Behind Closed Doors

This interview was printed in the New Musical Express on February 4th, 1978. It was conducted the month before in January, shortly after Sid returned from the Sex Pistols' ill-fated American tour, which was also filmed for Lech Kowalski's 1981 documentary "DOA: A Right of Passage".

SWAYING crazily, Sid Vicious clambers up off the bed. He manages the three or four steps to where, obeying live-in-lover Nancy's instructions, he removes the 'God Save the Queen' tablecloth from the top of the colour TV and turns to his visitor. He doesn't appear to notice that he should first have removed the two glasses of fresh orange juice resting on top of the cloth. They tumble down the front of the TV set and onto the carpet.

In another corner of the room, Nancy is experiencing her own problems. Almost frantically she opens a wardrobe and tugs at the handles of a chintzy white, mock-Louis Quinze drawer.

Suddenly Nancy's kneeling there on the carpet, the handles and the front panel of the drawer having come away in her hands.

Looking just a little baffled, she glances up at me from the floor, "I take a lot of brandy," her New York accent shrills.

"Pour a small one for Sid and a big one for me. Sid's not supposed to drink. Otherwise he'll die."

* * * * *

I THINK I know what must've happened.

In fact, when Sid got stoned in the afternoon it must've seemed a really great idea to ring up the NME and offer an exclusive Sid-Tells-All interview. After all, it was really good stuff apparently. Good enough to make you forget you'd only had eight hours sleep in the past four days, and that you were completely strung out on nervous exhaustion following that OD on the flight from San Francisco to New York, and that anyway you'd got such a bad cold as a result of your lung infection that, like some wonderful stroke of McLaren-ite symbolism, your voice really did sound much of the time like a death rattle. So much so, indeed, that there are moments during The Interview (sic) when this reporter has a twinge of bad conscience about his persistent questioning, as though perhaps he's being disrespectful to the dead.

Sid's not going to die, though. You've just heard that. Nancy's going to look after him. Even though they didn't splice the knot like they promised the Home Office they would, so Nancy - an American - could stay in this country, she's going to stick around and care for him. Sid's okay so long as Nancy's around, Nancy repeats several times.

Oooooops!!! Sid's just put a caramel in his mouth. He's shut his eyes. His mouth has opened. The caramel has fallen out. Nancy is picking it up off the black sheets on the bed they're both slumped on. With an affectionate "You are a disgusting pig" she jams it back into Sid's still open mouth and pushes his jaw shut.

Actually, before we get on to the expected Pistols line of questioning, maybe we should have a word or two about the Sid 'n' Nancy relationship. After all, this is probably just as valid in explaining The Split as J. Rotten having turned into an unbearable prima donna, which is what will shortly be claimed.

At first, Sid 'n' Nancy do seem just like cartoon characters. In fact, seeing Nancy sprawled out on the bed watching TV and nagging away at Sid to stop nodding out and to at least have the decency to answer the guy's questions because you invited him over here, it seems that maybe it's only her black leather and rubber outfit that prevent her from being seen as the cliched US home-mate she really is. All she needs to complete the picture are a few copies of Modern Screen to add to the box of candies beside her.

After a while, though, the scene becomes clearer. Despite the times Sid has rammed Nancy's head into assorted pieces of masonry they still really love each other. In fact, the public beatings they inflict on each other are just the ultimate Sex Pistolian extension of the relationship enjoyed by couples bound together by their mutual loathing, and in whose company everyone else is embarrassed by their constant bickering whilst the pair themselves really get off on it. You must know a couple like that.

Similarly with Sid's apparent masochism. He denies that his practice of occasionally gouging chunks out of his body is, as has been suggested, at all sexual in origin. Just as the beatings inflicted on Nancy are also probably not of a sexual nature.

In fact, it's closer to post-adolescent angst, like the time you might have been close to biting a hole right through your hand when you couldn't answer any of the questions on your chemistry paper - and, more to the point, you couldn't even figure out why you should be expected to have to answer any of them. So when life as a Pistol, which once again is a real extreme, gets a little too confusing, Sid reacts by whipping out a blade and shoving it into his arm.

The cuts on his hand appeared, he says, when he became blood brothers with the Pistols US road crew.

"Everything else is done," he says, "when I get so annoyed over something that I need an enemy - somebody who's done something to me - so that I can take it out on them and beat them to pulp.

"And I always find I'm sitting in a room with a load of friends and I can't do anything to them, so I just go upstairs and smash a glass and cut myself. And then I feel better."

It also seems that Sid is not, as has been sometimes suggested, lacking in brain power. On the contrary it appears there is such a torrent of unchanneled mental activity in the Vicious upstairs that he is constantly connecting with new and even more tormenting demons. The drug abuse doesn't help, of course, but then legally prescribed valium can screw your head up just as much as anything you score in the street.

Incidentally, The Clash's Mick Jones, a man of discriminating suss, lived with Sid for a short while. He describes him as "really sharp". So there.

* * * * *

MEANWHILE BACK in a west London mews cottage...

Before we get started it might be worth saying that Sid has no intention whatsoever of playing in the Sex Pistols ever again. Indeed, he and Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders (The Heartbreakers apparently having split up - see Thrills) are seriously considering forming a band together.

If Sid 'n' Nancy do not go to New York to live, as is currently under consideration, they will no doubt continue to live in their mews cottage, and it's worth mentioning - just so everything is out in the open, as it were - that although the seven-year lapse on the cottage was brought with Sid's money it is held not in his name but in that of Sophie Richmond, Malcolm McLaren's secretary. This was because they knew they'd never get anywhere in their own family name of Vicious, and no doubt the affair was carried out with all due probity.

Sid is still a little miffed that the Pistols were never on a higher wage than £60 a week, and although he and the others would be bought whatever they wanted in the way of stereos, colour TV's and the like, Sid says they'd rather have the money in their hands to go and buy it for themselves.

He's also a little miffed that he hasn't yet seen any royalty statements, but these things do always take time, of course.

Besides, the McLaren anarchic spirit would no doubt ensure that everything was handled with all due forthrightness, and Sid does say that Malcolm's really helping him out at the moment.

* * * * *

OKAY: ROLL IT!

Reporter: "Sid, perhaps you can expand on what was written in last week's Thrills where it was said that you and Malcolm both decided you'd had enough of the band on a car ride out of San Francisco airport. Perhaps you could say exactly what it was that decided you on that."

Sid: (Pause) "What was the question again? I'm sorry. I'm really tired."

Nancy: "Sid! WAKE UP, willya. You gave the guy an interview AND NOW YOU'RE FUCKING SLEEPING!"

Sid: "You know, I said to you, 'if this American tour doesn't work out...' I decided that..." (Sid takes a small nap)

Nancy (elbowing Sid in the ribs): "He told me that if John didn't straighten out on this American tour then he was going to quit." (A further elbowing in the ribs) "NOW GO ON!"

Sid opens his mouth into the shape of assorted words several times.

Nancy: "We can't understand a word you're saying, Sid. Take some cough syrup. (To me) He's got a really bad throat. He's been very sick."

Sid musters his energies (almost pleadingly): "Well do you know what I mean? Will you tell him?"

Nancy delivers a diatribe against John Rotten. Her critical appraisal compares him to "a piece of shit". She also, speaking by proxy for Sid as she constantly reminds me, complains about Rotten's "nigger-wop skank dancing", bitches that he no longer put anything into his stage performances (a justified criticism going on the evidence of a recent UK gig I witnessed), that his clothes were horrible and that he'd become so paranoid he believed gangsters were following him around.

"But," she concludes, "it'd be better if you told him, Sid, because you were in the group."

"I think," Sid manfully attempts speech, "Malcolm's completely finished with the lot of them. As far as I can ascertain... (he almost nods out) ...as far as I can ascertain... he's really helping me a lot."

You've talked to Malcolm since you came back?

Nancy: "Yeah."

Sid: (Indecipherable)

Nancy: "TALK LOUDER."

Sid (almost tearfully): "I'm so glad I'm out of that group."

Okay, Sid, stay awake now. Tell me: was it just John Rotten that, in your opinion, was wrong with the group? Or was there More in your opinion wrong with the group? Than Meets The Eye?

"It wasn't only John... we were so untogether. We hadn't played for so long that they lost all enthusiasm. And I lost mine for them.

"Do you remember that gig when Matlock was in the group at the Screen On The Green? I was with The Flowers Of Romance then. After the gig we went home - Viviane Albertine from The Slits and The Clash as well - we said: 'There's just no point in being in a band. We might as well give up because that show tonight was just so fucking incredible.' And now I'm very pleased that it's all finished. And after 'Bodies' we hadn't written no new songs. And can I have some spray?"

Sid takes mammoth hits off an inhaler, which presumably he has for his lung condition.

Fortified, he continues: "I'll tell you exactly what happened, right? I was staying with some friends in San Francisco. Malcom phoned me and told me he was coming round in a cab..." Though his lips are still moving, the actual vocals have disappeared into an inaudible whisper.

"WAKE UP!"

"And then we discussed JR... inaudible ...Malcolm said John was becoming like Robert Plant. Just behaving like an idiot."

Nancy: "He was just becoming like Rod Stewart."

Sid (self-parodyingly?): "Hey, I could be Rod Stewart."

* * * * *

I REMIND Sid that a couple of months back he'd told Nick Kent he thought the Pistols were "the greatest band in the universe". Had he changed his mind about that or was he just unable to work with them?

Sid nods off. Nancy awakens him with a kiss.

Sid sighs: "I'm sorry I'm like this but I'm a bit out of my brain. I haven't slept for about four days."

Well, let's forget that one and try again: Did you dislike what the Pistols finally came to stand for?

"Yeah. But that's basically down to John, because he was what the Pistols were all about."

I must say, Sid, this state you're in does seem to exemplify what's been said about your being the next candidate for the rock 'n' roll mortuary. Obviously you know people say that about you?

Sid is unable to reply because he's in the process of nodding out again.

Retrieving Sid's cigarette from where he's put it down on the sheets, Nancy takes over for a while.

She tells me that Sid is totally exhausted because he's been working so hard. He was, she claims, the only Pistol who turned up for rehearsals three or four months back when the band was supposed to have been practicing.

"Sid, you're even snoring now!!! Wake up! JESUS CHRIST!!!"

She also tells me that Sid wrote "four or five tunes" and that the other Pistols wouldn't even listen to them.

Sid wakes up. Managing to spill only a little of his coffee over Nancy, he sits up on the bed and resumes his rap: "It's my belief that they tried to sack me because..." He slips back down again.

Nancy (rapidly): "Because Steve and Paul wanted an easy way out."

Sid (making a true effort): "They couldn't confront John. So they put it all on me so that if I left the group, they could go too."

Nancy fills in. According to her, Steve and Paul had wanted to leave the Pistols for some time but had wanted someone else to make the first move for them: "And all the time they would keep lumping it on Sid. So he finally said, 'that's it'."

Paul and Steve had wanted to leave, says Sid, raising a new spectre about which he is unable to be more specific, since "we got that tax thing and started losing all our money." He continues: "Paul and Steve had wanted to go to Rio De Janeiro..." He halts.

"CONTINUE!" says Nancy.

Sid: (Unintelligible)

Nancy: "Try to talk intelligibly!"

Sid: "They built those grey gargoyles because..."

Nancy: "What the fuck has grey gargoyles got to do with it???"

Sid: "Oh well. It will be a funny interview. I'm not capable of talking intelligibly. Can't you do it?"

* * * * *

AS YOU MAY see, it is not really feasible to discuss with Sid such vital points as the ramifications on the punk movement of the Pistols having split on their US venture. No, Sid isn't exactly up to theorising today. Pointless to query why the Pistols went to the states when they did, or why a strength-in-numbers punk package - a U.S. version of the 'Anarchy' tour which Clash manager Bernie Rhodes told me had been discussed with McLaren - never happened.

We do learn though, from Nancy, that Sid's non-musician status, when he joined the band had caused a certain dissatisfaction within the ranks of the two playing members: "Steve was always jealous. He said that Sid was really shit, y'know."

Owwww, Sid.

Do you think you can play bass properly now, Sid?

But Sid's nodded out again.

Nancy: "He plays in a Dee Dee Ramones' style that some people think isn't playing. But that's damn fast, man. We were over at Phil Lynott's. He couldn't play as fast as Sid. Sid plays melodic. He missed less notes than anybody else in the band. And I'm not just speaking from bias. Ask Sid, I'm always honest about everything. If he played shit, I'd tell him. Sid, use the ashtray not my foot! You've already burnt me three times!!!"

Ah, Sid's eyes are open. Let's leap in quick: Sid, do you think the Pistols got swept up in the consequences of the aggressive way they approached things in the first place?

Sid nods (in agreement as opposed to out): "They have. Yeah. One of the things that saved me was..."

Nancy: "Me."

Sid (ignoring her): "I'm more... I'm more animal mentally than any of them. I don't think about what I do very much. We just kind of do things."

Nancy: "We're spur-of-the-moment people."

Sid: "And I just found they were playing very safe. In Atlanta, this guy started going on at me about cutting my throat and spitting at me..."

Nancy: "I CANT HEAR YOU!!!"

Sid: "This guy in San Francisco... ummmm... gave me some spaghetti bolognese..."

Nancy: "What are you talking about? Spaghetti bolognese?? What was the question, Chris?"

Chris: "I'm afraid I can't remember any more..."

Sid: "When we played Dallas - that's a cowboy town... ummmm... it was on this kind of slippery floor... and this guy spat right in my face so I booted him in the face and hit him over the head with my guitar. It got me really mad. And the others said I'd ruined the show because it'd got no continuity."

Nancy: "Can you believe that? The Pistols used to jump into fights."

* * * * *

FOR TRUE PARANOIDS like myself perhaps the most sinister aspect of the Pistols' split is the manner in which, if it was really linked to J. Rotten's ego problems, those problems first manifested themselves during the aftermath of the Grundy/'Anarchy' incident/tour fiasco. in other words, in a predictably insidious manner, the Pistols have possibly been broken by the Establishment they set out to ridicule.

Although much of the nervous atmosphere surrounding the Pistols camp is related to unprovable or intangible suspicions Sid, too, had also heard more concrete rumours, such as the machinations to prevent 'God Save the Queen' being No.1 in some charts during Jubilee week.

Specifically, though, Sid claims the internal balance in the Pistols altered drastically after John had been knifed in May of last year. "Ever since John got beat up," he tells me, "he's never gone out unless he's had about thirty people with him. That just finished him off."

It seems everybody in the Pistols camp was badly affected by that incident, including Sid and Nancy.

Nancy: "All of John and his big strong friends and me and Sid were together and we heard this knock on the door. And we thought, 'Oh fuck!'"

Sid: "And I had a pan of boiling water and I pulled out a switchblade."

Nancy: "We had knives and chains. And when we went to the door there were about five tiny kids wanting our autographs. We had to laugh."

Where were you living then?

Nancy: "In Chelsea cloisters."

Sid says he joined the Pistols because he wanted "fun"; because he wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star. At the same time, though, he obviously felt commitment to what it was the Pistols stood for.

"Yeah," he nods, "but that was at the beginning. I was over-the-moon about joining them, then. They were so good at those first gigs at the Screen On The Green. But 'cos we weren't playing any gigs there was no incentive to write any new songs. It all seemed futile."

But whose decision was it that the Pistols weren't playing any gigs?

"Like I said, Malcolm picked me up in San Francisco..."

No, no, Sid. Why weren't the Pistols playing any gigs in the U.K. earlier last year?

"Because our agency Cowbell..."

Sid appears to drop off for forty winks.

As I'm packing away my tape recorder, Nancy tells me she's going to get Sid to go away somewhere on holiday to get his health back in shape. Morocco, I suggest, might be a good place for them to visit. Plenty of smoke and at the same time plenty of clean air.

At the mention of this, Sid shakes his head worriedly. "I think fresh air might kill me."


WRITER:
Chris Salewicz

ARTICLE AND IMAGE CREDIT:
New Musical Express

THANKS:
Molly Johnson