Photo by James BunoanBy the time we got back from the mall, the kids had started setting fires. And if there's anything else we could have wanted from a Sex Pistols show—they even played "Belsen Was a Gas" and the Stooges' "No Fun" back to back—we can't think of it. We were ass-to-elbow against mustachioed old music critics (Hey, bet sneering, "I saw Devo in 1978! That's probably before you were born!" gets you laid a lot, huh?), fish-eyed old jocks blue with bad tattoos, stagger-drunk little girls drooling beer through their braces, soccer-mom security guards backed against the bass speakers, and 40,000 sunburned superfans up to their ears in shit both metaphorical and literal (well, the latter at least to their ankles) and happy to be paying for the privilege. And then the Pistols encored with a Hawkwind cover. Brilliant in every possible way—we mean it.
Fuck knows what everyone else will write about this; a Sex Pistols show is journalism carte blanche to jerk off all over your keyboard and byline it Greil Marcus. "It's like a living history of punk rock!" gushed one poor guy; we should have just puked on his laptop right there. And the hipper-than-thou tool with the "Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Bleating?" sign? Wow, was he trying to tell us that maybe the Sex Pistols aren't quite the same punk band they were 26 years ago? Even Johnny Rotten was embarrassed for him: "Looks like you're in the wrong decade!" he screeched. "Funny ME telling YOU that, eh?"
Because this is the wrong decade, you dumb hippie or punk or rock critic or whatever you were, and this high-density feedlot in the desert outside Devore is a completely pointless place to look for an excuse to jerk off about what punk is or what punk means or some bullshit about "25 years of punk fucking rock!" This show was a wreck, a riot, a total joke, a scared-straight program for the junior high schoolers thinking of maybe buying a Ramones CD or something. Living history of punk? We were so bored that afternoon we sneaked out to kill a few hours at the Ontario Mills mall: we got bagels, used a bathroom where the piss didn't seep in over the soles of our Converse, read comics at the Virgin Megastore. We should have smuggled back bottled water to give away, but we figured it would be confiscated by security. And by the time we got back, the kids had started setting fires.
Seriously, fuck the bands—the real action was in the ass-end of the amphitheater. On the downhill side were the spotlights and the two-story TV towers beaming out some thirtysomething white guy with a guitar, the ticket holders with cash enough to get an actual seat, the nervous San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies standing with their arms folded every 10 or 15 feet; across 10 feet of trash-splattered concrete on the uphill side were thousands of hoarse, sweaty, sunburned dirty-faced, glassy-eyed heatstroking kids, rubbing their baby-fat bellies raw against the wire railings. Yeah, Nazi references come cheap when you're dealing with the Sex Pistols—unless you wanted to buy one of their official be-swastika-ed shirts at the merch stand; wonder how much of a cut KROQ and Levi's got out of those?—but goddamn if it wasn't the Warsaw ghetto back there behind all the smoke and trash. We couldn't have made eye contact if we wanted to: when Pennywise lumbered into the unfortunate classic "Brohymn," everyone was staring over our heads at the TV towers, moaning as one with the song's plodding chorus. Insane.
And the Pistols were the perfect headliners, both a punch line and a great fucking band (Buzzcocks were right up there, though). Johnny Rotten still has that trick down, where he lets you in on the joke even though you are the joke: you who paid $40 or whatever it was (and whatever it was, it was way too much; between $3 water and $10 beer, this was fucking prison rape, especially for the little kids) to bake out in a sea of shit and plow through some of the worst bands ever to rake their paws over a guitar just to survive and see what (if anything) the Sex Pistols were going to do.
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And you know what? They did fine—of course, we got in free, so we weren't demanding much. They started a little slow: ponderous Steve Jones was lumbering around like Andre the Giant, his fat denim-swathed ass mutely proving otherwise when Johnny Rotten claimed the Pistols had nothing to do with concert sponsors Levi's (hey, any corporation that keeps the world from seeing Steve Jones' naked ass is fine by us). And they leaned a little heavily on the songs on Never Mind the Bollocks that no one likes, like "Liar" and "New York." But once they started rolling—for us, it was "Belsen," an appropriately stupid song for a stupid, stupid show—they were fucking fun. And they sucked the color right out of all the new-school bands, that's for sure—maybe someone will take that lesson to the record store, probably about the same time those 40,000 people singing, "I wanna be . . . anarchy!" register to vote. Maybe that's the genius of the Sex Pistols: even as old men, they still remind you how goddamn stupid everything is. And maybe it wasn't the same as the first time around—we'll ask the Devo guy next time we see him sitting alone at the bar. By the time they played "EMI," Sign Guy had a new one: "Can you buy anarchy for $2 million?" Johnny Rotten didn't even dignify it with a response.