The sex and drugs, and rock and roll swindle.
The disappointing thing about “Lonely Boy” is that, Steve Jones – former Sex Pistol, thief, and alcoholic – is not articulate enough to pull off a 300-page narrative. But all the blame can’t be put at the feet of the legendary punk rocker. His ghostwriter Ben Thompson – who previously worked with Russel Brand and Terry Gilliam – may have simply not been up to the challenge. After all, Brand and Gilliam are both articulate comics whereas Jones is a guitar player who couldn’t read or write with any fluency (as we find out) until he was well into his 40s. But still, with Steve Jones and the Sex Pistols as raw material, one would think Thompson and the editors at De Capo could have done better by the man.
A product of the working poor, Jones grew up in London’s Shepherd’s Bush, neglected by his mother, molested by his stepfather, and targeted by the neighborhood pedophile. It wasn’t a good beginning and it wasn’t about to get better anytime soon. By the time he was 12, he was already a seasoned thief; and in fact, the book’s best pages are about theft. Whether it’s his mother stealing his childhood, his step-father stealing his innocence, or Jones’s history of compulsive thievery, it’s obvious that Jones got off on stealing, and if the book was a Freudian casebook on the subject it would have been a fascinating read.
From early on, all Jones cared about was kicks and stealing was a gateway rush. In time, he’d become just as obsessive about sex, alcohol, music, and drugs – pretty much in that order. Jones admits that his sex life was twisted from the start. He relives his glory days of being a peeping Tom, shagging in alleys, masturbating with vacuum cleaners, and screwing his friends’ girlfriends (including Nancy Spungen, bandmate Sid Vicious’ main squeeze). Unattached throughout his life, he traces his inability to develop intimate relationships to his heartless home, deep-seated insecurities, and history of abuse.
When his passions cross, they produce memorable passages such as casing legendary concert hall, The Hammersmith Odeon, where he’d eventually steal all the equipment the Sex Pistols would ever need. During a Bowie tour, he absconded with a lipstick-stained microphone, Trevor Bolder’s bass guitar, and Woody Woodson’s cymbals. Once, he carted off an entire PA system.
One third of the book is dedicated to the Sex Pistols and doesn’t really break much new ground. I got the impression that Jones was bored with the retelling of it. Still, the early days of punk are lit with some vibrancy. Kids thrashing away at drums and guitars, Johnny Rotten snarling, Sid pogo-ing, Malcolm McLaren’s “Sex” shop, safety pins, gobbing, piercings, and swastikas; each creature inventing their own identity while giving the Thatcherites a stiff little finger. Jones speaks of the freedom of the moment before the scene solidified into punk, which – according to him –quickly became a parody of itself with its uniformity of dress, attitudes, and music.
In “Lonely Boy”, the roots of punk are more in the people who shaped the music and scene rather than in the politics, hopelessness, and poverty. Punk comes off looking like nothing more than a sideshow: an adolescent rage, license to drink, screw, and smash things up a bit. And maybe Jones is right for not intellectualizing punk by referring to Dada or the Situationists or spouting platitudes about being at the forefront of a revolutionary movement.
His life after the Sex Pistols sadly holds only marginal interest. He rambles on about being a studio musician, moving to LA, his various 12-step programs, his brief dalliance with the men’s movement, and trying to make amends with his mother. Even if the book runs long and becomes almost unreadable, it’s hard not to like Jones. He comes across as more mensch than punk, an essentially good guy trying his best to undo the damage done to that lonely boy he once was and still is.