EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we will be re-posting choice Q&As from the past year. Today we present this reprise edition of this in-depth interview with Sex Pistols guitarist/songwriter Steve Jones, which originally posted on January 17th, 2017. Enjoy.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR VICE Steve Jones has been a lot of things in his 61 years: a love-starved bastard, a smooth criminal, a peeping tom, an insatiable man-slut, a master thief, an insufferable prog-rocker, a wouldbe Yacht Rock A&R rep, a SEX shop clerk, Chrissie Hynde’s pre-Pretenders fuck-buddy; a teenage Sex Pistol, a 23-year-old has-been, a sticky-fingered junkie, a shit-hot guitar-slinger-for-hire, Iggy Pop’s muse, a Fabio-haired solo artist, a buff and burnished Hollywood biker, a recovering addict, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a jailhouse motivational speaker, an ascot’d elder statesman of punk, a beloved LA disc jockey and a sexagenarian social media baller.
All of which is confessed in unflinching detail, with a nod and a wink and a pinch of Cockney slang, in Lonely Boy (Da Capo), his painfully honest, just-published must-read memoir, co-written with Ben Thompson. Recently we got Mr. Jones on the horn to discuss the following: Stealing Keith Richards’s favorite coat/Bryan Ferry’s gold record/David Bowie’s bass amp; his cloak of invisibility; his crap childhood; the tens of thousands of “birds” he’s “shagged”; his semi-tragic inability to forge a lasting relationship with a woman; learning how to read, write and spell after 40; an ex-illegal Brit’s perspective on immigrants and Trump; why he can’t stand being in the same room with Johnny Rotten; watching Glen Matlock shag John Cale’s wife; whether or not Sid Vicious kill Nancy Spungen; why Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is the Dorian Gray of seminal DOA punk rock debuts; the oft-derided virtues of Boston and Journey; and why he pissed on Elvis’ grave.
VICE: Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up to the present. In your pre-Sex Pistols days you were a very prolific and precocious thief. In addition to robbing a lot of unfamous people you also stole Keith Richards’ coat, Bryan Ferry’s gold record, the entire backline of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the middle of their infamous two-night farewell concert at the Hammersmith-Odeon in 1973. You refer to your ability to operate largely undetected in the shadows as “The Cloak.”
STEVE JONES: The Invisible Cloak, yeah.
VICE: Were you really that gifted a criminal? Or were the police so incompetent and security measures so insufficient back in those days?
STEVE JONES: Well it was that, that’s it. There was no security. No one had cameras. Even alarm systems in stores didn’t work that great. It was the perfect time to be a kleptomaniac for sure, but there was also an element of balls that you had to have. That’s where “The Cloak” came from. I would literally go to any high-end department store up the West End of London — Selfridge’s, Harrods, Hamleys — and work my way into the storeroom and convince myself I was meant to be there. And oftentimes people would actually, people who worked there would see me there, but I had this confidence about me that they wouldn’t even question what I was doing there. And I was like, 12 years old, it was remarkable how many times I did that and got away with it.
STEVE JONES: It was all about the thrill, to be honest. I mean, it was fine getting some free stuff that I didn’t need, but it was a survival mechanism is what it was. It was, you know, because of the trauma, I guess, if you want to call it that, after my stepfather fucking about with me. After that happened, I didn’t want to be at home, I didn’t feel safe at home. I had this urge on a daily basis to go out into the world and be on a mission. I couldn’t sit still, so that’s why I became a kleptomaniac.
VICE: Your fear and anxiety about your fucked up home situation aggravated your ADHD and may have been the root cause of a lot of the antisocial things you were doing in your youth?
STEVE JONES: It was grim. My upbringing was grim. I had a mother who didn’t really want to have a kid. I had a stepfather who definitely didn’t want me around. Life was good when I was with my Nan, from a very early age to about six or seven. By the time I was about six or seven we moved into this shithole in Shepherd’s Bush in a basement and that’s when the horrible vibes come, you know, and I just hated it. I couldn’t stand it. You know, I was in the way. I was a burden. That’s the feeling I got, you know, and I didn’t want to deal with it.
VICE: In the book you make a very frank and courageous admission that you were once molested by your stepfather. What advice would you offer to somebody who went through something similar to that as a child, who is now an adult but is still so consumed with shame and humiliation they can’t really confront it, even now.
STEVE JONES: I think that happens quite a lot, to be honest with you. I think not 1 in 100 but maybe 1 in 50, where some kind of weird shit happens to you as a kid. But the worst is when it happens to you when supposedly you’re in a safe place, at home, with your parents and, I mean, in hindsight, you know, the best thing to do is to fucking tell someone because when you’re 10 years old you kind of tell yourself that you had a part in it. You kind of made them do it. You know, and it’s when looking back at it, when you’re 10 years old, how the fuck do you know anything, you know? Your totally taken advantage of, and the best thing to do is to talk about it. Talk about it one-on-one with someone if you don’t want the whole world to know. It definitely helps because that’s a big burden, that’s a big secret to carry around and it gives you fucking cancer if you ask me and shit like that, you know?
VICE: Totally. The truth shall set you free. Jumping back to your early life of crime — The Great David Bowie Heist is just hilarious and blows my mind. There’s this iconic moment in rock n’ roll history and there you are in the background sneaking off with everyone’s shit. For the benefit of readers who haven’t read your book yet could you just give a summary of what happened?
STEVE JONES: Yeah, I was a massive Bowie fan, specifically a Spiders from Mars fan — as I was Roxy music, or Rod Stewart and The Faces, or Mott The Hoople. That was my time. When I was a teenager that was what I was obsessed with. Glam rock. Good glam rock, not shit glam rock. I went to what wound up being the farewell concert of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars and Hammersmith Odeon where I always used to go and see shows. I used to know that place like the back of my hand, and I went and saw him. I didn’t realize- well no one realized — this was going to be the end of the Spiders from Mars, and they did two nights and after the first night they left all their gear set up on stage, because they were going to play again the next night. The left some guy who was asleep, well he wasn’t meant to be asleep he was meant to be awake looking after the equipment, but he dozed off in about the fifth row and no one else was in this place other than him, me, and my accomplice.
We snuck on the stage started snipping microphones with some pliers, I took the bass amp, I took some of the cymbals. I didn’t take anything from Mick Ronson I don’t know why I didn’t but um, we loaded up my mini-van that I had at the time, dropped it off somewhere, came back for another round and, about to do some more damage, the guy woke up. He didn’t see me. I saw him starting to wake up and I split. I didn’t realize this was going to be such a big deal. I didn’t realize this was going to be the end of that phase of Bowie. It was on the radio the next morning that all their equipment had been stolen. And of course that made you feel a sense of pride and savor the infamy — hey ‘I did that!’ Like the arsonist who sets fire to houses and stands outside when the cops show up, watching it burn. Getting kind of like a “Yeah, that’s me! That’s me!” This nobody has made a little bit of a name for himself and no one knows it.
VICE: You met Bowie years later, did you ever tell him about this? MORE
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