusting in a free society enter in here?"
"I am the person who decides," he says. "The electorate put me here. My power is not in question. If the Sex Pistols want to change the system, they are free to stand for election from my district."
"In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution says the government is not allowed to make such decisions."
"We have our own way of doing things here. The Sex Pistols are scum trying to make a fast buck, which they are entitled to do under the law. I am entitled to try and stop them. We'll see who wins.
"Now, I've seen many of the groups play. I've nothing against Mick Jagger and his ilk. Some of his gestures appeared lewd, and they were probably meant that way, but the audience was not tearing up the seats. I will say this for the Sex Pistols: there's one band that's a damn sight worse: the Bay City Rollers."
McLaren does not phone me back with instructions on how to get my ride, so I end up taking the train at the last minute. Wolver Hampton turns out to be an industrial sumphole, resembling Cleveland if Cleveland had been built 200 years earlier. The Club Lafayette is in the middle of a tough, working-class neighborhood. Word has obviously gotten out, as a line five to eight wide extends around the block. Inside, it is already packed with people in their late teens and early 20s. Except for one kid who appears to have dyed his skin green (could it have been the dimlight?) and a few others in punk paraphernalia, the crowd is dressed normally. They pogo to the recorded music, however, with even greater intensity than their counterparts at the Vortex. The fights are both more frequent and more violent. One battle seems to swirl around the entire floor, bodies tripping like a line of dominoes until it stops at the foot of the stairs in back, directly below Malcolm McLaren. A half-smile on his lips, he is an island of serenity, magically untouched by the chaos.
"You've got to control yourselves a bit more," pleads the DJ over the loudspeaker, "or the Spots will not perform. Please be cool!" The crowd responds with what I'm told is a soccer chant.
At midnight, the Sex Pistols finally emerge from the dressing room. The crush around the foot-high stage is literally unbelievable and skirmishes with the security men immediately erupt. The ten-foot stacks of PA speakers are rocking back and forth and are dangerously close to toppling over. The band cranks up and Rotten growls the demonic laugh at the beginning of "Anarchy in the U.K.":
Ahahahahhh! I am an anti-Christ
I am an anarchist
I don't know what I want
But I know how to get it
I wanna destroy passers-by Cause I wanna beeee anarchyyyyy.
Some kid has put his fist through one of the speakers and a few more have escaped the security men to stop on wires and knock over electronic equipment. The song is barely intelligible over the explosions and spitting noises from shorts, just the way anarchy ought to sound. The crowd pogos frantically. Paul Cook is completely bidden from view, but sounds fine, limiting himself to a basic repertoire of rock licks. Steve Jones' guitar work avoids frilla but gets the job done with taste. His expression is deadly earnest – like a high school basketball star stepping up for a crucial free throw – which he breaks only to spit on the audience every few minutes. Sid Vicious' bass playing is highly energetic and completely without subtlety. He's been up for two days prior to the gig and, hilariously, looks like he's trying to cop some zzz's between licks. Still clad in his swastika T-shirt, Rotten is perhaps the most captivating performer I've ever seen. He really doesn't do that much besides snarl and be hunch-backed; it's the eyes that kill you. They don't pierce, they bludgeon.
"You're bustin' up the PA," he says, more as a statement of fact than alarm, after the song is over. "Do you want us to continue?"
Several burly roadies join the security men to form a solid wall in front of the band. Rotten is completely hidden from view, so he climbs on top of a monitor and grabs the mike in one hand and the ceiling with the other for balanoe. Someone in the balcony pours beer on him.
The band manages to get through "I Wanna Be Me," "I'm a Lazy Sod" and "No Feeling" with the sound system relatively intact. "Pretty Vacant," their current hit single, draws an unholy reaction – the crowd shouting the chorus at the top of their lungs: "We're so pretty/Oh so pretty/Va-cant/And we don't care!" For the first time, I see Johnny Rotten crack a smile – only a brief one, but unmistakably a smile. Grasping a profusely bleeding nose, a kid collapses at my feet. Another pogos with his pants down. The "God Save the Queen" chorus – "No future, no future, no future for you" – sparks a similar explosion and closes the set. "No Fun" is the encore and, true to its title, blows out the entire PA.
I grab a poster advertising the Spots and head for the dressing room. Uncool fan that I have become, I ask for autographs. Cook complies; Jones complies; Rotten complies; Vicious asks, "Why shoud I?"
"I don't know," I say. "I just wish you would. That was the most amazing show I've ever seen."
Vicious thinks a moment and signs it. "Usually I don't do this," he says. "For some reason, I'm glad you liked it."
I'm glad I liked it, too. Sid Vicious is about as close as rock & roll is going to come to Huckleberry Finn in this decade. I hope he can light out for the territories before he turns into just another ego. I can't dislike Malcolm McLaren for figuring out that reporters are vampires, lurking in the night, ready to suck out every last corpuscle of titillation, leaving the victim to spend eternity as a Media Zombie. If he were merely a manipulator, he wouldn't have chosen such genuine fuckups for the band. If he were merely a greedhead, he could have found an easier way to run the Sex Pistols for number one group in the world. As it is, he chose not the politics of boredom, but the politics of division, Richard Nixon's way: amputate the wanking Sixties liberals from their working-class support. Kids destroyed schools to the tune of $600 million in the U.S. last year. That's a lot of anger that the Southern-California-Cocaine-And-Unrequited-Love Axis isn't capable of tapping.
And Johnny Rotten, it seems to me, told the entire United Kingdom he had to cut his piles off with a razor, and the damn fools believed him. America's get-well card is in the mail. It'll be a right laugh. But I keep thinking about that brief smile during "Pretty Vacant" at the Club Lafayette. Did that mean, "Look how great I am!" or "Look at them have a good time!"? Those have always been divergent roads in rock & roll. The Sex Pistols took the latter, the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
This story is from the October 20th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus