40 YEARS AGO–I WROTE THIS REVIEW OF THE LAST SEX PISTOLS SHOW

[What follows is a review I wrote in early 1978, as a young man in my early 20s, of the final SEX PISTOLS show--final until they did a reunion tour, sans the deceased Sid Vicious, twenty years later. The review appeared in a Portland, Oregon punk zine called Magazine X. This was the band’s notorious last show at Winterland, in San Francisco, and I think you can now see most of the event on youtube, including opening acts The Nuns and The Avengers. I was there, jumping about in the audience…The magazine was hand-made, photocopied I think, stapled together, handed out. The writing was scissored from typing paper and glued in on the pages with, perhaps, rubber cement. As I was very much a punk rocker in those days, and though I had published professionally, I tried to write the review in a way that felt honestly punk-rock to me, hence the deliberate run-on sentences, the ranting quality to it, the haphazard organization and too many parenthetical interjections.  When I wrote the thing, I was going for spontaneity. In transcribing this, I find the content varies from somewhat adolescent bombast--eg, “pour out their instants like kaleidoscopic entrails”--and material I think was fairly closely observed, even borderline inspired. Also, none of it is untrue. I wanted to keep it true to the original, simply cutting a few sentences that would be regarded as, ah, too insensitive in today’s world. One line is missing from the photocopy I was sent of the zine, too…I changed nothing except for the little cuts, and in a spot or two added a qualifier in brackets. I didn’t have to correct spelling errors, as there weren’t any except in that I used a couple of words that don’t exactly exist (like ‘echoey’).      

The reader will notice I used New Wave instead of “punk” to describe my tribe, as the punk term had been so overused and wrongly splashed about by the media, and had become, in record time, so to speak, an egregious cliché. The document seems true to its era, certainly to the young J Shirley; and to the twitchy, impulsive thing serving as my personality at the time. My friends and I had journeyed from Portland to see the show, and for people curious about the Portland punk scene in those days, I recommend Mark Sten’s very good, photo-charged book on it, All Ages: The Rise and Fall of Portland Punk Rock, 1977-1981. And now, here follows my youthful review of the last Sex Pistols show...]

It’s all in fragments because it was a chaotic scene and bomb-bursts make shrapnel and sometimes events break open and pour their instants like kaleidoscopic entrails. My vision wasn’t much affected by drugs in this instance because I couldn’t get anything worth taking. I was tired, having found it impossible to sleep on the train behind squalling babies and in front of complaining old ladies (these two being, after all, just inverse sides of one coin, fresh infantility and stale infantility) so I was looking for stimulants to keep me awake, but I wanted to avoid speed because I mistrust the stuff generally so I opted for psychedelics…There was some black guy standing in in line (we stood in line for four or five hours for the last of the tickets, just before the show) in front of me, actually selling “LSD” (he said) in fucking sugar cubes. This was San Francisco and it was on sugar cubes! He offered to sell me some…and said, “Take it or leave it man, it’s good acid.” It occurred to me that since he was standing in line he’d be there for hours so if the acid was bad I could confront him with it and demand satisfaction. I said as much and he laughed and said, “Yeah that’s right.” That laugh should have warned me but like a jerk I decided to trust him and bought the sugar cube (three fucking dollars) and chewed it up and about ten minutes later he left the line. And then I realized he didn’t want to see the Pistols, he’d been standing there just to sell “acid” which turned out to be speed and not much of that. And the last thing Johnny Rotten said on stage was, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

…[line missing from photocopy here about local tv news people interviewing people in line.]

…They kept smiles pasted on their polyester face-holes while three-fourths of the people in line hurled insults. Some people despised them and let them know, like Mike King [an artist, known now for his show posters and other art, also my sometime band-mate] calling her a “Peroxide Cunt!” and some people shouted at them because it was the cool thing to do and they were trying to be strange-and-violent-punk-rocks and then turn their backs so the cameramen couldn’t see who was saying what. Real heroic.   They’d snicker behind their hands. There was a lot of that surfacey let’s-play-punks horseshit, and carefully arranged safety pins, strategically ripped shirts. And there were a small percentage of really committed people who were what they were and are what they are because they can be nothing else, because it’s part of the trajectory of their lives and they went that way the same reason a bullet aimed at a wall goes through the wall, fired by explosive lifestyle-origins, and maybe the gas-compression of sheer alienation. The media catchword ‘alienation’ was never more appropriate because the committed, the ones who really DON’T CARE looked pretty fucking alien, like Japanese Spaceheroes, or like things found drowned at the beach, exquisite deterioration, reminding me of Dali’s obsession with ants marching like black-legged gems through rotting amorphous flesh. Like neon coffins…Anyway we screamed at the cameras and the mikes they shoved at us, and I can remember saying, “You don’t have the guts to find out what’s really going on here because if the truth came out on TV about how insipid and useless you are you’d be out of business! And if you came in and really looked and stopped your stupid preconceptions you’d melt like the witch in water because you can’t live with sincerity and people who are themselves and don’t care so SUCK YOUR MICROPHONE and NEW WAVE WILL DESTROY TELEVISION!! WE WILL KILL YOUR CAMERAS!” No matter what we said, they smiled idiotically. And we sang, “She got a TV eye on me!” for a joke.

The line got longer and though we were under the marquee most people stood in the rain and as the hours passed so they got pushier and nastier …And so we pushed back when we got pushed (and since we kept bunched up on the sidewalk beside a chain, like bondage, we went into a porn store the next day and bought a vomity-funny bondage magazine called Fetish Times and saw Nazi pornography, books about torturing Jewish girls at Dachau, and I almost threw up. Also popular were dog-fucking books like BEND OVER FOR ROVER) so we got compressed laterally as well as toward the doors. It was torture. All of us sticky and sweaty and our legs aching from standing in one spot and we felt sick and after awhile started screaming LET US THE FUCK IN!! and pushing on the glass doors. When they finally let us in we were coiled up all tight springs inside with tension and this in addition to the long wait, a couple more hours till the first band started [or so it seemed], wound us up evilly so we were ready for violence or pogoing.

It was a big echoey place. They had a videotape of past bands on a big screen over the stage, and we could watch and listen to that and that was something the Paramount could use, anyway. The Tubes and Link Wray and some other people.

The place filled to capacity but about half the goers were there because they were bored and it promised to be a freak show and they wore Grateful Dead t-shirts and growled at me when I screamed FUCK THE GRATEFUL DEAD!

The hard core people chattered and gesticulated in parody or obscenely for the photographers and reporters inside and I remember one of the more twisted, deliciously twisted shouting “GOD THIS IS SICKENING WHY DON”T YOU TAKE PICTURES OF THE FUCKING WALL?”

The reporters just smiled. Idiotically.

The Nuns played, and the Avengers. Jennifer [Miro] opened alone with a song about being bored with love and not wanting to bother with it and the last lines in the song were something like and anyway/ all the men in San Francisco are gay.” Which I thought was funny but half the crowd yelled “Hey fuck you bitch!” or something. She was like a mechanical mannequin but she radiated stage presence like black light and she reminded us of Nico. The Nuns were all black leather and fascist uniformity, their music was very military and over-all they came on like well-rehearsed shock troops, very efficient. Posed maybe. They did lots of spitting and bathed in it, someone bounced something off their Oriental guitar player’s head. The Avengers were more true New Wave, in my opinion, but it was hard to hear Penelope’s voice a lot of the time. They were spontaneous as a gag-reaction when you stick your finger in your throat and their guitar player had lots of cold ringing notes like sword clanging on sword.

The Sex Pistols came out without any pomp and ceremony, very casually and so-this-is-San-Francisco-so-what? (In between bands R Meltzer of VOM and rock critic fame came out and insulted the crowd and I fucking loved him. He told em there were all posters and he’d pick out people and say, “Hey suck my dick, okay? Hey you with the stupid passed green hair, fuck you alright?” And a lot of more elaborate stuff I can’t remember. He was great. They kept having to drag him off stage.) And the first thing Johnny said was, “Welcome to London!”

There are reports that Sid (who came out and talked to us, everyone in line, briefly, before the show and sang Reggae songs. When a Security Guard asked him how his hands, knuckles, had got so bloody and marked up, Sid said, “I was just having some fun with me mates.”) didn’t have his bass turned on during the show but I don’t buy that because the sound was too solid…Anyway maybe he had his bass turned off for one or two songs…His hair was matted in spikes and he was the most active figure on stage, with his mouth twisted into a permanent sideways S-shape, apotheosis of sneer, and he danced crab-wise playing hard, never missing, spitting for every crowd-spit. Someone bounced a can off his head and he said, “That didn’t hurt at all and you know why? ‘Cause I’m sick that’s why!” His chest was covered with scratches and scars.

What can I say? It was like World War Three up there. It rained spit and refuse, people threw anything they could and after the show when asked about this, Sid [allegedly] said, “When they throw stuff at us it’s the greatest tribute you can get.”

Johnny was static in body most of the time, didn’t move around much but he didn’t need to, didn’t give a shit about stage image or anything but what he felt RIGHT NOW and he stared, he compressed the black rays coming out of his eyes so they cut us. He looked right into my eyes–I was about thirty feet from the stage–and didn’t blink, just cut into me with the gimlet eye, eyes like drills…oh sure you hear that expression describing hitler or some charismatic guy but it’s a cliché most of the time, it’s bullshit when they say “His eyes went right through you, drilled you–” But it’s not bullshit in this case. Industrial lasers. It was like he was taking all the pent-up hostility in the crowd (and we were full of it, we were squashed badly and there was lots of pushing and shoving and pocket outbreaks of fighting) and soaked it up and shot it back at us in a delirious cathartic circuit while the band reamed ears with the steely squeal of semitrucks and the thrum of copter blades, the grunt of all ugly civilization itself. He blew snot out casually and  sat down to sing when he felt like it. Once when some asshole hippie in the audience said something like, “You guys suck, get off the stage!” Johnny laughed and said sarcastically, “Oh what a blow to me pride!”

I dunno I can’t describe it much more because about then I started getting frenzied everything got bang-bang-bang-ROAR so I couldn’t concentrate on clear pictures to relay to you. I remember moronic photographers looking smug and above-it-all standing on wooden boxes, and shoving their telescopic lens over your shoulder, disdainfully getting in the way so they could get their assignment done which is all they were there for, their pulp-sucking magazines like ROLLING STONE which should die or ought to be buried to spare our noses like it’s already dead and it’s stinking. Reporters are maggots. I’m no reporter.

But the next thing I knew they had done their only encore, “NO FUN” and they left and that was it, it was over, and they’d played 40 minutes maybe and yeah I felt cheated, Johnny. I wanted more. We thought of going to the Mabuhay but we found that the “STREET PUNKS” were playing there, which is a pseudo-New-Wave band …so since there was no more show, went to the hotel.

Next day watched wreckers smash a building; it was lovely, made blue sparks when it hit steel and dropped tons of masonry with wham! and the guy working there said the ball weighed 8 tons which is ideal stage equipment and–we went home.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.