(Sid Vicious No one Is Innocent)
BY MALCOLM MCLAREN
John Simon Ritchie aka John Beverly aka Sid Vicious aka Sex Pistol
aka Agent Provocateur. The most formidable and controversial icon
of his generation. A questionable James Dean of Punk fashion. A
surrogate Elvis Presley of Punk Rock.
Sid was everything everyone else was not. Both good and bad. He
impressed us all and embarrassed us all. His life was an effortless
performance of style. He never saw a red light, only green. He
should have been buried next to Karl Marx in London's Highgate
Cemetery. That was my wish, but Anne Beverley, his mother,
decided to have him cremated instead.
To look back, as I have been asked by Alan Parker, the author, at these episodes in
my life and times spent with Sid, I have to wonder why so many people simply look at
me in disbelief and ask, 'How did it all happen?' 'Who was Sid?' 'Was he vicious?' And
the more adventurous ask, 'Are you really evil?' Well, I say, 'My son thinks so ...
Vivienne Westwood thinks so ... other girlfriends think so, Johnny Rotten certainly
thinks so and most conservative people the world over think so. The Pope probably
thinks so too.' They are all right and they are all wrong. If I take a different view on all
of this - one that is pragmatic rather than romantic, a view from the balcony, so to
speak, what will I see? Electric guitars and cheap multi-track recorders giving license
to a generation of kids with no musical training, obvious talent or permission from
anyone to start bands and record music. Everyone is saying, 'I can do this' and 'I want
to play that!' For a while, of course, the assumption was that to be like Sid Vicious, the
right way of learning was to imitate him. How? By learning his songs!!!!? Reading the
sheet music, Hah! Get a music teacher? And then go play the tunes! Because no one
wants to hear your rubbish. Do what the industry expects. What they teach you to
believe is good. Sid changed all that and more. Sid meant, OK, you have your bass
but you don't have to play it well, or even at all. You can play it badly - and I endorsed
that attitude. For if you can't write your own songs, it doesn't matter, simply steal other
people's and change them the way you want. What matters is this: you are going to
change the rules and in doing so, change the culture and, by that, change life.
Through Punk Rock, a whole new fresh approach occurred and Sid reflected this in
his sound and stance. To watch him was to watch a raw open-wounded creature being
loved for doing something different. It fast became a way of life. Sid lowered the bar of
entry and allowed everyone into the creative process. The line between
the audience and band was blurred. Sid was a fan who invented the
Pogo. It made for chaos, it threw the fan at the feet of the band and
suddenly the fan was all the attention and, for that moment, the star. Sid
created a new business model, as fans are also creators. Today on the
worldwide web we talk about the old audience. One-tirne fans, passive
buyers of music in stores turned into pro-active makers of the music
Sid was the doyenne of all our youth. He pushed the mainstream right
out of the picture, inspiring us to blow off the door of the recording
industry, releasing every song from the jail and letting everyone know
about it across the planet.
Instantly doing the work that was once the work of critics, DJs and
marketing companies. And Simon Fuller, the creator of Pop Idol, where
would he be with him?
Sid Vicious began the age of participation in which everyone could be
Alan Parker, the author of Satellite, has decided to analyse the short
history of England's foremost Punk idol. Friend of all those once active
in the 70s, he has completed the most intensive study of Sid's life and
the world he inhabited.
Everyone I knew and cared for wanted to sleep with Sid and no one
more so than my erstwhile girlfriend, Vivienne Westwood. She got close,
very close. He was her chosen one, the original and best Sex Pistol. Sid
was someone Vivienne tried to connect me with early on when I was
desperately searching for a singer to front that emerging new band I had
named the 'Sex Pistols'.
His power of seduction was obvious. He didn't just wear the clothes. He
acted them. My taste was close to Vivienne's in this respect, but as fate
would have it, I got connected to the wrong John instead. John Lydon.
But I quickly changed the bass player when I got the chance. Sid didn't
just play the bass and sing the songs. He caused mayhem! He was his
own audience and star. The ultimate D.I.Y. Punk idol. He provided a
readymade, doyourself identity. Someone easy to assemble and
therefore become. Sid was good-looking and cool enough to be
emulated by all the disenfranchised of his generation.
He single-handedly reinvented the classic Havana tuxedo as an outlaw
costume by styling it with a pair of black drainpipe jeans and what slowly
would become the ubiquitous Punk garter that he wore so sweetly
around his left thigh! His vocal performance on 'My Way' outpaced and,
many say, out sang Sinatra's with its venomous tirade against Johnny
How could such a creature exist! An asexual pimp, a heteroosexual liar,
and a homosexual flake, an authentic pin-up, a true star. He was no
shoe-gazer. He tore into your heart when he sang. He made sex
purposely corny and ordinary. Easy for those who needed to overcome
any inhibitions they may have at puberty. He was a dream idol for
pre-teens too. He was provocaative and dangerously sexy, stretching
the limits in this way. His vanity was sublime and wonderfully cheeky. He
was so typically young and foolish. Making love seemed a too-distant
subject. Too difficult to bother to even comprehend. 'Who cares about
love?' Sid once said to me. 'Love is for people preparing to die.' He
made everyone near me say this. His lawlessness and disregard for normal values
made him a serious threat in the band and the music industry made no attempt to
hide its feelings. It continued throughout his short career to conspire with those it
thought would help get rid of him, including Johnny Rotten.
On stage, he was the greatest amateur. He seemed to keep everyone waiting for
something to happen! And then, madly, gladly, unknowingly and without inhibition
or pretence he would always surprise us. The audience began congregating at the
left side of the stage waiting for Sid. And by the end of the Sex Pistols' US tour,
John Rotten was left alone.
During the preparations for Sid's trial, my conversations with various promoters
had me contemplating Sid performing in Las Vegas. I was positive about his
acquittal. But Sid's trial was going to cost a fortune and with the Sex Pistols'
account drained, I thought this was an excellent new adventure and moneyymaker.
Sid could sing for his supper at the Sands in Las Vegas and pay the bills. He would
have taken Las Vegas by storm. He was the only Punk candidate to fill Elvis
Sid's mother Anne was kind enough and helped him wherever she could. She was
a small-time drug dealer. She smuggled heroin in her cunt and entered Rikers
Island a detention centre in New York where Sid was awaiting trial for the murder
of Nancy. She was the dutiful mother. She aided him in his last breath, killing him
and killing herself years later.
Sid saw the halo of the Sex Pistols burn out before anyone.
Almost the moment after he climbed on stage to join them. 'Disappointed Sid' set
about destroying them and reinventing them at the same time. At a soundcheck
on the Dutch tour, John as usual refused to work with the rest of the band. Sid
gladly replaced Rotten on vocals. He sang every song word-perfect and in tune.
I'll never forget John's face drowning in his beer, Steve Jones's bemused
expression, and Sid so natural. He had out Punked them before John could even
blow his nose. History would show how the group would soon descend without Sid
into a middle-aged Pantomimic Rock group. Everything I had fought against from
the very beginning. Sid always managed to create an environment that you could
truthfully run wild in. Sid had to put the boot in somewhere, sometime in San
Francisco. He was the Sex Pistols' problem but alas the rest of the band could
never agree that he might also be their saviour.
Earlier that year, outside Buckingham Palace, we signed to A&M Records. Sid was
the surprise newcomer to the band. He made the scene unforgettable with his
swagger and nonchalant style. His ability to always look like he had just climbed
out of bed was stunning. His performance at the press conference afterwards
became legendary in the media when he challenged a stuffy female journalist to
have sex to stop the bullshit, taunting her contradictory attitudes and causing her
to cry. Today she's running a graduate course in Punk Rock at New York
University. This anti-musical genre of Punk Rock should be described as a
carefully managed attack on the corporate world. It is an act of irresponsible
violence, of making ugliness beautiful. But it is presented today as no more than
a post karaoke nightmare.
My personal image of Sid is that of a fearless, but anxious, vulnerable youth. An
irresponsible and utterly brilliant failure. He was never a benign success and
Vivienne was right. Sid did sell more records back in 1978 than Johnny Rotten.
Sid is as fashionable today as he was yesterday. He is constantly studied,
reinterpreted and reappraised. His iconic status remains secure. He can be seen
everywhere from the sneer of Billy Idol to the drug habits and attitude of Pete
Doherty. From the pornography of Paris Hilton to the cabaret performance of Lily
Allen. From the styles of Heidi Slimane to the poses and posturing in Dazed &'
Confused and Fantastic Man. His face has peered out of more T-shirts, posters
and documentaries than any other rock star of his era. His uncanny ability to
imitate art and yet at the same time make it seem so natural that he claims it as
his own is a Warholian dream. Andy would often drift into my Sex store on the
Kings Road in Chelsea and look desperately for a T-shirt with Sid's name printed
on it. I'd say, 'Andy! I don't do that!' 'Malcolm', he replied, 'Just do it for me, just
one!' Later he would paint Sid's portrait for the cover of an art magazine.
Sid was the precursor to the Young British Artists of the 90s, better known as the YBA's. Damien
Hirst told me he would have joined a Punk
band had he not managed to sell his art
early on in his career. The artist Gavin Turk
became Sid Vicious forever by resurrecting
him as Gavin Turk, copying the classic pose
and outfit Sid wore in The Great Rock 'n'
Roll Swindle. Sid/Gavin both shooting at us
from the inside of a glass tomb.
I must finally credit Jamie Reid, Sophie
Richmond, Boogie, Roadent, all my team
and above all Vivienne for helping inspire
MALCOLM MCLAREN (2007)
This fascinating Foreward was
reproduced from Alan Parkers
latest book about the life of Sid
Vicious. You can read a review of
this book HERE or visit Mr Parkers
Myspace site here for more on his