Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
With the rock and roll scene in London well and truly all shook up, members of Parliament still outraged at John Lydon’s sneering arrogance and parts of the etablishment still scared to death of the Sex Pistols’ potential to inspire riots, what was there left for Johnny Rotten and crew?
Of course: America!
Malcolm McLaren, taking a leaf out of Beatle manager Brian Epstein’s book, had carefully planned a smart and considered assault in the U.S., beginning with a well-researched appearance on the hippest show on U.S. TV, Saturday Night Live. Yet, assorted criminal records caused a Visa delays and Elvis Costello ended up taking the TV exposure and launching himself on a long and profitable American career.
The Pistols, however, were undeterred and headed to the land of the free a few weeks later. But with no major event to hang the tour on, the exercise was in trouble from the start. With northern gigs cancelled after the SNL debacle, McLaren went into maximum headline mode and booked the band into what he thought were hardcore redneck bars in the South. He wanted tension, aggression and the resultant outraged headlines for his band (and himself).
The tour was a disaster. It was badly organized, the band fell out with each other and bodyguards inflicted more injuries on their wards than the fiercest good ol’ boys. Now, some gigs were good, especially in Austin, which somehow got the Pistols and understood the music, the politics and the joke. But mostly, life on the road was too painful to be brightened by playing live in bar rooms.
But by the time the band arrived on the west coast they were all, especially Rotten, exhausted, frustrated and ready to go home. This particular night they were playing a decent venue, home of countless Grateful Dead experiences, and there was no shortage of cool punk types in the San Francisco audience.
Sid Vicious, shirtless and useless on bass, gave a terrific rock star performance while Steve Jones absorbed himself in his guitar. Rotten, for all his travel woes, was a born entertainer and stepped up a gear into performer mode to give a more than decent show, given the appalling tour circumstances.
And then it was all over. The music stopped and Rotten, with that truly magnificent sneer, uttered the now famous words: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Goodnight.”