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Sid Vicious, born Simon John Ritchie in 1957, was one of the principal players of the punk rock movement as bass player of the band The Sex Pistols. In a way, Sid Vicious become more infamous than famous. He was accused of fatally stabbing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen in 1978, and while awaiting trial, he died of a heroin overdose of pure heroin, (usually the drug is in diluted form), in 1979. It is important to note Vicious never claimed knowledge of the stabbing, and could not recollect it, and that several other theories emerged about Nancy’s death. Both were so deeply immersed in heroin drug addiction at the time that any number of theories as to Nancy’s death, and Sid’s are possible.
Prior to Nancy and Sid’s death, Sid had been recruited by music producer Malcolm McClaren, one of the great movers and shakers of the punk movement and later the New Wave movement, to replace Glen Matlock in the Sex Pistols. At the age of 20, Vicious had already played in several British bands that had not won the kind of popularity that the Sex Pistols held. It’s fair to say his musicianship was never celebrated, and he was pretty much known as a “three chord” man, with more attitude than aptitude as a bassist.
When he changed his name to Sid Vicious, it did indeed sound as if the man was quite hostile. This is true to a degree, and the Sex Pistols were specifically hostile, anti-government and pro-anarchy. However the name itself was given to Sid by friend John Lydon, who had a hamster named Sid Vicious.
Vicious was already a huge fan of the Sex Pistols when he was asked to join their band in 1977, but his meeting with Nancy Spungen would prove to destroy the band from inside, just as it ultimately destroyed these two young people. Nancy was addicted to heroin, and soon Sid was also. Their relationship was explosive and sometimes violent, and it deeply affected Sid’s ability to perform. The histrionics involved in the Sid/Nancy relationship led to infighting in the band, and its breakup just a year after Sid had joined.
Nancy then functioned as Sid’s manager, and Sid Vicious did have some gigs as a soloist. By the fall of 1978, Nancy was dead, perhaps killed by Vicious, and though he recorded a few more songs, he also would soon die. Sid Vicious perhaps best expresses the worst aspect of the punk rock movement, and later movements like the Grunge movement in the early 90s. In fact, there have been repeated parallels drawn between the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and his relationship with Courtney Love.
At its best, punk rock was reactionary, critical of the establishment and specifically designed to be different and raw, especially meant to counter the “canned” popularity of disco and bring back the energy of live performances. At its worst it encouraged drug use, violence, and nihilism. Vicious may have been the most recognizable “face” of punk rock, but he clearly also stands out as an example of what can happen when the lifestyle one proposes is the one that one follows. He took his live fast, die young philosophy seriously, and did exactly that, leaving a trail of destruction in his path.
It's hard to imagine that Sid Vicious would only be in his 50s if he were still alive today. Johnny (Rotten) Lydon is still around, and still playing music. I watched the Sid Vicious movie a few times and I don't know how to feel about the relationship between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Sometimes she reminded me of Courtney Love, but then other times it was more like Yoko Ono. Sid didn't seem like he had his act together enough to be a musical genius like Kurt Cobain or John Lennon. He was more of a junkie who found an outlet for his anger with the Sex Pistols.
The Sex Pistols played one show in a grungy underground
bar near my hometown in Ohio, and some people who were there still talk about it. They actually met Sid Vicious after the show, but Nancy wasn't with him. One of them told me he wasn't the same guy offstage. They took him to a 23 hour a day diner called "Jerry's", and the waitress was a young aspiring singer named Chrissie Hynde.
I wasn't a big fan of the original punk rock movement, but at least it was something different than disco or pop. I had friends who went to punk clubs and copied the Sid Vicious look every weekend. I just wasn't the rebellious, angry type myself. Sid Vicious always looked like he was ready to burn something down to the ground or whatever.