Viking Night: Sid and Nancy
By Bruce Hall
March 15, 2011
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
For anybody who is old enough to remember the Sex Pistols while they were big, it’s probably all a bit hazy by now. They weren’t around long and their public disintegration was a tragic one that left fans with the idea that they’d been cheated. For later generations, the Sex Pistols became either mystical figures of punk folklore or a sad example of how drugs, booze and hubris can destroy just about anything.
For everybody else, just know that the Sex Pistols are the band largely credited with popularizing punk music in the UK. Maybe that means nothing to you; kids today either couldn’t care less about punk music or they think Green Day invented it, and those guys are all pushing 40. Meanwhile, music snobs will argue that the Pistols were corporate phonies who put the last nail in the coffin of good garage music. There are a lot of opinions surrounding these guys, but opinions aren’t facts and the truth is far more interesting than any of the misconceptions. The place the Pistols hold in music history depends on who you talk to, but the sad fact is, the fate of the band eventually ultimately determined by its least competent member. That would be Sid Vicious, who along with front man Johnny Rotten became the popular face of punk music.
Johnny was a working class Irish lad with a chip on his shoulder and Sid was a conflicted kid from London who just wanted to be where the action was. Johnny was the driving force behind the music; Sid was named after Johnny’s hamster (seriously), and they both came of age at the epicenter of London’s punk scene. Armed with Johnny’s sardonic, snarling voice, Sid’s menacing presence and catchy, controversial songs, the Sex Pistols took London by surprise and started a cultural meltdown. But two and a half years later, it was all over. Sid was dead; Johnny and the band’s manager were at war in court and the punk scene soon imploded, crushed by the wave of synth pop and hair metal that was the 1980s.
The mythology behind the Sex Pistols, their rise and their chaotic demise has become legend. But legends have enemies and your enemies usually spend more time worrying about you than your friends do. The Sex Pistols had a lot of enemies, who actively contribute to misconceptions about the band, which makes the truth harder to come by. A lot of people believe that what killed the Pistols was when Sid met the woman who would ultimately destroy him. She’s been called the Yoko Ono of punk rock, which isn’t fair, but generalizations are never the truth; they’re a point of reference. The truth is far more complicated, but you’d never know it from watching Sid and Nancy.