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The Sex Pistols
By Mick O'Shea
The Fateful U. S. Tour, January 1978
(Jefferson, N. C.: McFarland, 2018)
208 pages. Paperback. $29.95.
Review by Dr. Kirk
December 1, 2018
irreverent, raucous, and utterly polarizing, the Sex Pistols-singer
Johnny Rotten, drummer Paul Cook, bassist (and, sadly, heroin addict)
Sid Vicious, and guitarist Steve Jones-toured the United States, for
the first and final time, in January 1978. Between the 5th and 14th
of the month, they played seven venues: the Great Southeast Music
Hall in Atlanta; the Taliesyn Ballroom in Memphis; Randy's Rodeo in
San Antonio; the Kingfish Club in Baton Rouge; the Longhorn Ballroom
(founded by Bob Wills and later managed by Jack Ruby!) in Dallas;
Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa; and Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
Rowdy rock fans as well as large numbers of the curious-those who
"came to see the people who came to see the Sex Pistols," in the words
of the Dallas Morning News-showed up for these frequently tumultuous
spectacles. At tour's end, the band imploded in San Francisco. At
the conclusion of their last performance, Rotten famously queried,
"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" Guitarist Jones later
observed, "The Sex Pistols were born to crash and burn, and that's
exactly what we did."
Prolific music historian Mick O'Shea examines this legendary and ill-starred
tour in his terrific The Sex Pistols Invade America: The Fateful
U. S. Tour, January 1978. Clearly written and based on numerous
eyewitness accounts, this book will appeal to pop culture enthusiasts,
especially those interested in the history of rock music. "By the
time of the U. S. tour," O'Shea asserts, "the Sex Pistols had released
four singles, signed with three major UK record labels, employed two
bass players, and scored a UK No. 1 album. Within a six month period-December
1976 to June 1977-they had also enjoyed the sobriquet of being the
scourge of the British Establishment." Still, few Americans knew much
about the band that spawned such defiant anthems as "Anarchy in the
UK" and "God Save the Queen." "Despite being front-page news in the
UK…the Pistols' anarchic antics had largely gone unnoticed" in the
United States. All that changed, however, in January 1978 as the infamous
young musicians and their manager, provocateur extraordinaire Malcolm
McLaren, hit American shores.
The performance at Randy's Rodeo on January 8th was an especially
disorderly affair; Vicious swung his guitar at a heckler, and many
spectators, "mostly longhaired San Antonio heavy metal fans," launched
beer, food, and saliva at the English punk rockers. Unfazed and gamely
goading their audience, the Sex Pistols played on; bedlam reigned.
One eyewitness recalled, "The Pistols hit the stage blasting like
a pack of howling coyotes loose in a chicken pen: blowtorch guitar,
machine gun drums, snarling vocals, sneering faces, bass rumble. They
were half rock 'n' roll messiahs, half sideshow freaks. Johnny Rotten
fomented chaos and rebellion; Steve Jones and Paul Cook anchored it
with napalm-drenched Eddie Cochran riffs and a backbeat crackling
like a nail gun…[and] Sid Vicious spewed venom."
Rock 'n' roll as it should be: urgent, aggressive, loud, and totally
unforgettable. God Save the Sex Pistols!
Book Review Editor,
Central Texas Studies
Reviews by Dr. Kirk Bane