Tuesday, July 24, 2012

London's Burning: True Adventures on the Front Lines of Punk, 1976-1977 by Dave Thompson (Chicago Review Press 2009)

Somebody—I don’t know who, but they didn’t look impressed—pointed out Siouxsie Sioux, the dominatrix-clad queen of a gang of fashion horses known to themselves as the Bromley Contingent, über-followers of the Pistols machine, who were fast garnering as much notoriety as the band itself. Someone else nodded pityingly toward a beanstalk by the stage, leaping up and down on the spot and clearly in danger of crashing through the ceiling. Muted by the din of the band, you could lip-read their contempt nevertheless.

“Look at that idiot.”

I looked. I knew him. Bev . . . John Beverley . . . lived in Finsbury Park, close by the station where I swapped my bus ride for the tube. A total Bowie nut, which is why a mutual friend introduced us, he enjoyed nothing better than a lager-fueled argument over which of the master’s songs was the best. Neither, at the time, did I. But whereas I was willing to change my opinion, depending upon what kind of mood I was in, Bev was unyielding.

“‘We Are the Dead’?” I would suggest.

“Fuck off! ‘Rebel Rebel.’”

“‘Drive In Saturday’?”

“‘Rebel Rebel.’”

“‘Cygnet Committee’?”

“I said, Fuck off!” And so it would go on until Bev fucked off, usually lured away by one or other of the pimply weasels who’d renamed him Sid, but who themselves were also named John: Wardle, who was sufficiently pear-shaped to be rechristened Wobble; Gray, who was anonymous enough that his surname already suited him; and Lydon, who was now up onstage with the Pistols, flashing the teeth that first gave him his nom de guerre. Sometimes you wondered what Bev saw in them. He hated it when they called him Sid, he hated it even more when they added the surname Vicious. And it was pretty obvious that his main attraction to them was to see how many outrageous stunts they could prompt him to rush into, simply by reminding him what a “great laugh” he was, and letting his overdeveloped need for attention to take over.

But he never shrugged them off, and you saw less and less of Bev these days, and more and more of Sid Vicious. One day, a few worried friends prophesied, Bev would vanish altogether and Sid would take over completely. Tonight, for sure, Sid was in total control, bouncing up and down on the dance floor, grinning wildly at the noise that his mates were making, and utterly oblivious to the fact that whatever rhythm he was hearing in his head was inaudible to everyone else in the room. Somebody said it looked like he was riding a pogo stick. Somebody else thought it looked like fun. The next time you saw the Sex Pistols, half the audience would be doing it.

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