Interview

Steve Jones Adds His Two Cents on Sex Pistols History with ‘Lonely Boy’

Before telling our audience how to behave in mosh pits, the musician stopped by to talk about why writing his autobiography felt like torture and explains his stance on the disputed origins of punk.

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Photo Credit: Davis Factor

Brendan Francis Newnam: Back in the ’70s, Steve Jones and his band, Sex Pistols, lasted all of three years and put out a single album, but they helped turn punk from a fringe musical movement to a snarling, international phenomena and gave misfits everywhere anthems like, “Anarchy in the U.K.”

His new autobiography, “Lonely Boy,” details his years with the Pistols, but also his hardscrabble early days as a poor young thief in London and his more recent exploits as an expat in L.A., like deejaying on the beloved local radio show “Jonesy’s Jukebox.”

Steve Jones: That was a big build up, how are you?

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re worth it.

Steve Jones: Thank you.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m kind of out of breath after that build up, frankly. I’ll let Rico take the first question.

Rico Gagliano: You mention early on that writing the book “is going to feel like that scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ where the main guy has his eyes forced open, beholding the terrible things he’s done and that have been done to him.” Which begs the question, why write it? Why put yourself through it?

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Steve Jones: It’s a good question. I mean, I don’t know why people write books, really, other than I wanted to get my two cents across. Normally, John Lydon’s version — and people who had nothing to do with the situation — always have their opinion on what happened, you know, which really gets [on] my nerves. People who were on the outside all of the sudden rewrite history and know what happened when they wasn’t there, so that was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, something that seems to stick in your crawl is the ongoing belief that the Pistols were influenced by the Ramones. And that American’s like them did all the punk stuff first.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, specifically the New Yorkers.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you have a counter argument to that.

Steve Jones: Yeah, I don’t believe that was the case. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like the Ramones, but I also love The Stooges, even though they wasn’t from New York. I love Jonathan Richman. And, you know, they had their scene in New York, you know, but England had our scene, it was completely different.

Everyone was broke and the fashion was kinda different. Everyone put their– we just did our bit, man. You know, you get these writers like Legs McNeil and all that saying [mumbles], “Yeah, yeah, yeah. New York, man, yeah, yeah.” You know, go and get lost! I don’t wanna swear, but um…

Rico Gagliano: That’s nice of you. At one point in the book, you actually say that American’s took British punk out of context. What exactly do you mean by that?

Steve Jones: Well, if you look at some early footage of when the Pistols toured America like in Dallas and that, you’d see some of the people show up who thought that they were being punk and they look ridiculous, you know?

Rico Gagliano: Like how?

Steve Jones: I don’t know, I can’t even explain it. But it was like, it was two different places; England and America. And you got that second wave with all your Dead Kennedys, Black Flags, and all that. And then it got aggro and violent. It just got kind of all weird.

Rico Gagliano: Your shows were pretty aggro, and there was certainly occasional violence going down at them, sort of notoriously, you know, critics getting bottles smashed over their heads and things like that. Do you think that was blown out of proportion?

Steve Jones: I think it, I felt comfortable in England. I didn’t feel comfortable when we came to the States. It seemed a lot more weird stuff could have happened.

Rico Gagliano: Like you could have been hurt?

Steve Jones: Yeah. I mean, we didn’t play the usual places like New York and L.A. We played in Texas and [other] places. It was a good publicity stunt, but [our manager] Malcolm McLaren wasn’t the one on stage, you know?

Notorious British punk rock band 'The Sex Pistols' who played together from 1975-78. From left to right: Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), Glen Matlock and Paul Cook . Original Publication: People Disc - HL0209 (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
From left to right: Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), Glen Matlock and Paul Cook. (Photo Credit: Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right, him having bottles chucked at him. Well, we want to quickly talk about your influences. Some of which, considering the band you ended up in, are pretty surprising. You talk about becoming transfixed as a kid by Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay,” which is not the punk-iest song ever. How did you encounter that song and what grabbed you about it?

Steve Jones: Well I was hanging out at funfairs… is that what you call it in America?

Rico Gagliano: Like an amusement park.

Steve Jones: Yeah, exactly. I was by myself like I always used to be in Battersea, a place in London, South London. And I was by the whirl-it– what’s them things that go up and down and a guy stands on the edge?

Rico Gagliano: A merry go round?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Teacups?

Steve Jones: Teacups. That’ll do. And I would just stand there, ’cause they’d play music. I remember [they] played [“Dock of the Bay”] and it just stuck. And I just waited there for three hours hoping that it would be played again, that song. And I don’t know why certain songs just get in your bones, like resonate is the hit word I suppose.

And there’s no right and wrong music. Unfortunately, image plays a big part in things and people think, “Oh that’s corny, I better not say I like that. People are gonna think I’m weak.” But if you’re just true to yourself like, you know, I was a fan of Boston and Journey and a lot of stuff and they got the corny reputation.

Rico Gagliano: Do you think somehow something of “Dock Of The Bay” wound up in the music you wrote for the Pistols? I mean, I don’t hear it, but is there something sorta in there, do you think?

Steve Jones: I doubt it. I can’t see it any-

Brendan Francis Newnam: I would love to be in an amusement park where they’re playing the Sex Pistols around the teacups instead of Otis Redding.

Steve Jones: Yeah, well I wouldn’t sit there for three hours waiting to hear that.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]