When Americans think about The Sex Pistols, in the rare event that we ever do, we think of spikey hair, rude behavior, and Sid Vicious killing Nancy and then dying young himself.
The Sex Pistols’ music gets lost in the shuffle. And it shouldn’t. The band had a few fantastic songs.
There has never been a political song as brilliant as “Bodies.” I think it’s on par with “Imagine.” “Bodies” is, if you can believe it, a passionate, profane anti-abortion punk song.
To be clear, I am not anti-abortion. But I am opposed to rock songs that take obvious, popular stances on political issues. It’s like: “you’re against the War on Terror, Green Day? Yeah, me, too. You’re right. But now you’re also self-righteous and boring.” I would rather an artist be wrong and interesting than correct and dumb.
“Bodies” is anything but boring and dumb. It is a vivid, graphic song about the visceral horrors of surgically ending a pregnancy. The chorus is from the perspective of the dying fetus.
This is an intense and brave concept for a pop song. On a number one hit album to boot. Can you imagine if Harry Styles or Adele had an anti-abortion song? You can’t. The Sex Pistols were explosively unique.
Even their beginning was unique, according to “Pistol.” The show introduces us to husband and wife entrepreneurs Malcolm McLaren and Vivian Westwood. When the story begins, they already have their own designer clothing store in London called “Sex.” And they’re dreaming of more.
McLaren wants to manage a rock band of “sexy young assassins” and Vivian Westwood wants to dress them. McLaren sees something in Steve Jones: a good-looking juvenile delinquent who tries to shoplift from his store.
“Pistol” is based on the novel “Lonely Boy” by Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and the show is from his point of view.
Most of the Sex Pistols grew up in loving, supportive homes. But not Steve. His passive mother left him in the care of his abusive stepfather. By his own admission, his miserable upbringing made him unreliable, emotionally unavailable, and easy to exploit. When Malcolm McLaren shows him a little kindness, poor Steve becomes his loyal puppy dog.
The band was going nowhere in 1975. Things suddenly changed when intense oddball Johnny Rotten took over as frontman and lyricist.
The singer immediately brought charisma and intellectual focus to the band. His first rehearsal – where he sings The Stooges’ “No Fun” even though he doesn’t know the lyrics – is magical. It gave me chills.
The pairing of Johnny Rotten’s biting wit and McLaren’s shameless hype-machine propelled The Sex Pistols to the top of the UK charts.
Apparently, the real Johnny Rotten was opposed to the making of this mini-series. This is an odd and disappointing reaction because “Pistol” makes him look terrific.
His captivating stage presence was undeniable. But the show presents him as a surprisingly decent human being offstage. Apparently, Johnny Rotten was sober, moral, and mature – as well being the only member of the band to immediately recognize Malcolm McClaren’s exploitation.
Indeed, “Pistol” is a little cowardly when it comes to presenting The Sex Pistols as outrageous as they really were. The show all but removes their fantastic song “New York” from the historical record.
In “New York,” Johnny Rotten devastatingly takes down The New York Dolls, the band that Malcolm McClaren used to manage. It’s a personal insult, it’s mean, it’s totally unfair, and it’s hysterical. It was censored out of “Pistol,” however, because Johnny Rotten uses the F-word. The really offensive F-word that no one’s allowed to use now.
I loved “Pistol” and devoured the series in a week. But, to be fair, I don’t strongly recommend it. It’s not brilliantly written and there aren’t any amazing characters.
The only reason to watch if you’re not already a punk fan is that it will introduce you to the music of The Sex Pistols. “Holidays in the Sun,” “New York,” and especially “Bodies” are among the most original, intense, and offensive songs in rock and roll history.
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