Phil Ochs Wrote the Songs,
but Who Tied the Noose?

The Vietnam War stirred a stunning spirit of rebellion in America’s youth, and folk singer Phil Ochs was at the front of the picket line to rouse the rabble with a tune. Like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs used his acoustic guitar to skewer the warmongering authorities and wowed the ladies with his earnest eyes. But unlike Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs did not go on to capriciously convert to a succession of Abrahamic religions, wear clownish white suits, paint his old face with girly make-up, or launch multiple comeback tours.

Unlike Dylan, Phil never achieved enough success to feel contempt for the stagehands who toil all day to erect his stage and lug his gear around. Phil never ordered his heavy-handed security guards to corral these grimy-pawed laborers into some dark corner backstage so that the legendary populist Bob Dylan wouldn’t have to make eye contact with the help… asshole.

Nope, Phil Ochs was found hanging in his sister’s New York apartment on April 9, 1976 at the age of 34.

Despite the bizarre antics of the schizophrenic alter-ego which consumed him in his latter days, Phil Ochs is remembered by the radical left as a man with a message. Whether it was civil rights in Mississippi, miner strikes in Kentucky, draft-paper bonfires in Washington DC, or revolution in Cuba, Phil Ochs had something to sing about the cause. His debut album in 1964, All the News That’s Fit to Sing, earned him the title of “the singing journalist.”

While kids were getting groovy in the Age of Aquarius, their television sets were dripping with the blood of young American men and Vietnamese villagers. Kids were coming home maimed or in coffins by the tens of thousands. That’s one bad fucking trip, man.

The obvious hypocrisy of spreading democracy by way of heavy artillery became more than many could bear.  American streets filled with angry youth whose radical ideas were often inspired by the revolutionary zeal that was transforming volatile nations such as Cuba or China.

What do we want?
When do we want it?
Not next week, you asshole!

Go to any anti-war rally, and there’s Phil with his guitar. The 1965 release of I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore solidified his identity as a voice of conscience in the folk scene. His goofy protest ditty “Draft Dodger Rag” became the feel-good hit of the Peace Movement.

The album’s title track hits a more serious note. Ochs sings from the perspective of all the young men throughout history who have marched to their deaths in war. He bore witness to the bloody Battle of New Orleans and the fratricide of the Civil War. He crawled in the trenches of Germany and heard Hiroshima’s “mushroom roar.” But Phil Ochs ain’t marching anymore, and he would appreciate it if everyone else would stop, too.

But the marching didn’t stop, and the war in Vietnam began to wear on Phil’s nerves. He threw himself into new songs. His sound began to change, utilizing more polished production techniques, and he eventually incorporated a full band. Many hardcore folk fans were furious at this new, electric Phil, but few could deny the power of his morbidly fascinated anthem, “Crucifixion.” Robert Kennedy wept when he heard Ochs perform the song on a DC train. Written as a tribute to John F. Kennedy, the lyrics could memorialize any martyr enshrined by masses:

But you know I predicted it, I knew he had to fall
How did it happen? I hope his suffering was small
Tell me every detail, for I’ve got to know it all
And do you have a picture of the pain?


So good to be alive when the eulogy is read
The climax of emotion, the worship of the dead
And the cycle of sacrifice unwinds…

Phil watched in horror as the US government went insane. The US government was also watching Phil, and the feeling was mutual. It is an established fact that the FBI and CIA were keeping tabs on troublesome youngsters clamoring for peace, and stepped in to manipulate the movement whenever possible. Some suspicious observers even accuse these powerful agencies of resorting to covert murder to stifle dissent. Poisoned tablets. Drug-induced mind control. Grassy knolls. Manchurian Candidates.

Phil’s tirades against The Man earned him a dossier in the extensive FBI files kept on dangerous “subversives” and “Communists.” After the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968, Ochs began to wonder how long it might be before “Crucifixion” was about him.

Even in the face of what he thought to be certain death, Phil refused to be quiet. In 1969 he released his last studio recording, Rehearsals for Retirement. The cover features a somber tombstone that reads:

Phil Ochs
Born: El Paso, Texas 1940
Died: Chicago, Illinois 1968

The death date is a reference to the police brutality Ochs witnessed at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year and the subsequent election of the ultra-conservative Richard Nixon. It must have killed his soul.

Ochs intended this last album to be Elvis Presley sings Che Guevara, but it sounds more like a jammin’ Jimmy Buffet grasping for the Revolution—and wrapping his fingers around another icy margarita instead.

Disillusioned with the radio’s refusal to play his music and America’s increasing apathy toward social idealism, Ochs set off to travel abroad in 1971. After a short spell in China, he moved on to Chile, joining folk-singer Victor Jara in support of the revolutionary Marxists that were taking hold in Latin America. Phil’s activist adventures found him running afoul of the Argentinian and Bolivian governments, from which he narrowly escaped long-term imprisonment. Shaken, he retreated back to the US before embarking to Australia, and then Africa in 1973. If there was any place for Phil to make a real difference, it had to be Africa.

One night Phil went for a walk on the beach in Tanzania. A band of thugs leapt out of the shadows and fell upon him. One held Ochs in a brutal stranglehold while the others stripped him of his possessions. His vocal chords were crushed.

Ochs refused to believe that the attack was the responsibility of savage marauders. It had to be a CIA plot. “They” had taken his voice away.

Broken and destitute, Phil returned to New York, where he flew over the cuckoo’s nest with all the grace of a crippled pigeon. The Vietnam War was finally “finished” in April of 1975. Suddenly the lifetime revolutionary was left without a purpose. Friends got worried. It wasn’t just his slurred rants about various government agencies out to get him or the countless hours spent alone in quiet misery. No, it was his insistence that he was no longer Phil Ochs that really raised eyebrows.

Phil Ochs was dead, he told people. John Train killed him. A song fragment scribbled at the time reads:

Phil Ochs checked into the Chelsea Hotel
There was blood on his clothes…
Train, Train, Train, the outlaw and his brain…

His psychotic transformation was sudden and absolute.  Phil who?

John Train is a right-wing hard-ass and a whiskeybent street-brawler. John Train sings country songs and punches you in the eye. John Train don’t take no shit from nobody, especially not Bob Dylan. In one delusional tirade, a wasted John Train told his audience:

“I put out a contract on [CIA Director, William] Colby for a hundred thousand dollars. I told Colby he’s got a half year to get out or he’s dead. They can kill me but he’s dead.”

William Colby was replaced by George H. W. Bush in January of 1976, and a few months later, John Train slipped a rope around Phil Ochs’ neck and strung him up in his sister’s apartment. It would be fifteen years before the next major war. When the bombs began falling on Baghdad in 1991, Phil Ochs’ passionate voice of protest was absent—but then, so was everyone else’s.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Phil OchsI Ain’t Marching Anymore
c. 1966

Protected: “Dead” on His Last Album Cover

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Wendy O Williams
aka “The Squirrel Lady”

© Brandt Hardin at

Wendy O Williams’ stage presence was so sexy, it caused temporary impotence.  A classic evening with the Plasmatics in the 80s included Wendy dangling TNT over the audience’s head before blowing cars up onstage.  TVs were smashed to bits, guitars chainsawed in two, microphones were deepthroated, Wendy O mounted speakers for some orgasm-inducing feedback, and the occasional cover was thrown in for ironic effect—such as Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”  Dubbed “pornography rock,” the act saw the destruction of nearly everything onstage, and in the end, their lead singer.  Wendy O shot herself in the head on April 6, 1998.

April of 1998 happened to be a curiously deadly month in the music world.  Rozz Williams hung himself on the 1st, Rob Pilatus floated his pill-raft down Booze River on the 2nd, virtuoso Cozy Powell crashed his Saab while talking on a clunky 1990s cell phone on the 5th, and Wendy O Williams shot herself on the 6th—the same night that Tammy Wynette passed away from a blood clot in her lung.  To top it off, Paul McCartney’s wife, Linda, succumbed to metastasizing breast cancer on the 17th.

As it happened, a series of ferocious tornadoes ravaged the South during that month, killing 32 people in Birmingham on April 2.  On the 16th, ten freak twisters ripped Middle Tennessee apart, one of them tearing through downtown Music City. 12 people were killed that day.  I suppose Wendy O had plenty of company in the celestial waiting room.  According to her suicide note, she’d made her appointment early.

I have to admire Wendy O Williams for her ovaries of steel.  For the “Queen of Shock Rock,” femininity meant sticking e-tape on your tits, pumping some iron, and then slapping the nearest bystander with your swollen clit.  When Wendy wanted her woo woo wazzled, she sought out the biggest, baddest, hardest, nastiest men she could wrap her sweaty legs around.  It wasn’t an invitation to sweet-lovin’ with this chick—it was a ball-busting challenge.  On ”I Love Sex (and Rock n’ Roll)” she sang:

Don’t waste my urges, no I’m bored to death
Well you can save your breath
You’re fading fast

Driven by hunger, just ain’t gettin’ my fill
Don’t know the reason why
That’s who I am

What kind of man could handle such a scrotum-shredding bitch?  “Captain Kink” Rod Swenson, that’s who.  After meeting at his New York club, he immediately asked her to be his wife.  While they never tied the knot—other than some pleasant B&D action—they remained partners for the better part of Wendy’s life, which lasted much longer than one might have expected.

It’s one thing for a woman wearing a Mohawk to slap a groping cop in the face—which she did.  It’s another thing entirely to climb out of a convertible rocketing through the desert onto a rope-ladder dangling from a small airplane and fly off over a cliff—which she also did, supposedly with no safety equipment.  That makes me want to dig up her corpse and plant a big, slobbery smooch on her rotten jaw.

To say that Wendy O had a morbid sense of humor would be an understatement.  Her song “Brain Dead” sounds like it was written by Dr. Seuss while huffing paint in a fallout shelter and waiting for the New World Order to come confiscate his crayons:

Dragged off in the dead of night
Disappear without a sight

For global peace is what we pray
As long as things are done our way

Disagree or acting rude
We will chop you up for food

The song comes from a concept album recorded in 1987 called Maggots: The Record, which chronicles a catastrophic attempt at geo-engineering.  Scientists developed a breed of maggots which would eat all the trash on earth, and then die.  But they just kept eating everything, turning humans into zombies before wiping them out completely.  When asked about the violence of her artistic expression, Wendy responded, “Talk about violence—I don’t do anything violent.

“Talk about violence, what’s going on in Nicaragua? What’s going on in El Salvador?” she railed. ”That’s violent. What are they doing to the planet with chemicals and acid rain? That’s violent. What are people doing to each other? Raping. That’s violent.

“I’m striking out at an icon that has no life. There’s a big difference between what has life and what doesn’t. I mean, I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years.”

The Plasmatics couldn’t peddle their schtick forever, and when their heyday was over, Wendy O retired with Swenson to a cabin nestled in the woods of Connecticut.  She spent the rest of her life in seclusion, being a friend to animals and contemplating the Void, which earned her the nickname “The Squirrel Lady.”  In fact, it appears that feeding acorns to squirrels was the last thing she did before feeding herself to the worms on April 6, 1998.  Her body was found in the woods by Swenson when he returned home from shopping.  The pistol was laying in a bed of dead leaves.  Her suicide note read:

The act of taking my own life is not something I am doing without a lot of thought. I don’t believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have.

For me much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm.

Love always,

Swenson said of the love of his life:

“She had been talking about taking her own life for almost four years. She was at home in the peak of her career, but found the more ordinary ‘hypocrisies of life’ as she called them excruciatingly hard to deal with. In one sense she was the strongest person I have ever known, and in another, a side which most people never saw, the most vulnerable. She felt, in effect, she’d peaked and didn’t care to live in a world in which she was uncomfortable, and below peak any longer.

“Speaking personally for myself, I loved her beyond imagination. She was a source of strength, inspiration, and courage. The pain at this moment in losing her is inexpressible.”

That people will sit down one day, get their affairs in order, and blow their brains out is absolutely baffling to me.  I’ve know a number of men to do so.  In fact, there were recently two public suicides down the road from my hometown.

In the first instance, a young man in his early 20s walked into Wal-Mart where his ex-girlfriend was eating with her new beau.  He told her that he was going to kill himself, walked back into the space between the automatic doors, and then shot himself in the face in front of everybody.

A few days later, a 77 year-old man parked his car in front of the local hospital, carefully pinned a note to his shirt,* tasted the barrel, and then pulled the trigger.

For loved ones, self-inflicted pistol wounds are the ultimate act of selfish abandonment.  For gossiphoppers, it is a fresh bit of fat to chew, and for custodians—a nasty mess to clean.

For Wendy O Williams, suicide was a final act of destructive performance art.  April of ’98 was a hot month for dead rock stars, and she wasn’t about to be upstaged by some nancy boy like Rozz Williams.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

A trailer for
Wendy O Williams and the Plasmatics:
10 Years of Revolutionary Rock n’ Roll
featuring a montage of classic Wendy O footage

*[corrected from: "laid his note on his lap"]

Biggie Smalls Said You’re Nobody
‘Til Somebody Kills You

Courtesy of Randy Key

It is dawn on Biggie Small’s deathday, and I’m sitting in the safest place in St. Louis, MO—just in case you care. I’ve been climbing in an unfamiliar arena ceiling for days now, 100′ in the air.  Steel beams and rough company.  Most people consider this to be a dangerous occupation, but apparently my walk to the hotel was the riskiest move I’ve made all night.

The television blares in the hotel lobby—the news shows a S.W.A.T. team kicking in doors in south St. Louis. A well-dressed, effeminate white man talks about how the neighborhood is really coming together through “community activism.”  Thugs wave guns at the news crew.  The two hotel security guards shake their heads in disdain.

I point to the screen and ask the motherly night clerk, Kay, “What would happen if I took a pleasant evening stroll down that street?”

“Boy, you betta not let the sun set on yo’ white ass down there.”

According to my guardians—two large black men with big flashlights and security badges—St. Louis has the # 1 murder rate in the U.S.A.  “Why do people kill each other so much?” I ask.

“You know.  Fool ganstas.  Drugs. Husbands killin’ wives.  Wives killin’ husbands.  Stoopid shit.”  My sleepy-eyed protector shrugs and sips his coffee.

This #1 status is a slight exaggeration. According to FBI statistics, St. Louis is actually just behind New Orleans in the bloody competition for “most bullet-sprayed city.”  However, East St. Louis—when considered as its own entity—is leaps and bounds beyond NOLA in the murder race, with 101.9 people murdered for every 100,000 in 2006.  (The national average is about 6 in 100,000.)  Morticians must get a lot of overtime around here.

“Yeah, people take fools to tha East Side to kill ‘em,” the security guard explains, ”and they bring they dead bodies and dump ‘em ovah here.”

“That’s what happened to my nephew,” says the night clerk, Kay. “He thought he was livin’ the life.  Drugs, gangs, you know.  They drove him into East St. Louis.  He felt that hot lead and he jumped out that car—right outta his shoes.”  Kay shakes her head sadly.  “He can’t see no mo’. Shot seven times in tha face.  But he still with us.”

Kay is paid to be nice to me, but after a couple of hours of conversation, I’m pretty sure she would be nice to me anyway.  She brings me my own urn of coffee, which is not bad for hotel brew.  She knows I have to go to work after I write this, and tells me, “Stop chattin’ and get typin’!”

It’s hard to end a conversation with Kay.  She knows more about dead rock stars than anybody I have met in months.  We talk about Sid Vicious’ murderous temper tantrum, and the brutal shooting of squeaky clean (accused rapist) Sam Cooke.  Kay talks about the Day Michael Jackson Died, and how shocked she was that the late Farrah Fawcett was immediately booted out of the spotlight the moment the King of Pop hit the hospital.  And of course, Kay is well-versed in the canonical teachings of the patron saints of the East and West Coasts, whose lyrics meet like ram horns in the Midwest.

“There’s two kinds of people: those who love 2Pac, and those who love B.I.G.”

I would have said, “And then there’s me,” but that’s not completely true.  My first deathday article was about the Notorious B.I.G., entitled “The Death Day of Biggie Smalls.”  Man, what a clever headline.

Biggie was a bright kid—an honor role student who made his mother proud.  Then he started hawking hubs, sporting furs and fedoras, and spittin’ dope rhymes.  Smart, ambitious, and fat as all hell, he soon metamorphosed from Christopher Wallace to the Notorious B.I.G.  Harlem star-maker, Sean “Puffy” Combs, got a hold of him, and B.I.G. became 350 pounds of bold lyrics and brash suicide trips.

Maintaining the morbid themes of his debut album, Ready to Die, Biggie’s posthumous release features a number of precient songtitles, such as “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” “Last Day,” “Niggas Bleed,” and of course, “You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You)”. At 24 years-old, Biggie became a self-created emblem for ghetto violence.

Biggie represented Brooklyn at the height of the East Coast-West Coast rap wars during the 1990s. On March 9, 1997, he was killed in a hail of bullets at an L.A. intersection—six months after his friend-turned-rival Tupac Shakur was gunned down in a similar fashion. While accusations have been hurled at everybody from Suge Knight to the FBI, his murderers remain at large.  Maybe thugs were hired by Deathrow Records.  Or maybe his murder was the result of composing too many death songs—a manifestation of his morbid imagination, like in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, but bloodier.

I ask Kay what she thinks happened to Biggie.

“I think Puffy Combs had him killed.  That’s just my opinion. But Puffy be sleazy, the way he continued to capitalize on Biggie’s death.  Then he got caught up in that club shoot-up with Shyne [one of Puffy's rapper protégés, who was convicted of the shooting while Puffy walked free].  Puff Daddy probably just had Biggie popped fo’ tha money.”

She has a point. Perhaps Biggie was just a big, black piñata full of dollar bills, and Puffy came swinging a stick with no blindfold.

I don’t know if it took a bullet to make Biggie a legend, but his death certainly seems fated in retrospect.  Even orchestrated.  I recently saw his image displayed at the acclaimed “Who Shot Rock n’ Roll?” exhibit when it passed through Columbia, SC.  Taken a few weeks before his death, the photograph features B.I.G. in silvery black-and-white, standing in funerary attire among a hundred thousand anonymous tombstones.  The message: Everyone dies, but celebrities get to keep their faces.  Would Biggie have faded into a featureless grave if his life had been spared?

Kay snatches up my printout of last year’s Biggie Smalls article and starts reading.  I’m apprehensive at first, but she loves it.  She even reads this passage aloud:

“Released two weeks after his death, Life After Death sold over ten million copies.  P-Diddy crawled out from that blood-splattered Californian intersection like an Alien chestburster and grew into a hype-spinning monster that still stalks the earth in search of more dollars.”

She especially loves the ending, and I’m thinking, thank God somebody does.

“As long as there are fools, they will imitate their heroes.  And as long as their heroes portray braggadocious murderers, fools will continue to kill each other like morons with sharp sticks.

“So I’m throwing on my cream suit and hat, and heading out to the club.  I’ll love it when you call me Big Poppa.  And if you point a gun at me, I suppose I’ll throw my hands in the air, like I’s a true player.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

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