Book Reviews

Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol (Da Capo Press)

lonely-boy

Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol
Steve Jones
Da Capo Press

In the annals of punk rock legacy, Steve Jones is sadly given short shrift. Though it isn’t fair, it’s somewhat understandable; his bandmate John Lydon is an over-the-top personality, while Sid Vicious was a victim of his own enthusiasm, the cliche that became an archetype. Their band, the Sex Pistols, was managed by an equally over-the-top character, Malcolm McLaren, who exuded a Fagin-like personality over the band, simultaneously making them famous while taking advantage of them. The other band members—Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and former bassist Glen Matlock—were talented musicians, yet their lack of outgoing personalities results in them becoming secondary characters in their own history. Jones’ autobiography, Lonely Boy, sheds light on a music legend who is known about but not really known.

If McLaren was Fagin, then Jones was the Artful Dodger. It’s an apt metaphor; Jones’ early life was dominated by sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and poverty, leading him to become a hooligan with a lust for sex and petty crime. Thus, Jones becomes an adult at a young age, whilst seemingly remaining an adolescent personality well into adulthood. (Heck, to validate the Dickensian metaphor even further, the first chapter describe the young Jones’ dealings with Jack Wild, the young actor who famously portrayed The Artful Dodger.) Borne into poverty, Jones seemed to attract both criminal behavior and pedophiles, the recounting of sexual abuse makes for some very painful, difficult reading

Normally, one might be tempted to say that music would prove to be the young man’s salvation…but in Jones’ case, music merely proved to enhance Jones’ wild life, and he simply turned to music for his crime. It’s a part of lore, how Jones stole David Bowie’s gear after the famous live performance that constituted his Ziggy Stardust concert film, as is the fact that the early Sex Pistols’ gear was largely a hodgepodge of equipment stolen over the years. Now, one might think that stealing from one’s heroes is a bit dodgy, but Jones seems to see it as a form of paying tribute—convoluted, yes, yet Jones’ rationale is so charming, it almost makes sense. Then again, what is rock and roll without these stories of lore? (Don’t miss the hilarious story of the stolen Rolling Stones jacket–a hilarious tale if ever there was one.)

For Jones, the Sex Pistols came and went rather quickly, and what started out as a fun time with his best mate Paul Cook quickly turned sour. Jones seems to appreciate that the band’s incendiary nature practically ensured its relatively quick implosion, thanks to McLaren’s obsession with media manipulation, Lydon’s ego, and Sid Vicious’s incompetence. It’s quite telling, then, when he makes the observation that it wasn’t until the band’s reunion tour in 1996 that the group actually performed shows for an audience that wanted to see them and appreciated them for who they were.

If the Sex Pistols’ split was the end of an unhappy experience, it was only the beginning for Jones’ self-destruction. For someone who disdained the use of heroin in his former bandmate, he soon quickly gravitated to heroin addiction, which quickly overtakes him. He would put together bands, but they would come and go, as addiction and the irresponsibility that results from it halts any possible progress. His life goes from bad to worse, the nadir being a return to petty theft—stealing purses in clubs for the money, and selling stolen promotional glosses of Heart on the street to passersby—and the overwhelming desire for drink and dope makes for unpleasant reading, because that’s all he’s got going on. His post-breakup/pre-sobriety years are a blur, and it’s surprising he remembers what he does.

But, thankfully, redemption does come. Sobriety comes slowly, but it does eventually happen. He becomes a hired hand who performs with many leading rock and roll figures. He learns to read and write. He starts a well-respected radio program, Jonesy’s Jukebox. He takes up motorcycle riding and Transcendental Meditation. He still performs with the Sex Pistols, and even though the same animosities and frustrations arise, he still takes pleasure from playing with them.  Lonely Boy isn’t an easy, pleasant read—but then again, Jones’ life hasn’t been easy or pleasant—but it is most definitely engrossing. As sad as his tale may be, ultimately knowing that in his sixties Jones has found a level of contentment in his life makes the hard stuff easier to bear, resulting in a further appreciation of one of the more underrated guitarists of the rock era. 

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