FEATURE SEX PISTOLS
Gunning for trouble
The Sex Pistols are reuniting in a money-making exploit that would colour any self-respecting punk’s cheeks. David Harris laments their resurrection.
t may be misplaced idealism, but news of
the Sex Pistols’ reunion — planned for
Glasgow and London gigs in July — is
rather like being told that Santa Claus
doesn’t exist. It’s probably healthier for us
to be disabused of our fantasy, but the overwhelming response is disappointment verging on disillusion.
The thought ofa 40-year-old John Lydon in an Armani suit serving up reheated versions of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ to an audience of nostalgia buffs, is the antithesis of all that was holy and sublime about the nihilistic energies that once struck terror into the hearts of Daily Mail readers. This sort of get-together is all right for Crosby, Stills and Nash, but when it comes to Lydon, Matlock, Cook and Jones, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
With the beneﬁt of maturity and hindsight, it’s easy to mock the public outcries over the Punk phenomenon of the late 703 as hysterical over- reaction. Now that we’re all grown up culture consumers, The Clash sit comfortably between Eric Clapton and George Clinton on the CD rack, but despite their fragmentation into a cabaret act, and the requisitioning of their brief history by Julien Temple’s Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle, the Pistols remained iconic representations of a tarnished ideal. Those of us who remember when the NME was a bulletin from the subcultural barricades will always believe that something as apparently trivial as the robotic chant of ‘No Future’ against a thrashy guitar backdrop can transform the world, even if it’s only the world in your head.
Like a phoenix from the ashtray, Punk revitalised a moribund music scene satisfied to peddle the likes of Kiss and Peter Frampton as its star attractions. Central to it all was the myth of the Sex Pistols. In the mid-70$, centred around Malcolm McLaren’s fetishist clothes shop Sex, the embryonic band featured guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, who had knocked off most of their gear from locations as diverse as the BBC studios and the Hammersmith Odeon. With the addition of McCartney fan Glen Matlock on bass, they were still going nowhere fast when, desperately in need of a frontman, they auditioned and recruited a gawky, arrogant nineteen-year old called John Lydon, rechristened Rotten because his teeth matched his green hair. They might have been just another motley crew of noise merchants in the tradition of the Stooges and MCS but for Lydon’s presence. Nothing had prepared the world for this staring urchin with his barbed-wire whine and lyrics that were grafﬁti in the making.
Gaining a reputation for violent outbursts at their gigs, and signed to EMI, the Sex Pistols hit the headlines in December 1976 following an appearance on Bill Grundy’s mid-evening Today
14 The List 22 Mar-4 Apr 1996
programme. Grundy’s supercilious interview and the band’s response to his provocative ‘Go on . . . say something outrageous’ — wideboy Jones revelling in the opportunity to call him a dirty fucker after a limply ironic suggestion that he and Siouxsie Sioux meet up after the show — galvinised public opprobrium. Overnight. punk rock and the Sex Pistols became, in the words of one tabloid reader. ‘a greater threat to our way of life than Russian communism or hyperinﬂation’. After the whimpering death of 60s revolt. the idea that youth culture could still scare the
Born out of the anti-politics of Situationism and the Angry Brigade, punk 5 la Rotten served its purpose in appropriately hit-and-run style. To resurrect it for old times’ sake is a betrayal.
establishment continues to give us some hope in a world where rock music is just another marketable commodity on a par with the monolithic fashion and movie industries.
The Pistols‘ music itself doesn’t seem that threatening, and yet of all the great albums from the period — The Clash, The Ramones’ first three LPs, The Heartbreakers’ LAMF, the Saints’ ‘(l'm) Stranded’ — Never Mind the Bollocks best captures the audacity of the punk explosion. This was the kind of music that, as Mark Perry’s Snijjin' Glue fanzine memorably advised,
anyone could play: all you needed was a guitar, three chords and the nerve.
Had the band trundled on for longer we would no doubt see little difference between this revival and. say, the recent reunion of the Buzzcocks (although that too trod on a few dreams). But the Pistols’ encore has an air of resignation and finality. Besides the unashamed financial motivation, Lydon’sjustitication is that because ‘so many people have imitated and fucked up what was pure and perfect‘, the band needs to draw a line under its hijacked history. ‘lt’sjust for us as a band to say goodbye to each other properly.’ he says. The horrible image of Status Quo lining up for one last fling veers into the mind.
It’s partly because the-Pistols were so short- lived that the mystique survives; and that although the music biz is a corporate crock it's possible to make an impact in it and come out relatively sweet-smelling. Born out of the anti- politics of Situationism and the Angry Brigade, punk a la Rotten served its purpose in apprOpriately hit-and—run style. To resurrect it for old times’ sake is a betrayal: not of some idealised vision of social revolution, but of the artistic standpoint which still motivates renegade rock wannabes today. As a less convivial 21-year-old once sneered at a San Francisco audience, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
The Sex Pistols will play at the SE C C, Glasgow on 16 July, before touring the US.
As they were: (clockwise from Iett) Steve Jones, Glen Matlock. Paul Cook and John lydon