Friday, 13 May 2016

Only Anarchists Are Pretty - Mick O'Shea


Now here's a weird one: Only Anarchists Are Pretty by Mick O'Shea; the story of the Sex Pistols in novel form, chronicling their early days from the formation of the band up to the Bill Grundy incident.
The question that comes immediately to mind is why hasn't this been done before? Particularly during their Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle period when anything and everything Pistols-related was being packaged and sold to a discerning public, not least the still warm corpse of Sid Vicious. There's been a huge number of books written about the Sex Pistols over the years but no actual novel - until this one. Somebody missed a trick there, I think.

But is it art, John, I hear you cry? Tell us, tell us! Well, of course it's not but it's not as awful as it could have been and that's because it's written by a fan and not some 'professional' writer with his eye on a quick buck. Actually, the closest it gets to art is when the writer incorporates himself into the story as a young fan travelling down to London from the north in a bid to see the Pistols live.
I can only presume this part is entirely fictional because at that time I calculate the author would have been about 13, and like Sid Vicious should still have been at home playing with his Action Man not gallivanting off to the the far-reaches of the King's Road to a fetish clothes shop called Sex.
He doesn't big himself up at all when he introduces himself and his friend 'Alan' (Alan Parker, writer of a number of books on the Pistols) into the story and in fact, depicts himself as a kind of northern bumpkin entranced by the bizarreness of the Pistols' coterie like Mowgli in The Jungle Book being hypnotised by the python. And that's a suitable analogy, actually, with Johnny Rotten being the king of the jungle - the jungle VIP - and Malcolm McLaren being the python ("Trust in me..") as he coils himself around his prey. But which character is Vivienne Westwood, you might wonder? The tiger Shere Khan, of course.

There's something missing in Mick O’Shea’s story, however, and that's any sense of danger and anger as exuded by John Rotten. And believe me, kids, you may not believe it now by looking at him but once upon a time Johnny did indeed exude danger and anger. Epitomised it, even. O’Shea’s story instead reads more like the cartoon version of the Pistols as depicted in The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle film; with Paul Cook as a podgy oaf, Steve Jones as a moronic lech and Johnny Rotten as an entirely dislikeable teenager ('The Collaborator', as McLaren tried to label him).

Mick O'Shea knows his stuff, there's no question about that and there's no obvious clangers in the story as far as I can see though I do take exception to the way Wally Nightingale - the original Pistols guitarist - is depicted.
Now, I was too young to see the original Pistols but I did once see the Lightning Raiders, the band that Wally went on to form following him being thrown out from the band - on Malcolm's instructions allegedly? I thought they were all right, being a kind of cross between the Pistols and Zodiac Mindwarp. Wally is depicted as a bit of a pathetic character and it doesn't quite ring true to me and I wonder what Mick O'Shea is basing this on?

What's interesting is that O'Shea depicts Glen Matlock as being the most likeable character and as the real musical force behind the band. And I can believe this. It's totally Johnny, however, who gives the band their edge - and their politics.
Until reading this book I didn't know about Steve Jones' trick with a loaf of bread and some liver, and when this is juxtaposed with Johnny singing about the UDA, the MPLA and Fascist regimes I'm not sure if this makes the Pistols fully-rounded or if it suggests nothing short of a miracle occurred with them coming together as a band at all?

Whilst reading this on the train, a woman sat in the seat opposite asked me what the book was and when I explained she wondered what might Sid Vicious have ended up doing had he not died? It was a good question. We ended up deciding that he would have formed a double-act with Johnny, either as a comedy duo (like Morcambe and Wise) or as chat show hosts (like Dame Edna Everage and her assistant, Madge).
You don't usually get people on the train asking what it is you're reading but then if you consider the back cover of O'Shea's book, it's understandable why it might make someone curious. But then as Johnny once advised: "Don't judge a book just by its cover, unless you cover just another. And blind acceptance is a sign, of stupid fools who stand in line, like - " But of course, you know the rest.
John Serpico

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