Cheap Holidays In

Having recently watched — and, seemingly unlike many critics, really enjoyed — Danny Boyle’s Pistol, the TV adaptation of Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir of the origins of the band, I’ve been thinking about the Sex Pistols reunion of the 1990s, and what it meant at the time.

I can’t remember if the band got back together for just a couple of gigs or a full-blown tour, but I remember that whatever it was, it went under the umbrella title of Filthy Lucre as a way of deflecting and embracing the obvious criticism that it was all being done for the money.

It was, of course — me and some friends pooled our dwindling resources to buy tickets to give to my best friend at the time, who was a massive Pistols fan, and I can remember feeling at once impressed and terrified by how expensive those tickets were; this was all of the Pistols selling out by getting back together, but ensuring that they were selling their credibility for as much of your money as possible. “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated,” indeed.

Traditionally, I’m cool on the idea of selling out in general: there’s usually more behind the situation than anyone else sees, and sometimes you simply have to do whatever to keep the lights on. The very idea of “selling out” feels as if it comes from people who’ve never truly worried about money, overvaluing a concept of artistic freedom they’ve made up in their minds. With the Pistols, though…

I remember there being legitimate anger at the band for doing it, for tarnishing their reputations in that kind of way. It reminds me of much of the objections to Pistol, for that matter — this notion that the Sex Pistols are somehow sacrosanct and should be deified for their role in the punk scene, instead of treated like real people. How dare they get back together, and reveal themselves as imperfect? Why couldn’t they just allow the legend that had built around them to remain unsullied?

Except that was the point, maybe even as much as the money. I remember the friend telling me, after the gig, that it was fun but also disappointing, because they could play their instruments and it felt like a regular concert. It was the final true punk move they could make: making their most devoted fans face up to the fact that they’d been jobbing musicians all along, instead of antichrists here to change the world.

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