Putting the “Sex” in Sex Pistols
Do you feel uncomfortable when two people start making out in front of you? What if it’s two guys? What if it’s two members of the Sex Pistols, the punk rock band that shook up the stale music scene in the mid-’70s?
Steve Jones [link is to his bestselling memoir, Lonely Boy] and Glen Matlock [link is to his new album, Consequences Coming] got hot and heavy when I interviewed them backstage at a festival in 2002, groping each other and engaging in bawdy banter while I tried to ask deep questions. It was my own version of The Bill Grundy Show, when Jones called the band’s drunken inquisitor a “dirty fucker” on live British television in 1976. I chalked up my experience to a pair of straight guys taking the piss. That’s what middle-aged Englishmen do.
I’d been allotted a few minutes to talk with them during the one-off Inland Invasion punk rock festival at a 65,000-seat amphitheater in a remote desert hellhole 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The Sex Pistols, making their first U.S. performance since their 1996 reunion tour, headlined a bill that included Blink 182, the Offspring, Pennywise, Bad Religion, and veteran acts like the Damned and the Buzzcocks. Matlock and Jones were joined by drummer Paul Cook and irascible singer Johnny Rotten, who made sure to tell the crowd that “no fucking way” did the band have anything to do with the event’s corporate sponsors.
I met Rotten, born John Lydon, once, and that was an accident. It was a summer evening in 1993. He was at the King’s Head, a pub favored by homesick British expats in the coastal community of Santa Monica, when I walked in with a buddy. The place was packed apart from an empty table conveniently next to where Rotten was sitting with two pals. My buddy and I bought beers, headed over to the table, and chatted amongst ourselves. I soon caught Rotten’s eye and we talked amiably about beer. He then introduced himself as “John,” and one of his cronies, one of them being his brother “Martin Rotten.” I pretended not to know who he was, and I think he enjoyed the anonymity of being another Englishman out for a pint.
But it was all too much for me. This was a guy I’d worshiped in high school during the early ’80s, long after the Sex Pistols first broke up. So when I excitedly blew cover, the conversation took some weird turns. Rotten said he didn’t like me (cool!) and that I was gay (not so cool). He launched into a diatribe about how he didn’t want to be linked to any movement, including punk, and for some reason revealed that he had just got some free Nikes.
I would have followed up, but a big-breasted woman (his wife?) came over and they split. Martin tried to take his glass of beer out of the pub, but the bouncer hauled him back inside and the party hung around sheepishly at the door while he finished his drink. Rotten had wisely left his half-full Guinness at the table and I finished it off like I was drinking a magic potion. All I got was a bad cold a few days later.
(So did Steve and Glen make out? Buy Strange Days here to see what happened next.)
Copyright 2023. Dean Goodman. All Rights Reserved.