Sid at Sixty

If Sid Vicious were still alive, he would be turning 60 today. It’s hard to imagine him at this age. He never saw 22.

I blogged about Sid back in 2009 on the 30th anniversary of his death. My words for him then were not kind and now that bothers me a little. I don’t know if he deserves better. I’ll leave that for those who knew him to decide. The problem I have is with the motivation behind what I said.

The chemical excesses of my midlife crisis came to a halt in late 2007. After that, I merely drank too much. In February 2009 when Sid’s fatal overdose was having its pearl anniversary, my drug days were less than a year and a half behind me. I wasn’t enjoying life very much then and I often tried to take comfort in reminding myself that at least I didn’t do the really bad stuff anymore. To that end, I tossed poor old junkie Sid under the bus. It was a bitch move even if it was a fair assessment of him.

The truth of the matter is that the mother of all train wrecks that was Sid Vicious has an appeal that has never completely gone away. Granted, it is not as all consuming as it once was. I no longer walk around in a dog collar bought in the pet section of Thrifty Drugs, yell insults at people in a fake British accent, or punch out windows at a party because some girl didn’t realize what a tortured genius I was. I did fall short on a few key points though. I was too much of a wuss for getting into fights or shooting heroin and the dog collar I wore was beige because that was the only color they had available at the store I went to.

Now I can appreciate Sid’s legacy without the slightest urge to emulate him. I’m 54 and am either too mature or just lack the energy (I often confuse the two).

So what was the appeal of Sid Vicious? He certainly had his bad qualities. He couldn’t handle his drugs, was prone to violence, and utterly lacked impulse control. He may or may not have murdered Nancy Spungen and worse than that, he was a lousy bass player.

It’s probably unfair to judge Sid by his bass playing. It is impossible to imagine him without music around him, but he was no more a musician than a salmon is a stream. Like a salmon, Sid was driven to leap and flail against the current in pursuit of a goal that would bring about his end. As for his instrument, it made a handy bludgeon. He could scarcely play a note, but that was not important. It wasn’t until they unplugged his bass at shows that he truly started to shine. His smug sneer after a pint of blood poured from nostrils was a thing of terrible beauty. After the Pistols broke up, he recorded a version of “My Way” that has yet to be equaled.

This was the side of Sid Vicious director Alex Cox presented in Sid and Nancy. I’ve seen interviews with people who knew Sid when he was neither on stage nor on heroin and they were not impressed with the film. John Lydon was particularly vocal in this regard. While Gary Oldman nailed the batshit public persona, the funny and smart side of Sid didn’t make it to the screen.

I have no reason to doubt this part of him existed. I don’t pretend to know everything about him. For example, I didn’t learn until recently that Sid was a huge David Bowie fan. Go figure. But here’s the thing. I don’t give a shit if he was a swell guy underneath it all. It was Sid Vicious the performer who appealed to me then and the same holds true today. Personal mythos are not supposed to be reasoned positions. It’s OK if they are constructed on foundations of bullshit. It might even be a requirement. You’re a fool if you put your trust in these fanciful notions, but a bigger one if you dismiss their importance completely.

Joe Strummer once sang “You can be a hero in an age of none.” It wasn’t about Sid, but it might as well have been. Sid Vicious was simultaneously a force of nature and a frightened child who was in way over his head. That made  Sid someone I could relate to even if I lacked his follow through. In some small way, he will always be my hero and decades later, I’m still living in the age of none.

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