Sid Vicious

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File:Fm sidmug.jpg
Sid Vicious in a 1978 mugshot related to his arrest for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

John Simon Ritchie-Beverly (May 10, 1957, LondonFebruary 2, 1979, New York), better known as Sid Vicious, was an English punk rock musician and member of the band the Sex Pistols. He died from a drug overdose at the age of 21.

Life

Early years

John was born in London to parents Anne and John, a former grenadier guard. His father left shortly afterwards and during John's early years he moved with his mother to the Spanish island of Ibiza where she made a living selling drugs. The pair later moved back to England where Anne married Chris Beverley in 1965 before setting up a family home in Kent. However his step-father died six months later and by 1968 John and his mother were living in a rented flat in Tunbridge Wells where John attended Sandown Court School. In 1971 the pair moved to Hackney in east London where in 1974 Ritchie first met John Lydon (later known as Johnny Rotten), a fellow student at Hackney Technical College. By 1974 he had already begun using drugs intravenously with his mother and by 1975 he had started to self harm. Some accounts of his life relate that he strangled a cat and assaulted a pensioner around this time.

Sid Vicious

Described by peers as slender and likable, Ritchie's stage name Sid Vicious reportedly came from an ironic joke involving the name of Lydon's pet hamster Sid the Vicious, which had a habit of biting people. The new name may have been helpful because both his co-squatters (Lydon and John Wardle (Jah Wobble)) were also named John and the three of them were sometimes referred to as The Three Johns. He reportedly made a deliberate effort to match the media myths that grew up around him and his name.

The Bromley Contingent, Flowers of Romance and the Banshees

Vicious was close friends with the Bromley Contingent, a group of followers and fans of the Sex Pistols who began the fashion avant-garde of the early UK punk rock movement. He began his musical career as a member of The Flowers Of Romance along with Keith Levene and Jah Wobble (who later co-founded John Lydon's post-Pistols project Public Image Limited). He soon joined Siouxsie & the Banshees, playing drums at their notorious first gig at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London's Oxford Street.

According to the band's photographer Dennis Morris Vicious was "deep down, a shy person" but he was renowned for a violent streak. At the 100 Club punk festival a thrown glass shattered against a pillar and a young girl lost her sight in one eye. Vicious is widely believed to have been responsible but this was never proven. At the same event he also assaulted NME journalist Nick Kent with a bicycle chain and on another occasion threatened BBC DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris at a London nightclub.

Sex Pistols

Already known as the ultimate Sex Pistols fan, Vicious joined the group after Glen Matlock's departure in February 1977. According to punk legend, manager Malcolm McLaren wanted Vicious in the band because of his looks and punk attitude: If Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the look. His punk character was considered far more helpful than any knack for playing and Vicious was notoriously inept musically. Jon Savage's biography of the Sex Pistols, England's Dreaming, recounts that most of the bass parts on the band's later recordings were played by guitarist Steve Jones and at live performances Sid's amplifier was usually switched off. Sid is said to have asked Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead to teach him how to play bass with the words, "I can't play bass." Lemmy's reply was "I know." According to Lemmy, Sid Vicious was a hopeless student. In his autobiography No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, John Lydon writes, "he wasn't too bad at all for three-chord songs." Sid played his first gig with the Pistols on April 3, 1977 at the Screen On The Green Cinema in London. His debut was filmed by Don Letts and appears in Punk Rock Movie.

Nancy Spungen and the end of the Pistols

In November 1977 Vicious met American groupie Nancy Laura Spungen and they immediately began a relationship (Spungen had come to London looking for Jerry Nolan of The Heartbreakers). She was a heroin addict, and inevitably Vicious, who already believed in his own live fast, die young image, soon shared the dependence. Although deeply in love, their often violent and rocky relationship had a disastrous effect on the Sex Pistols. Both the group and Vicious visibly deteriorated during their 1978 American tour. The Pistols broke up in San Francisco on January 14 during a concert at the Winterland Ballroom when Rotten walked off the stage. Vicious left shortly afterwards, and with Spungen acting as his "manager" he embarked on a short and ignoble solo career, during which he performed with musicians including Mick Jones of The Clash, original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, Rat Scabies of The Damned and the New York Dolls' Arthur Kane and Jerry Nolan.

The Deaths of Sid and Nancy

Meanwhile Vicious and Spungen had become locked in their own world of drug addiction and self-destruction. Interview footage shows the couple attempting to answer questions from their bed: Spungen is barely coherent while Vicious lapses in and out of consciousness. Vicious also came very close to death following a heroin overdose and was hospitalised for a time.

On the morning of October 12 1978 Vicious allegedly awoke from a drugged stupour to find Spungen crumpled dead on the bathroom floor of room 100 in the Hotel Chelsea in New York. She had received a single stab wound to her abdomen and apparently bled to death. Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder although he said he had no memory of having done so. However, he later claimed to have "killed her because I'm a dirty dog". There are unsubstantiated theories Spungen was murdered by someone else, usually said to be one of the many drug dealers who visited the apartment.

Bail of $50,000 was put up by Virgin Records at the request of Malcolm McLaren, and in February 1979 a party to celebrate his release was held at the home of his new girlfriend Michelle Robinson. During his time at Rikers Island prison, Vicious had undergone drug rehabilitation therapy and was supposedly clean. However at the party he obtained some heroin from his mother Ann Beverley and was discovered dead the following morning, having taken a large overdose. Speculation has persisted that Vicious, unable to live without his beloved Nancy, took his own life. He wrote the following poem about her:

You were my little baby girl,
I knew all your fears.
Such joy to hold you in my arms
and kiss away your tears.
But now you're gone, there's only pain
and nothing I can do.
And I don't want to live this life,
If I can't live for you.

After Sid's death his mother phoned Nancy's mother to request that Vicious be buried next to Nancy but Deborah Spungen declined. There are several myths about what happened to Vicious' remains but one of the most persistent is that late one night "Sid's mother jumped the graveyard fence where Nancy was buried and scattered his ashes over his beloved for them to be together for all time."

According to the Guardian newspaper, "It's more likely that Ma Vicious arrived back at Heathrow with his remains. Malcolm McLaren claims she knocked them over in the arrivals lounge; hence the fanciful myth that Sid's essence still circulates, wafting through the air vents and moving among the travellers." [1]

Sid Sings, a solo album, was released posthumously by Virgin Records. This was mostly a collection of cover versions of rock 'n' roll numbers such as "C'mon Everybody" and "Something Else" by Eddie Cochran along with material by Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders and a rendition of the Paul Anka / Frank Sinatra standard "My Way". Striking footage of Vicious performing this song in Paris provides the closing sequence for Julien Temple's film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

Quotes

After appearing in court over Nancy Spungen's death, Sid was briefly interviewed by a tabloid journalist. Sid appears sober, morose, and withdrawn:

Interviewer: Are you having fun now?
Sid: Are you kidding? No, I'm not having fun at all.
Interviewer: Where do you wish you were right now?
Sid: Under the ground.
Interviewer: Are you serious?
Sid: (quietly) Yeah.

Discography

Charted releases

Singles

  • June 30, 1978 – My Way # 6 UK
  • February 9, 1979 – Something Else # 3 UK
  • June 22, 1979 – C'mon Everybody # 7 UK

Album

Various pressings and bootlegs

  • My Way/Something Else/C’mon Everybody (1979, 12”, Barclay, Barclay 740 509)
  • Sid Sings (1979, LP, Virgin, V2144)
  • Live (1980, LP, Creative Industry Inc., JSR 21)
  • Vicious Burger (1980, LP, UD-6535, VD 6336)
  • Love Kills N.Y.C. (1985, LP, Konexion, KOMA 788020)
  • The Sid Vicious Experience – Jack Boots and Dirty Looks (1986, LP, Antler 37)
  • The Idols With Sid Vicious (1993?, CD, Last Call Records, LC22289)
  • Never Mind the Reunion Here’s Sid Vicious (1997, CD)
  • Sid Dead Live (1997, CD, Anagram, PUNK 86)
  • Sid Vicious Sings (1997, CD)
  • Vicious & Friends (1998, CD, Dressed To Kill Records, Dress 602)
  • Better (to provoke a reaction than to react to a provocation) (1999, CD, Almafame, YEAAH6)
  • Probably His Last Ever Interview (2000, CD, OZIT, OZITCD62)
  • Better (2001, CD)
  • Vive Le Rock (2003, 2CD)
  • Too Fast To Live... (2004, CD)
  • Naked & Ashamed (7”, Wonderful Records, WO-73)
  • Sid Live At Max’s Kansas City (LP, JSR 21)
  • Sid Vicious (LP, Innocent Records, JSR 23)
  • Sid Vicious McDonald Bros. Box (3CD, Sound Solutions, 003)

Sid Vicious & Friends

  • (Don’t You Gimme) No Lip/(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone (1989, 7”, SCRATCH 7)
  • Sid Vicious & Friends (1998, CD, Cleopatra, #251, ASIN: B0000061AS)

Sid Vicious/Eddie Chochran

  • Sid Vicious v’s Eddie Cochran – The Battle Of The Rockers (LP, Jock, LP 7)

Sid Vicious/Elvis Presley

  • Cult Heroes (1993, CD)

Vicious White Kids

  • The Vicious White Kids (1987, LP, Ritchie 1)
  • Vicious White Kids (2000, CD, Sanctuary, CMRCD372)

Films that include Sid Vicious

Further reading

  • Anne Beverley, The Sid Vicious Family album (1980, Virgin Books)
  • Gerald Cole, Sid And Nancy (1986, Methuen)
  • Alex Cox & Abbe Wool, Sid And Nancy (1986, Faber and Faber)
  • Keith Bateson and Alan Parker, Sid’s Way (1991, Omnibus Press)
  • Tom Stockdale, Sid Vicious. They Died Too Young (1995, Parragon)
  • Malcolm Butt, Sid Vicious. Rock‘n’Roll Star (1997, Plexus)
  • David Dalton, El Sid (1998, St. Martin’s Griffin)
  • Sid Vicious, Too Fast To Live...Too Young to Die (1999, Retro Publishing)
  • Alan Parker, Vicious. Too Fast To Live... (2004, Creation Books)

Other books and films

Sid Vicious in pop culture

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