Terrific and Honest Biography of the Face of UK Punk

Terrific and Honest Biography of the Face of UK Punk
Reviewer: 2bitmonkey
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Sid Vicious:
No One is Innocent
Softcover: 
288 pages
First Paperback: Edition edition
November 04, 2008
ISBN 10:
0752893661
ISBN 13:
978-0752893662

Fills in the gaps of John Simon Ritchie’s life, from his art-school days to the death of girlfriend Nancy Spungeon to his drug overdose at 21.

As far as America was concerned in 1977, the Sex Pistols were UK punk, and to hear Alan Parker tell it you would have to agree. And if the Sex Pistols were the embodiment of UK punk, Sid Vicious was the face. Parker explains how the man who wasn’t even part of the band when it began (Vicious took over on bass for Glen Matlock in 1977), and whose bass playing is only featured on at most two songs from the Sex Pistols classic debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, became one of the most legendary figures in punk rock history. Although this is the only book I’ve ever read about the Pistols or even more generally UK punk, certain shortcomings are apparent. While Parker doesn’t hold Sid in the highest esteem, he at least treats him even-handedly; that’s not the case with John Lydon, aka Sex Pistols front-man Johnny Rotten. Parker goes out of his way again and again to cast Lydon as a backstabbing friend, the man who got into the Pistols ahead of Vicious purely by chance and abandoned his former mate when Vicious needed him most. I have to believe there is another side to this story. Also, the book is a bit sloppy with its chronology and attention to detail (some dates are clearly erroneous), which isn’t a terrible sin but does make it harder to follow than it ought to be.

These are small complaints though about what otherwise is a terrific biography of a man who meant so much to so many despite perishing at 21. Parker’s excellent research and close relationship with Vicious’s mother Anne Beverley uncover a treasure trove of information about the man with many names (Vicious was born Simon John Ritchie, one of several names he’d be known by) and how he became a punk icon. We learn about his upbringing, his lack of a father figure, his trouble in school and his eventual friendship with Lydon. We hear multiple stories about how Ritchie (by then John Beverley) got the name Sid Vicious, which could be as cruel as depicting his attitude to as benign as referencing a bite he got from Lydon’s pet hamster. We learn about Sid’s joining the Pistols despite being a terrible musician, the influence of Malcolm McLaren (who writes the foreword), and how the power struggle between Lydon, Vicious and McLaren ultimately destroyed the band. And then there was the heroin. Lots and lots of heroin. Between the heroin and the destructive force that was girlfriend Nancy Spungen, Parker illustrates the downward trajectory that Sid was on that could not end anywhere else but in an early grave. The subtitle of the book is “No One Is Innocent”, and Parker means this in a very literal sense. By the time you get to the point in the book where Vicious is laid to rest, you have to feel that everyone who touched his life – along with Sid himself – is at least partially to blame.

No one is innocent in the death of Sid Vicious, but Parker wishes to make clear that at least one person is innocent in the death of Nancy Spungen. Most people believe that Vicious was responsible for the stab wound that led to Spungen bleeding to death on a bathroom floor on October 12, 1978, just months before Vicious’s own death. Not Parker. When she committed suicide in 1996, Anne Beverley left Parker a letter asking him to help clear her son’s name. (Vicious’s case never went to trial as he died while out on bail.) Parker’s goal in writing the book – and the documentary Who Killed Nancy? – was to do just that. In total, he says he conducted 182 interviews and in doing so makes a compelling case that Sid was not responsible for Nancy’s death. Like much of the book, the information could have been presented in a more organized fashion, which would have made his case better. The evidence presented by Parker is very compelling, as is the implication that a local drug addict was the actual killer. Parker is the world’s foremost expert on Vicious, and to not know the full story of Vicious is to not understand the rise and fall of punk rock, all of which makes this book a crucial read.

 

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