Thursday, 2 February 2012

Sid Vicious: Live Wire

On this day in 1979 Sid Vicious, Punk icon and one-time bassist of the Sex Pistols, died. He died of a heroin overdose at a party celebrating his release on bail, awaiting trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Sid Vicious was twenty-one years old.

There is much speculation surrounding the death of Nancy Spungen, and I wanted to pay tribute to this murder mystery, which fascinates me. At least, that's how I began. Clearly, I went hideously off track, since this post ends with a poem rather than a theory as to what happened to Nancy Spungen, or to Sid Vicious for that matter. Anyway, for those interested, the basic story runs thus.

Sid met Nancy on the Sex Pistols' American tour. They became immediately inseparable, some would say dangerously co-dependent. You could say they fell in love. The tour was not successful: the band was ill-received by their American audience and Sid, introduced to heroin by Nancy, had become completely out of control. The band tried desperately to break the couple up, but to no avail; the band broke up instead.

Post the Sex Pistols, Sid and Nancy moved to New York, taking up residence in the Chelsea Hotel. Here, the couple quickly spiralled into decline. Apart from a few disastrous appearances at gigs, they became reclusive and holed up in their hotel room with an ever-increasing supply of illegal drugs. They began to argue, and, in this unhealthily isolated environment, both started resorting to extreme physical violence.

On the morning of October 17th Nancy was found dead. She was lying on the floor of Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel in just her underwear, her head under the sink. She had died from loss of the blood she was lying in, a single stab wound in her abdomen.

At first glance it looks like an obvious, rather sordid, case;  in reality, it is a complicated one.

Several people came forward with conflicting evidence. There were suggestions that Nancy might have committed suicide, perhaps as part of a suicide pact made with Sid, and there is evidence to back this. Sid was reported by friends to be extremely depressed on the night of the murder, both had mysteriously stated that they didn't expect to live long at a recent visit to Nancy's parents, and Nancy had, for no obviously apparent reason, given her precious Sex Pistols memorabilia to a friend (the electrically nicknamed Neon Leon) to 'look after' the night before her death.

It was claimed that Nancy had a large sum of money on her on the night she died, which was then missing when her body was discovered. Two separate drug dealers were alleged to have visited Sid and Nancy's room that night. Could one of them have killed Nancy whilst Sid, in the same room, was unconscious?

And if Sid did stab Nancy, did he really intend to kill her? He was inconsolable after her death and made several suicide attempts, eventually succumbing to heroin overdose on 2nd February (although whether his death really was suicide is a matter of debate also, but that's another story).

All fascinating. Yet, somehow, I am much more interested in Sid and Nancy themselves than how they destroyed one another. For if he did indeed destroy her, she destroyed him also. I'm not advocating the popular 'if only Sid hadn't met Nancy he would never have got addicted to heroin and died' point of view here, but certainly his love for her killed him in the end. In his own words on arrest 'I can't live without her', and, apparently, he couldn't. Sid survived Nancy by just four months.

Nancy it seems was an unusual woman, who had been an unusual girl, even an unusual baby. Unable by any means to get Nancy to stop screaming, she was given her first sedative by her mother aged just three months. She was intelligent and excelled academically but never had many friends and often exhibited violent behaviour. When Nancy was eleven years old she attacked her mother with a hammer for refusing to take her to a museum.

Later, Nancy continued to be unpopular, found abrasive even by those trying to be abrasive on the Punk scene. She would come eventually to be described in the tabloid press as 'Nauseating Nancy'. This and more leads Nancy to frequently be described as 'hard' and 'unlovable'. But watch a few interviews with Nancy and it may change your mind. To me, she merely seems extremely under-confident and desperate for attention; when positive attention isn't forthcoming, negative will do.

Sid behaved outrageously. He did so many extreme things that I almost don't know which to mention. Notoriously he went on stage with 'Gimme a Fix' scratched into his skin at a Sex Pistols' gig, smashed a man over the head with his guitar and was generally obnoxious, almost petchulant, in interviews.

However this interview with Sid following Nancy's death is one of the sadist things I have ever seen, made worse by the blatant insensitivity of the interviewer (who, like the Tin Man, is missing a heart, but, unlike the Tin Man, is clearly not in search of one).

And the more I find out about Sid, the sadder and more fragile her seems. Sid had a disastrous childhood, traversing the country with a drug-addicted mother. He was thrown out of home at sixteen, and in his revealing article 'Little Boy Lost', John Savage sites Sid's mother's chilling recollection of the incident:

"I remember saying to him: 'It's either you or me, and it's not going to be me. I have got to try to preserve myself and you just fuck off.' He said: 'I've not got anywhere to go,' and I said: 'I don't care.'"

Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why Sid had difficulty establishing structure in his life, and why he was so self destructive. (I can even almost imagine when I look closely at photographs of Sid that I can see the vulnerability and blankness in his eyes, even when he is sneering at the camera. Either that, or I'm just too easily swayed by his pixie-ish good looks.)

It would be easy to say that the tragedy of Sid's life (and perhaps in turn the reason that Nancy died too) was that he just didn't know when to stop. But I think it's more likely that he knew perfectly well, he just couldn't.

In a phone call to Roberta Bayley in January 1978, a year before his death, he said something I find interesting: 'my basic nature will kill me'. And I can empathise with that.

I think lots of people spend their lives fighting their basic natures, a battle they sometimes lose, often with disastrous consequences. Sid couldn't stop drinking and taking drugs. Some people can't stop lying or taking risks. Me? I just can't stop worrying. Name me an illness, a shark attack statistic, a story involving bugs which bury under the skin, and I'll worry. No matter if all three only affect outer Mongolia, I'll still research the hell out of them and then worry just the same. I must have the blood pressure of a fifty-year-old City Suit who lives off ready meals, cigarettes and adrenaline.

Anyway, my point being that Sid, like most of us, was contending with himself. He couldn't stop drinking. He couldn't stop taking drugs. And, probably, he couldn't stop using physical violence to express himself. He didn't chose the dangerous, hedonistic philosphy of Punk, I suppose you could it chose him. And so, he died.

I feel a bit sad about that.

Sid Vicious: Live Wire

You: Peter Pan
Rushing after death,
a cigarette, a can of beer, a needle
is in your right hand,
you sneer for the flash,
pinned in its neon embrace
like a butterfly in a glass box

You: Sacrificial Lamb,
at the alter of Punk,
your fragile beauty is electric,
it trembles through the wire,
your soul in a socket,
to shock the world

You: Hell's Angel
racing through the dark,
your blood: whisky, morphine, tar,
your hair a bed of fine needles,
your eyes: black coffee,
tiny worlds with no sun

You: Live Wire,


  1. I'm really interested in Sid, not so much Nancy as I never really saw any appeal in her, but with heroin-related deaths in general. Being someone who has never had an addiction to heroin, I would love to know what feels so great about it that makes you sacrifice your world for it.

    It's the same with the late, great Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Here is a man regular recorded as debunking the "glamour" of heroin, yet was taking it all along and died a slow and painful death from it.


    1. Nancy met Sid in London not on the pistols tour in America. Also she died on October 12 not 17


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