(REPRINTED FROM ROLLING STONE OCTOBER 20TH 1977)
ROCK IS SICK AND LIVING IN LONDON
A Report on the SEX PISTOLS By Charles M. Young (PART TWO)
Malcolm McLaren, who has a reputation for being two hours late to 'everything, is also two hours late
to meet me at his apartment. Vivienne Westwood ushers me into their bedroom, where I waft until she
finishes cutting a half-inch or so of her two-inch hair, presumably to make it stick out better. The room
is modestly furnished in black and white, a constantly recurring color theme that, along with the
incessant rain, bad telephones, warm beer, incompetent hotel service, yellow journalism, cretinous
newspapers, lack of time with the band, money that weighs more than it's worth, cricket on television,
geographically separate streets having the same name within London's city limits, riots between Marxist
and neo-Nazi splinter parties, and a hangover, is convincing me to change my name to Chuckie Suicide
and go Sid Vicious one better. The only colour in the room is a poster of the equally depressing Red
Ballet. The book shelves include Orwell, Dickens , de Sade and Wilhelm Reich's The Mass Psychology
Of Fascism. First in a pile of albums on the dresser is 'The World Of Billy Fury.'
When McLaren finally arrives after midnight, he is still wearing the mangy black sweater
I saw several nights back. The long strings of matted wool keep reminding me of Johnny
Rotten's piles hanging out of his pants. I ask why he presented the New York Dolls as
"It was just an idea that came out, like a can of new soup" he says. "Rock & roll is not
just music. You're selling an attitude too. Take away the attitude and you're just like
anyone else, you're like American rock groups. Of course, maybe there's just too wide
a market there for a good attitude. The Sex Pistols came about because on the streets
of Britain they're saying, 'What is this 1960's crap, paying five pounds to see some guy
the size of a sixpence when I'm the dole?' The kids need a sense of adventure, and rock
& roll needs to find a way to give it to them, wham out the hardest and cruelest lyrics
as propaganda, speak the truth as clearly as possible."
"What did the Dolls as communists have to do with the truth?"
"I don't know," McLaren admits. "I'm not a communist. I'm rather anarchistic. I was
trying to make them more extreme, less accessible. Most bands won't do that sort of thing, but they must find a means to provoke."
"Aren't there easier ways to break a band?"
"I love to go the hardest route. It keeps you up. It keeps the truth happening. Too many of the new groups are getting sucked up by the record
companies too early.
The movement will get dilluted."
Since his own problems with record companies are by now legendary, I ask about his negotiations for an American deal, "Well, Clive Davis
called the other day: bullshit artist number one, this guy," he says. "I said, 'Weren't you the bloke who told the press not to identify itself too
closely with the punk movement? 'He said he didn't mean the Sex Pistols, you must look on groups as individuals, not as part of a movement. I
said I believe in movements: 'Get it straight. We're not part of your talent roster. We'll have none of your stars.' He said Patti Smith was on
Arista and she was a punk. 'I don't want your old hacks,' I said. 'You should have signed the Kinks in 1964 when they had something to say.'
(Reached in New York later, Davis commented, "This cannot be typical of what McLaren thinks because he's told me that he's heard many
good things about Arista, and I or my representatives have had about 20 conversations with him. This sounds like a hatchet job, like an isolated
and fragmentary quote, since it is from a man who is very interested in signing with me and my company. My reaction is amusement.")
"These record company presidents, they're all whores. Two months ago, their doormen would have thrown us out. We sell a few records and
they phone and want their pictures taken with us. Mo Ostin [of Warner Bros.] is flying in with his lawyer tomorrow, and I couldn't get past his
secretary before. I've been in and out of CBS many times. Walter Yetnikoff [president of CBS Records Group] sang me 'Anarchy in U.K.' at
breakfast at the Beverly Wilshire to prove he knew the group. He said he wasn't offended by Johnny Rotten saying he was an anti-Christ. 'I'm
Jewish,' he said."
(Walter Yetnikoff commented later: "I was saying it as a gag. I'm not looking to pick a fight with Christianity.")
I ask why he places the press right down in the sewer along with record company presidents.
"Because the music press are basically Sixties culture freaks. They imply we're not original, they try to maintain the facade of knowing every
song, every riff, every lyric, as if they invented it. One recent headline had us as 'John, Paul, Steve and Sid,' like we were the Beatles! That's
fucking disgusting! They were trying to make us fun. It shows the vampire nature of the Sixties generation, the most narcissistic generation that
has ever been!" "So why are you putting up with me?"
"My man in America told me to. If we do rolling stone, we might not have to do another interview for two years. This band hates you. It hates
your culture. Why can't you lethargic, complacent hippies understand that? You need to be smashed... .This is a very horrible country,
England. We invented the mackintosh, you know." McLaren gestures as if he is opening his coat for a lewd display. "We invented the flasher,
the voyeur. That's what the press is about."
Seeing no need for elaboration, I change the subject to why he selected Russ Meyer, of all people, to direct the film.
"Right from the beginning, I knew he was the right guy. He was an action director, and he was an outcast from the regular studios. I liked his
sense of color. We didn't want a grainy, black and white, Polish, socialist, realist movie...."
The phone rings and McLaren answers. "What's that? Elvis Presley died?.. .Makes you feel sad, doesn't it? Like your grandfather died. . .
.Yeah, it's just too bad it couldn't have been Mick Jagger."
Russ Meyer, a grandfatherly man with a small, well-manicured mustache, shows me into his nicely furnished
apartment the next day and motions to a slightly pudgy young man on the other side of the room. "This is Roger
Ebert," he says. "He won the Pulitzer Prize for film criticism and he's writing the movie with me. At the Chicago
Sun-Times, he's Dr. Jekyll. With me, he's Mr. Hyde. He's really into tits."
Ebert laughs and says, "Remember, without me, there wouldn't be any mention of Bambi in this movie."
Meyer turns around and motions to the couch behind me. "This," he says, "is John."
Sid Vicious could not have described him more accurately: All misshapen, hunchbacked, translucently pale, short
hair, bright orange undoubtedly the vilest geezer I have ever met too. He is wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with
destroy and a swastika, black leather pants and these bizzare black shoes shaped like gunboats.
His handshake is the Iimpest of all. "You, uh, prefer to be called John?"
"That's right," he says. "I despise the name Johnny Rotten. I don't talk
to anyone who calls me that." His voice could turn the Lord's Prayer
into brutal sarcasm. Having learned, probably, that if you stare at
anyone long enough he will think you know he's a fraud (because
When Rotten returns from the bog, I ask if he shares Vicious' views on love. "Love is two minutes and fifty seconds of squelching noises,"
he says. "It shows your mind isn't clicking right."
Meyer suggests that we go have dinner and asks Rotten what kind of food he likes. "I don't like food." "Come on," says Meyer. "You have
to eat something to survive." "Very little."
"What do you eat when you eat very little?"
"Whatever is available. Food is a load of rubbish."
Rotten finally agrees to a fish restaurant named Wheeler's Alcove and the five of us Meyer, Ebert, Rotten, me and this roadie who showed
up halfway through the talk stuff ourselves into a subcompact that would be cramped for two. "You can't blame him for being difficult,"
whispers the roadie. "Journalists ask the most unbelievably stupid Questions. They've been calling all day asking now he felt about Elvis."
On the way, we stop at a store so Rotten can pick up the following day's groceries, two six-packs and a can of beans. At the restaurant,
Ebert entertains me with a joke about an elephant having his testicles crushed by two bricks until the waiter arrives.
"I'll have a fillet with nothing around it and a green salad on the side, mush," orders Rotten, eh, mush?!" The waiter finally hustles off to the
kitchen, much relieved to get away.
"What's a mush?" asks Meyer.
"Someone whose face is all beaten in and looks like a cunt."
"He didn't like that. He'll spit in your salad."
"I know it. That's why I said it. The mush couldn't take a joke."
As the food arrives, I ask Rotten about the close friendship of reggae and punk. The first single by whites
ever carried in some of the record shops In Brixton, the Jamaican ghetto, was ''Anarchy in the U.K." But
neither movement seems to have made much of an impact on American blacks, who still very much
believe in the middle-class dream, at least according to a New York Times poll which showed that of any
racial group, blacks have the most optimism about New York.
"Punks and niggers are almost the same thing," says Rotten, oddly echoing a theme of the last decade
which substituted "students" for punks. "When I come to America, I'm going straight to the ghetto. And if
I get bullshit from the blacks in New York, I'll just be surprised at how dumb they are. I'm not going to
hang out wrth the trendies at Max's and the CBGB. I'm not asking the blacks to like us. That's irrelevant.
It's just that we're doing something they'd want to do if they had the chance." Rotten seems to be at his
most sincere of the evening. He leans forward, almost urgently. "Listen, this band started by nicking every
piece of equipment. I sing through David Bowie's microphones.
Punk fashions are a load of bollocks. Real punks nick all their gear from junk shops."
I ask Meyer if, as a Hollywood outcast, he feels any kinship with the punks.
"Not really," he says. "I don't consider myself an outcast. I'm the only independent who can compete
with the major studios. I thought this would be a good transitional thing to get out of the straight
bosoms-amd-brawn thing. They're also paying me one percent of the U.S. gross."
"You mean you don't believe in what they're saying at all?" "Don't you know that all directors are
whores? John, wouldn't you make yourself look like a cunt for a million dollars?"
"How could you make me look like a bigger cunt than I am?" says Rotten.
"The joke's on you."
everyone is a fraud), Rotten glares with demonic self-righteousness that threatens to reduce me to
incoherence. The overall effect, though, stirs a maternal instinct I didn't know I had. The idea of this
sickly dwarf bringing the wrath of an entire nation down on his shoulders is, well, heartwarming.
Maybe, just maybe, if someone this powerless could cause that much uproar, maybe words still mean
"You got any comment for the world on the death of Elvis?"
"Fuckin' good riddance to bad rubbish," he snarls. "I don't give a fuckin' shit, and nobody else does
either. It's just fun to fake sympathy, that's all they're doing.
"Is it true you used to tell people you had to cut off your piles with a razor blade?"
"Yeah, I didn't go to school for about three weeks. The teachers sent me flowers. I'm an atrocious liar."
"How did you get that way?" I regret the question by the time it's out of my mouth, but there's no
taking it back.
"Through dating people who ask that kind of crap. Assholes who believe that sort of thing, don't
deserve to be spit on."
"You look like Mel Ferrer," says Meyer to me. "Has anyone ever told you that?"
"No," I reply. "They usually compare me to Charlie Watts." "We're lookin' for a journalist who looks
like Mel Ferrer for the movie," says Rotten. "He gets murdered." He glares at me again. This time I
glare back, and we end up in an unstated contest for about ten seconds. He seems to withdraw more
than lose concentration, not leaving me much of a victory. Meyer asks him about certain English slang
words to give the script some authenticity. "A tosspot is even lower than a jerk-off," Rotten answers.
"A weed is a pansy. If you don't "know that, it's just an indication of how fuckin' stupid you
"Just a minute, boy," laughs Meyer. "In '44, we saved your ass."
"Like fuck you did..." Rotten trails off, suddenly realizing he's put himself in the position of defending his country. "You can slag off England
all you want. There's no such thing as patriotism anymore. I don't care if it blows up. There's more tourists in London than Londoners. You
never know what accent you're going to get when you ask directions."
"Hasn't anyone defended you from the standpoint of freedom of speech?"
"Not one," he replies. "England was never free. It was always a load of bullshit. I'm surprised we aren't in jail for treason. Where's the bog?"
"Down the hall to the left," says Meyer.
"There's ale in the refrigerator and on the counter, if you want it warm."
"No, the bog, man," says Rotten. "You know, the shithouse, the wankhole."
"Oh! The bathroom!" says Meyer. "Straight down the hall." Rotten trots off.
"Hmmm," Meyer continues, "what do you think about 'Bog' for a movie title ? 'Bog,' with an exclamation point."
Mext morning I call McLaren at home and he promises me a ride to Wolverhampton,
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 primarily 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
"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 Rovers."
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.
Wolverhampton turns out to be an industrial sumphole, resembling Cleveland if
Cleveland had been built 200 years earlier. The club Lafayette is in the middle off 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 20's. Except for one kid who appears to have dyed his skin green
(could it have been the dim light?) 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
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 step on wires and knock over electronic equipment.
The song is barely intelligable over the explosions and spitting noises from shorts,
just the way anarchy ought to sound. The crowd pogos frantically. Paul Cook
is completely hidden from view, but sounds fine, limiting himself to a basic
repertoire of rock licks. Steve Jones' guitar avoids thrills but gets the job done
with taste. His expression is deadly earnest , like a high- school backetball 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 hunchbacked; 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 balance. 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 Feelings" with the sound system relatively intact. "Pretty
Vacant," then-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
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 should I?"
"I don't know," I say. "I just wish you would. That was the most amazing show I've ever seen."
Vicious thinks for a moment then 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 n roll is going to
come to Huckleberry Finn in this decade. I hope he can light out 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 titilation, 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 greed head, 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 travelled by, and that has made all the difference.
(REPRINTED FROM ROLLING STONE OCTOBER 20TH 1977 - PUNK ROCKER ARCHIVES)