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Sex Pistols: Stories, Legends, And Anarchy

1970s | November 6, 2019

Their playing may have been questionable, and they may have only recorded one real album, but there was no one more outrageous or who inspired more artists than The Sex Pistols. In just a few short years, the band formed, recorded some amazing songs, and then imploded.

From 1975 to 1978, the Sex Pistols fought whoever got in their way, both onstage and off. They went to war with their management, their record labels, and even the Queen herself. Even after the band broke up, they didn't stop thumbing their noses at authority. Punk rock, rock and roll, whatever you want to call it---The Sex Pistols were absolute legends. 

The band's first show was chaos

Source: AP

Different permutations of The Sex Pistols played together in its infancy, but it wasn't until Johnny Rotten was placed into the group as the band's singer that things really clicked. Their first gig was set up by bassist Glen Matlock at the art school where he was a student. There was only one problem: They didn't have any equipment. They had to borrow amps and drums from the headliner, pub rock band Bazooka Joe. That would have been fine, except the Pistols only made it through a few songs (including covers of the Small Faces' "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone") before Bazooka Joe kicked the band offstage for damaging their equipment. Rotten and the group got into a fight with Bazooka Joe and never even made it to the portion of their set that that contained their own songs.

Sid Vicious asked Lemmy from Motorhead to teach him bass

Source: Reddit

You might have noticed that Matlock was identified as the band's bassist up there, which can't be right, because everyone knows The Sex Pistols' bassist was the iconic Sid Vicious. Don't worry, this isn't a case of the Mandela effect: Vicious didn't join the band until 1977. Matlock had the skills, writing such seminal songs as "Pretty Vacant," but Vicious had the look, and that was that. The fact that he couldn't actually play the bass was barely a problem.

Still, Vicious wanted to do his due diligence and at least attempt to learn how to play music. Most people in that situation would turn to music store bulletin boards, but Vicious went straight to the grandfather of punk himself, Lemmy Kilmister. Amazingly, Lemmy not only didn't laugh in his face, he accepted Vicious's proposition. Alas, not even Lemmy could teach Vicious, later telling a journalist that the lessons were "all uphill" and quipping that Vicious "still couldn't play bass when he died."

The Pistols became public enemy number one after an expletive-laden appearance on Today

Source: BBC

By December 1976, the band had already made a name for themselves as an explosive live act with a shocking look, but when they appeared on Bill Grundy's Today show that month, they introduced the scourge of punk rock to every housewife in England. The band wouldn't have even been on the show had it not been for Freddie Mercury's teeth. That episode's musical guest was supposed to be Queen, but they had to back out after their frontman found himself in a dental crisis, so the groups' mutual record label asked The Sex Pistols to fill the slot.

It's clear from the footage of the episode in question that no one was happy to be on camera with each other. Grundy didn't even try to be cordial, mockingly questioning the band members about all the money they'd made, and they responded in kind. When a Sex Pistols fan sharing the stage with the band, future goth legend Siouxsie Sioux, told Grundy she'd always wanted to meet him, he responded inappropriately, and guitarist Steve Jones told him off even more inappropriately. When Grundy goaded Jones to say "something outrageous" before the camera was cut, Jones said "What a f---ing rotter." It was far from the only F-bomb dropped that evening, among many other letter bombs.

Audiences weren't used to hearing foul language on television in 1976, so the broadcast threw all of England into a tizzy. The studio's phones lit up, and their telephone system's 12 lines were so packed that it diverted calls to the green room, where The Sex Pistols were harassing the show's staff members. The band started answering phone calls from the public, and it went pretty much how you imagine it did.

They trashed the A&M office after signing to the label

Source: Morrison Hotel

The Pistols were never on a label for all that long. It's not just that they were only together for three years in total during their prime; they were also nihilistic to the point of wrecking everything in front of them. They were dropped from EMI following the Today incident, but the group signed to A&M Records on March 9, 1977. The next day, the label had a ceremonial contract signing outside Buckingham Palace to promote their upcoming single, "God Save The Queen," and soon found out why having The Sex Pistols on their roster was more trouble than it was worth.

Following the ceremony, the band got drunk and went straight to the A&M offices, where they torpedoed their newly signed contract. Vicious smashed a toilet bowl, cutting his foot in the process and tracking blood around the office. Steve Jones allegedly hooked up with someone from the office in the bathroom, and Rotten harassed the office's employees. In other words, each of them did exactly what they were known to do. A few days later, the band got into a fight with another band at a show and threatened a friend of A&M's English director, sealing their fate. A week after signing to A&M, the band was kicked off the label, and almost every copy of "God Save The Queen" was destroyed. 

They took a boat down the Thames to play "God Save The Queen" during her Silver Jubilee

Source: Reddit

1977 was the Queen's Silver Jubilee, the 25th anniversary of her ascension to the throne, and the Sex Pistols celebrated with everyone else ... just not quite in the same manner. On June 7, at the height of the yearlong celebration, they chartered a private boat and sailed it down the River Thames, drinking and drugging heavily. As they passed the House of Parliament, they launched into a ragged version of "Anarchy in the U.K." The police soon closed in on them and cut the band's power, but they managed to squeeze in a decent set that included, obviously, "God Save The Queen." When the Pistols and their entourage returned to the pier, they were arrested and beaten. Allan Jones remembers:

Ranks of police were thundering up the gangplank. McLaren stumbled and got to his feet and rather dramatically raised a clenched fist and shouted: "You f---ing fascist bastards," at which point he was dragged off, beaten up, arrested and thrown in a police van.

Their first tour of the U.S. was their last

Source: Reddit

The band made small trips to get out of England whenever they could, but they were so mired in controversy that it was impossible for the band to tour for long without intense violence breaking out and cutting things short. When it came time for the band to tour America, it was the beginning of the end of the group, and they went out in a spectacular fashion. Rather than booking shows in major markets, manager Malcom McLaren sent the band through the South, where they were sure to cause a stir.

Wherever they stopped, the Pistols delivered on their anarchic claims: they fought, did drugs, and left blood on every stage they played. Unfortunately, their antics had started to catch up with them. Rotten was particularly grumpy, exhausted by Vicious's behavior and also just generally miserable. By their final show in San Francisco, the band was through, and Rotten collapsed onstage on January 14, 1978 while singing their single encore, a cover of "No Fun" by The Stooges. The last thing he said on stage was "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Richard Branson tried to convince Devo to hire Johnny Rotten

Source: Reddit

After the band split up in San Francisco, they couldn't get away from each other fast enough. Cook and Jones took off for Rio de Janeiro while Vicious got up to no good and nursed his heroin habit. Rotten, however, was still sick. By the time he made it to New York, he was flat broke and had to be hospitalized. The only person he had in his corner was Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Records, The Sex Pistols' third record label.

Once Rotten was well, Branson paid to fly him to England via Jamaica, where he met up with Devo. Branson wanted Rotten to sing for the band, but Rotten wasn't interested---not because he didn't like the band, but because he didn't want to be in a band that didn't want him. 

Johnny Rotten was supposed to be on Pan Am Flight 103

Source: Pinterest

What do The Four Tops, Johnny Rotten, and Kim Cattrall have in common besides fantastic hair? They were all supposed to be on Pan Am Flight 103, which was blown up by a bomb over Scotland in 1988, killing all 259 people onboard and 11 more on the ground. The only reason John Lydon and his wife weren't two of them was because they waited until the last minute to pack and missed their flight.

The Bromley Contingent

Source: Flickr

Every important band needs a group of fans to follow them around. The Grateful Dead had the deadheads, Phish has the Phishheads, and the Sex Pistols had the more creatively named Bromley Contingent. They were a group of young punks who hung out with the group at shows and at SEX, the London boutique run by Vivienne Westwood. These fans essentially invented the "punk" fashion that soon spread around the world, and many of them---such as Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol, and Steve Strange---became celebrated musicians in their own right.

The band declined induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Source: Reddit

Every disruptor, no matter how chaotic, is finally welcomed into the fold at some point, and the Sex Pistols were no different. In 2006, it was announced that the group would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This would normally be a milestone for a rock musician, but to a punk, it's almost an insult. When Johnny Rotten heard the news, he responded with a lovely thank-you letter, which read in part:

Next to the SEX-PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what?

Co-founder of the museum Jann Wener read the letter aloud at the induction ceremony, and it seems that the band was inducted whether they wanted to be or not. And really, isn't that at least as punk as Rotten's note?

Tags: 1970s | music

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.