It was the fleeting era of hardcore punk rock, not the flimsy stuff that came after it, when The Sex Pistols kicked off a movement in Britain that ruled until the mid-80s with a single album, .Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Due to intravenous drug use, Vicious was hospitalized with hepatitis during the recording of the debut album.Accordingly, Vicious’ bass is only partially featured on one song from Never Mind the Bollocks. The band itself lasted only 2 and a half years, producing the album and 4 hit singles. The Sex Pistols originally comprised vocalist Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), (currently the lead vocalist of Public Enemy Ltd. or PIL), guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock. Matlock was replaced by Sid Vicious(John Simon Ritchie) in early 1977, no doubt the biggest mistake of Matlock’s career (has anyone heard of him since then)?The Pistols’ appeal was dubious: Rotten couldn’t sing, he screamed. Vicious couldn’t play; he spit on the audience instead, who somehow became devoted followers of the Pistols. It was alternative, nasty music that entranced rebellious youth searching for icons. The Pistols’ public appearances often ended in mayhem.
The Pistols were actually little more than a boy band. Two of its members were survivors of a defunct band called The Strand. Jones approached Malcolm McLaren about assisting The Strand, and McLaren’s vision evolved into a controversial sound with a band comprised of trouble-making street punks; hence the term punk rock. McLaren was the owner of SEX, a Chelsea boutique he operated with his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood. Naturally, he gave the band a suggestive name (Pistol doesn`t refer to a gun). McLaren wanted a specific image for the band. The boys were to promote promiscuous, hardcore sexuality in their look and attitude. Since most young men wore their hair long, McLaren stopped several short-haired men in the street and asked them if they wanted to sing in a band. McLaren’s friend Bernard Rhodes, discovered John Lydon. “He came in with green hair. I thought he had a really interesting face. I liked his look. He had his ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt on, and it was held together with safety pins. John had something special, but when he started talking he was a real arsehole—but smart.” Lydon was rechristened “Johnny Rotten” because of his bad dental hygiene.
During the brief and chaotic ascendancy of the Sex Pistols, Vicious met girlfriend and eventual manager, Nancy Spungen and Vicious entered a destructive relationship that centered around drug use. Raised in Philadelphia, Spungen was an emotionally disturbed child who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 15. After being expelled from college, she went to London at the height of the punk rock craze. Her relationship with Vicious was punctuated by bouts of domestic violence and drug abuse. The press soon labelled Spungen “Nauseating Nancy” for her shocking behavior.
Not surprisingly, Spungen was a difficult baby, throwing crying fits and temper tantrums late into childhood. At three months old, she was prescribed a liquid barbituate by a pediatrician, but her violent behavior persisted. In an interview, Deborah Spungen stated, “I know it’s normal for babies to scream, but Nancy did nothing but scream.” She scored “superior” on an IQ test at five years of age, and was allowed to skip the third grade. Though she excelled academically, she had few friends during her elementary school years.
She was a temperamental child who exhibited violent behavior toward her younger sister, Susan, and brother, David. She threatened to kill a babysitter with scissors, and attempted to batter her psychiatrist, who accused her of “acting out” for attention. At age 11, she was expelled from public schooling when she was absent from class more than two weeks. Her parents, weary of her erratic behavior, enrolled her at The Devereux Glenholme School and Devereux Manor High School. In January 1972, she ran away from Devereux Manor and attempted suicide by slitting her wrists with scissors. She began attending the university at the age of 16; however, five months into her freshman year, she was arrested for purchasing marijuana from an undercover police officer. She was later arrested for storing stolen property in her dorm room, and she was then expelled from the University of Colorado. After securing employment at her first job, she was fired on the first day and she began financing herself by stealing from her family and dealing drugs.
After moving to New York City at the age of 17, Nancy worked as a stripper and prostitute. She followed bands such as Aerosmith, Bad Company, The New York Dolls and The Ramones. In 1976, she moved to London, possibly to win over Jerry Nolan of the Dolls and The Heartbreakers, but met The Sex Pistols instead. She pursued Rotten and when he did not show interest in her, she pursued Vicious and they soon moved in together. The relationship was a codependent, abusive cycle of drug abuse. The two often hit each other, and Vicious beat up Spungen on more than one occasion. They must have found a commonality in one another because neither of them left the relationship in spite of their obvious problems.
After the break up of the Pistols, the two moved into the Hotel Chelsea in NYC, staying in room 100, registered under the name of Mr. and Mrs. John Simon Ritchie. Her mother, Deborah, stated in an interview she believed that ``Nancy was happy, if one can really define what happy means…but then towards the end in the last few days I think she began to suddenly see things clearly and realized how far she had gone…she was in a box and didn`t have any way out.“ Too little too late, so it would seem.
Vicious was a highly disturbed young man heavily addicted to heroin. Early in the Pistols’ U.S. tour, Vicious wandered off from the Holiday Inn in Memphis Tennessee, looking for drugs. He was found in a hospital, having carved the words “Gimme a fix” in his chest with a razor. During a concert in San Antonio, Texas, Vicious called the crowd “a bunch of faggots”, before striking an audience member across the head with his bass guitar. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he received simulated oral sex on stage, later declaring “that’s the kind of girl I like“. In fact, Nancy and Sid were `very open with their relationship,`and each had sex with other people on a whim. There was no jealousy between the two. Nancy once told a friend who stated she had trouble with orgasms that `Sid can give you an orgasm.“
Suffering from heroin withdrawal during a show in Dallas, Texas, Vicious spat blood at a woman who had climbed onstage and punched him in the face. He was admitted to hospital later that night to treat various injuries. Offstage he kicked a female photographer, attacked a security guard, and eventually challenged one of his own bodyguards to a fight. After he was beaten up, Vicious exclaimed, “I like you. Now we can be friends.” Surprisingly, Rotten, an extremely controversial figure, was disgusted with Vicious’ behavior. He claimed, “Sid was completely out of his brains—just a waste of space. The whole thing was a joke at that point.”
In January 1978, at the end of a turbulent tour of the United States, Rotten left the band and announced its break-up. Vicious, in increasingly bad shape, was taken to Los Angeles by a friend, who then brought him to New York, where he was immediately hospitalized. On 30 June, a single credited to the Sex Pistols was released: on one side, notorious criminal Ronnie Biggs sang “No One is Innocent“ accompanied by Jones and Cook; on the other, Vicious sang the classic “My Way“, over both a Jones–Cook backing track and a string orchestra. The single reached number seven on the charts.
Vicious, relocated in New York, began performing as a solo artist, with Nancy Spungen acting as his manager. He recorded a live album backed by “The Idols” featuring Arthur Kane and Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls. Sid Sings was released in 1979. On 12 October 1978, Spungen was found dead in the Hotel Chelsea room she was sharing with Vicious, with stab wounds to her stomach and dressed only in her underwear. The knife used had been bought by Vicious on 42nd Street. Police recovered drug paraphernalia from the scene and Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder. He said they had fought that night but gave conflicting versions of what happened next, saying, “I stabbed her, but I never meant to kill her“, then saying that he did not remember and at one point used that tired, old line Spungen “had fallen onto the knife.” In an interview at the time, McLaren said, “I can’t believe he was involved in such a thing. Sid was set to marry Nancy in New York. He was very close to her and had quite a passionate affair with her.” Evidence revealed points strongly to heroin dealer and sometime actor Rockets Redglare as Spungen’s killer.
Vicious’ bail was set at $50,000.00 and was covered by Virgin Records. On 22 October, ten days after Spungen’s death, Vicious attempted suicide by slitting his wrist with a smashed light bulb and was subsequently hospitalized at Bellevue Hospital. Vicious smashed a beer mug in Todd Smith`s face and was arrested again on an assault charge. On 9 December 1978 he was sent to Rikers Island jail, where he spent 55 days and underwent enforced cold-turkey detox. He was released on 1 February 1979 and a small gathering to celebrate his release was held by friends at the 63 Bank Street, New York apartment of his new girlfriend, Michele Robinson. Vicious met Michele the day he got out of hospital, the previous October. Vicious was clean, having been on a detoxification methadone program, but Vicious’ mother, Anne, who had supplied Vicious with drugs from a young age, assisted him in procuring heroin late that night. At the dinner gathering, Anne, who was once a registered addict herself, had heroin delivered by her boyfriend Peter Kodick, against the wishes of Sid’s girlfriend. Later, Michele and Vicious went to bed around 3:30 a.m. Vicious died in his sleep, having overdosed on the heroin his mother had procured. He was twenty-one. A few days after Vicious’s cremation, his mother allegedly found a suicide note in the pocket of his jacket:
“We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots Goodbye”
Since Spungen was Jewish, she was buried in a Jewish cemetery. However, Vicious was not Jewish so he could not be buried with her. Anne and Jeremy Only of Misfit scattered his ashes over Spungen’s grave.
Reflecting on the event, Lydon said, “Poor Sid. The only way he could live up to what he wanted everyone to believe about him, was to die. That was tragic, but more for Sid than anyone else. He really bought his public image (irony).” NYPD police sergeant Richard Houseman revealed that Sid wanted another dose of heroin, but Michele refused to be a part of it and left the room. When she told his mother Anne what happened, Anne went into the bedroom and emerged minutes later emerged stating, `Sid is dead.“ Before her death in 1996, Anne confessed to journalist Alan Parker that she purposely administered a fatal dose of heroin to Sid. Anne did not provide a motive to Mr. Parker, but he believes it was to save him from the horrors of returning to jail.
After the release of the successful 1986 film Sid and Nancy, Lydon stated, “To me this movie is the lowest form of life. I honestly believe that it celebrates heroin addiction. It definitely glorifies it at the end when that stupid taxi drives off into the sky. That’s such nonsense. The squalid New York hotel scenes were fine, except they needed to be even more squalid. To humiliate somebody’s life like that – and very successfully – was very annoying to me. The final irony is that I still get asked questions about it. I have to explain that it’s all wrong. I went to see it and was utterly appalled. I told Alex Cox, which was the first time I met him, that he should be shot, and he was quite lucky I didn’t shoot him. I still hold him in the lowest light. It’s all too glib, it’s all too easy.”
On 24 February 2006, the Sex Pistols, the four original members plus Vicious, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they refused to attend the ceremony, calling the museum “a piss stain“. Not pissy enough to refuse the induction however.