Danny Boyle’s six-episode miniseries “Pistol” is based on the book “Lonely Boy,” written by Steve Jones. The series takes us through the punk movement that caused widespread chaos in a society known for its traditions, etiquette, and culture. It made them look in the mirror, which they had been neglecting for quite some time now. These were men and women who were abandoned by society, forgotten by their own families, and tortured to conform to the norm or be ostracized by the narrow-minded flagbearers of righteousness. These punk artists were nihilistic in their approach but offered a possibility to all the outcasts and misfits. They gave a sense of belongingness to those who had been mercilessly jilted by the hypocritical standards of an unjust society. So let’s take a stroll down the 70s, and witness the amusing and bizarre lives of these punk stars, and understand what made them take this forsaken path.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Punk: The Rise Of Anarchy
“Come to see us, we are awful” would probably be the worst pitch in the history of mankind, but it worked for the English punk rock band, Sex Pistols. They were not just selling music, but a philosophy much larger than that. It is debatable if they actually believed in those philosophies or did it because of fame, sheer influence, or maybe just to earn money. But one thing was sure that they were doing something that was unheard and unseen before, especially in a country that boasted of its etiquettes and manners. They were the misfits, the anarchists who were ready to usher in some chaos and expose the hypocrisy of society. They had a fury hidden somewhere deep inside them, and the loud noise and the fast-paced rhythm brought all that aggression to the surface. It brought a rancid brilliance with it. They wore weird clothes and often used vicks vaporub to make their hair stay up, often looking like a person who had come out of a mental asylum after getting shock therapy. Even after such oddities and reflecting a kind of repugnance that was never seen before, the people connected with them. Had the history not been recorded, it would have been difficult to believe that such a band existed and “God Save the Queen”, their second single, actually made it to the second position on the U.K. singles chart.
Steve John was trying to steal from a clothing boutique when Chrissie Hynde, store manager, caught him. She took him to the owners, Vivienne Westwood and her husband, Malcolm Mclaren. But they didn’t turn him over to the authorities. In fact, they urged him to go against the establishment. They were themselves trying to usher in a revolution of sorts where they were against the state. Vivienne saw a damaged young boy who could serve as a medium for them to do all those things that they always wanted to do. Malcolm had made up his mind that he would manage the amateur band that Steve was a part of, and through them, purport an ideology of chaos. Steve used to steal music equipment from people like David Bowie, whom he also admired, and one day, when he was executing one such act, he was caught by the police and taken for a trial. Malcolm appeared on his behalf and made sure that he was acquitted. He also got the band their first gig, at which Steve was accompanied by Wally, the guitarist, and his old friend Paul Cook, the drummer. Steve froze during the performance. Thoughts of his abusive childhood started haunting him. He left the stage in a hurry, leaving his band members behind to be embarrassed publicly.
Malcolm came up with the idea that Steve should be a guitarist, although the latter had no clue how to play one. He had five days to learn and master the craft, and surprisingly, he did it while being under the influence of hard drugs. Malcolm found a peculiar guy named John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, and decided that he would be the new vocalist of the band. Somehow, Steve managed to learn to play some chords while being in a hallucinatory state due to the continuous consumption of a drug named black beauty. He had been awake for five straight days and was in a deplorable condition. Glen Matlock, who was joining them as a bass guitarist, thought that it was a waste of time to be with the Pistols, but had a change of heart when Steve aces a chord or two. So now the Pistols, apart from having a singer who was half insane and actually didn’t know how to sing, also had a guitarist who didn’t know how to play. But for them, music was just a launching pad, and with their idiosyncrasies and repulsive peculiarities, they were ready to take on the world.
Why Did John Rotten Conspire Against Glen Matlock?
There was a constant power struggle between Steve John and John Rotten, and both of them wanted things done according to their whims and fancies. Steve had Malcolm backing him up, and Johnny Rotten needed somebody in the band who would side with him in case of a conflict. Glen Matlock became collateral damage in the conflict. Johnny convinces Malcolm that Glen Matlock didn’t fit into their band and didn’t have the attributes that were needed to be a crusader of the revolution. But Glen was, in fact, the spine of the band. He, together with Paul Cook, knew his craft and had the technical know-how and basic understanding of music. Glen had helped the band compose many songs but became a victim of internal politics. Lydon wanted his old friend Sid Vicious to be the bass guitarist, and with a recommendation from Chrissie, he was able to fulfill his vendetta. Sid Vicious, whose real name was John Ritchie, was the perfect poster boy who could put up an act. He went on stage and often cut himself in front of the audience, and post-performance, he lay in his room, bleeding and hallucinating under the influence of heroin. He became the new star of the band, but the only issue was that the man had no clue about playing the guitar. In the series, Pistols, we see him giving his derisive laugh in more than one instance and stating that he didn’t have to learn to play guitar to be in a punk band. The coup that had been intricately planned by Lydon became one of the reasons for the downfall of the band. In many instances, when the Pistols were recording their music, Steve had to fill in for Sid Vicious as the producers were not happy with his work. Though Lydon wanted to use the inclusion of Sid to his benefit, he also deeply cared for the man. When Sid Vicious was in the hospital, he was one of those few people who actually went to check up on him, even though it was quite against his nature to do so.
What Happened Between Nancy Spungen And Sid Vicious?
Nancy Spungen had met Sid Vicious during one of the concerts. They had grown to become close, but both were dealing with a traumatized and disturbed past. Both felt lonely amidst the screeching noise, and both felt emotionally vulnerable in front of people. Nancy Spungen was diagnosed with schizophrenia at an early age of 15. Chrissie always felt that Nancy was a “groupie” and would leave Sid the moment she met anyone who was more successful and famous than him. Even Lydon had a problem with Nancy and felt that she was a bad influence on Sid and the band, but somewhere it felt like he was insecure about the growing closeness of her and his old pal. Malcolm had advised Steve to get rid of the girl, and others supported him. At first, Chrissie was against the idea, but when Nancy arrived at her home and created a ruckus, she changed her mind.
Though Chrissie that very night felt that maybe nobody had ever tried to understand Nancy. Nobody had tried to make her feel special or emotionally touch her. Nancy used to abandon people because she herself feared that they would leave her at the first given opportunity. Steve decides to intoxicate her and send her to New York. Vicious had no clue about it as he had been hospitalized for quite some time. He came back from the hospital and was told that Nancy had gone without informing anybody. He was disheartened but couldn’t do anything about the situation. He really liked Nancy and, for the first time, shared such a close relationship with any girl. The night Nancy came to Chrissie’s house, the latter read out a letter to her, written by Vicious. He had mentioned in that letter reasons why he liked Nancy.
The band were at their anarchic best, and were singing their song, God Save the Queen, on a cruise near Buckingham Palace as a protest. Their song was not being played on the radio despite being on the top ten singles list. It was at that moment that Lydon told Vicious that Steve conspired with Malcolm and sent Nancy back to New York. Lydon’s agenda was to conspire against Malcolm, but before he could properly do that, Nancy came back. That letter was maybe the first time somebody had made an emotional disturbed Nancy feel good about herself. For the first time, someone wanted to be with her. For the first time, someone loved her.
But the happiness didn’t last long. While doing drugs, Vicious thought he stabbed Nancy, and the next day he saw her bleed to death while lying intoxicated and unconscious in her bathroom (though the fact was never confirmed). Vicious was charged with committing murder, and he, too, died of a heroin overdose, even before a judgment could be served by the court of law. It was a tragic end to a love story that, in spite of its oddities, could have helped both the parties take charge of their lives and move away from the debauchee lifestyle. They genuinely felt for each other, and Sid’s letter was the most affectionate thing any partner could have ever asked for.
‘Pistol’ Ending, Explained: Did John Rotten Reconcile With Steve Jones?
Though Malcolm posed as a supporter and believer of anarchism, it was Lydon and Steve who actually executed it when the time came. On the 1st of December, 1976, the Pistols were called on a television program called Today, just after they had released their first song, “Anarchy” in the U.K. Steve and Lydon used offensive language on national television, and it caused an uproar in the British community. It ousted them from the farce that they belonged to a society that had taught the world the meaning of words like decency and dignity. Malcolm always tried to create friction in the group, claiming that destruction and conflict were the foundations of nihilism, but in reality, it seemed like he was just doing it for monetary gains and to keep control of the proceedings in his hand. After the infamous U.S. tour of Pistol, Malcolm saw things slipping from his hands and wanted to grasp the power back. He was ready to fire Johnny Rotten if needed. He conspired against him with Steve Jones and was able to get the majority on his side. Steve knew that without the lyrics of Lydon, their band would be like an empty shell, and no matter how much they tried to put up an act and compensate for it, Pistol would never be the same again. But still, Steve sided with Malcolm, and it became the final nail in the coffin of a band that once proclaimed to bring about a revolution.
Steve, after the death of Sid Vicious, was broken and didn’t know what to do or how to proceed. He decided to inject himself with heroin and, while hallucinating on the drug, had an epiphany of sorts, where Lydon came and talked to him. That hallucinatory conversation he had with Lydon, might be imaginary, but it gave him the strength, courage, and motivation to once again start from scratch. Though Lydon and Steve never had a personal conversation and never really reconciled after the former left the band, the series shows they had mutual admiration and respect for each other, which was often bogged down by their own eccentricities and brashness.
“Pistol” is a 2022 Drama Biopic miniseries created by Craig Pearce.