Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ARTICLE: "When the Two Sevens Clash: A Tribute to Sid Vicious (1957-79)"

"When the Two Sevens Clash: Tribute to Sid Vicious"
by: Kieran James

For the many Jamaican followers of the Rastifarian religion the year "1977" was much look forward to as a mystical time of rebirth. 1977 was the year important to Rastifarians because it was when the two sevens clashed. By the period 1974-76 many Jamaican Rastifarians had left the home country and were adding much needed colour, noise, laughter, warmth, and cool beats to the dull grey streets of West and North London suburbs such as Camden Town, Notting Hill, and Ladbroke Grove. The black West Indian Don Letts ran clothing store "Acme Attractions" in Chelsea, West London as a rival to the "SEX" shop run on the King's Road by Malcolm Mclaren and Vivian Westwood. After the Jamaican "Notting Hill Carnival" in West London in that hot long-ago English summer of 1976, 400 black youths fought running street battles against the racist British police force. In that nearly 100% black crowd of rioters were three young skinny and pale looking white boys - Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of The Clash and their mate Sid Vicious (1957-79) later to become the bass player for the Sex Pistols and a dead legend. Punk rock was bringing to fulfillment the Rasta promise of renewal and harmony in the year when the two sevens clash.

A year ago I was visiting my good mate Bligh G in the cold mountain town of Armidale (Population 20,000) in the Australian countryside between Sydney and Brisbane. We entered the quiet New England Hotel one night. Bligh used to work there and while he was talking to the manager one stranger sitting next to me asked me: "what was Sid Vicious' real name?" Wow, cool question! I thought this must be a great pub. Of course I answered "Simon John Ritchie, but he was also known as John Simon Beverley". Unlike private schoolboy and son of a career public servant and diplomat Joe Strummer, Sid Vicious grew up in the depressing and horrible working-class council flats of 1970s London. His life was always a hard life and he had no positive role models or influences. He did not know his father. As a 16-year-old, just before the punk era, he would shoot up heroin with his druggie mother at home in their flat. His life is a tragic one. He was known to have tortured cats in the council flats.

In the early days of punk in 1976 Sid was just another face in the crowd when bands such as The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned played those famous punk venues such as the 100 Club in Soho,West London. Sid invented the "pogo dance"of jumping up and down in the crowd to get a better view. At this time the Sex Pistols line-up was Johnny Rotten (vocals), Steve Jones (guitar), Glen Matlock (bass), and Paul Cook (drums). The first Pistols gig was on 6 November 1975 at St Martin's School of Art, 109 Charing Cross Road in West London where Matlock was studying as an art student. Sid was believed to have thrown a beer glass at the face of a music journalist at the 100 Club but this was never proven to have been Sid. At the start of punk Sid was just a  fan and perhaps he should be remembered as just a fan. He was at the gigs each night in the early era of punk - 1976 - and he was a good friend of the guys in the Pistols and the guys in The Clash.

Unfortunately a hostility developed between Pistols' vocalist Johnny Rotten (real name John Joseph Lydon, the son of first-generation Irish working-class immigrants who lived in the then mainly Irish area of Finsbury Park, North London near Arsenal's football stadium) and Glen Matlock. Rotten thought Matlock was a "mummy's boy". Matlock had a 1970s mop-top hairstyle, he had a close relationship with his mother, and he liked The Beatles. Rotten thought all three of these things were "unpunk" and "uncool". Rotten and band manager Malcolm McLaren (RIP) conspired to remove Matlock from The Pistols and replace him with Sid Vicious. This was a foolish decision because Matlock could write songs and play bass but Sid could do neither. The Sex Pistols found it very hard to write new songs after Matlock left. The only songs they had were those from the debut album (written primarily by Matlock with lyrics written by Rotten) and two or three new ones such as "Belsen was a Gas".

On the band's American tour Sid had to be constantly watched because he was often running away to score drugs. This was very tiring for the band and management. He scared one tough American southern guy at a truck stop by cutting his hand with a knife and then eating a hamburger with his hand dripping blood. Even the toughest American southern guys could not compete with such a crazy London druggie punk as Sid. Sid then met American girlfriend Nancy Spungeon and she encouraged his crazy behavior and they took drugs together. She praised his terrible singing and he became more detached from reality.

Nancy Spungeon & Sid Vicious, NYC
Nancy and Sid moved into the Chelsea Hotel  in New York City and the arguments and drug taking got worse and worse. By this time The Pistols had split up and Sid was bored. Nancy was stabbed to death one early morning at the Chelsea Hotel. Sid was arrested for the crime. However, he died of a heroin overdose aged 22 before the murder trial could take place. Many people think he was innocent. There is no evidence to prove he was guilty. An angry drug dealer is a more likely murderer. Scottish punk band The Exploited wrote the song "Sid Vicious was Innocent". 

Indonesian music has its own Sid Vicious figure, Agung, the former vocalist for Death Vomit, who died of drugs aged 22 the same age as Sid. One night (13 October 2011) in a hamburger bar in Yogya I talked with Death Vomit bassist Oki Haribowo about Agung while manager Corna Irawan listened in. Oki does not have a Facebook page and is a hard man to contact so when he talks I listen with respect. Oki said Agung was a "death-metal guy who lived the death-metal life". Agung used to scold Oki for not taking the band seriously enough. Oki was sad and softly spoken as he talked and Corna added some comments. Our deep conversation ended when the burgers arrived. Sid too was a "punk guy who lived the punk rock life". First of all he was just a fan during that great year when punk changed the world. Perhaps he should always be remembered as "just a fan". He made mistakes but he suffered a terrible childhood and he had no good role models. He was a product of the broken and heartless Britain which people like Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, and Wattie Buchan sang about in their songs. He was a product of our society and "just another council tenancy". Those who knew him said he was a gentle guy who had a kind heart but he lacked self-confidence. He ruined the Sex Pistols because he could not play bass or write songs but McLaren and Rotten must be blamed for hiring him. Sid can't be blamed for joining. Sid's name will be remembered for as long as the history of punk is remembered. May he have the peace in death he never achieved in life. If you see his ghost on the streets of West London or perhaps in New York City don't forget to send him my best regards. God Bless you Mr Ritchie! 

By Kieran James.

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