Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol by Steve Jones (William Heinemann) & Anger is An Energy. My Life Uncensored by John Lydon (Simon and Schuster)
Here are two books from people whose names you may know that are essential purchases.
This is from “Lonely Boy”:
… all bands are basically the fucking same. The reason I still - to this day - love watching documentaries about bands like the Eagles … is that I can totally relate to them. The personalities involved and the reasons for the tensions between them never seem to change.
The singer - because the job requires the kind of person who wants to be in the front going ‘look at me, look at me’ - will almost always be very insecure, and usually a bit of a cunt. Then there’s the guitarist, who wants to get all the pussy, and there’s always at least one weird introvert…
Lead Guitarist Syndrome and Lead Singer Syndrome are terms you don’t see in the Macquarie, or the OED. But they exist, in fact if not in print.
LGS is the determination to show off in a fantasy world, where everyone in the band (and everywhere else) is subservient to the need of the guitarist to fly like a bird and sting like a bee. It seems to take root early in life, the potential guitarist having some sort of hole in their life and aiming to fill it with stadia of fans, rumpy-pumpy and sucky-wucky backstage, and excessive quantities of soul-altering liquids and powders.
LSS is something similar, but believing that they themselves (not necessarily the lyrics they sing) are the most important feature. Usually seems to be born of a feeling of deep inadequacy.
A bit like the urge to become a dictator, one imagines, though you’d have to ask sensitive, not-remotely-mad-as-a-fucking-hornet-on-meth North Korean President Ping Pong Table about that.
I’ve just read a couple of the Sex Pistols biographies; "Lonely Boy" by Steve Jones, and "Anger is An Energy" by John Lydon. Lydon’s is his second autobiography, published a couple of years ago. This is Jonesy’s first, and both were written with a ‘ghost’ writer (and declared as such on the title pages).
Discounting the Pistols, both Jonesy and Lydon have far more in common as men than they probably admit. They both had childhoods which … shall we say, marked them.
Even if you think the Pistols are over-rated (certainly they’re over-cited and over-exposed) as many folk under 35 do, the fact remains that on 1 December 1976 modern music changed forever. And we can thank Queen for declining to appear on the rather crap afternoon telly show with Bill Grundy (1923-1993). In case you haven't seen it:
There’s grainy live footage of a rather ropey but captivating version of “No Fun” - you can get a glimpse of how grey and numbing UK telly was by the decidedly crap beginning to the show. The Pistols were a wave of colour, aggro, rebellion and movement (and rather ugly) - but the thing is, unlike glam and so much of the popular music of the day - they seemed down to earth, more or less normal (apart from the bizarre clothes).
At this point, before the storm broke, things were bubbling up for the band, and had Queen done this rather shitty little interview with this rather shitty little man instead, there’s a good chance the Pistols would have gone on and developed more normally. It’s quite possible that, however, McLaren would’ve either been given the boot eventually or the band would’ve split up - but without the Grunty interview splattering all around the world and a small but noisy percentage of young people going, “Fuck, what’s this? This is real!” resulting in a series of waves of music and bands altering our rather dreary post-war culture - the Pistols would not have been particularly significant.
Imagine that, just for a second. Like The Beatles, The Sex Pistols were one of those tipping points … you don’t have to like ‘em. Any more than The Beatles. The Moptops’ success was pretty accidental, certainly they came along at the right time. Ditto The Sex Pistols - their rocket to fame was a complete accident, and a complete surprise. McLaren, the great rock’n’roll swindler, was absolutely shitting himself as the the Grunty interview went to air (Siouxsie and Jonesy answering the BBC switchboard as the thing clogged with complaints with ‘piss off!’ probably didn’t help matters).
And the next day the modern world started to heave over on itself. Doesn’t matter if the Yanks were ‘there’ first (and that’s arguable - the NY scene, a totally different thing from the London scene - would simply have trundled on in the shadows had the Grunty interview not occurred); the searchlights born of the culture shock were so bright it was if there were several suns in the sky.
Jonesy’s book is hilarious, and ugly as hell. You know how you meet some people at parties and they’re great fun, but up close they’re a fucking nightmare? For most of his life, Jones was a dreadful, narcissistic man. The thought of consequences don’t seem to have occurred to him; his main drive (through an assortment of addictions, from sex to drugs to stealing to rock’n’roll) was to blot out the hurt of what we can now recognise as abandonment.
Curiously, the thefts and shagging everyone else’s women aside, Jonesy seems to think of himself as an honest man.
Curious also to read a positive account of McLaren after reading Lydon’s book - and when Jones compares his singer to his former manager, saying, “takes one to know one”… you know he’s on the money. Lydon has done things which resemble McLaren’s behaviour; however, McLaren seems to have been more of a provocative voyeur with little sense of ownership, while Lydon seems to have always felt intensely alone and the centre of attention, which he both courts and despises.
McLaren was very much a man with a child’s approach to life, while Lydon was a broken child trying to grow up in the middle of a volcano, which didn’t seem to lessen for decades. Jones remained a broken man until much the same time later…
“Lonely Boy” is an excellent example of how not to bring up a child. And he himself is an excellent example of that extraordinary character who we hear about (and some of us envy, let’s be honest) who rogers his way through life, nicking shit and blowing it all on drugs and assorted garbage, like some sort of parched sybarite…
… and all the while the man is depressed as all get-out. That’s one thing he never really discusses in the book, that so much of his behaviour is an attempt to avoid depression.
Lydon, on the other hand, is a fighter, who feels that, as the focal point of attention throughout the assorted phases of punk, that he is, himself, the Head Punk. Doesn’t matter whether he is or not, of course. That’s the situation he found himself in.
Short of pissing off to fish for lobster off Alaska, Lydon has had to live with himself, live a public life and that, as any really famous person will tell you, is anything but easy. In fact, it’s hugely emotional, and this is one reason so many stars become neurotic or over-focussed on themselves. As they see it, they’re the only one dancing at the point of the pin.
Of the two books, Jonesy’s is the one to pick up first. It’s shorter, a fuck of a lot funnier, and in some ways far more horrifying.
I’ll give you a couple more Jonesy quotes; here he is on Sid Vicious, the iconic twat every idiot calling themselves a punk seems to adore;
...I didn’t mind having to play bass on the album, in fact I was happy to do it. But teaching Vicious where to put his fingers on the fretboard so he could make some attempt at playing live was a total pain in the arse’; and ‘anywhere you went that Sid turned up, you knew there was going to be trouble. He kind of got off on that. Well, I assume he did as I don’t know why he would’ve done it otherwise.
John’s take on Sid is better known - and of course Lydon would still feel dreadfully guilty for letting his mate down. But the truth is that Sid was brought up totally fucked as well; I won’t quote Lydon here, but I’ll give you a link to part of one of the "Anger is an Energy" interviews where Lydon talks about Sid and his mum:.
How on earth could the poor bastard have a chance?
And on Nancy Spungen:
Suddenly this groupie junkie chick from America who was a complete fucking outsider was hanging around at soundchecks and none of us were in any hurry to accept her … No-one in the Sex Pistols had girlfriends around the band too much, maybe because they knew I’d end up shaggin ‘em. It had become what was expected of me at that point. So of course I took one for the team and fucked old Nancy.
On the other hand, it’s a fucking miracle any of the others are still alive today. Lydon could’ve gone down in Lockerbie; or been killed in any one of a number of savage assaults over the years. Early PiL gigs were fraught with violence and danger, far more so than the Pistols ever were. That Lydon feels constantly under the spotlight, constantly threatened is hardly surprising … sure he’s unreasonably neurotic from time to time (Jonesy tells a great one toward the end) but … consider. It’s either Lydon doing what he does now, or giving up and lapsing into seclusion.
You can spend hours watching Lydon interviews on Youtube (it’s a profitable way to spend a day, let me tell you, you’ll wet yourself a lot) but this book puts so much into perspective.
Which is actually what Jonesy did… at one point he had no real identity, no home, a passport-less, card-less junkie ghost kipping on couches around LA, nicking people’s jackets and LPs and cars and guitars and … in fact, for much of his life Jones seems to have supported himself by stealing.
Also, if half his stories about joyriding round London off his tits are true it’s a miracle he never killed anyone. In fact, if he did (as so many repellant car stealing joyriders do these days), you’d be right in considering him a fucking shit. His thefts are sometimes amusing - but they’re also frequently bloody appalling; even now he seems not to be able to fully understand why this behaviour might have pissed off a lot of his friends - and bandmates.
On the other hand… by fuck the man’s funny. Remember the period when the Pistols couldn’t get a gig in UK so they went to Sweden..?
It was true what they said about Sweden. It wasn’t just how good-looking the birds were, they were really into sex, as opposed to what we were used to, which was grudging Northern slags with big ankles and spotty backs. I’m sorry if the truth hurts.
In some ways, Jonesy is like a rather repulsive yet enjoyable character out of ‘a ’Viz” comic - only enjoyable if, like GG Allin, his behaviour puts someone else in the shit, and not you. It’s nothing short of a miracle Jonesy wasn’t stuffed into jail for most of his life, or dead in 1978 or earlier… you know?
Lydon, however… the man’s a deadset scream:
Where would I be without a witch hunt? After all these years, I’ve grown to like them, and love them, and indeed find them very comforting...
And on his first autobiography, “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs …’” ‘
It was a serious step in my character development, because, since putting that book out, I’ve become very much less fearful of who I am, and what I am… I am the elephant in the room.
“Anger is An Energy” takes in the Pistols, but takes us right up to date, in some detail. Jonesy’s book mostly tells us of the Pistols, and there are a few nauseating chapters on his life afterwards - and it comes as a serious relief to discover that he finally starts to change his life around.
Both these men were damaged goods before the Sex Pistols formed; both these men are still attempting to deal with their lives in the long aftermath. That they find each other difficult to deal with is unsurprising - but they both have tremendous respect - if not love - for each other, despite the occasional slagging.
If you own a copy of “Never Mind the Bollocks…”, “Spunk” or even that daft “Swindle” LP or in fact any Sex Pistols product (primo quality or shitstem), or think you have an interest in music after 1975… you need “Anger is An Energy”, and “Lonely Boy” on your shelf. Even if - or especially if - you think one or both of the authors are bastards.