28 January 1978. I can place myself precisely 0.6 miles apart from Sid Vicious. That’s 3,168 ft. I was above the Lord’s Taverners Pub in North West London having my Bar Mitzvah party while Sid was just down the road at 3 Pindock Mews being filmed in bed with Nancy Spungen. I was wearing my yarmulke, he was wearing his swastika t-shirt. I was slow dancing to Mull of Kintyre, he was a mumbling semi-conscious wreck. I looked like a twat, he looked cool as fuck. I was being told that I had my whole life ahead of me, he knew deep down that his would be coming to an end sooner rather than later. The Sex Pistols had just split-up, his boyhood was nothing more than a hollow, distant memory and the Vicious spitting image that he’d become had no intention of changing lifestyle. How could he? He clung to it for dear death. According to Jewish law, I was supposed to miraculously transform from a boy into a man that night, but considering the profound thrill I still get from my close proximity to Sid Vicious that night 36 years ago, it is a transformation that has yet to occur.
For those of us who were biblically touched by John Simon Richie’s brief life and sneering opus, fixing someone’s stare while slicing chunks out of ourselves with a broken bottle will always feel like a far more natural way of expressing ourselves than anything you could possibly achieve with words. That or pumping death-defying quantities of booze and drugs into our bodies. As I approached writing this article, I have to admit I momentarily considered both options to help my cause.
I never met him, never experienced his humor, charisma and predilection for violence first hand, but I always felt I knew him well, felt we shared certain indelible question marks and that unscratchable itch for infamy and oblivion. My greatest wish was to have been able to stand shoulder to shoulder with him through the eye of that extraordinary revolution and my greatest fear is that I wouldn’t have had the bottle to handle it.
Living with Sid still kicking around my head after all these years can take its toll. If I obsess about him too much on any particular day, I get more bewildered than usual by the grown up world that I never anticipated having to face. It makes me pine for the days when simply wearing a t-shirt proclaiming him dead said everything about me that I wished to convey to society at large. My ‘Sid Vicious Dead’ t-shirt completed me in a way I’ve rarely felt since. As a fourteen-year-old, I had a picture of Sid injecting heroin hidden underneath my mattress along with my Derek and Clive (Live) album and a couple of well worn Whitehouse magazines. Being adopted, I could even take my obsession one step further and fantasise about being his long-lost little brother. That would have given me the dubious privilege of eating my rusks while watching him and Mum shoot up speed together at the kitchen table.
Back in 1974, John Simon Richie was a north-east London working class odd-ball waiting for something to happen. A clothes hound and Bowie nut, he was to be the first of the four Johns (himself, Lydon, Grey and Wardle) to venture up to Chelsea, walk into Malcolm McLaren’s shop on King’s Road and like a juvenile delinquent Mr Benn, introduce himself to the man in the Fez. Would he have died a young man if he hadn’t made that pilgrimage? Quite possibly. He already liked injecting drugs and, according to Jah Wobble, had talked about suicide well before the fucked up fairy tale began. Chances are he’d have been gleefully drawn to punk’s visceral nihilism whether he and his mates had invented it or not. Divinely, ironically and spitefully named after his best mate’s hamster, Sid Vicious was to become John Simon Richie’s savior and killer, and punk rock’s most enduring icon.
He was Sid Vicious for about as long as David Bowie was Ziggy Stardust but, unlike Ziggy, his creator’s name won’t be remembered. As an obsessive fan, I barely knew it myself for years and even now I’m unsure if I’ve got it right: John Simon Richie, John Simon Beverley, Simon Richie, Simon Beverly… ‘Sid’ solved all that confusion, for him and for us. Unlike Ziggy, Sid wasn’t the product of huge ambition, craft and guile, quite the opposite in fact. His was a spontaneous mutation and mutilation, a fated and fucked up collision of youth and music. A psychotic fan at the wheel, he gave us his vain, volatile and vanquished adolescence on a plate, in all its gory glory. In the history of rock n roll, Sid Vicious was the natural order of things. Dave Davies of The Kinks used a razor blade to slice the inner speaker of his guitar amp in a desperate attempt to find a sound that communicated the frustration, rage and brazen defiance that inhabited his young soul. Sid sliced “Gimme a Fix” into his chest for much the same reasons.
His nose for trouble was eagerly indulged by the grown ups orchestrating the chaos around him. During a spell in borstal in the Autumn of ‘76, Vivienne Westwood sent him a book on Charles Manson to keep him company. The following spring when it was announced to the world that this kamikaze face on the London punk scene would be joining the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren boasted that it was the act of lacerating a journalists head open with a bike chain that got him the nod. What tepid and conservative times we live in by comparison. Kids didn’t tweet their idols back then, they gobbed at them. When John Simon Richie got himself banned from the 100 Club after a succession of violent incidents there, his Mum went down to the venue and begged for her son to be allowed back in. My Mum did the same thing for me when I got kicked out of the Cubs for scrapping.
Every desperate, self-inflicted wound on John Simon Richie’s puny body became iconic and heroic on Sid’s. The more chaotic and harrowing his life would become, the more celebrated and infamous his downfall and death would be. When I think of how protective I am about the physical and mental well-being of my own 21-year-old son, or when I see the silhouette of John Lydon sobbing at the loss of his young friend in The Filth and The Fury, I know I’m romanticising the utterly unromantic. Shame on me. But I can’t help it. Sid was the first ‘man’ I ever wanted to be. I did try to be a Johnny in later life, but alas, I was always a Sid. The kid took it full in the face and didn’t flinch, and my God did he look good. A (Rabbit) padlock around his neck was all he needed. A fucking padlock. Effortless. This goofy, funny and somewhat forlorn teenager rose from the beer sodden dance floors of London to join his beloved Sex Pistols, the greatest rock n’ roll band of them all. He then proceeded to destroy them, his soul mate and finally himself, like only a doomed lover and a deranged junkie could.
Did John Simon Richie pay the ultimate price or claim the ultimate prize? As a 49-year-old family man, I’m slightly reluctant to give you an honest answer. I’m also slightly reluctant to bring up Peter Pan because he’s not really a character I’ve ever cared for. However, I recently took my 11-year-old up to Stratford for his birthday to see the RSC’s production of Wendy & Peter and as the show neared its end and I sat there not really feeling it, Peter Pan looked down at Wendy and said with doleful innocence “I’d just like to have fun.” I blubbed. Spew-reka! That’s exactly what Sid said in his final heart-breaking interview, just before saying that he wanted to be “under the ground.” Which just so happens to be where Peter Pan lives. So there you have it, as I approach fifty years of age, Sid Vicious and Peter Pan are beginning to press the same buttons. Bollocks to that. Maybe it’s time to grow up...