It’s 30 years, almost to the day, since the man who is considered to be the ultimate British punk icon, Sid Vicious, passed away. I’m sure many will rush to pay tribute. But I’m not going to be adding to the deluge of sentimental claptrap, and I’d like to explain why.
I was only six when Vicious died on February 2, 1979 from a heroin overdose, but do recall hearing my parents talking about his ‘inevitable’ demise at the age of 21. I think it’s fair to say they weren’t fans.
Shortly afterwards, the Sex Pistols’ cover of Eddie Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody’, sung by Vicious, was a big hit. Because of this, I assumed he’d always been the singer – and the video, in which he rode a motorbike while mouthing the lyrics was the coolest thing I’d ever seen at that early point in my life. The fact he was no longer of this earth only added to the allure.
When I was at high school in the late Eighties, I remember Vicious coming back into my world, as his life became a regular topic of conversation among teenagers learning their rock history – his impact was discussed in the same way that Kurt Cobain’s is now. By that point the bassist had acquired an almost mythical status, a shining example of what could be achieved with a guitar, some nice threads, and a rebellious sneer.
But he had something else in common with Cobain – namely that he was a hopeless junkie. Worse that that, he was also notoriously violent. He launched an unprovoked attack on NME journalist Nick Kent with a bicycle chain and also is reported by many onlookers (including close friends) to have badly hurt a female fan at a Damned gig after he hurled a pint glass in the air and it shattered in the poor girl’s face.
And, of course, he very probably killed his girlfriend. Then, while out on remand after being charged with Nancy Spungen’s killing, he launched an attack on Patti Smith’s brother Todd, landing himself back in jail.
You could perhaps understand people’s eagerness to overlook these crimes if Sid was a towering musical genius. After all, critics are more than willing to overlook the personal failings of, say, John Lennon or Keith Moon (or indeed Kurt Cobain). But Vicious possessed no discernible talent, and only replaced the relatively uncontroversial Glen Matlock as bassist in the band because, as Pistols boss Malcolm McLaren said : “If Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude”.
Yeah, but what a pathetic, sad, empty and ultimately tragic attitude. There’s a romanticism attached to his life nowadays that just doesn’t tally with the grubby, sordid reality. A lot of rubbish is written about punk rock, and the deification of Vicious is right there at the pinnacle.