Sid Vicious
By: James Parker | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Music, Punk


How absolutely exhausted at this point is the whole punk rock history lesson: can anything more be said about 1976, by anyone, ever again? Is it possible to roll up even a last lint-pill from that worn-out carpet? No. So today, on the Feast of Sid, let us celebrate all those who are finished before they start; who are butts, punchlines, epitaphs, proverbs in negative; who are post-post-post, from birth.

At what point did John Simon Ritchie (1957–79) become SID VICIOUS? The question points us toward the primary mystery of the age: celebrity. Sid was a pure practitioner of it, very advanced, a pioneer of the apocalyptic, up-in-flames model to which we have since grown happily accustomed. His short career from beginning to end was a useless scandal. But surely it took talent, or a special instinct of some kind, a nose, to become so frigging famous? Again, the mystery. He was elected, perhaps.

White as a sheet, with depressive smudgings around the eyes and mouth, Sid is credited with invention of the vertical seizure known as the pogo dance. He loved drugs, and the naughtier fashions. Having scuffed around pre-punk London with Johns Lydon and Wardle (later Johnny Rotten and Jah Wobble) he was on hand to step in as bassist for the Sex Pistols after Glen Matlock got fired. He didn’t play bass; he did performance art with it, swinging the instrument about in gormless death-besotted fashion while a huge Nothing nibbled visibly at his leather kneecaps. Music was not involved. Then the band broke up, and Sid imploded into a strange, context-free aftermath of total notoriety. Then he murdered his girlfriend, probably without meaning to; then he died.

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PUNK, POST-PUNK & ALTERNATIVE on HILOBROW: Joey Ramone | Dez Cadena | Jello Biafra | HR | Mike Watt | Vivienne Westwood | Iggy Pop | D. Boon | John Lydon | Henry Rollins | Palmolive | Plastic Bertrand | Kira Roessler | Lisa Carver | Frank Black | Ari Up | Gary Panter | Paul Simonon | Darby Crash | Penelope Houston | Exene Cervenka | Sid Vicious | Andrew Eldritch | Kate Pierson | Paul Westerberg | Lux Interior | Ian Dury | Stiv Bators | Tom Verlaine | Colin Newman | Johnny Thunders | Poison Ivy | Green Gartside | Lydia Lunch | Mark E. Smith | David Byrne | Debbie Harry | Captain Sensible | Mark Mothersbaugh | Kim Gordon | ALSO: The Original Generation X (1954–63) and the birth of DIY | The Original Stooge | Origin of the Pogo | Shocking Blocking: Rock’n’Roll High School | Punk fanzines from the 1970s | Post-Punk and New Wave on HiLobrow

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Marcel Mauss, Olaf Stapledon, Fred Astaire, Donovan, Martha Graham, Mari Sandoz.

READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X (1954–63).

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James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.