Rock and Roll Book Club: Steve Jones's 'Lonely Boy'

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Steve Jones's 'Lonely Boy'
Steve Jones's 'Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

If you ask an average music fan to name one Sex Pistol, they'll probably say Johnny Rotten. Name two? Okay, Sid Vicious. "I hadn't minded being second fiddle to John," writes Steve Jones about Vicious joining the band, "but now I was playing third fiddle to this f---ing idiot."

Jones, a guitarist and bassist (he plays both parts on the Sex Pistols' one proper album, Never Mind the Bollocks), was one of three founding members of the band — and neither of the other two were Rotten or Vicious. It was Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and Wally Nightingale (who was replaced by Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Vicious).

"He's had his say a few times," writes Jones about Rotten. "Maybe enough times. It's my turn now." Thus begins Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, Jones's new memoir. Still, Jones makes clear he's not out to settle scores. He does, however, correct a few misconceptions: for example, no, he did not defile a sandwich he later fed to Matlock. The germ of truth in that story, Jones admits, is that he's not shy about discussing his preferred technique for copulating with bread loaves.

Did I mention this is a book about the Sex Pistols? Yep, and Jones doesn't spare the dirty details, except where it comes to his hookup with Vicious's girlfriend Nancy ("just to prove that chivalry's not dead"). Though Lonely Boy isn't the best starting place for people who want to learn about the history of punk, it's a candid window into the life of one of the original punk rockers — and Jones is frank about the inherent irony of achieving fame as a band protesting everything that fame was supposed to mean.

"Our success was a double-edged sword," Jones writes. "The better we were doing, the less we were allowed to show it."

Jones, who co-wrote the book with journalist Ben Thompson, sets the scene with a description of his impoverished '60s childhood. U.K. punk never fully translated in America, Jones argues, because we don't have Britain's deeply institutionalized class system. "When it feels like the whole economic and educational structure is designed to keep you at the bottom," Jones writes, "it's only natural to try and find a way to turn the whole thing upside down."

The Sex Pistols grew out of the scene at a clothing shop owned by married couple Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood; one of the other regulars was Chrissie Hynde, who Jones said he made the mistake of never taking seriously as a musician before she went on to hit it big with the Pretenders. Jones was one of the principal musical architects of the Sex Pistols, a band infamous for having rudimentary musical skills.

As Jones tells it, in fact, one of the reasons Matlock was forced out of the band was that he was too good; instead, McLaren brought in Sid Vicious, who couldn't play a note but looked magnificently the part.

Jones doesn't delve too deeply into the Sex Pistols' music, in part because there's not too far to delve, but he offers some interesting observations about how Never Mind the Bollocks came together. Instead of tracking the bass and drum first, Jones points out, he and Cook recorded the guitar and drum parts together first, then went in and added the bass and vocals later.

Once the Sex Pistols had their rapid rise and fall, Jones moved to America and started a solo career. His first post-Pistols band was an outfit called the Professionals, who toured America and had what Jones calls "a really serious car accident in Minnesota," though Jones himself wasn't in the van when the accident happened. Jones also became a footnote in the Bob Dylan discography when he put together a band that played a session for the infamously terrible album Down in the Groove.

Jones also had to get sober, and his version of the recovery story is peppered with more dry wit than most. He writes about how "I was a captive audience for Rick f---ing Wakeman" when he had to wait for hours at the house of a drug dealer who was a Yes fan, and remembers raising money for dope by selling pictures a girlfriend stole from her photographer ex. "You know what a joke you've become when your chances of survival depend on flogging someone a stolen 8x10 press shot of the band Heart."

(Jones can even make a 12-step program amusing: "The main difference between group therapy and being in a band," he writes, "is that in group therapy everyone's trying to help each other.")

Inevitably, Jones's story is haunted by death: first the drug-related demise of Vicious, and then the 2010 death of Malcolm McLaren. Jones relates the story of a note he sent after the death of McLaren, whose management of the band's finances had always been sketchy.

"I sent a letter to his son Joe [...] saying 'Where's the money? I wanna look in the coffin cos that's where the dough probably is.' It got a big chuckle from all the punters when he read it out apparently, but I wasn't making light of anything. I think Malcolm would've liked it, cos he always preferred the myth to the reality anyway."

The Current's Lonely Boy Giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol giveaway between 8 a.m. CT on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017.

One (1) winner will receive one (1) hardcover copy of Lonely Boy by Steve Jones. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $19

We will contact the winners on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.

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