SIDNEY, SAINT SIDNEY
‘Sid By Those Who Really Knew Him’ Premiere.
Alas, poor Sidney, I knew him well. By reputation, of course, Unlike the talking heads on this new documentary, wherein friends, associates and occasional adversaries recall the misadventures of the face that launched a thousand t-shirts. Marking the 30th anniversary of Sid's last croak, is tonight's fare another exercise in tomb robbing or something with a bit more substance?
Daft, gormless Sid is now an industry. The former Simon John Ritchie is mentioned in the same breath as Marilyn and James Dean. Ian Curtis has been putting in big strides recently but needs to get his hustle on if he's going to get a place at the top table. All the aforementioned are now officially 'icons'. I don't know who sits on the Icon panel but I'd like to have a word.
So what did Sid bring to the party? Aside from Nancy as his fiendishly annoying plus one? Well, he looked the part. To a small extent he defined it for generations to come. He did a great version of 'My Way'. The footage of him whacking a redneck with his bass - the most useful purpose to which it ever was put - in ‘The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle’ is a hoot. Beyond that...
Unlike some recent murky efforts to rehabilitate Sid, at least ‘By Those Who Really Knew Him’ is put together with a degree of professionalism. There is no narrator beyond the witness stand; we are left entirely to draw our own conclusions (and by including observations that are frankly contradictory, the edit doesn't bully you into accepting any grand theory). For example, you know it's silly season when anyone defines Sid as the epitome of punk; a frankly preposterous observation. Similarly the attempt to set Sid's sneer above Lydon's fierce, restless intelligence for pride of place on the punk rock mantelpiece is an utter non-starter. Thankfully, kindly Uncle Marco P is also present to set the record straight; pointing out that Sid was a figure to be pitied rather than deified. Ah, but it's a bit late for that now.
The finished DVD package includes a sleevenote by Sid biographer Mark Paytress that is far more sober and considered in the treatment of its subject than others doing the rounds. Yet there remain those even in this biopic who believe, unlike Paytress, that Sid was incapable of murdering Nancy. Given the evidence, it's a strange conclusion; a man with a background of random acts of violence, high as a kite on a bewildering cocktail of drugs who confessed to having knifed Spungen when police arrested him? Makes him a fairly credible suspect in my book (and no, fuck no, I'm not writing one). It's all a weird kind of make believe for adults that fits ghoulish agendas and the most base human instincts. If the man on the street was indeed a cunt, to coin Sid's most famous bon mots, he was at least above sewer level.
Peter 'Kodick' Gravelle
The premiere was staged at the Proud Galleries, currently hosting Peter 'Kodick' Gravelle's punk era photography (he also appears in the documentary and has the dubious claim to fame of being the one who brought round Sid's last heroin fix). And very fine work it was too, featuring images readily familiar to the punk vintage audience. Not least the original photos taken for ‘Damned Damned Damned’ and that distinctive 'suicide' set piece used on the cover of The Police's 'Can't Stand Losing You'. Back from when most thought they were a punk band too. Perhaps if Sting had followed through on the logic of the shoot he'd be getting all the t-shirt action.
Peter 'Kodick' Gravelle's photographs at the Proud Galleries,
The star of the show - and premiere - is Jah Wobble, one of the original three Johns of punk lore infamy. As weary as I am of this whole sordid Sid'n'Nance tale - a distraction from all that was good and positive about punk - at least here there is insight sufficient to jolt some revision of jaded views. Unquestionably Sid was a product of his troubled background. Who knows where any of us would have ended up had we spent our early years watching mum shoot up, a scene Wobble witnessed? It does give a more human vantage point. If you can't have some sympathy for that, then you're a harder-hearted bastard than I am.
Other contributors add pieces to the jigsaw. First girlfriend Simone, quasi-girlfriend (bed, but no bonking) Viv Albertine, 100 Club promoter Ron Watts, Glen Matlock, Banshee Steve Severin, Dave Vanian (the intended recipient of the pint pot that eventually half-blinded a girl in the 100 Club audience), Caroline Coon, etc. There's also archive from ITN and scrubbed up footage of McLaren and Westwood.
It does a decent job at profiling the man and the myth and the scent of the real Sidney (eau de Newcastle Brown and piss, as Albertine attests) hangs around like cheap perfume. He's not with us to argue his case, of course. But the toy dolls and the t-shirts are.
'Sid By Those Who Really Knew Him' is out now on Odeon Entertainment.