Cosmic Cycles of Violence:
John Lennon and Dimebag Darrell
Gunned Down on December 8

© Brandt Hardin

Pantera’s furious music was propelled by guitarist Darrell Abbott’s maniacal claws ripping across a Washburn fretboard. The music was aggression distilled, warfare on vinyl, the hellish harmonics of testosterone-pumped teenagers smashing beer bottles and crucifixes, the pentatonic expression of sociopathic sexual impulse turned loose on loose pussy, power chords and possession, amplifiers and alcohol, whammy bars and whimsical youth. Pantera was pissed. And yet, no one remembers the jolly Dimebag Darrell being particularly pissed in day-to-day life. Not nearly as pissed as John Lennon was, anyway.

Behind the lead Beatle’s circular granny glasses and tireless promotion of peace burned a fury unmatched by most metal enthusiasts. Lennon was pissed at his parents, pissed at his bandmates, pissed at his stay-at-home wife, pissed at Her Majesty the Queen, pissed at America’s war machine, pissed at the world for not giving peace a chance. Lennon was fucking hostile. But neither Dimebag nor Lennon were as pissed as the two pistol-wielding schizophrenics who made them into rock star martyrs, both on December 8, twenty-four years apart.

© Brandt Hardin

To be fair, John Lennon’s youth in England was marred by parental abandonment and random death. His sea-faring father left John in 1946 when he was only five, and his eccentric mother, Julia, left her son in care of his aunt Mimi in a house full of women. His mother eventually came back into John’s life a few years later—even buying him his first guitar—only to be run over and killed by an off-duty cop one sunny afternoon when John was only seventeen.

John took his personal pain and pissed disposition to the Liverpool College of Art, where he met the straight-laced Cynthia Powell, who would become his wife, and became best friends with the brilliant painter Stuart Suttcliffe, who for a brief time would become the musically incompetent fifth Beatle during their formative residencies in Hamburg, Germany.

In January of 1962, the Beatles signed a contract with their new manager, Brian Epstein, a closet homosexual Hebrew who immediately fell in love with the young John Lennon. Epstein’s savvy negotiations would see the barely-known Beatles become the biggest band in the world within two years, and that astonishing success would see Epstein become, in Lennon’s playful words, a “rich Jew fag.” Everybody wins until somebody dies.

The Beatles returned to Hamburg in April of that year, where they were to visit Stuart and his new wife. They were greeted with the news that Suttcliffe was dead. Coroners had found a brain tumor below an indentation in his skull—perhaps inflicted when a group of thugs attacked Stuart in a pub, or else by John when he kicked Stu’s head into the pavement for leaving the band. John fell into a somber silence for days, finally pulling it together to console Suttcliffe’s widow, and then resume his raucous rock star ambitions.

In July, Lennon learned that Cynthia Powell was pregnant. Rather than getting pissed and knocking her around, as he would do during jealous rages—or paying a £200 settlement for her silence, as Epstein had done for numerous others—John asked Cynthia to marry him. Their son Julian was born in April the next year, two days shy of Sutcliffe’s deathday. Family life is usually a total cock-stopper for hard rockers, but unlike many aspiring musicians, becoming a father never stifled Lennon’s rise to ultra-mega-super-stardom. It didn’t slow his groupie-scrogging, either.

That year, 1963, Beatlemania engulfed the UK on the heels of Twist and Shout. These dazzling English chaps with their shaggy mops and spiffy gentleman’s suits rode to the top of the world on a wave of squealing pubescent girls. Twenty years later, Dimebag Darrell (then known as “Diamond” Darrell) would launch what would become the biggest, most aggressive mainstream metal band in the world. Of course, in those days the glammed-out members of Pantera dressed like, well, squealing pubescent girls.


By all accounts, Darrell Abbott and his brother Vinnie Paul enjoyed a remarkably stable childhood growing up in a working class neighborhood near Arlington, TX. Their father Jerry was a musician, and fervently cultivated his sons’ ambitions to become rock stars. Their mother was no less nurturing, working hard at a factory to support her jobless boys’ hobbies.  By this point in history, rock n’ roll was just another pastime.

Darrell spent countless hours alone in his room practicing guitar licks while Vinnie hammered away on his drum set. Unlike many disturbed metal fans, the boys didn’t immerse themselves in hard music to escape from the irritating world outside so much as escape into the powerful fantasy worlds of heavy metal. While other boys went to school, played sports, partied, got laid, got jobs, and all that normal shit, the Abbott brothers continued to rock out at their parents’ house well after most kids had gone off to college and started careers.

Darrell prostrated himself before the guitar gods of his youth until the day he died. He gauged his musical progress by phlegm accumulation—while playing a particularly difficult lick, he would arch back and hock some nostril sauce over his shoulder onto his infamous “loogie wall.” Each thick splat signified another riff under his belt. Listening to the exquisite dynamic between Eddie and Alex Van Halen, the Abbott brothers wouldn’t be satisfied until they became Van Halen.

Pantera’s first six albums were recorded at Jerry Abbott’s studio near the boys’ home. Their father actually created a label for their first releases. Pantera’s early efforts were a dripping cheese sandwich on toasted metal: Metal Magic, Projects in the Jungle, I Am the Night, and finally, Power Metal, which was written by their original singer—who was a pussy—and recorded with their newfound singer, Phil Anselmo—who was pissed. Once Phil showed up, Pantera became what they were always meant to be: cowboys from hell.

Dimebag’s blistering riffs and Phil’s endless anger—at cops, Christ, corporate trendies, and the various cock-nozzles life will throw at you—propelled Pantera to the heights of Headbanger’s Ball and around the planet on multiple world tours. But it didn’t matter where Dimebag found himself—the world was his wet bar, every new face was a new best friend, and each concert was a hysterical joke for which a smashed guitar was the punchline. Darrell rarely found time to be truly pissed. Life was entirely too fun for actual fury.


John Lennon prostrated himself before many gurus during his life, in his own swaggering manner. Through absorption, projection, and continual metamorphosis, he became the most iconic guru of the revolutionary generation. Lennon became a hero wherever a hero was needed most.

The first waves of Beatlemania saw John Lennon: Sex Icon. He had watched Elvis get all shook up, and now it was his turn. One glance could unleash a spastic spontaneous orgasm—or at least, so it seems from the grainy footage. The Beatles were like sweat-soaked vibrators buzzing across the world. The teeny-boppers lined up in droves, panting, weeping, screaming, fainting, falling all over themselves to get just one inch closer to the sly, if agonized Lennon. Of course, pretty boy Paul McCartney got the lion’s share of adoration, and for the competitive Lennon that would never do.

Fortunately, no other Beatle had the nerve to touch his role as John Lennon: Rebel Icon. Sensible, traditional, down home decent folk balked at his observation that “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink…We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first—rock n’ roll or Christianity.” Inflammatory statements like that ensured that kids would love him and parents would hate him, even if they wound up buying their kids more Beatles albums.

After turning off his mind in the mid-Sixties, he became John Lennon: Psychedelic Icon. Inspired by Timothy Leary’s enthusiastic writings and bombarded with a continuous supply of LSD, Lennon began dosing on a daily basis. The first few times were freak outs, but once he got the hang of it, tripping became his fast-track to enlightenment. The Beatles’ music shifted into another dimension. Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club became psychedelic staples. “Tomorrow Never Knows” and a sugar cube might take you across the universe. It wasn’t long before Lennon got burnt out on chemical mind expansion, though, and set out looking for a heavier trip.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a creepy little gnome, but his Transcendental Meditation cult briefly captivated the Beatles in 1967, and inspired the development of John Lennon: Spiritual Icon. This short period of navel-gazing and chanting the sacred Om was to be an eerily pivotal moment in the singer’s life. After years of abuse and alienation from John’s life of stardom, his wife Cynthia made the decision to leave John after she was pushed back by a security guard while trying to board a train for the Maharishi’s retreat in Wales. The Beatles went on without her. Lennon’s manager Brian Epstein was wary of the devious guru’s exploitation of his clients’ fame, but Epstein died of a drug overdose while the band was meditating at the retreat, so that was that. “Now you will be able to come to India with me,” the Maharishi told them, which they did. Lennon didn’t last long in India, though, what with all the mindless conformity, bland food, and accusations that the Maharishi had sexually assaulted Lennon’s fellow aspirant, actress Mia Farrow. When the guru asked why he was leaving, Lennon replied, “If you’re so cosmic, you should know.” Lennon’s spiritual quest would not end there, however, as he would soon find himself kneeling at the Goddess’ feet.

John met Yoko Ono at one of her art shows at the same Indica bookshop where he had discovered Timothy Leary’s manual The Psychedelic Experience. He later said that lightning struck immediately, creating John Lennon: Pussy-whipped Icon. After a bizarre courtship in which the witchy Yoko basically stalked Lennon at his home and wedged herself between him and his already estranged wife, the two finally consummated their love. The day before, Lennon had held a meeting with the Beatles and core members of the Apple Corps, where he proclaimed with no hint of humor, “I’ve got something very important to tell you all. I am Jesus Christ come back again. This is my thing.” Yoko became his Mary Magdalene with which he could work on half-baked conceptual art projects, record bizarre noises that barely resemble music, release album covers and photo shoots displaying their fig-leafless flabby asses, abandon his band, his family, and his manhood, and of course, do up massive amounts of heroin.

By the end of 1969, Woodstock had made people believe in the power of music to create peace, Charles Manson had been inspired by The White Album to slaughter of Sharon Tate and friends to start the race war, Altamont had called all possibility of peace into question, the draft had been reinstated for the Vietnam War, and the Beatles had called it quits with extreme animosity, after less than a decade together.

With his leftist lover now permanently attached, he became John Lennon: Revolutionary Icon. The couple moved to New York and met with the Yippies to lend a hand in stirring up the shit. They wore bags during interviews to subvert the prejudices associated with race, beauty, and of all things, hair length. After marrying, they held a highly publicized “Bed In” as an eccentric “commercial for peace.” John took Yoko’s last name, becoming John Oko Lennon, and began calling his wife “Mother.” He wrote cynical songs about working class heroes, hopeful songs imagining no religion, countries, or possessions, provocative songs about women being the niggers of the world, doubtful songs about not believing in Hitler, Jesus, Kennedy, Kings, or Elvis, desperate songs asking people to just give peace a chance.

They projected the image of perfect soul mates, inspiring people who had given up on love to open their hearts. But in 1973, John took some time off from the marriage. He moved out of the house, got wasted every night, and perhaps most importantly, he started banging his twenty-two year-old personal assistant, the petite Asian May Pang—all at Yoko’s insistence. After a year and a half of belated bachelorhood, he crawled back to Yoko with his tail tucked between his legs. In 1975, Yoko gave birth to Sean. They both retired from public life to raise their son, and the new father settled into John Lennon: Family Man Icon for the last five years of his life.

Three weeks after the release of their comeback album, Double Fantasy, John Lennon signed a copy for a disgruntled fan waiting outside the Dakota apartment building in New York. A few hours later, that same fan shot him dead. The signed copy is presently on sale for nearly one million dollars.


Dimebag Darrell’s story isn’t nearly as complicated or convoluted. The details of his life are scant compared to someone like Lennon, whose every burp and fart was documented and filed away, but by all appearances, life was really quite simple for Dimebag. He celebrated Halloween like it was New Year’s Eve, and approached life like every day was Halloween. Special occasions called for a drink, and every moment was a special occasion. If you were invited, you had to drink, most likely a black tooth grin (two shots of whiskey and a splash of cola.) And it didn’t matter who you were, everyone was invited.

If he didn’t have a guitar in his hand, Dimebag had a drink or a bottle rocket ready to blast it in your face. He was a tireless prankster. If he caught you asleep, you were canvas. If you were looking the other way, you were a target. If you took yourself too seriously, like the time he stumbled across tedious guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen at a hotel and had his roadie accost him with a bag of donuts (“No, I don’t like donuts! I don’t like donuts!”), you were a piece of performance art for his home video collection. One of his posse’s finest productions was short skit in which a roadie gets his hand smashed off by a road case and stolen by a random passerby. Had he not been so engrossed in music, Dimebag may have been an America’s Funniest Home Videos contender.

First and foremost was family. Dimebag was fiercely dedicated to his brother, Vinnie Paul. When Dave Mustaine left Metallica, he offered Dimebag the spot as lead guitarist in Megadeth. Darrell agreed, on the condition that his brother would be the new drummer. But Megadeth already had a drummer, and Dimebag had better songs to write, anyway.

Whenever Darrell came home to Texas from touring, the first thing he did was have a drink. The next thing he did was visit his mother and pay off her credit cards. Even after he had earned a small fortune, Dimebag’s home was never more than a few miles away from the house he grew up in, which was just a few miles from his father’s recording studio. Pantera’s first six albums were recorded with his father, and the seventh, Far Beyond Driven, was recorded with another producer at their father’s new studio in Nashville, TN. Dimebag never tired of familiar places. His love life was no exception.

Darrell met Rita Haney at the age of eight when she kicked him off of his bicycle. They remained friends until they were teenagers, when he made his first move. They never looked back from that kiss, and were joined in common law marriage until the day he died. By all accounts, Rita never slowed Dimebag down. At the very least, she never asked him to wear a fucking bag during interviews. If Dime wasn’t partying at home or playing onstage, he was doing both at a strip club. How many women Dimebag slept with is not a matter of public record—it could have been one, it could have been one thousand. Considering the typical road rules of the rock star fraternity, one is inclined to believe the latter. A gentleman does not kiss and tell, but it’s doubtful that Rita would care if he did either.

When the band settled into their final four-piece—Phil, Dimebag, Vinnie, and Rex—they shed their girly outfits for regular street clothes. Pantera’s true debut was Cowboys from Hell in 1990, and it blew up like a car bomb. Vulgar Display of Power had twice the blast radius, and 1994′s Far Beyond Driven remains the most aggressive album to ever chart at #1. Any pissed off kid who didn’t want to be pissed alone gathered around Pantera. Their message was blood simple: Fight for your friends and fuck up your enemies.

Phil Anselmo wrote all of the lyrics, but of course, Dimebag sang along to every song. The message flowed through him. Phil was an archetypal warrior male, furious at the world. His words aimed the machine gun and Dimebag fed him the gain-heavy ammunition. Fuck your parents, fuck your girlfriend, fuck the cops, fuck their government, fuck the Christians, and on a bad day, fuck the Christ they stood for. Pantera’s sound was as provincial as Dimebag’s drawling Texas accent, as Southern as the Confederate flag on his custom Washburn, as damaging as the black tooth grins soaking into his liver. Funny thing is, Dimebag never stopped smiling. Everything was a laugh.

While the trials must have been many, Dimebag’s biographies only describe three traumatic experiences in his life. The first was the death of his mother, who succumbed to cancer in 1999. The second came after 9/11, which left Pantera stranded in Ireland for two weeks. Phil had been struggling with heroin addiction for years, exacerbated by degenerating discs in his spine. The tension was mounting over his erratic behavior. When the band arrived back in the States, they went their separate ways but never came back together. In 2003, they finally announced the break up of Pantera. The Abbott brothers had become the “enemy” that Phil was so intent on fucking.

So far as Dimebag was concerned, Pantera and their road crew were family, thick as blood. Nothing could hurt him like the dissolution of his tribe. The Abbotts formed a new band, Damageplan, but had fallen from playing packed arenas to filling small clubs. “The highs and lows of rock n’ roll,” was all the bitching Dimebag would indulge. To make matters worse, a war of words continued in the press between Anselmo and the Abbotts.

In December of 2004, Metal Hammer published an ominous interview with Phil Anselmo in which he unleashed his fury:

“[W]hat comes around obviously goes around, and that is definitely something that is a very powerful force in my life…Cycles on top of cycles. Revenge on top of revenge. I suggest no one do me wrong…Things don’t go so well for them…And I lift not a finger…”

When the subject moved on to the Abbotts, Phil said:

“[Dimebag] would attack me vocally, and just knowing that he was so much smaller than me, I could kill him like a fucking piece of vapor…He knows that and the world should know that and so, physically of course, he deserves to be beaten severely…

“I was…a unique, unbelievably magnetic front man…I have a devoted following that would do anything for me, anything that I say.”

One week later, a crazed fan jumped onstage and gunned Dimebag Darrell down as well as a body guard, a stagehand, and a fan, before being shot by Officer James Niggemeyer. Talk about unfortunate timing.


Happiness is a warm gun. So heavy in the hand. So easy to pull the trigger. One flick of the finger makes a tiny hole. God-like power. Any idiot can do it.

Nathan Miles Gale grew up in small town Ohio. He was batshit crazy, and pissed as all hell. He believed that Mike Judge was watching his every move, basing Beavis and Butthead off of his pathetic life. He also believed that the guys in Pantera were up to the same tricks. He listened to their music so much that the songs became his own. They were stealing his lyrics for their songs. Why wouldn’t anyone else understand that?

He saw menacing faces hovering above his bed at night. Their voices taunted him, called him a homosexual, told him to hurt people.

Nathan enjoyed drugs. He smoked dope, dropped acid, ate pills, snorted coke. When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, Nathan was alone in thinking that Marilyn Manson was behind the attacks. He joined the Marines at nineteen, but was discharged when it was learned he was schizophrenic. He moved into an apartment next to his mother. In December of 2002 she bought him a 9mm Beretta. Two years later, he took it to a Damageplan concert at Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio to find Dimebag Darrell and settle the score.

Mark David Chapman was born in Texas, but went to school in Georgia outside of Atlanta. He traveled the world from there. He also smoked dope, dropped acid, ate pills, snorted coke, and became a born again Christian. He was also batshit crazy, a god in his own mind, ruling over the voices which he called the Little People.

After cheating on his fiance, he decided to go to Hawaii where he would kill himself. He was committed to a mental facility there, but was so liked that he was hired on part time after his release. He eventually married a Japanese-American woman, just like John Lennon. He listened to Lennon’s music obsessively, just as he read The Catcher in the Rye. After reading a book about Lennon’s lavish lifestyle in New York, he was extremely pissed. He was indignant that Lennon would arrogantly disavow Jesus. And how could John Lennon: Revolutionary Icon tell people to imagine no possessions and yet live as a millionaire? He told the Little People that he would kill John Lennon. They begged him not to, but his mind was made up. The Little People fell silent.

After two previous attempts were aborted in last minute panic, Chapman arrived in New York on December 6, 1980. The last thing he did before finding John Lennon was buy yet another copy of The Catcher in the Rye, in which he would write: “This is my statement” signed—Holden Caulfield. He left the book in his hotel room, but brought a copy of Double Fantasy and a loaded .38 with him.

By demons be driven.


John Lennon gave his final print interview to Rolling Stone the day Mark David Chapman arrived in New York, but it was never published until thirty years after his death, one year ago. Many people claim that Lennon had shown foreknowledge of his death, and this interview shows an eerie prescience that makes one wonder if Yoko’s nutty New Age ideas of cosmic connections were really that far-fetched, though it raises a number of questions about the couple’s belief that projecting one’s thoughts and intentions can create one’s reality.

“They only like people when they’re on the way up,” Lennon told Jonathan Cott, “and when they’re up there, they’ve got nothing else to do but shit on them. I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero….So forget ‘em, forget ‘em.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

John Lennon — “Woman is the Nigger of the World

Pantera — “This Love

Darby Crash Burned by John Lennon

1980 was a happening year for rock star martyrdom, and Darby Crash was more than willing to give up his miserable life for that sort of immortality.  Sacrifice is just part of the martyr deal.  He would spill his blood for the sake of punk rock, and the whole world would adore him for it, right?  After all, hadn’t that tactic worked for Sid Vicious?

The Germs’ reputation spread through L.A.’s budding punk scene from their first gig in ’77.  Their teenaged singer, Darby, was notorious for smearing himself with various foods and slicing himself up with broken bottles onstage.  The band’s music was unlistenable for the most part—a DIY mishmash of detuned guitars and randomly beaten drums—but nobody cared so long as Crash threw his scrawny, bloody frame at the audience like a brain-damaged cat chasing shadows.  In any intense romance, it’s always the thought that counts.

Darby conceived of the Germs as a sort of rock n’ roll cult.  The mark of sectarian inclusion was a cigarette burn to the inside of the wrist, always administered by a prior initiate.  The core crowds thrilled at Crash’s self-inflicted violence, and after awhile, newcomers began to give him some assistance.

L.A.’s early punk shows began to implode under the weight of suburban toughs looking for a brawl.  Reviewing videos of the Germs’ performances, one finds the perfect target holding the microphone.  These kids beat the living shit out of Darby night after night, which made for a good excuse to get loaded on heroin before going onstage.  Venues eventually refused to book the Germs, which provided another good excuse to tap the vein.  Being a closet homosexual in a seemingly homophobic society was yet another motivation to disappear into a boiling spoon.  In the end, the sun’s continual rise and descent was reason enough for Darby to use heroin.  After all, didn’t all the greatest stars turn to the red flower for inspiration?

Despite all appearances, Darby wasn’t a moron.  He was an avid reader who absorbed Nietzsche alongside readings of Scientology and Buddhism.  He was as fascinated by the image of Jesus as he was Sid Vicious.  All of it pointed to the promise of death leading to something greater, a concept that obsessed the young punk to his early grave at twenty-one years old.  He frequently spoke of his suicidal “five-year plan” to friends, but they all thought it was just another aspect of Darby’s melodramatic persona.

Germs recorded only one studio album, GI, which stood for “Germs Incognito” as the band booked themselves in venues that feared the very real possibility of the group provoking a riot.  Produced by Joan Jett, it is also contains the only bearable sounds the band ever came up with.  Alongside the band’s segment in the punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, the album remains a cult classic to this day.

The Germs opened for the likes of Devo and Blondie, and the exposure provided by Penolope Spheeris’ documentary was promising at first.  But their immanent breakthrough was not enough to keep the group together.  Darby hammered the final nail when he whimsically replaced the band’s drummer with his man-lover.  In 1980, the Germs split and went their own directions.  According to the brief biography, Wild-Eyed Boy, Darby absconded to England with his sugar mama and supposed lover, Amber.

AC/DC’s Bon Scott had been found dead of alcohol poisoning in London in February of that same year, and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham would go in much the same way a few miles north later on in September.  Neither of these death’s went unnoticed, but most likely it was Ian Curtis’ suicide in May of 1980 that got Darby thinking about his future.  After Curtis’ death, Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” shot to the top of the charts.  Suicide was a costly marketing ploy, but goddamn, it worked!  The clock was ticking on Darby’s five-year plan.

The Germs played their final gig on December 3, 1980 at the Starwood in L.A.  It was a rather lackluster show with a disappointing turn-out.  The guitarists jokingly broke into the throbbing riff from Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” with no idea of the significance.

On the morning of December 7, 1980, Darby and his new “girlfriend” Casey Cola retreated to a coach house behind her parents’ place with $400 worth of smack.  It is assumed that he doctored the dose to leave Casey alive, because she woke up to find him laying cold and blue beside her.  According to legend, a note was scrawled on the wall that read “Here lies Darby C”, left incomplete as the singer drifted away.  Another legend claims that his arms were splayed in a crucifix position.  Whether this is true is irrelevant.  The symbolic intention was certainly there.

Darby Crash killed himself to attract the eyes of the world, and for the whole day of December 7, he had fans in the palm of his hand.  It was a short-lived adulation, though.  John Lennon was shot the next day.  Even in death, Darby’s timing was as off as the Germs’ worst drum solo.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Germs — “Manimal

February 2: The Death Day of
Sid Vicious

Courtesy of Brandt Hardin at DREGstudios

John Simon Ritchie’s career with the Sex Pistols only lasted nine months, but through the miraculous power of media spin he was transfigured into the original punk rock martyr—Sid Vicious, dead at 21. Smeared across pop culture’s porcelain temple on February 2, 1979, he is immortalized in black leather, oily spiked hair, and dripping bodily fluids.

Next to him, rendered in blood-spattered stained glass, resides the junk-adled groupie who dominated him in life and defined him in death—”Nauseating” Nancy Spungen, dead at 20. Sid and Nancy. For three generations, vast segments of our disaffected youth have followed in their staggering footsteps, slamming syringe plungers to a rock n’ roll soundtrack and smashing up their little corners of an unbearably boring society. Oi! Oi!

The Sex Pistols left an indelible stamp upon the soul of punk rock. The genre’s grim sarcasm doesn’t gnaw much harder than vocalist Johnny Rotten’s “Bodies” or “No Feelings.” Their one true album, Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, is an enduring classic of cocky rebellion—for which Sid Vicious deserves no real credit, except for his sneering face. The bass guitar was, quite literally, a mere prop for his nihilistic persona.

The only song that Sid is remembered for is a garbled rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” This satanic dirge pays homage to the unrepentant ego at death’s door, and Vicious gave it a convincing go. The irony is that between Nancy’s nagging and the Sex Pistols’ manipulative manager, Malcolm McLaren, Sid Vicious did almost nothing his own way.

It’s not that Vicious’ image was a total fabrication so much as carefully cut fodder for the hype machine. Sid was raised by a junkie mother in the dregs of working class London, a scrawny misfit whose utter defiance was bullied into him by neighborhood toughs. He was born with a photogenic chip on his shoulder, and after his first gig with the Sex Pistols in April of 1977, Malcolm McLaren made sure the bulbs kept flashing.

While friends remember Sid as a scrappy little wiener, popular mythology emphasizes his assault on NME journalist Nick Kent with a motorcycle chain, his reputed mugging of an old lady at knife point, and the Texas crowd member who got his dome cracked by Sid’s bass guitar. Every snot glob dangling from Sid’s nostril, every self-induced laceration gushing over his torso, and every needle jammed into his arm was another photo op. Angsty teenagers still tack the posters up on their walls, many of which feature Nancy’s scowling, yet cherubic face beside him.

By all accounts—even her own mother’s—Nancy Spungen was a neurotic pseudo-nymph with a screeching voice and a sweet tooth for brown sugar. Of course, she had her shining qualities too. Unfortunately, no one remembers what they were. Leaving her comfy Jewish home at age fifteen, Nancy chased the dragon to New York City, where she took up the world’s oldest profession. She promptly wormed her way into the hip cliques of CBGB’s thriving punk scene, who quickly found her annoying and pushed her back out.

Rejected by the outcasts, Nancy followed an oozing trail of punk rock cock all the way to London, intent on nailing the New York Dolls’ drummer. She wound up with punk’s hottest poster boy instead. Jaded beyond their years, each found something new in the other. For all of his bravado, Sid was still fresh meat between the sheets, and Nancy had never been with someone who actually enjoyed her company before. He became a man and she became a lady as the cameras clicked on their heels.

It’s unclear whether Sid ever learned to play his instrument, but it was his energetic stage presence that counted. The musicianship problem was solved by turning down his bass and putting a session player backstage. After blowing England apart, the Sex Pistols hopped across the pond for an American tour in January 1978. Even without Nancy, it was a disaster. Tour highlights include Sid overdosing, going into a dope coma days later, and then carving “GIMME A FIX” into his torso when forced to detox. During their final, lackluster performance in San Francisco, Johnny Rotten growled, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” and stormed offstage. The Sex Pistols broke up soon after. Nancy stepped in to manage Sid’s solo career, which lasted all of ten minutes. By late 1978, Sid and Nancy were slumming around New York on royalties, where they would soon perform their gutter rendition of Romeo and Juliet.

No one doubts Sid and Nancy’s true love for one another. Beneath the manic consumption and mutual violence, there was an undeniable sweetness. Those black eyes and busted smoochers? They was jus’ love pats, mate. The throbbing, abscessed puncture wounds lining their veins? Relationships are built on intensely shared experiences, right? Through highs and lows, uppers and downers, black spikes, bleached bangs, and bloody leather—these crazy kids were made for each other.

So why did Sid stab her to death and then jab a fatal dose of smack a few months later? Well, it’s complicated. First off, no one really knows who killed Nancy. On the morning of October 12, in Room 100 of the grimy Chelsea Hotel, Nancy was found in her undies on the bathroom floor, having bled to death from a single knife wound beneath her navel.

Sid was the only person there when police arrived. In fact, he was the one who called them—after he went out to score some dope, anyway. The hotel scene was shady, the official statements were incoherent, and possible motives abound. If Nancy was anywhere near as shrill as her portrayal in the 1986 film, Sid and Nancy, I wouldn’t put it past Mohandas Gandhi to stick a knife in her gut, if only to shut her the fuck up.

In the beginning, everyone thought Sid did it. He told the cops as much, stating: “I stabbed her, but I didn’t mean to kill her.” Then later, he insisted he didn’t do it. He had eaten handfuls of Tuinol—a potent barbiturate—and passed out. In the end, he didn’t remember what happened.

According to interviews in the 2009 documentary Who Killed Nancy?, a third party was with the couple that night. Sid had recently received $25,000 for his recording of “My Way,” and there was cash all over their hotel room. When the cops arrived, the money was gone. Perhaps the mystery visitor killed Nancy and snatched up the loot as Sid snored.

To add another candlestick to Colonel Mustard’s drawing room, Sid’s mother claimed to have found a note in Sid’s jacket after he died, which described a suicide pact between him and Nancy. This raises the possibility that Nancy stabbed herself—presumably because she could no longer stand the sound of her own voice.

Whatever the case, Sid was charged with second degree murder and the judge set bail at $50,000. McLaren paid the money through Virgin Records, and Sid hit the streets. Within a week he was in Bellevue Hospital with a pair of slit wrists. His mother flew in to console him—with some soul-soothing smack—and McLaren made up t-shirts to sell in his London boutique that read: “I’m Alive. She’s Dead. I’m Yours.”

With his badboy image now solidified by a murder rap, Sid was swimming in New York floozies. His ego must have been on fire the night he assaulted Patti Smith’s brother. Sid was chatting up Todd Smith’s girlfriend at a Skafish show, when he decided to pinch her. Todd protested, so Vicious broke a Heineken bottle and proceeded to stab him in the face. Sid spent 55 days in Riker’s Island Prison before he was released on February 1, on another $50,000 bond.

Who knows what happened in those 55 days behind bars. Perhaps Sid did some deep soul-searching. Maybe he realized the life-shattering implications of an impending murder conviction. It’s also possible that larger, more formidible predators took Sid’s “punk” identification to its logical conclusion and did their own brutally deep searching of his soul. After 55 days of that, who wouldn’t seek some hardcore relief?

Whatever happened, Sid made the most of his first night of freedom, enjoying a spaghetti dinner with family and friends at his new girlfriend’s Greenwich Village apartment. Heroin users say that spiking a good hit is like returning to the comfort of the womb. How appropriate then that the perpetually infantile Sid Vicious got his last shot from his mother that evening. Lab results suggest that her love was as pure as the driven snow. Sid was pronounced dead on February 2, 1979 from “acute intravenous narcotism.” The groundhog must not have seen his own shadow that day, because Sid’s mother claimed to have spread his ashes over Nancy’s snow-covered grave. She went on to kill herself with an overdose in 1996. Never trust a junkie.

However tragic, Sid’s passing provided powerful inspiration for the music world. Nearly two years later—the day before John Lennon’s assassination, in fact—sado-punk Darby Crash paid homage to his hero with a fatal spoonful. In ’93, scumfuck rocker GG Allin went out the same way, breaking his vow to blow himself up onstage. The next year, death star Kurt Cobain kissed the hot end of a shotgun. He and his wife Courtney Love consciously fashioned themselves after Sid and Nancy, though Kurt was arguably late on the draw. (Coincidentally, both Kurt and Sid killed themselves after touring with the Buzzcocks, as did Joy Division’s rising star, Ian Curtis. Perhaps they should have called themselves the Buzzkills.) Most importantly, Sid Vicious’ decadent icon provides fashionable validation for thousands of unsung throw-away kids who shuffle off this mortal coil year after year, with a needle in one arm and a blue middle finger thrust to the world.

© 2011 Joseph Allen


People worship celebrities. In ancient times, their tabloid legends were told and retold through costumed dancing and drumbeats around tribal fires. As history progressed, great temples of stone, marble, and glass were erected to house their sensational images. Today these glistening personas seep into our imaginations through photographs, radios, newspapers, televisions, and more recently, ubiquitous computer screens. Even when their bodies pass away, dead stars linger like ancestral spirits in a digital afterlife. If they die young enough, they might live forever.

Naturally, the question arises: Why dead rock stars? After all, tons of great music is made by artists who live long and healthy lives. Why not write about them? Shouldn’t we celebrate life instead of death? Look, I didn’t pick dead stars as a topic of interest. You did.

People fall to their knees to please a living legend, but they will follow a dead rock star to his grave. The Western World revels in a perpetual obituary. Christian civilization was built on the holy bones of martyrs. It is only natural that our post-Christian culture would ride the shock waves of dying stars. As John Lennon said in his last print interview, “What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean.  I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero… so forget ‘em, forget ‘em.”

Well, John, forget ‘em if you want—thanks to Mark David Chapman, they will remember you forever. After all, that quote was pulled from a Rolling Stone cover story published thirty years after your death.

Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum eius.

The martyrologies of the ancient Church were calendars marking the feast days of tragic saints, generally on the dates that they died. For each deathday liturgy, the priest would draw moral lessons from the martyr’s brutal story.  Nothing much has changed since then. Am I being morbid by feeding this tradition? Maybe a wee bit. Insensitive? Well, I’m not trying to be. Sacrilegious?

Celebrity spin is the iconography of our civil religion—the pop cult of popular culture. Children are raised on it. Funerals hum with its soundtrack. Its clamor is inescapable. How could I not write about it?

I could conceivably do an article on a dead musician every day of the year, but that would be as tiresome for the reader as it would be tiring for me. So I have chosen the massive stars—the supernovas—and intend to publish an article on their anniversaries throughout the year. Perhaps you will join me through the progression of this Rock Star Martyrology.

Here’s to a long and healthy life!

–  Joseph Allen

© 2011