The Sex Pistols onstage in Norway, 1977: Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten and Steve JonesEXPAND
The Sex Pistols onstage in Norway, 1977: Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's a Great Sex Pistols Memoir

Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol
By Steve Jones with Ben Thompson
Da Capo Press, 344 pp., $26.99

“The Sex Pistols were born to crash and burn, and that’s exactly what they did,” writes that band’s guitarist, Steve Jones, in this raucous, opinionated memoir full of the filth and the fury that marked the punk-rock megagroup’s very short career. After all, is any other band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for basically one album?

That disc, Never Mind the Bollocks…Here’s the Sex Pistols, turns 40 this year, and somewhere tonight a scrappy young band will be bashing out “Anarchy in the U.K.,” “God Save the Queen” or “Pretty Vacant.” And if they only knew that the slashing guitar chords on those songs were played by a man who has always harbored a secret love for the music of…Boston and Journey. And whose musical heroes included Rod Stewart and Bryan Ferry!

Jones starts his book with details of a hardscrabble childhood marred by two events: his biological father's leaving him and his mother shortly after his birth, and an incident in which his stepfather had the then ten-year-old Jones jerk him off while his mother was away.

Add to that years of kleptomania, Peeping Tomism, sex/masturbation addiction (Jones had a fondness for jerking off with the aid of toilet-paper rolls, vacuum-cleaner hoses and hollowed-out loaves of bread filled with warm water) and substance abuse. It’s no wonder that Jones found himself gravitating toward burgeoning, anything-goes punk culture and band Svengali Malcolm McLaren (then co-running a bondage clothing shop) to form the group.

That the group — Jones on guitar, Paul Cook on drums, Glen Matlock on bass and the sneering veneer of Johnny Rotten on vocals — was sort of learning on the job makes for some interesting reading. Later, when Matlock was kicked out and replaced with a barely coherent and severely drug-addicted Sid Vicious, the band got greater cultural cachet but lost its musical way.

He also paints a portrait of just how “dangerous” punk rockers and punk music were in the UK during the mid and late ’70s, when it always had a harder, more political edge than U.S. punk.

Though it’s amusing to read how outraged greater England was after the band’s “infamous” appearance on a UK talk show on which they openly swore at the host and generally yobbed off. The transcript reprinted here seems almost quaint in 2016.

Jones saves some of his most savage comments for frenemy Rotten, who owes his stage name to Jones’s summation of the state of the singer’s teeth. There’s some score-settling here, but Rotten has hardly been silent about his own views of Jones and his place in the band’s pecking order through his books, interviews and comments over the years.

And though now 25 years sober, Jones is also open about his own substance-abuse issues, which at one point post-Pistols had him trying to sell stolen publicity photos of the band Heart on the streets of New York for heroin money. When not selling his plasma for $50 a day.

In more recent years, the original lineup has reunited for short tours, which usually end in Jones/Rotten battles. The guitarist himself makes guest appearances onstage and in studios, but makes his living mostly as a radio DJ in Los Angeles.

And though his time with the Sex Pistols covers just over one-third of Lonely Boy, Jones's memoir is — like a great punk-rock song — short, hard-hitting and Pretty Decent.

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