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Book review – Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol by Steve Jones

I’ve read some good books this summer. Here is one I really enjoyed.

Free image alert: not a Sex Pistol

Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol by Steve Jones

Can’t say I knew a lot about the Sex Pistols other than they were the catalyst for anti-fashion trends such as safety pins as accessories, combat boots, ripped fishnet tights, fingernails covered with black polish, plus spikey hair, green hair, pink hair, purple hair, Mohawk hair and no hair.

Since they only recorded one album, there weren’t many opportunities to listen to their music back in the, ahem, late ‘70s, early ‘80s, either. Most FM radio stations that targeted younger listeners played it safe with rock, pop, Top 40 and R&B. Every so often a station showed a little verve and converted their format to one with a more adventurous playlist that included songs from Talking Heads, early Elvis Costello and similarly arty new wave bands and artists. But rarely the Sex Pistols.

The music

I’d heard “God Save the Queen” a few times but not enough to know if their music represented anything other than sheer anarchy meant to offend the establishment. Today, one of my favorite stations on Sirius/XM Radio is the Underground Garage, where I’ve been exposed to newer bands like the Cocktail Slippers, Tinted Windows and The Strypes – and reintroduced to older bands like the Sex Pistols.

Were the Sex Pistols critically appreciated? I’d read a book in the ‘90s written by Nancy Spungen’s mother (Nancy was Sid Vicious’s heroin-addicted girlfriend) who thought The Clash on a much higher plane musically. But after listening to a few Sex Pistols songs, thanks to my Sirius/XM subscription, I think their music is great. If nothing else, it’s tailor-made for exercise, with an energy that helps a white suburban mom like me burn calories. (Given their penchant for wanting to be the opposite of everything we value in conventional society, they might have found that troubling.)

The book

Jones was born out of wedlock to a young mom stuck at the bottom of England’s classist system. Later, he endured one-time sexual abuse at the hands of a perpetually cruel stepfather. He also struggled in school, possibly due to undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD, two conditions largely unacknowledged by the education system of the time.

Through all this he was drawn to music even though he had no formal training. Where did this instinct come from? What compelled him to see it through? As a teen, he taught himself to play the guitar and write music – in fact, he spent hours practicing, focusing with the help of street drugs that might be today’s equivalent of Adderall and Ritalin. Eventually, he was the driving force behind the Sex Pistols (the band, of course, turned out to be hugely influential).

Candor

His candor about drug addiction, sex addiction and a tendency to steal musical equipment from his peers is fascinating. A writing mentor of mine said writers are supposed to reveal themselves in their work – stand naked on a street corner, so to speak – and Jones certainly accomplishes that here.

He doesn’t glamorize drug use in the book – nor his rough lifestyle. Even so he was driven to create music. And in that sense, he tells an inspiring story. Even more inspiring is how he later overcame drug addiction.

Why did I like this book so much? It was so honest, as evidenced by his aforementioned candor. And I’m fascinated by musicians with little formal training who follow a musical energy that exists within. With Jones and other musicians, it wasn’t like anyone cheered them on early in life – music was just something they felt inside, that needed to be expressed, and so they followed this internal energy without really knowing where it was going to take them.

In today’s world, we are always looking for ways to succeed, as though all you need to do is listen to a podcast or follow some guru’s seven steps to heavenly success and voila, the world is your oyster. Like it’s just so neat and tidy. But creativity isn’t usually like that and true artists aren’t afraid to struggle through. And truthfully, there’s no way to remove the struggle no matter what you are trying to accomplish. Stories like these confirm there are no easy answers, which means, I must be on the right path!

Here are a few other memoirs you might find interesting.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

Reckless: My Life as a Pretender by Chrissie Hynde

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

What do you think? Do you find these types of stories interesting?

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