Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sex Pistols, Heineken Jammin’ Festival, Mestre 20/06/08

So picture the following scenario: two young school kids are talking. One says to the other: “My grandad is great! He takes me to the zoo and buys me ice-cream and toys and plays with me at home right after he takes his daily afternoon snooze. So what does your grandad do”? The other looks and says: “Oh, well, he goes around the world singing and yelling “fuck” to people who throw at him bottles, shoes, shirts, you name it on stage. He’s also one of the “fathers” of punk music”! The grandchild (could) be taking about his grandad, none other than that madman of punk rock, Johnny Rotten (his real last name is Lydon. Rotten comes from the crappy teeth he’s always had!), the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, who landed with their mayhem act in Mestre (located near Venice) at this year’s great Heineken Jammin’ Festival (loads of great beer and great chicks too!). Rotten, sans that other “saint” of punk music, Sid Vicious, was joined on stage by original band member Steve Jones on guitar and two other musicians.

The Sex Pistols formed in London in 1975. The band originally comprised singer
Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock (who was replaced by Sid Vicious). Their initial career lasted only three years and produced only four singles and one studio album, perhaps their best work, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (Never Mind the Bollocks was released on 28 October, 1977, to mixed reviews. Rolling Stone praised the album, comparing its sound to "two subway trains crashing together under 4 feet of mud, victims screaming", and applauded the band for playing "with an energy and conviction that is positively transcendent in its madness and fever").

They’ve been defined by the BBC as "the definitive English punk rock band." Their fame is due to the fact that they’ve been widely credited with initiating the punk movement in the UK and creating the first generation gap within rock and roll. Their shows and tours repeatedly faced difficulties with organisers and authorities, and public appearances often ended in mayhem. Their 1977 single "God Save the Queen” was regarded as an attack on the British Monarchy and British nationalism (no kidding! Listen to some words from that song: “God save the Queen, she ain’t no human being”!). Just imagine what Queen EII must have thought about the boys when that song was no doubt constantly played on the air-waves! More info from Wikipedia:

“The Pistols' second single, "God Save the Queen”, was released on 27 May, 1977. Though widely perceived as a personal attack on Queen Elizabeth II, Rotten later stated that the song was not aimed at her specifically, but was instead intended to critique the deference given to royalty in general. However, the perceived disrespect to the monarchy caused widespread public outcry. The record was banned from airplay by the BBC, whose Radio 1 dominated music broadcasting. Rotten later remarked, "We had declared war on the entire country—without meaning to!" During the week of Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, the single reached number one in the NME chart, but only number two in the official UK chart. Many suspected that the data had been massaged, believing that the record had actually qualified for the top spot, but that the charts had been rigged to prevent a spectacle. At least one radio station announced the song at number one, but refused to play it, as they had been advised it might incite disruptions of the national celebration”.

Vicious eventually died of a heroin overdose in February, 1979 (he had also been apparently involved in the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, a drug addict and occasional prostitute from New York with a history of severe emotional problems). Another classy guy as Vicious was found in a hospital, having carved the words "Gimme a fix" in his chest with a razor! In 2006 the Sex Pistols were inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they refused to attend the ceremony, calling the museum "a piss stain".

That evening in Mestre they naturally played their major hits such as “Pretty Vacant” (pronounced in such a way as part of the second song sounds like the word “cunt”!), “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.”. Anarchy served as “a statement of intent—full of wit, anger and visceral energy. Despite a common perception that punk bands couldn't play their instruments, contemporary music press reviews and live recordings reveal the Pistols to have been a tight, competent and ferocious live band”. And naturally for all the kids present, their performance was a catalysts for pushing, shoving and throwing water around (we naturally got showered and pushed too).

Rotten hadn’t, at age 52, given up his old ways in Mestre as he was still squirming and making faces on stage, including showing off his chest and slight pot-belly! But just to give you an idea of the mood that evening (and where the Pistols come from!), here’s what Jones had been up to in 1976 on a programme in England. The episode naturally created massive publicity for the band. “Appearing as last-minute replacements for fellow EMI artists
Queen, band and entourage took full advantage of the green room facilities, and consumed significant amounts of alcohol. During the interview, Rotten used the word "shit", and host Bill Grundy, who was apparently drunk at the time, flirted openly with Siouxsie Sioux: "We'll meet afterwards, shall we?" This prompted the following exchange between the host and Steve Jones:

Jones: You dirty sod. You dirty old man.
Grundy: Well keep going chief, keep going. Go on. You've got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.
Jones: You dirty bastard.
Grundy: Go on, again.
Jones: You dirty fucker.
Grundy: What a clever boy.
Jones: What a fucking rotter.

But more would happen as one day they were about to board a a plane at London Heathrow Airport. The band reportedly spat on each other and verbally abused airport staff. "One witness claimed the Sex Pistols were doing something so disgusting that she could not repeat it for publication ... it became generally believed Jones had been vomiting on old ladies in the preflight lounge," reported Rolling Stone. EMI released the band from their contract two days later. "I don't understand it," Rotten remarked at the time. "All we're trying to do is destroy everything."
And speaking of alcohol, every time Rotten went to start in with a song in Mestre, he’d go to his drummer, pick up a bottle of whisky, have a sip and gargle with it! At times he’d even spit it out, indeed a really classy kind of guy!

An honour having seen Sex Pistols as they directly inspired the style, and often the formation itself, of many punk and post-punk bands during their brief existence, such as
The Clash and Siouxsie & The Banshees who are among those in London's "inner circle" of early punk bands that credit the Pistols. On 4 June 1976, still early in their career, the Sex Pistols performed to a crowd of around 40 people at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. It was to become one of the most important and mythologized events in rock history. In addition to the groups they directly inspired, the Sex Pistols influenced many later bands as well. Among those who have acknowledged their debt to the Pistols are Nirvana, NOFX, Oasis, Green Day, Venom and Guns N' Roses.

Finally, in 1997,
paleontologists Jonathan M. Adrain and Gregory D. Edgecombe named a series of fossil trilobite species in honour of the Pistols' members: Arcticalymene rotteni, A. jonesi, A. cooki, A. matlocki and A. viciousi. Looking at some pics of Rotten, the paleontologists got it certainly right…(all pics by M. Rimati).

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