Interview with Steve Jones

Posted by Goodreads on December 27, 2016
If Sid Vicious is best remembered as punk rock's death-obsessed "Pretty Vacant" poster boy and Johnny Rotten as its anarchy-embracing id, then their Sex Pistols bandmate Steve Jones can be understood as the genre's first—and arguably most iconic—guitar hero. The London native's don't-give-a-damn attitude, offstage lawlessness, and chugging riffs helped set the parameters for the countercultural movement.

With his memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, however, Jones elucidates the Dickensian childhood that underpins his band's glamorous nihilism as well as the multiple addictions—heroin, alcohol, stealing, and sex—that almost took him to an early grave. Along the way the first-time author takes care to refute many aspects of Rotten's (aka John Lydon) and bassist Glenn Matlock's previous Pistols autobiographies and shatters many of punk rock's tenets (for starters, Jones hates the mohawk hairstyle and brushes aside the movement's DIY ethos as "rubbish").

Now the host of the popular Los Angeles-area radio show Jonesy's Jukebox on KLOS 95.5 FM, Jones opened up to interviewer Chris Lee about the only book he ever read and how he may or may not have urinated on Elvis Presley's grave.

Goodreads: Your book assumes that readers know and care about who Sid Vicious was and that they've seen the movie The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. What kind of audience did you have in mind when you wrote it? Punk purists? Rock fans?

Steve Jones: No. I didn't think of an audience at all. A lot of it ain't even about rock and roll. The main part to me was from when I was a kid until the Pistols started. To me that's the interesting stuff. That's the bit I wanted to explain: my upbringing, my weird, quirky ways as a teenager. The other stuff you've heard before.

GR: Before the age of ten you were basically thrown to the wolves: Your father left, your mom was hardly around, and your ADHD went undiagnosed. Then you had a disturbing experience with your stepfather, a sexual predator. When did you realize how unique your upbringing was?

SJ: Through therapy and age. When I was ten years old, it was all part and parcel of the course. Now I know the things I was doing and getting fucked around by the stepfather and all that is pretty wild, really. I'm not the first kid who's had a shitty upbringing by any means. But there were many situations I put myself into that I could have easily been carted off in a pervy van and never been seen again.

GR: Especially that time you were following a bread crumb trail of torn-out lingerie catalog photographs into the underpass where the "local pedophile" lurked. In the book you make clear you are not gay, but you also describe several male-on-male sexual experiences. How difficult was it to commit those things to print? Did it result in a different understanding of yourself?

SJ: What's in the book is not a revelation to me. Letting the whole world know about it is different. I questioned, "Should I put it in there? Are people going to think I'm weird? Are people going to think I'm gay?" It's quite revealing. But I thought, "You know what? Fuck it. You live and you die." So I took the risk of letting it all hang out, so to speak.

GR: It helps people understand where your music comes from. Back in the day you were also a major-league Peeping Tom. You shoplifted bikes and clothing. You stole cars—even David Bowie's amplifier from the back of a concert hall.

SJ: Kleptomaniac. Just couldn't stop. It's all the same, though; I have that addictive personality. I get addicted to anything that gives me that buzz. That euphoria. Whether it's being a Peeping Tom, drinking or drugs, stealing, sex, shopping. Whatever it may be, I can't help it. I'm in control now. But when I was a teenager, it was impossible to do normal things. It just wasn't in me.

GR: Given the cars you stole—which is grand theft larceny—did you ever worry that detailing your crimes in a memoir would result in punitive action?

SJ: Well, there is a statute of limitation. But you never know! Someone might rear their ugly head and want something back. That was all so long ago. Ninety-nine percent was juvenile stuff and in England. But if there is something, I'll gladly make amends.

GR: You talked about how around 1982 you may or may not have urinated on Elvis Presley's grave. It's written in this subjective way: "If it had happened, it would have probably been in the daytime and the perpetrator would've definitely had a drink." So what can we say about whether you did or didn't pee on Elvis's grave?

SJ: To be honest with you, I don't remember. One of the other members in my band the Professionals said I did it. And I'm sure it would definitely upset some people. Don't get me wrong, I love Elvis. He was fantastic. I like leaving it kind of hazy.

GR: In the book you say upfront that your memory isn't very good. And therefore you don't make the most reliable narrator—even for your own life. That must have made writing this hard.

SJ: It was very hard. I had a lot of help from Cookie—[Sex Pistols drummer] Paul Cook—who the ghostwriter spoke to and who has a very good memory. I know there's a lot that I ain't rememberin' that will probably come up later. I just did the best I could. I know that everything in there is the complete truth. There's no exaggeration or fabrication of anything. That's the main thing I want to get across.

GR: Toward the end of the book you describe battling heroin addiction. You say being a junkie "felt like a necessity after the Pistols ended." You acknowledge it's crazy to say your life was saved by that addiction—but that's what happened. How was it a saving grace?

SJ: That two- or three-year whirlwind of the Pistols was pretty wild. Then heroin comes along after that ended, and it was perfect. I think heroin would have come regardless. Whatever the circumstances were, it was the next step for me. I tried alcohol, blow, all the rest of it. For someone like me who's constantly got a hole inside them that I'm trying to fill—hence the name Lonely Boy—there's always this hole I'm trying to fix with whatever. That's where I go to. It's almost like not wanting to deal with reality. Heroin was the perfect antidote to not dealing with reality.

GR: Dangerous thing to fill a hole with.

SJ: Absolutely. But it didn't matter. I never think about doing the right thing. I always thought about the stupid thing. And at that time heroin was the answer. It did help for a while. Until that stopped working. Until I had no money left. I often wonder if I had Keith Richards's money if I would have stopped or if I would have kept on going. I just know if you're lucky enough, you get to a point where you've had enough. A little light goes on in your head and you look at yourself and go, "Holy shit, look at me. I'm homeless. I have no money. I've got a heroin habit." For me it was like, "OK, I'm going to turn this around." You're the only one who knows.

GR: You were functionally illiterate until your thirties. Which books have influenced you? Which ones influenced the writing of your memoir?

SJ: [laughs] I've read one book my whole life: William Burroughs's Junkie. That was 30 years ago when I first got sober. I couldn't tell you one sentence out of that book. I just don't read books—I'd rather listen. I did an audiobook for this one.

GR: Kind of ironic that somebody who doesn't want to read books went ahead and wrote one, no?

SJ: Yeah, totally. People like books. If I look at a book, all I want to do is look at the pictures and see if I'm in it. I go straight to that bit. I just don't have the attention span. I read a few lines and I'm already thinking, "Did I make that car payment?"

GR: Did that lack of attention span influence how you wrote Lonely Boy?

SJ: We're in a world where no one's got any attention span. There's so much stuff going on, it's important to cut to the chase every time. I'm not someone who likes faffing around with the lead-up. Just get to the point! That's my outlook on everything.

GR: For someone who is considered one of punk's founding fathers, you have a surprisingly dismissive attitude toward a lot of things people associate with the genre. Punk's supposed "anyone can do it" spirit—you say two or three times in the book that you disagree with that outlook completely. Or the idea that punk rockers are not supposed to be into money— you grew up so poor, you admit you were desperate to get out of poverty. And you hate people with mohawks! Is Lonely Boy a refutation of punk?

SJ: I don't know how that word came about. It's just rock and roll. Maybe the difference was, I couldn't play very well and John [Rotten] hadn't sung before. But it just ended up the way it was. There's no difference between the Sex Pistols and the Eagles—just personalities. Everyone does the same bullshit. Punk is just a word. You get these trainspotters who want to grab onto it and analyze it. It really ain't that deep. It's just rock and roll at the end of the day.

GR: You say at the outset that you don't want this to be a holier-than-thou recovery book or hold yourself up as any kind of role model for sobriety. Yet the fact remains, you describe going through the fire and coming out a better person for overcoming your addictions. Is there anything you hope a reader will take away from your memoir?

SJ: I don't know what people will think of it. It's fine if someone can relate to it or if it can help someone. But that is not my intention in any manner, shape, or form. It's just my story.

Read more of our exclusive author interviews on our Voice page.

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Cox I am so looking forward to reading this!

message 2: by Lindy (new)

Lindy Brown I'm not interested in reading this if he still has an "I don't care" attitude about everything. He didn't even write with purpose and intention.

message 3: by Hieronymus (new)

Hieronymus Murphy Until I signed into GoodReads tonight, I wasn't aware of this title. Now, I'm really looking forward to it.

I've always been a huge music fan, and the Pistols, Ramones and Clash were a welcome gale force wind that blew through '70s rock 'n' roll and cleared away the pretention.

message 4: by Phil (new)

Phil I'm still fascinated by the punk part of my own history, even though, like Steve Jones, I've done a fair bit of growing up since then, so I'll definitely be reading this. John Lydon's a great one for making the whole Sex Pistols thing sound like it was all about him, and he's disinclined to give anyone else's memories or emphasis any credence; a memoir from someone involved in many of the same events for the whole of the Pistols' 1975-78 car-crash has therefore got to be worth reading. Steve is also a fine musician in his own right (check out his playing on Iggy Pop's "Instinct", for example), so it's good that he's getting the opportunity to be seen and heard for himself as well.

Robert W. Meyerholtz I'm definitely curious. I've never been a punk rock fan to listen to the music, but the early punk rock movement of the 70's fascinates me. I will look forward to reading this sometime.

message 6: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Read this over Christmas. A very honest account of himself. Was a massive fan of the pistols and have so far read two Lydon (Johnny Rotten) biographies. This actually answered a few questions about the band I was wanting to know. Jones explores the chemistry of the band and provides a good account on how they finally emerged as the band that became a legend. Therefore if you're a fan of The Sex Pistols and punk in general this is an essential read. As J Lydon said himself "two sides to every story". This is Steve's side.

message 7: by Henry (new)

Henry Well, Im looking fwd to reading Lonely Boy, and glad that Steve is still breathing!

message 8: by nancy campis (new)

nancy campis i'm also looking forward to reading this book. Just reading his interviews intrigue me

message 9: by Brian (new)

Brian how dummb this site shows book title and wants u 2 rate it ,bit hard. without reading it first.!!!??

message 10: by Socratis (new)

Socratis Papahatzis Steve Jones is a middle aged "rock legend"' who 's spent his entire life cashing a handful of songs he participated in writing in his 20s, having not done anything at all since. Who gives a f*** about his "upbringing"? Bullshit storytelling ...for the rock 'n' roll illiterates.

message 11: by Diane (new)

Diane Evans-Spackman My interest is peaked, I always enjoy reading about people and their lives, trying all the while to understand, but I can tell that this will contain raunchy details and language that I just don't want in my life. My mind gets polluted with the bad stuff. Thanks.

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I appreciate his honesty and telling how he feels without fakeness in this interview. The book sounds interesting, especially if it's told with the same blunt realism.

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