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Sid and Nancy

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Methuen, London, 1986
(price: £2.50; 186 pages)

dedication: To Sam

The blurb on the back:

Sid Vicious met Nancy Spungen in 1977. He had just joined the notorious Sex Pistols as bass player. She was an American groupies looking for thrills and notoriety. They surprised themselves and the rest of the world by falling in love.
Throughout the Sex Pistols’ spectacular success and explosive public disintegration, Sid and Nancy’s love survived, a defence against the crazy world of the music business, and their heroin addiction… But only for so long. The nightmare climax of their story brought a tragic conclusion to an anarchic, crazy, self-destructive romance which burned with unbearable brightness.

opening lines:
Darkness leached from the room as if reluctant to go.

You’ll know the film, of course, directed by Alex Cox and starring Gary Oldman as the late, little lamented Sid Vicious. And perhaps, like me, you’ll be of the opinion that it should be shown to school-kids to convince them of how boring heroin addiction can make a person. It had its moments, of course, but Christ was it painful to watch. And, quite apart from the sheer tedium of two junkies squabbling, there was the reality gap that you’re always going to get when living people are depicted on screen: John Lydon simply didn’t look or sound like that.

The book, however, is a much better proposition. The tragedy and the pathos is still there – and the self-destruction of Vicious and Nancy Spungen was genuinely tragic and pathetic, despite their lack of any discernible talent – but it’s kept in firmer check, and the pettiness isn’t nearly as annoying as it was in the movie. (Incidentally, Chloe Webb has been given a bit of an unfair ride for her portrayal of Nancy, with accusations that she’s irritating – she is, but it rings true to me.)

There are also some nice little touches as the world of 1977 Britain is recaptured, often through Nancy’s New York perspective:

England was weird. Tiny, cramped houses; streets that did fanangoes all over the map, then used the same name three or four times over just to get you really confused. Money that developed your muscles. Phones that took three goes to work. Shitty weather.
No wonder the English punks were so pissed off. (p.12)

Not exactly a bundle of joy, but it’s really one of the better novelizations. And it would have scored higher had it not made the faux pas of insisting on Sid trying to learn chords on his bass. And, more importantly, had it not misquoted Johnny Rotten’s last line as a Sex Pistol: ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ Here it comes out as: ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been conned.’ And round these parts, where we take Mr Rotten very seriously indeed, that costs you a point.

Anyone know who Gerald Cole is?


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