'I hear you like Dolly Parton down here... are you still celebrating Elvis's birthday?'
. . . or how to win friends and influence people in Memphis, Johnny Rotten style.
The Sex Pistols hit America and DAVE SCHULPS gives an American's-eye view of his first encounter with Britain 's most welcomed export since Concorde (?)
Sounds. January 14, 1978.
ITEM: Officers of the Memphis, Tennessee Vice Squad attended the Sex Pistols' American debut performance in Atlanta on Thursday just to make certain that the band was not a threat to public decency of their city. The Pistols passed the test.
ITEM: After promoters had sold 900 tickets for the Pistols' Memphis show, to be held in a ballroom without seats, fire marshalls insisted that seats be installed and capacity limited to 650. This only a few hours before the show was scheduled to begin.
ITEM: Approximately 250 angry ticketholders, barred from entering the Taliesyn Ballroom by fire marshalls, stood outside the hall waving tickets and demanding to be let in. The glass pane on one of the doors was shattered, police were called in to keep oder and the crowd was dispersed peacefully. Refunds were promised but most eventually managed to get in to see at least part of the show - as replacements for early departers.
ITEM: The Sex Pistols gave what I consider one of the best rock 'n' roll shows I've ever seen. Most of the audience who were standing on their chairs from the outset, seemed to agree, reacting widly to every move they made. A few hurled crushed paper cups, ice cubes and verbal abuse at the stage, a few shook their heads and left quietly, there was no violence. Not a single person was injured . . . or corrupted.
Briefly, that was the story of the Pistols' second American date. Fittingly, it came on the same weekend as Memphis was celebrating Elvis' birthday with three days of festivities, which attracted fans from all over the country. Two decades ago it was Elvis who raised the wrath of the vice squads throughout America with his 'lewd' and 'disgusting' performances. Times have changed and 'lewd' has become far more lewd, 'disgusting' more disgusting and yet the notorious Sex Pistols who took the stage in Memphis were hardly more shocking, given the times, than young Elvis must have been back then.
Sure, Johnny Rotlen leered manically into the mass before him, his eyes like twin knives cutting a path through whatever was in their way, and danced spasmodically, at times resembling a chimp swinging from vine to vine. And Sid Vicious, his shirt off to reveal a well slashed and scarred chest, constantly spat on the stage occasionally jumped up like a kewpie doll in shock treatment. But if the effect was disturbing it was also highly comic as well, surely nothing to be scared of. Still, some were disturbed and they threw things at the band (which may just be american equivalent of gobbing), but though they were struck repeatedly it seemed to have absolutely no effect on them at all.
Then Rotten spoke, to no-one in particular, his face expressionless, his eyes blank; "I'm not here for your amusement - you are here for mine. Stop throwing things at me, I don't like." Somehow, that statement, too, was both chilling and fun. Maybe that's what's so great about this band, they strike you on two emotional levels and do it better on both than anyone else.
And of course, there was the music. That too was brilliant - Paul Cook, Steve Jones, and Sid provide a solid, powerfully rocking base. And Johnny, providing the visual focus, spitting out his vocals in a style that goes hand in hand with his tragic/comic presence.
The material was not unexpected, and was probably very similar to the selection they've been doing for quite a while - nearly all the tracks from the album plus all the B-sides, and a couple I couldn't identify .
Of course, Rotten and Vicious supplied what was expected of them, chatting with the crowd, teasing them." Are you all celebrating Elvis' birthday?" Johnny asked after the band had
finished their first number, a smiking 'God Save The Queen'. Later he chided them: "So I hear you all listen to Dolly Parton down here," and nashed a scowl of disapproval as the audience applauded themselves on their good taste.
And when it was all over, after the Pistols had finished an encore of 'No Fun' which ripped their recorded version to shreds, Sid waved to the crowd warmly and, his best southern drawl said," Goodbye y'll." He was almost charming .
By now it has become almost impossible to seperate the myth from the reality, the hype from the circumstance, in the continuing saga of The Sex Pistols. Where does McLaren's manipulation leave off and pure chance take over? Did he expect - as some wondered - the denial of the band's visas which not only caused cancellation of the first four American dates, but allowed the Pistols to fly into the country on a wave of publicity? Were the fire marshalls' actions in Memphis part of some publicity stunt - as some of the disappointed ticket holders, shut out of the show, were asking?
Obviously, The Pistols seem to be profiting from every move they make regardless of wether or not they are even trying. Most everyone who follows the news either in print or on TV has probably heard of the Sex Pistols by now. Since the Grundy incident, the comblnation of perfect timing, media exageration, official overreaction and the public's distaste for what has been presented to them as the Sex Pistols, have has focussed more eyes on them than any rock and roll band in memory.
The remaining American dates should by and large be similar to Memphis. There will be other incidents and they will probably be blown up larger than life, as the hungry media are now ready to jump on any such occurrences. Yet even the Memphis Press-Scimitar, which ran a scathing morning-after review of the band had to admit that 'Overall . . . the performers were no more offensive than any average rock band'.
America, meet the Sex Pistols.