“Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol” by Steve Jones with ben Thompson, Da Capo, 308 pages, $26.99
We’re lucky that Steve Jones fit learning to play the guitar into his busy boyhood schedule of stealing cars, picking pockets, and thuggish petty thievery in the streets of mid-'70s London. If he hadn’t, we’d never have had the Sex Pistols, we’d never have had the brief but incredibly prolific tenure of British punk rock, and we’d never have known the raw, carnal delight of hearing the gritty guitar throb underlying John Lydon’s immortal spit-sung verse, “God save the Queen, the fascist regime/They made you a moron/Potential H-Bomb.”
“Lonely Boy” finds Jones in raw, open, and disarmingly honest form as he recounts his rise from a childhood marred by bereft penury, disinterested parents, sexual abuse, and oh-so-limited options, to the temporarily lofty heights of stardom afforded by UK punk’s first wave. It’s not always a pretty picture. Jones can be gruff, and though he acknowledges his fairly sexist Lothario’s ways, he still dishes plenty of dirt, detail-wise. He wasn’t just addicted to sex, either – the man’s battle with heroin is recounted in almost forensic detail.
And yet, there’s something very refreshing about Jones’ honesty, and to hear the story of the birth, brief life, and grisly death of the Sex Pistols told in his voice – the working class scouse accent all but leaps from the pages – is a delight for anyone who cares about rock music at the end of the 20th century. Jones lacks the acid-drenched humanism of his former band-mate, Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, who has written 2 brilliant memoirs of his own, but he’s witty, he’s self-deprecating when he isn’t bragging about a seemingly endless line of sexual conquests, and he writes/speaks in the voice of a deeply scarred survivor.
Reading “Lonely Boy,” you can’t help but feel compassion for Jones and his mates, all of whom fit the “flowers in the dustbin” image Lydon would conjure in “God Save the Queen”. The angst of end-of-the-century class-obsessed England in general and depressed urban London in particular, is palpable when Jones recounts his youth. Hopelessness defined the day, but Jones was stubborn enough to carve out something more for himself out of the detritus surrounding him. That he ultimately found self-awareness through sobriety is “Lonely Boy’s” version of a happy ending.
As the old song goes, “rock ain’t pretty, buddy”. The truth rarely is.
- Jeff Miers