The Sex Pistols: The Dance Band at the End of the World

The Sex Pistols: The Dance Band at the End of the World

A tall girl in a yellow ostrich feather top and red Bettie Page bangs, simulates oral sex with Sid, who says, Now that’s the kind of girl I like and the band starts 17 and she’s got a lot to learn as Sid sings along delirious and happy. The triumphant teenybopper bows and rejoins the

Torn shirts, chains, painted faces, safety pins, showers of beer and tossed cans, broken glass, paper cups. Someone from the audience hits Sid in the face with a mulberry pie. In DeeDee’s borrowed leathers, soiled jeans & boots, compelling as a Gladiator, smiling and mugging like an idiot, singing with daemonic elan, bashing at his bass guitar: By the third song Sid is always bleeding.

Sid Vicious Cuts Himself, 1978: At the Mab, the night after the Sex Pistols broke up
Sid Cuts Himself, 1978: At the Mab, the night after the Sex Pistols broke up. Photograph by Ruby Ray.

When the crazed pie-thrower charges, clambering on stage, only then does gallant El Sid defend himself with the butt of his bass guitar upside mofo’s forehead.

Fire breaks out in the bathroom, smoldering through most of the show, sometimes breaking out into flames. Cook vomits on stage between his drums to start Memphis.

He says it’s just nerves.

Six days on the Road, in Dallas, Sid’s admitted to a hospital for injuries, exhaustion and acute heroin withdrawal. Not only that, he kicked a photographer, attacked a uniformed guard, and provoked his own bodyguards to a fight.

But that, beaten up, he turns peaceful and exclaims, I like you. Let’s be friends!

While back on stage,

Dissolute and terrifying. Johnny Rotten snarls, Don’t ever join an army.

Sid Vicious wears his guitar down to his knees and windmills his right arm, jumping in the air, splaying his legs like a wild colt.

47 minutes a night tops: 7 shows in nine days: Atlanta, Memphis, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, Dallas, Tulsa and San Francisco.

The dance band comment came from Johnny, just something pithy to say for the writers.

Yeah and Elvis is the Pharaoh of Tupelo! Sid adds.

He can be very funny, Rotten deadpans, fond and disgusted.

At the impromptu press conference in the parking lot, Limey-skinned punks squint in the sun by the bus like utterly surprised and exotic zoo animals, appearing at The Longhorn Ballroom: Tuesday night: The Sex Pistols, Thursday: Merle Haggard & The Strangers.

We the entourage stopped on the gravel at the edge of the parking lot to literally draw lots to decide who’s gonna get on the one official tour bus and who’s gonna find other arrangements, whether groupies, crew or self-noted Rock journalists, from Georgia to West Tennessee, for the next stop on The Sex Pistols 10-day odyssey through Rock and Roll history.

Like a flash becomes a Polaroid

Nine and a half months later at Max’s Kansas City Truman Capote 54 and Andy Warhol 50 share a table; Capote doesn’t really get Punk Rockers and speaks up in his whining voice, wondering what they can get to eat at a joint like this.

Didn’t you say it was a steakhouse? I will have mine medium rare, he smacks the table and reaches randily after our cocktail waitress, friend of my future wife and one of the original Dolls of Avenue B.

Capote’s already a little drunk. It’s an interview for Warhol’s Interview Magazine. My uncle is there and John Winner, at 32 the editor-in-chief at Rolling Stone, in an age where titles like that one mattered still, is also at their table as the meeting originates from a story Truman never did about The Rolling Stones tour of America in 1972. Our Jim Gilroy (28) though was on that tour. Capote feigns remembrance as his downer rap is upstaged by the sound engineer, the ebullient Gilroy. He came in with Rockets (29) for the show. And Rockets takes up a lot of space himself ordering drinks for everyone a full table of appetizers Capote and stuck his elbow in a plate of shrimp and smoothed ruffled feathers all around. Jim Gilroy! Rockets spoke rapid fire. Like a carnival barker. Capote recovering, enthuses,

Oh a carnivore!

Gilroy was the one that met the Rolling Stones 1972 Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus in Texas to make sure the band had enough Coke and other soft drinks after they ran out. As Sid and Nancy discovered themselves. Texas is not a good place to run out of junk. This was the story that Gilroy was telling Rockets and dark Tim who represented the Replacements who were playing after Sid. He wanted his band to open for Sid. He didn’t think it was a good idea for them to try to follow the Pistols and he has a real good point.

The Pistols are an end not a beginning!

He says very seriously then laughs at himself for sounding so absurd. He’s from Minnesota and has come all this way with the band to get a start in New York City.

Sid Vicious comes by and says hello in his way which is to say hardly at all. Nancy Spungen does all the talking. There’s a beautiful tapestry tablecloth Sid uses to wipe his hands and lighting a cigarette, burns it.

After minute or two it’s the irritated unfortunate Capote who smells the burning cloth and makes a noise, half porcine half rodent.

Dramatically he rises to leave. He’s rubbing the sleeve of his double-breasted pinstriped WillyWear suit. Royal Blue with Olive Pinstripes. It all works for him except the shoulder pads.

This is the last straw! I want to move to a new table at least! he says to Andy Warhol, who tries to assuage him with champagne. Evidently Capote has a fondness for the older fellow who’s constantly sent out for bubbly refreshment in Hemingway’s famous novel of Paris, expatriates and going to bullfights.

Somethings to the effect of: Can it matter so much if it’s Moët?

But it is a big deal, Capote whines. It’s a beautiful Italian tapestry. It must be a priceless antique!

Of course Mr. Capote, he didn’t even know. Here somebody donated it, I guess.

To Andy, C’est la vie; it’s not his fault; he’s only a kid.

He’s playing upstairs tonight. John Winner pipes up and pokes Sid who’s in another world, smoking and playing with the salt shaker. Now Steve Keats comes in with his kids, Keats (33) is always the best dressed and he redeems the party completely in Capote’s eyes and for gracious sakes, he’s just got done with another movie! Andy Warhol announces.

Starring?

Charles Bronson, states Keats.

Oh yeah? How many die in this one?

Hey, a lot of people die in Shakespeare, too.

Keats’s going through a divorce

They’re all on Coke and speaking in capital letters. He lights a cigar with a drippy candlestick from an adjoining table, winking at the lovely ladies there while toasting Truman Capote.

I talked to Bob Mitchum this week, he reports.

Oh yeah, how’s Bobby?

You know Robert Mitchum?!

Of course Andrew, who doesn’t?

Me?

Keats has a habit of taking out a big bankroll and counting through it majestically when people are gathered and another habit of asking me to watch his kids, which is fine to make sure they get something to eat, that kind of thing. He hits me off with $100, which keeps me in business too, you know, until the show’s over and I can meet my girlfriend after hours.

Peter Green just 19 then is with Keats. This is where we first meet him with Downtown who’s driving his cab, Green reports without even me asking. None of us had a habit, maybe just a weekend thing. We all thought we could handle it. Half of us will be dead within the decade and blood was the color of the tribe that we ran with.

Keats is talking about Green like he’s the new Monty Clift. Green before he fell, always had an enormous acting pedigree. Next in line after Mickey and just as crazy as it turned out.

Julie, our comely, tall cocktail waitress brings Sid and myself drinks. I have rum and Coke having turned 18. When she winks our way and Sid smiles his guffawing rotten toothed Billy the Kid grin, Nancy glares back, but the wink was meant for me.

We were both just kids, but we would be living together within months and married by the next Christmas.

You should come to the show. Nancy Spungen says, We will make it up to you! Sid will make it up to you won’t you!

Sid stares dead fish-eyed, she laughs and wet kisses his ear.

Truman Capote wonders out loud who they are and what’s this all about? He gets it, he gets that it’s the end of that whole trip The Rolling Stones started.

It’s a bitch, all right, and he dances a little bit his own version of the Jagger chicken. In spite of, perhaps because of his bitching and moaning, he is loved by all. He is our little Leprechaun and when Herbert Huncke shows up, they make quite a pair, trading notes on long gone queen scenes through the years from the Algonquin to the King Cole room at the St. Regis and now here downtown at Max’s. Huncke is the mascot of The Chelsea, and like a few other old Beats, like Rockets, has lived there on and off since before Kerouac died.

He has it on good authority that Mr. Jagger paid Mr. Vicious’s bail bond. Mr. John Winner seems to know everything about this dying animal rock ‘n’ roll.

Won’t Jagger be here later?

Maybe with Reed and Bowie, maybe with Iggy Pop. They’re all going to be here.

Wow Bowie! Capote exclaims. Is this the biggest show this year?

This is the only show this year.

Nancy says and she kisses Sid again in the sweet and triumphant way that has to tug at your heart. They’re so cute.

On the tour this past winter in San Francisco, he was at the party with Warhol, Richard Pryor was in fine form and made introductions introducing Mr. Vicious to different groups of people. Rockets is telling the story now.

When you got to Gene Clark and Michael Clarke The Notorious Byrd Bros., he introduced them as the last of the hippies. It was all really funny The Last of the Cosmic Cowboys.

Until Silly Sid grabs a knife which a laughing Gene Clark quickly took away. Carrying out the joke he gave Sid Vicious 20 paces.

Now Sid cuts off at a run into the yard; it was beyond the pool, one of those Malibu backyards with a lot of trees and the fence in the distance and the surf that must’ve reminded Gene Clark of Mendocino, so when Mr. Gene Clark let go of the knife, it flew in a circular pattern and hit Sid Vicious’ prize leather jacket. (it was actually a gift from DD Ramone) and pinned him against a cottonwood tree.

A mortified and laughing Sid had to take the jacket off to get away; he laughed and laughed.

When you walked into Max’s from Park Avenue South, you were pressed in the crowd of a rectangular bar with patrons on all sides, with the pyramid of bottles tall, front and center, an altar to all that was cool then Downtown.

There were brand-new paintings by patrons hastily framed with plastic wrap over the canvases by Warhol, Joe Andoe, Jasper Johns, Basquiat, you name them with track lighting, the utmost of fashion in those days.

Outside the front door were people gathered under the iconic L-shaped sign.

Where I kissed Julie for the first time, believe it or not, there was a car on fire smoldering across the street as she was leaning against the brick wall looking at me as the wind was blowing some papers in the street.

–Drew Hubner