Volume 1, Number 2 -- September, 1996

Never Mind the Bollocks...

by Dean Shutt

The Sex Pistols came to town recently. As a rule I despise concert reviews, finding them pointless at best, pathetic hatchet jobs at worst. I will review this concert though, if for no other reason than to provide a counterpoint to mainstream reviews by writers that just don't understand what the Pistols mean. That being said, this is not going to be a Pistols lovefest either. Truth be told, they were something of a letdown. I don't mean that they were disappointing musically, in that respect they were as tight as could be. They blistered through a sixty minute set that, of course, featured God Save the Queen, Anarchy in the UK and a cover of the Monkees tune Stepping Stone. I suppose they couldn't help but be disappointing. The Pistols are one the legitimate "important" bands in music history. They are legend, and as anyone who has met a legend can tell you, the reality is always a let down. The rage seems unabated after a twenty year layoff and that was always the most important component of the Pistols music. Johnny Rotten still spits the lyrics at the crowd rather than simply singing them. Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock hammer away at the songs as if trying to beat them into submission. The in-between song banter is still pure Pistols as well. They are the only performers I've ever seen that truly hate their fans. They say it in interviews, they say it in their songs and they really let you know it at their live shows. The defining moment of the show for me was when Johnny Rotten asked a member of the crowd what he had ever done in his life aside from copying Johnny.

Respect is what it all boils down to for the Pistols. They have been revered in the abstract for twenty years as the fathers of punk. Somehow, they never have received any respect in a practical sense. The Sex Pistols have always been looked upon as a group of hoodlums without musical ability whose greatest contribution to punk was getting it started and then rapidly disintegrating. The events of their previous U.S. tour seemed to bear this out. With Sid Vicious getting arrested and Johnny Rotten's famous "...ever get the feeling you were being cheated..." line at the tour's final show. They seemed to reaffirm everyone's judgment of them. They have said repeatedly that this tour is a form of closure for them (they have also said they are doing it for the money, I have a feeling that both are true) in that sense the audience is irrelevant. Of course for the Pistols and punk in general, the audience has always been considered something of a necessary evil. As a matter of fact, they would probably prefer it if you just gave them the money and didn't bother to show up at all. This is why the audience's less than crazed reaction to the show probably doesn't bother the Pistols much, they will play their songs, collect their money and go home knowing that they showed the people what punk was and is really about. Whether the people that attend can handle it or not doesn't concern the Pistols.

As I said before, the defining characteristic of the Pistols music and the punk movement they spawned, is unfocused rage. Unlike some of the bands that followed them, the Pistols do not sing political songs. To hear the lyrics to a Sex Pistols tune without the benefit of the music is to realize that they are about nothing more or less than the loss of hope. They do not sing about tearing things down to build a better society. The Pistols simply sing about tearing things down. Because to them, tearing everything down would have to be better than the way things are now. The Pistols are punk rock, it's really that simple. Whenever you hear someone talking about whether a band is punk or not, realize that what they mean is how does that band compare to the Pistols. Other bands play louder or faster or use more offensive language and images, but the Pistols still define punk. At its core, punk is distilled rage, it is a musical scream because screaming is all that you are capable of doing. Nirvana was a punk band, Nine-Inch Nails is a punk band, Alanis Morrisette is a punk, there is something that has been broken inside of these performers, something that all of the fame and all of the drugs cannot repair. The Pistols have that same broken piece. All punks in fact, have that broken piece, the difference being, most of us outgrew our youthful rage at the perceived inequities of life. This explains the somewhat lukewarm response to the Pistols and their response to the audience. We in the crowd are both jealous and saddened by the fact that we can't muster that anger any longer. They are jealous and saddened by the fact that we have been delivered from our madness. There is nothing more repulsive to a punk than the well-adjusted, they remind him that perhaps it is he that is flawed and not the world.

The Pistols have said that they won't be writing or releasing any new music to accompany this tour. I am of two minds on this. At first I thought that that was for the best, after all, forty year olds playing punk rock is one thing, forty year olds writing punk something altogether different. Now though, after seeing them perform, I am almost hoping that a new album does follow this tour. They have one more statement to make and that it won't be made with this trip. Again, that piece is still broken and they still have that rage that makes good punk rock work. With the current renaissance taking place in punk today, the Pistols are probably more needed than ever. If for no other reason than to remind everyone that punk is about the agony of knowing that you are broken and realizing that you can't do anything about it. In the final analysis I would suggest that if you loved the Pistols once you really ought to see them for what will probably be the last time. They are still the Sex Pistols, with all of the baggage that entails. Watching them, you still feel their anger coming at you in waves. The main difference is not in the band but in their audience. While their fans have long since moved on to families, careers and responsibilities. The Pistols are still tossing musical bombs at the world, still screaming at life. The Pistols are still trapped in the rage that made them such an important band in the first place. If you go to see the Pistols you will leave with the knowledge that you witnessed one of the most important groups in rock history perform live. You will see punk as it is meant to be played by the men that created it. You really can't expect them to transport you back to your youth. Then again, if you were a true punk, your youth is not the sort of place you should really care to visit.

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