The Boy Looked at Johnny

James Garner 13 October 2007

“It seems the good, they die young” sang Marvin Gaye on his foreboding version of Abraham, Martin and John. That statement is of course incorrect. But what is true is that those who die young never get old. The original line-up of The Sex Pistols: Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook are old. This month is the 30th anniversary of Never Mind the Bollocks so we are getting a “small” tour; the album and its four singles are now being re-pressed rather than repressed. And we don’t care.

Well we certainly shouldn’t care. I don’t remember The Sex Pistols of 1977 having much sentimentality when it came to anniversaries. Of course some people will shell out £40 just so that they can say that they’ve seen the Pistols. Part of me would like to be able to say that too. But then I have considered that the gig will be populated predominantly by aging punks. Overweight, badly groomed and with unusually active sweat glands, the aging punk ruined many a Libertines gig. I pity the daytrippers pinballing between 5,000 of them at Brixton Academy.

Furthermore it beggars belief to compare the forthcoming performances to the incendiary shows of the Pistols first incarnation. It may be the same guys. The songs will be the same. But the songs are rendered meaningless when played by four middle aged blokes going through the motions to swell their pension funds.

“But wait,” I hear those remaining Pistols devotees say, “wasn’t the first reunion called the Filthy Lucre Tour? How punk! They’re sticking it to the fans!” Certainly John Lydon is no fool. He recognises his situation and falls over backwards trying to rationalise it to himself. What do you notice about this recent quote from him? “There’s a thin line between self-parody and ridicule.”

The answer is that both self-ridicule and self-parody are bad things. For Lydon self-parody must be a good thing because it is all he has left. Aged 51, he deals in ever more contrived anger, a teenage Peter Pan who can never grow up. Except he did. It was called Public Image Ltd. He is now perpetually caught between his two incarnations. He clearly hates having to play the punk and longs to be John Lydon. On the other hand he knows better than to bite the hand that feeds and so for a few days this year, Johnny Rotten will spit again.

Younger readers may be surprised to discover that NME stands for New Musical Express because this week they’re behind a campaign to send the “God Save the Queen” reissue to Number One. They have assembled a gamut of has-beens and never-gonna-bes to extol the virtues of the Pistols.

According to Ryan from The Cribs GSTQ is still “relevant.” While the lyric decrying the monarchy as a “fascist regime” is still as cringeworthy as ever I’m not sure that’s the same as being relevant. Instead, let’s look at the final refrain, “No future for me, no future, no future, no future for you.” Surely Johnny Rotten has ably demonstrated that there is a rather profitable future in England’s dreaming? All you need to do is write one album of raucous filler, gob on a few fans and then live off it for the rest of your days.

So, despite enjoying the quaint notion that the charts still matter, I felt the need to protest. I downloaded Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” in the hope that it can keep the Pistols off the top spot again. Consider this the official start of a TCS campaign.

The great tragedy for the remaining Pistols is that merely by breathing they are tarnishing their legacy and becoming everything they ever hated. The greatest sin for youth cultural icons is getting old. And while Cook, Matlock, Rotten and Jones may have been many times more talented than Sid Vicious, he will always eclipse them. In punk, the bad should die young.

James Garner