Sid Vicious: No One is Innocent
Independent on Sunday, June 20th, 2007
© 2007 Jah Wobble / Independent News and Media Limited
Review by Jah Wobble
An old friend of the troubled Sex Pistols bassist wishes the mangled corpse of punk could be left to rot…
It's the 30th anniversary of punk this year. (I thought that punk actually began in 1976 but never mind.) Predictably this has prompted a media feeding frenzy, and it would be hard not to notice the proliferation of punk-related books and documentaries that abound at the moment. Even the 1980s movie Sid and Nancy, starring Gary Oldman, is to be re-released. Sid seems to have eclipsed all of his erstwhile peers in regards to marketability. The fact that he was in an archetypically co-dependent relationship with Nancy Spungen and that they both came to a sticky end only adds to his allure. Sid is the iconic figure that best represents the punk zeitgeist. That is to say, he was the most irreverent, narcissistic and self-destructive of all the dramatis personae of the punk scene.
It is no wonder that Alan Parker's name should crop up at this time, because for years he has been churning out indifferent books on all things Sex Pistol-related. This is the third "biography" of Sid that he has released. Parker is one of a coterie of blokes that eke out a living by stripping the last remains from the carcass of punk. Most of them are from the provinces and the majority of them seem to be in their late thirties/early forties, and therefore would have been no more than 12 or 13 when it all happened. If they are not writing books, they are flogging Sex Pistols or other punk-related memorabilia.
It is a very parochial scene, riddled with petty jealousies and rivalries. Needless to say, petty jealousies and rivalries apart, it is the absolute antithesis of the punk scene in 1977. Rest assured Sid would have hated them all. Having said that, I wager that this sad little punk revivalist scene would be wonderful material for a Pinteresque play. They all gather at the funerals of punk luminaries, where they adopt the personae of old soldiers attending the wakes of fallen heroes.
Apart from Parker's three efforts, there have been several books on Sid to date. Just like Parker's No One is Innocent and Too Fast to Live, they often boast corny, sensationalist titles like Mark Paytress's The Art of Dying Young. In my opinion, Paytress's book forms the template for Parker's latest effort. The Art of Dying Young, despite the awful title, is a worthy and serious effort. It digs a little deeper, and is a bit more considered than most books of its ilk.
The life of Sid is not an easy subject to get your teeth into. Sid was so determinedly one-dimensional. When Paytress was researching his book, I helped him out by giving him a lengthy interview. As an old cohort of Sid's, I was happy to help the author "get it right".
From the way Parker presents No One is Innocent, you would have thought that I had also done an interview with him. However that is not the case. I also get a credit in the "thanks and acknowledgement" section, giving the impression that I have sanctioned the book, which is very cheeky.
It is a very lazy approach. Apart from paraphrasing Paytress, Parker also states things that I know full well to be untrue, such as Sid and I attacking Whispering Bob Harris of The Old Grey Whistle Test at London's Speakeasy club. Well, I've never even met Bob Harris, let alone assaulted him. As far as I know, Sid merely insulted Bob Harris and his entourage. That clarification has been made several times; I believe that Whispering Bob himself has even put the record straight. It is a tired, old and discredited story. But of course, as we know so well via the modus operandi of the tabloid press, why let the truth get in the way of a good story? That seems to be what the author aspires to: the sensationalist, exploitative and crass writing style of Fleet Street hacks.
Parker's main claim, in regard to the book, and probably life generally, is that he lived for all of three months with Sid's mum, Anne Beverley, who, like Sid, was a junkie. Anne Beverley passed away in 1996. Parker has also managed to get Malcolm McLaren to do the foreword to the book, which is a major coup in the credibility stakes. I wonder if Malcolm did it for nothing? Probably not. Whatever, McLaren still talks with the larger- than-life language of a 1950's impresario. There is something of the Lew Grade about him. The only thing missing is a haze of cigar smoke. He talks fondly of Sid, but you don't feel that he really knew him more than Joe Public did. I suspect that Sid was ultimately a commodity to McLaren. In my view, that doesn't make him any worse than certain other managers in the history of rock. It's just the way (the music) business is. He is an amusing and eloquent raconteur, but one that you take with a massive pinch of salt.
So does Parker bring anything new to the table? Well, there's some conspiratorial stuff concerning the deaths of Sid and Nancy which is not particularly well presented or structured. Sid's very early life is better documented here than in Paytress's book. However I must admit to having doubts about some of the author's claims. According to Parker, Sid attended the Soho Parish School in Great Windmill Street, which is just 200 yards from Piccadilly. Parker states that he got access to Sid's school records; he also claims that those records contained police reports on Anne Beverley's drug use. I find that a bit strange; Parker getting access to confidential school files, and police reports intermingled with a child's school record? I would have thought that would be the domain of social services.
Whatever, I would certainly not dispute the fact that Sid's early life was far from easy. I recall seeing him use a syringe to inject drugs with his mum. I was 16; it was a shocking and stark image to behold. To me, at that age, your mum was someone who left your tea in the oven, not someone who you banged up drugs with.
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