Sid & Nancy in New York

This is a fascinating and insightful account of Sid and Nancy's final months in New York. An excerpt from Eileen Polk's unpublished manuscript "On the Scene", it was published in Punk Magazine's Summer 2007 issue.

A lot of crap has been written about Sid and Nancy by people who never even met them. This is from a person who was there...

Nancy Spungen had been my friend since 1975, when she appeared on the scene with a pile of drugs in her pocket - bought with money she earned as a prostitute, thanks to New York's burgeoning sex trade.

I wasn't shocked the first time I met this 17-year-old groupie who proudly announced she was whoring for a living. Many girls on the punk scene had run away from home and landed in New York, which was kind of a Wild West town at the time. Forty Second Street was not the sanitized theme park it is today, it was riddled with strip clubs, live sex shows, XXX movie theatres and massage parlors. The unusual thing about Nancy is that she was totally honest about her line of work: She never pretended to be a "model" or "dancer." She also thought it was a great idea to bring lots of drugs to the clubs for the bands - kind of like a backstage pass. She proudly claimed to have fucked whole bands with this strategy.

Nancy wasn't very popular. Even the other sluts called her slutty. She was mocked and bullied by the other groupies when she first began hanging around Max's Kansas City and CBGB. Many people used her for her drugs but made fun of her behind her back. Her best friend was Sable Starr, a famous groupie who was very pretty and liked by the boys, but was from the Hollywood scene and also somewhat of an outsider in New York.

Some disgruntled guy who Nancy wouldn't fuck for free began calling her "Nauseating Nancy" and when the other groupies picked up on it the name stuck. She was ostracized and shut out of parties and backstage scenes and like most people who are shunned, she became meaner and tougher. Like Carrie in the horror movie she became vengeful and began extending her self-destruction to other people. After wearing out her welcome in New York City, Nancy began planning a trip to London, to "get a real rock star boyfriend." She was one of the most determined girls I ever met.

The next time I saw Nancy was in a photo in a British music tabloid, still recognizable although twenty pounds thinner and her frizzy brown hair dyed platinum blond. I always liked Nancy because she wasn't a phony about the real stuff, but she was very into appearance and heroin can make a chubby girl look pretty good for the first few months, before it destroys you. I thought it was hilarious when she returned to New York a few years later with a Sex Pistol on her arm and a fake British accent.

The first time I met Sid Vicious was during work at Revenge, one of several punk fashion shops that cropped up at the corner of St. Marks Place and the Bowery in the East Village. Revenge was entirely run by women and we considered ourselves part of a pseudo-gang called "Revenge Girls." It wasn't the hippest punk store but it was definitely the most obnoxious. We had an unlucky stepladder over the front door and live tarantulas in fish tanks (and sometimes out - we had the jumping kind). Our favorite records (besides punk rock) were sound effects recordings of wolves howling. This was the place where an intrepid tourist could get a punk makeover before heading down to CBGB. A used ripped shirt cost three dollars and for only seven dollars more an unlicensed hairdresser would destroy your hair.

One day in early September 1978, Nancy brought Sid into the shop on their way to buy drugs in the No Man's Land east of Tompkins Square Park. The were overdressed in black leather and Nancy's bleached hair looked like yellow cotton candy. They seemed like a happy couple. Nancy was acting like Sid's publicist, making formal introductions as he gave a weak handshake. When they left the shop some of the Revenge Girls were squealing in envy so I went out to buy cigarettes. From the corner I watched as Sid and Nancy walked arm in arm down St. Marks Place. The crowd on the street seemed to part like the Titanic was coming through.

The next time I saw them was at CBGB a few days later. Nancy posed for my camera while Sid nodded. He was looking so bad that many of our friends were becoming concerned.

I could see that Nancy wouldn't let people who had treated her badly talk to Sid. He was getting easier to manipulate as his depression over the Sex Pistols breakup and his heroin addiction worsened. Since they'd come to New York the price of Nancy's favorite drugs had doubled, mostly because of how much she was willing to pay to have them delivered to their room at the Chelsea Hotel. Nancy was gradually becoming Sid's manager and she booked several solo gigs at Max's Kansas City. The band included two former members of the New York Dolls, drummer Jerry Nolan and bassist Arthur Kane. Other members of the band were British guitarists Steve Dior of the Idols and Mick Jones of the Clash. The shows at Max's drew large crowds but Sid was trying so hard to live up to the self-destructive rock star image that the audience was full of people who would have been just as happy to watch him die on stage. Sid was fairly out of it during the performance and needed cheat sheets to remember the words to the songs. Nancy jumped up on stage with him for the first few numbers and had her moment of glory.

A few weeks later, on October 12 1978, Nancy was killed in their Chelsea Hotel room. Sid's massive drug and alcohol binge had been going on for months so he couldn't remember what happened. Nancy bled to death from a knife wound to the abdomen and when Sid woke up from this horrific bender in a bed full of Nancy's blood he was slapped with a murder rap. I didn't think Sid killed her, at least not intentionally, but they were so self destructive together that the death was prevailed.

Everyone who knew them thought Sid loved Nancy. I think this was because she was an underdog and an outcast, which is the same way Sid viewed himself. Rumors of a drug deal gone wrong and the loads of cash Nancy had been flashing around after the Max's gigs pointed to a possible robbery and Sid's innocence. The NYPD saw people like this die all the time and with Sid's fingerprints on the knife and his "reckless indifference to human life" (as the court put it) made him the likely suspect. None of us were afraid of him but it was clear to me that he could have severe mood swings and it was best to avoid him when he had been drinking hard liquor.

After getting arrested for Nancy's murder, Sid became even more depressed. He attempted suicide and was put in Bellevue Hospital's mental ward where he went through heroin detoxification and was treated by a psychiatrist. His mother, Anne Beverly, flew to New York to be with her son while he awaited trial for murder.

By November Sid was out on bail and had cleaned up quite a bit. One night he met Michelle Robison at Max's and they began a relationship. Michelle was not like Nancy; she was vulnerable whereas Nancy was hard. They might have come from the same upper middle class, but Nancy was an aggressive social climber and Michelle was a much more private person. Nancy wore ripped stockings with bruises peeking out while Michelle was well-groomed and seemed affluent.

On November 12th New Musical Express journalist Joe Stevens, Sid, Michelle and I went to see Blondie at the Palladium. We went backstage and I took some photos of Sid with his new girlfriend. He looked really good after his stay in Bellevue but that would be short lived.

I had to lend Sid and his mother some money to keep them from getting evicted from their hotel. While he awaited trial Sid and his mother were staying at the Deauville, a cheap residence hotel on East 29th Street where transient visitors like salesmen, conventioneers and strippers could stay in the hub of Manhattan near the bus and train stations. They only took cash. Anne and Sid were always waiting for a check to arrive from Virgin Records.

On November 3rd Sid and Michelle were together at The Nursery, an after hours club. Sid upset Michelle so much she went straight to the hospital and checked herself into the mental health clinic. Apparently the stress of being the new flame of The Infamous Sid Vicious was too much for her to handle and she was following her doctor's advice by not being alone when she became very upset.

A few days later on Tuesday, December 5th, Sid visited Michelle at the Jacob L. Reiss Pavilion of St. Vincent's Hospital. During his visit Sid told Michelle, "You give up easy!"

Later that night Sid went out drinking by himself at an uptown club called Hurrah's, the "new wave disco" and forerunner to the Mudd Club, where he got in trouble again. The crowd in front of the stage at Hurrah's included Todd Smith, the brother of punk singer-poet Patti Smith, and his girlfriend. Sid and Todd got into a fight and some shattered glass cut Todd's eye.

He was given five stitches at Roosevelt Hospital. Sid was seen that night with two of his friends from London and one of them had taken some flash photos of the fight.

Early that morning Sid returned to the Deauville Hotel where his mother waited anxiously for him. Although relieved to see her son return in the morning, Anne was concerned about the cuts on Sid's hand which he claimed had come from "falling on broken glass" but his demeanor told her that there was more to the story than that.

Sid got no sleep. One of the conditions of bail from the murder charge was that he had to report to the Seventh Precinct every morning, while another was to keep his appointment with the methadone clinic, where he was being treated for his heroin addiction. Anne and Sid got a taxi and went to the police station. Sid went inside while Anne waited in the cab. She waited a long time. Finally a detective came out and told her that Sid had been arrested for the Todd Smith incident. Consequently Sid never reported to the methadone clinic so his bail was revoked on this technicality.

Sid was sent to the notorious Riker's Island prison with a new felony assault charge. According to Todd Smith, Sid had pinched his girlfriend's behind and when Todd defended her Sid smashed him in the face with glass and kicked him in the groin. Rumors spread that Sid had broken a Heineken bottle and stabbed Todd in the face. According to Sid, Todd provoked the fight and had been drinking the bottle of Heineken. Sid said that he was drinking from a glass beer mug and during the scuffle the beer bottle and glass collided and both shattered, accidentally causing Todd's injury.

Several witnesses, including semi-employed actor and drug dealer Rockets Redglare and Sid's two English friends, were willing to give statements to the police supporting Sid's story but Todd's friends and family (reportedly, especially Patti) thought Sid was better off in jail.

Sid was hitting the bottle hard, due to being in the methadone program and forced to undergo regular urine testing for illegal drugs. His trial for Nancy's murder was set for April 1979 and no one thought Sid would keep out of trouble until then, especially the judge. Even Sid's mother was optimistic that a stint in prison might give her son some time to reflect on his life, which was spinning out of control.

This was not the first time. Since Sid was a teenager he'd been getting into fights. Being poor and the only latch key child of a single mom he was often left to the streets where gangs of kids would provoke each other and fight just for the hell of it. Sid had previously been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer. At the 100 Club in London during a punk rock festival he threw a glass, which shattered, causing a young girl to lose sight in one eye. He had also attacked music journalist Nick Kent with a bicycle chain - and all this happened before he was a Sex Pistol.

I visited Michelle Robison at St. Vincent's Hospital several times, which was easy since I lived right across the street. At visiting hours on Wednesday I brought her some cigarettes but the hospital staff confiscated the matches at the door. After the incident at Hurrah's the doctors ordered the hospital staff to remove all references to Sid Vicious from the newspapers on the third floor so Michelle would not find out what had happened.

The next time I visited Michelle on Friday December 8th she was angrily flipping through the newspapers, which had large rectangular sections cut out. She found out what happened to Sid anyway and felt like the whole world was against her. We talked about the night she and Sid had argued and she checked into St. Vincent's. She said that he was completely drunk and making out with some slutty girl Michelle vowed to kill once she was released. I told her that being involved with Sid meant that she would have to fight off every groupie and drug dealer in New York and that she shouldn't focus on them. "At least you still have your self respect," I said.

Michelle was only 20 years old and an aspiring actress with a supportive family and a really nice one-bedroom apartment in a brownstone in Greenwich Village. In fact, we were very much alike. Many of the junkies and groupies on the New York punk scene had come from pretty tough backgrounds and I could see that Michelle, like me, was fascinated with the New York demimonde. The dark side was attractive but it was nice to be able to pull out when things got out of control. Some of the people we knew did not have as many options as Michelle and I did.

I never thought Michelle and Sid would last long as a couple but she was infatuated with him. Sid and his mother were broke and homeless and Michelle was nice enough to put both of them up in her apartment when Sid was released on bail for the second time on February 1, 1979. It had been reported in the press that Anne Beverly had sold her story to the New York Daily News for ten or twenty thousand dollars but this was not true. Anne was really fed up with the tabloids and had tried everything from wearing disguises to dying her hair in an effort to avoid being recognized and harassed. She fit right in with Sid's friends and was kind of like a Dickensian Fagin in drag; the sort of "cool mom" that you could go out to a punk club and drink with. But she was also kind of a control freak.

I accompanied Michelle and Anne to the courthouse when Sid had his hearing on February 1st. Before we left Michelle's apartment for 100 Centre Street Anne said, "The press will try and rattle your cage. Don't talk to them, say nothing!" Michelle and I agreed, hailed a cab and headed downtown.

When we arrived at the courthouse, Anne's prediction had been right. Dozens of reporters and cameramen followed our every move. The courtroom was packed. Anne and Michelle went up to the front while I stayed in the back. The crowd of reporters made it difficult to hear what was happening but suddenly the entire room made a collective gasp and I realized that they were letting Sid go home! Home was a relative term, since he had no home, but we were very happy.

When Anne, Michelle and I left the courtroom all the reporters shoved microphones and cameras in our faces again. We said nothing and this pissed them off. Anne had correctly surmised that without a sound bite, the video was virtually unusable. The media dispersed pretty quickly and we went out on the street to wait for Sid. He and his lawyer James Merberg walked out the rear door of the Courthouse unmolested and Joe Stevens was the only one there to take a picture.

Anne and Sid hailed a cab, Michelle and I got the next one and we all headed to Michelle's place on Bank Street. Anne wanted to make Sid's favorite meal: Spaghetti Bolognaise. Her plan was to make a nice quiet party for Sid so he "wouldn't go out and get in trouble... and No Drugs!"

Howie Pyro of The Blessed and Jerry Only of the Misfits were the first guests to arrive. Then Jerry Nolan and his girlfriend Esther came by. This concerned me because Jerry was a well known junkie and he was not an expected guest. It didn't take long for Sid to start begging his mother for money. When Anne handed Sid a one hundred-dollar bill I know this did not bode well. Jerry Nolan and Sid were acting like naughty children. Anne admonished them to "Come right back." I thought that was unlikely but they actually came back within an hour. Then I went to the Jefferson Market to buy food for eight people. Anne gave me ten bucks for beer.

I bought ground round steak, fresh vegetables, mushrooms, grated Parmesan cheese (all of the best quality), and two six-packs of whatever beer was on sale. While Anne cooked, Sid told us tales of prison and about how he'd become "mates" with some of the criminals at Riker's who had given him lots of legal advice on how to beat the murder rap. He seemed optimistic that his lawyer would have him acquitted and for the first time in months I saw him smile. He kept playing New York Dolls records and trying on all his clothes, which he obviously missed a lot.

The dinner took forever to cook since Anne insisted on making the sauce from scratch. The day was pretty uneventful. Then around midnight there was a knock on the door. It was Sid's friends from London, the same two English guys that were witnesses to the Todd Smith incident at Hurrah. Anne had not met them before and Sid introduced one of the guys to her as the person who would be shooting his solo album cover. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the drugs had arrived. People who had no interest in the kitchen all night were looking through drawers for spoons. Sid had obviously ordered the drugs to be delivered.

Howie, Jerry Only and I prepared to leave. As I was getting my coat and bag there was a commotion in the bedroom. I walked in the room and saw Sid had collapsed on the bed and was lying in Anne's arms. The scene reminded me of Michelangelo's Pietà. My first thought was that he was sleeping but then I noticed his blue color and realized he was overdosing. Everyone wrapped him in a blanket and rubbed his shoulders shaking him. I stood frozen in horror as I'd never seen a drug overdose before but the others seemed pretty competent and Sid came out of it. He seemed as surprised as we were, as if he wasn't expecting to have such a strong reaction from the drug.

We stayed about an hour to make sure he was all right but his mood had turned bad, he was sullen or depressed again. The last I saw him he was drinking a cup of tea and scowling at us for talking about taking him to the hospital - Anne said that it would just be another media circus and he'd go straight back to jail. Howie, Jerry and I finally left after Anne promised to confiscate the rest of the dope.

Michelle called me at dawn the next day crying. "Sid's dead!" I ran right over. The crowd of reporters outside showed it was true. The police let me in as they did everyone who had been there the night before. Jerry Nolan, Esther and the two friends from London did not stop by.

When Joe Stevens came by Michelle asked the police to let him in, as he was friend. Sid's body was in the bedroom covered with a blanket but his face and right arm were visible. He still looked like he was sleeping. Michelle could not stop crying and Anne was having bouts of weeping too but handling it pretty well. The place was crawling with cops. Howie, Joe and Anne were sitting on the couch talking and I felt kind of queasy. I flopped down clumsily on the sofa next to Joe and bumped his arm. I heard the familiar click of his mini pocket tape recorder. I said, "You're taping?" And he shot me a "shut up" look. Anne was saying in a low voice, "I don't know how this could have happened. I took the drugs away from him and slept with it in my pocket. When I went into the bedroom this morning with a cup of tea he was dead. Perhaps it was a relapse."

We were all taken to police headquarters for questioning. First they questioned Howie and Jerry. Then at dusk the police took Michelle and Anne for questioning. The hordes of reporters and cameras lit up the street outside with their floodlights. Michelle was wearing Sid's red and white striped mohair sweater from Seditionaries - one of the outfits he'd tried on the night before. The police asked me to stay and answer the door when the coroner's office came to get the body.

The phone rang incessantly so I finally just sat on the bed next to Sid's body and answered the phone. Most of the calls were from tabloids offering Michelle and I money for our stories - I turned down five grand that day! Johnny Thunders also called and said he was really sorry. I was really glad to hear from him. The most important call was from Anne's sister Renee in England, with her flight information.

At about 9:00 p.m. they came with the body bag and took him away.

The police didn't question me until the next day. By this time they knew quite a lot about punk if they didn't already know a lot before. They were very interested in the source of the heroin. They asked me a lot of questions about the Chelsea Hotel and its residents. I got the typical "good cop, bad cop" treatment but it wasn't hard to tell the truth. With two of my friends dead, I wanted to know if it was foul play. In the end the case was closed on both Sid and Nancy's deaths.

Since that time I've collected news clips about my dead friends. It was the first time I realized that the news is often fabricated. The media gets most of their information from the government (or in this case from the police), and the media manufactures facts they're too busy or lazy to check. Many newspapers have no scruples of paying people who don't know very much to tell stories - true or false.

These made-up stories can be silly or very harmful. Twenty years after they're published and an author researches a book the original sources are contaminated with lies.

For instance, the night of Sid's death I went home exhausted from the ordeal and turned on the news. A female reporter was gleefully recounting Sid's last hours: "After vomiting all the beer he'd guzzled Sid Vicious died in a pool of vomit", lying about it as if she was an eyewitness! The papers falsely reported that Sid wore an "I Love NY" t-shirt to court. They said that Anne "arrived at Michelle's apartment at noon to find her son dead, collapsed and had to be hospitalized." They said that it was "irresponsible" for Anne to "take Sid to a party, she should have taken him home," which is really idiotic since he didn't have a home. Michelle was wrongly called a "groupie," "super-groupie", and the tabloids implied that she was some underworld character for no reason at all, except that she was with Sid.

It was also reported that "two members of the Misfits" were questioned in connection with Sid's death. This error was made because Jerry Only had the Misfits logo on the back of his jacket. This would have been a logical assumption except that Howie was in The Blessed.

Reporters also made the assumption that Sid was with Michelle when he and Todd Smith had the fight. I'm convinced that this lie just sneaked in there because it made good copy to bring in the fact that Sid already had a new girlfriend (so soon after Nancy's death, the cad!).

Many of the photos had incorrect descriptions. Photos taken outside the clubs in November all had the obligatory "Last Photo Before He Died" caption.

Years later the lie about Anne being drunk at Heathrow airport and spilling Sid's ashes where they were swept up by janitors and thrown in the dustbin is another complete fabrication that has made its way into several books. So has the sordid story about "New York junkies and drug dealers passing heroin around" at Sid's last supper. Speculations that he was given a "hot shot" of poisoned heroin contradict the coroner's report because that story was made up too. The story about Anne bringing drugs to the courthouse on February first is quite ridiculous. What was Sid going to do, shoot up in front of the judge?

The idea that Rockets Redglare killed Nancy and Sid is pure speculation. So are the theories that the music industry or Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren had him killed to make millions off him after he died. One of the weirdest mysteries is partially due to Joe Stevens supposed "taped interviews" and his recollections that Anne was sleeping while Sid rifled through her purse to get at the drugs she'd hidden. Anne was not naive enough to put something in a bag and think Sid wouldn't find it. She also did not consent to any interview that day. The fabrications and confabulations continue to this day.

Sid was a junkie. He overdosed on heroin and died. He got the dope that killed him from his English friends with the money given to him by his mother, not a New York dealer. They were obviously trying to "do him a favor" by getting really strong, pure heroin. Sid was the only one who did drugs that night (up until I left at two in the morning- and I don't know what happened after that). He may have died in his sleep because the drug was very pure, and since he hadn't taken drugs for a few months they had a stronger effect on his system. Or being the sneaky junkie that he was, he may have pocketed some extra, for a nightcap, before Anne took the rest away from him and slept on the couch with the dope in her back pocket (and obviously flushed it before the police arrived).

The police were more interested in the source of that heroin than they were in a couple of dead junkies. Sid and Nancy's death's weren't thoroughly investigated - why waste the taxpayers' money, right?

Sid's alleged "suicide note" read: "We had a death pact, I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye."

However, that note could have been written at any time after Nancy's death because Sid was suffering from major depression. Malcolm McLaren and Virgin Records did provide money for Sid's defense, medical treatment and bail, but in hindsight I wonder if Sid and Anne would have been better off with a safe place to live and food, rather than cash.

An important question is: How is it that in the United States of America where someone is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a trial by a jury of their peers, Sid Vicious was convicted by the media without a trial? And why was every woman associated with him demonized as well?

All legends hide dangerous truths. We can't put Sid Vicious to rest because we understand on an unconscious level that there is something fishy about the stories we've been fed about him. Like all mythical heroes, different and contradictory tales got attached to his. Sid's story brings together the great themes of Love and Death therefore any woman associated with him is magically transformed into a succubus, vampire, harpy, temptress or love goddess leading her consort to the sacrificial altar. The anarchy and rebellion of the Sex Pistols and punk was considered so dangerous that the only way the establishment could kill it off was to somehow prove that it was irrelevant. Scapegoats were needed so that they could be torn limb from limb and crucified on the public stage. The punk ethic of do-it-yourself is the antitheses of consumerism, so what better way to discredit it than to present a punk icon as the most pathetic consumer of all: a worthless junkie. It was rarely mentioned that Sid became a junkie by the money Nancy made from the hidden economy - all the customers who bought sexual favors from her.

The system creates consumption celebrities who act out the lifestyle that we lowly "consumers" are supposed to aspire to. When celebrities become debauched or infamous or die tragically they become death-cult consumption celebrities. They are picked over by the vultures of media under the unflinching eye of the spectacle as an example of bad behaviour in a morality play directed by the state. What better way to discredit punk's ideas than to turn one of it's icons into the poster child for the coming "Just Say No" era?

It will be up to history to decide the guilt or innocence of the 21-year-old punk who was vilified and convicted by the media, and died before his trial. Perhaps the Sid Vicious story will never die until he is vindicated by the truth, and this is a sort of fair play.

* * * * *

HOWIE PYRO SON SID VICIOUS

Howie Pyro was in The Blessed - a band of teenage punk rockers who were sparking a lot of interest in the punk scene in 1978-1979. The Blessed were the first of many teen bands (The Stimulators, X-sessive) who sparked the hardcore scene a few years later - the Misfits used to open for The Blessed.

Howie recently finished working on Punk is Dead Punk is Everything by Bryan Ray Turcotte (the follow up to the book Fucked Up & Photocopied) and also deejays on his own radio show INTOXICA on luxuriamusic.com (myspace/intoxicaradio). Howie was with Eileen Polk and Jerry Only on the night Sid died, and shares his thoughts:

having seen & dealt with the "public" sid, i feel lucky to have gotten to spend some one on one time with the real sid. we hung out in michelle's living room early in the evening the night he got out of prison. he was very happy & animated. we were listening to the ny dolls & he was jumping around raving about johnny thunders... so happy. he was like a real 21 year old! amazing how young he was... he was older than me so i didn't see it that way at the time... as happy as he was, the urge to get high won out as it so often does. an english photographer named peter kodick came over with the drugs. he didn't come to kill sid or anything... just do a favor for a friend & probably get a free bag... like junkies do... we kept his name a secret all this time because we had no contact with him, but i just found out he passed away from the person he was with that night who i just ran into for the first time since then! seeing sid od was shocking as hell, but didn't stop me from following in his footsteps in my own drug career... addiction is truly cunning & baffling as they say... power to the survivors...

as far as michelle goes i dont know much about her... i saw her in the mid 90's once at coney island high, but never saw her again... mystery girl...


WRITERS:
Eileen Polk; and Howie Pyro

ARTICLE AND IMAGE CREDIT:
PUNK Magazine

THANKS:
Michele Mahler