The Sex Pistols Were Just Kids When I Knew Them

KSAN- Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Chris Knab, me

I’m writing a memoir. How do you even do that. Right? My friend Denise, an author of many books, suggested I just start writing random pages. That’s easy enough, right? And then my old friend Jeff Gold bought me a copy of filmmaker Jonas Mekas’ memoir and suggested I’d get a lot out if it. I got even more than a lot out of it. I’ve done more than a dozen pages that I've posted at DWT. Today Denise e-mailed me that she loved the stuff I wrote about Andy Paley. “I only have great memories of laughing my ass off in his company,” she wrote. She also wrote that “Those pieces about Otto are great. The letter from prison is gold. It really is moving. The story is emerging, the process is happening.” And now I’m starting to get requests for specific stories from old friends. Can you tell the one about communing with your grandfather’s spirit in St. Petersburg? Can you tell the one about Susan Blond and the Clash? Can you write some about Joni Mitchell? Jimi Hendrix and your mom? How did you meet Jim Morrison? What is Morrissey really like? What was Chuck Schumer like in high school? Today Jimmy D asked me if I have any Sex Pistols photos from when they played their last show in January, 1978 in San Francisco. Sure I do.

Let me start with the end— the last ever Sex Pistols performance— an encore to their Winterland show. Rotten already knew he was breaking up the band and he sounded bitter. “Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?” Listen:

There are 4 parts to this little adventure: a KSAN interview, the Big Tits Across America KSJO interview, the hippie party with Sid and the Winterland show itself. I think Bonnie Simmons, KSAN’s program director, interviewed Johnny Rotten. Chris Knab, Norman Davis and I interviewed Steve Jones and Paul Cook on our regular “Outcaste Hour” show the day before the concert. It was all pretty gratuitous punk hype, kind of silly in retrospect. The KSJO one in San Jose the day after the concert was silliest of all. We got reported and Chris and I got fired (really just suspended for a few weeks until the heat died down).

Anyway, on my way to meet the band’s manager, Malcolm McLaren a few hours before the show, I passed Winterland and noticed a long line of people desperate to get tickets in case anyone decided to get a refund to the sold out show. I saw the guys from the local punk band Negative Trend on the line.

When I got to Malcolm’s room he asked me which local band was the most outrageous; he may have used the word “worst.” I suggested a punk band that was really loved for every reason but their music, Negative Trend and Malcolm immediately ordered me to put them on the show as the opening bad. I explained that the Avengers and the Nuns, two of the top local punk bands at the time were already the opening acts. Malcolm said he didn’t care; it was Negative Trend or no show. I said it was a Bill Graham decision, not my decision. So he said, let’s go visit Graham.

So we did. Graham said no way and Malcolm said to cancel the show. Graham was furious but he had handled far bigger assholes than Malcolm McLaren in his day. So he offered a compromise; Negative Trend could close the show, making them, at least in theory, the headliners. That immediately appealed to Malcolm’s twisted mind. They both turned to me and asked me how to find Negative Trend. I told them the band was on the line waiting to get tickets. Graham told to deliver them by show time.

So I went back to Winterland and asked them if they want to play the show. I think Razz Rezabek asked me if I was fucking with them. (It might have been Will Shatter.) I said I wasn’t and that they should go get their instruments. (I might be mixing them up with someone else, but I think they once set up in front of the building I lived in and played… so I knew they were very versatile.)

Anyway, unbeknownst to Malcolm— or me— Graham had a cruel trick he was going to play on them. Ever since the ‘60s Graham would signal the audience the show was over and it was time to leave the venue by playing the same song, I think it was “Greensleaves.” And when The Pistols finished “No Fun,” 4 things happened— on came the song, the audience started leave, Graham and I went onto the stage to pick up the quarters that people had been throwing at the band— a quarter had the buying power of a dollar back them— and Negative Trend started setting up their instruments. Their fans, the same ones who would see them whenever they played, stayed to see them, but otherwise the venue was empty. I felt bad for them. I hope they got paid. Looking back on their career as a band 2 decades later Paul Cook said "We never finished the Pistols business, really... It all just ended in chaos and hatred."

Oh, and the party. I took a few of them to a party on Haight Street in a big victorian. It was as boring as most parties are. At some point I opened a hallway closet and a barely conscious Sid Vicious fell out of it. He had been in there alone, drugged up. I took him to the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. About a year and a month later he OD-ed on heroin in NYC and died (age 21).