Punk Rock Romeo and Juliet: Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen
The Sex Pistols' manager, Malcolm McLaren, took one look at Sid Vicious and knew he had to have him in the band. Vicious was punk personified and a good match for the band's frenetic green-haired lead singer Johnny Rotten. When the Pistols' original bass player, Glen Matlock, left the band in February 1977, Vicious was given the slot. There was just one problem — Vicious couldn't play the bass. (He had played drums in his previous band, Siouxsie & the Banshees.) But that was just a minor detail, and his lack of musical ability actually reinforced the band's iconoclastic message. Who cared if they were musically capable? They certainly didn't. Their cacophonous songs emphasized rebellion over musicianship. As for Sid's bass playing, the band's guitarist played bass on the Sex Pistols' recordings and Sid's amplifier was turned down during live performances.
Nevertheless, for a brief period in the late '70s, the Sex Pistols were the band of the moment, and they rode their carefully crafted repulsiveness all the way to the bank.
Born on May 10, 1957, John Simon Ritchie was given his biological father's name in the hope that Mr. Ritchie would marry his mother, Anne Beverley, and live with them. When the boy was a toddler, mother and son moved to the Mediterranean island Ibiza off the coast of Spain where they waited for Sid's father to join them. He never did, and the flamboyant Anne grew deeper in debt as the years dragged on. She moved back to London with her young son and took a job working nights at a jazz club in Soho. Her elderly landlady babysat for her much of the time while she struggled to support herself and her son. Being a single mother was an exhaustive ordeal for her, and along the way she developed a heroin habit.
Young John grew to be a shy teenager with a self-destructive streak and relish for rebellion and anarchy. A poor student, he drifted in and out of school until he finally landed at Hackney College where he studied photography for two terms before dropping out. He became part of London's burgeoning punk scene, which was centered around McLaren's Kings Road boutique, Let It Rock. McLaren sought him out for the Sex Pistols because he was the real thing. While the other band members were primarily concerned with making music, Sid Vicious, as he was now known, seemed more interested in cultivating his rough-edged alienation and turning it into a celebrity punk persona.
Before Vicious joined the Sex Pistols, the band included drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones, bass player Glen Matlock, and Irish-born lead singer Johnny Rotten, who earned his stage name for the state of his teeth, according to RollingStone.com. The band had a loyal following and a growing reputation for inciting mayhem whenever they played in public. In 1976 their first single, "Anarchy in the UK," was released. They were asked onto Thames TV's Today show where they snarled and hurled curses at the provocative host. Their expletives on the show lost them three concert dates, but their fame skyrocketed. They became known more for their outlandish behavior than their music.
In March 1977, the Sex Pistols signed with a new record label, A&M Records, and as a publicity stunt, they signed their contracts in front of Buckingham Palace with the press on hand to cover the event. Their relationship with A&M didn't last long. By the spring of that year, the band had signed with Virgin Records and released the single, "God Save the Queen." The record sleeve featured a picture of Queen Elizabeth with a safety pin through her nose. The record was promptly banned in the United Kingdom. Two more singles were released — "Pretty Vacant" and "Holidays in the Sun" — followed by their infamous album "Never Mind the Bullocks — Here's the Sex Pistols," which shot up the charts despite the fact that many retailers refused to sell it. Authorities continued to ban their performances, fearing violence and vandalism perpetrated by the band's fans. Though the band was often prevented from performing, public curiosity swelled, and they became an international phenomenon. Everybody, it seemed, had heard of them, but only the hardcore devotees had actually heard their music.
The band traveled to the United States in January 1978 for an eight-concert tour that proved to be the last hurrah for the Sex Pistols. Frayed nerves, hard feelings, and excessive drug use led to the dissolution of the band after their last date at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom. This was the largest audience they'd ever had, and by far their worst performance. Fed up with the direction the band had taken, Johnny Rotten ended the concert by asking the crowd, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" The next day he resigned. A week later drummer Cook and guitarist Jones departed for Rio de Janiero to record on their own.
Sid Vicious returned to England with his girlfriend, soul mate, and constant companion, Nancy Spungen, a headstrong American whose influence over Vicious had contributed to the breakup of the band. They had met in London in 1977. Pamela Rooke, a friend of Sid's at the time, said that Johnny Rotten "would plead with him to get rid of [Nancy], but to Sid she was like a crutch." According to Rooke, Spungen had traveled to England "with the express wish... to bed a Sex Pistol... Sid was easy meat."