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Never Judge a Book Is redemption for Nancy Spungen in sight in Den Browne's insider busting of the Sid 'n' Nancy myth?

Never Judge a Book

Is redemption for Nancy Spungen in sight in Den Browne's insider busting of the Sid 'n' Nancy myth?

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: April, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

However difficult and abrasive a personality Nancy undoubtedly was, you can't help but think she got a raw deal and was a victim rather than a villain.

PadlcoksPADLOCKS - Living with Sid and Nancy
Den Browne
(Backstage Books 2023)

It’s been 47 years since both Sid Vicious (or John Beverley if you prefer) and Nancy Spungen met their horribly messy and untimely ends, and so much has been written about them, both at the time and since, that it begs the obvious question, do we really need another book about them?  The answer is equally obviously; of course not.  However, there is something a little different about this tell-all book (and despite author Den Browne’s assurances to the opposite, it is another cash-in book, albeit a long time after the fact) and that is that it goes some way to redeeming one of the most despised characters in Rock, blamed for Sid’s drug addiction and eventual destruction.

Nina Antonia writes in her foreword, there is a good deal of misogyny, anti-semitism and Xenophobia at work in the vilification of Nancy Spungen. She was a brash and sexualized Jewish American woman. That made her ripe for being painted as the evil temptress, with Sid painted as the gullible and hapless victim. Despite his well-known tendency towards random and unpredictable violence, numerous far-fetched theories abound about who really killed Nancy in that hotel room. As Nina says though, why do we consistently shy away from the fact that Nancy was, in fact, a victim of domestic violence? Or find it inconceivable that Sid could have inflicted that single fatal stab wound whilst high? Den Browne knew them both well and feels this was by far the most likely scenario.

Despite the predictable cover image, Bob Gruen’s well known shot of a sneering, bare chested, and knock-knee’d Sid handcuffed to a leather clad Nancy (no doubt the Publishers idea), Den Browne’s book offers us a different, far more human and personal, perspective on the cartoon-like personas we feel we all know so well. He was a junkie like them, and they moved into his flat after mistakenly ringing his doorbell one night looking for a fix.  The Sex Pistols' media frenzy was running high at the time, with Sid having recently replaced Glen Matlock in the band. That was a pivotal time for music and culture in the UK and Padlocks gives us a flavour of the reality of them being hounded whenever they went out, coupled with the unlikely luxury (to a penniless junkie, at least) of being able to call on the Glitterbest funded taxi account 24/7 to transport them to places like the Marquee and 100 club where Sid’s face would ensure they could jump any queue and waltz straight in. The story is told from Den’s own experience and includes his fractious relationship with partner Annie, and features a procession of bizarre and unsavoury characters who dropped by the flat, most of whom are now dead. Den feels, that as the ‘last man standing’, he can get his story out now there is no one left to feel put out by his portrayal of them.

The main point of interest, though, is the small domestic details that mark out the fact that Nancy was not that bad really. Her delight at discovering Den had a small collection of books revealed a distinctly non-punk love of literature. Nancy’s unexpected interest in the respective qualities of different washing powders is revealed on an early visit to the launderette, along with her generosity in offering Den a place to stay when his relationship with Annie eventually ends. We get numerous domestic details of her rattling around in the flat when Sid was away playing gigs or rehearsing, including an ill-advised episode where Den slept with Nancy one afternoon.

Her love for Sid is made clear, despite their frequent fights, (which became increasingly violent towards the end, presaging her death). His appeal to school kids, and his patience with them when mobbed by them when out, is sweet.

Evident too is the clear pride Sid had in the ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ album, and the seriousness with which he took the opportunity to be a Sex Pistol, and a solo star subsequently, all of these and more fly in the face of commonly held perceptions of the couple.

That Nancy and Sid were both junkies on an ultimately destructive downward spiral became clear by the end of the book; they finally had a flat of their own, the Pistols had split up and Sid was a solo star putting out Eddie Cochran and Frank Sinatra covers and hanging out with his rockstar buddies like Phil Lynott.

Shortly after this they both decamped to New York to launch the next stage in Sid’s career, with Nancy as his supposed manager, setting up at the Chelsea Hotel. We all know the outcome of that. The standard Sid 'n' Nancy story is that Nancy introduced Sid to drugs and addiction, yet it is clear from this book that having a junkie mother had normalized drug use for him to such an extent that it was almost inevitable he would become a junkie too. If you watch the interview from the film ‘D.O.A’ where Sid struggles to stay conscious, and Nancy attempts to keep him awake, you can also see that Nancy was a lot more together and always looking out for him. However difficult and abrasive a personality Nancy undoubtedly could be, you can’t help but think she got a raw deal and was more a victim than a villain. Is anything in this book a truly accurate picture though? It’s hard to tell. Den freely admits that no hard evidence remains of their relationship and his recollections may well be clouded by the passage of time and his high intake of drugs back then, with him even including a postscript chapter describing his drug use, but it is an entertaining and insightful account nonetheless, and offers a welcomely different perspective on an overly well-trodden story.

So, do we really need yet another book about Sid and Nancy to add to the pile, alongside the dubious solo records and mythologising Hollywood films? As I said at the start, not really, but if you are open to a different take on a familiar tale, and the corrosive effect of rapid fame and record biz greed has on needy and broken personalities, this will do the job very nicely.

Den Browne's PADLOCKS - Living with Sid and Nancy is available here→

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.

about Alan Rider »»



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