D.O.A. – The Punk Years and The Sex Pistols’ Last Gigs in America.
Above Photo: The Sex Pistols play Winterland in 1978, their last ever gig.
I recently watched a documentary on Punk which I first watched in the mid-1980s.
Called D.O.A. A Right Of Passage it was produced in 1980 by Lech Kowalski and featured outstanding live footage of Punk bands, especially from the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated tour of America, as well as interviews with Punks, gig-goers, bands and an odd assortment of others.
It started brilliantly.
A woman with chipped nail varnish puts on records, interspersed with footage of a baptism, then suddenly we were straight into Nightclubbing by Iggy Pop as the camera focused on wall graffiti as it descended stairs into a club.
This was followed by superb live footage of the Sex Pistols playing Anarchy in the UK in Atlanta, after which there were some amusing comments from definitely non-Punk gig-goers across what seemed like a broad spectrum of American life.
Viewers were also treated to a real-life Mary Whitehouse Experience, as the great British ‘70s anti-Smut campaigner let loose about the band and about the whole Punk phenomenon.
“I’m not shocked by Punk. I’m shamed by it.” She said.
X Ray Spex made an appearance – fantastic footage of the band (looking very young) rehearsing, then playing live in the Hope & Anchor in London; and watching that exciting footage really took me back.
Talking about the Sex Pistols’ US tour, an Executive from Warner Communications said that the American Embassy, under pressure from the British Government, had initially refused the band visas, on account of their arrest records.
“There hasn’t been a rock & roll group to hate for a long time” he said.
The social memories inspired by the documentary’s footage of schoolkids in the late ‘70s and interviews with unemployed Punks really struck home, especially over a backdrop of The Sex Pistols performing God Save The Queen.
Just those three minutes of the documentary perfectly summed-up late ‘70s Britain.
More surprises – former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock’s Rich Kids playing a live version of Pretty Vacant (which wouldn’t trouble the Pistol’s version, that’s for sure), then bizarrely, posh Guinness heir, Jonathan Guinness popped up to suggest Punks would really like to be “ back in the days when people physically hacked each other to death.”
A made-for-mockery member of the Greater London Council, called Bernard Brooke Partridge said Punk rock may or may not be a form of social protest, but “Until they actually learn how to speak and enunciate the Queen’s English and put their arguments forward in an intelligible fashion, I will be quite unable to judge the validity of what they are alleged to think.”
Followed by: “If they’ve got something to contribute, why don’t they get off their big fat backsides and contribute it.”
Funnily enough he said he’d been to 6 Punk gigs, and he was also lucky enough to have seen the Sex Pistols twice (although he didn’t quite put it like that).
Over a superb mood-setting collage of gritty, everyday ‘70s street scenes, the Clash’s Police and Thieves played, before the images were replaced by bitter and bloody street battles between National Front marchers and Anti-Fascist demonstrators and the police.
Then it was back to the US where some dopey God Squad members were picketing a Pistols’s gig, offering the theory that Punk came from ‘the Devil’. There’s no narrator commenting over the film, which is part of its attraction. It’s clear what’s going on, and the people interviewed speak for themselves allowing the viewer to make up their own minds.
The owner of the Dallas venue where the Sex Pistols were playing tried to cancel it once he was aware of the band’s reputation, but, in a nice irony for a Punk band, the legal boot was on the other foot and he was threatened with lawsuits if he cancelled, so he allowed it to go on.
There were many interesting reminders from a dark British cultural past – TV finished by 11.30pm to be followed by the National Anthem. Sometimes watching the documentary felt like watching a Musical Kes.
Then we were back in San Antonio: the infamous incident of Sid Vicious hitting someone over the head with his bass guitar. The film-makers interviewed the guy, who said he’d come to the gig to cause trouble because he didn’t like the band. “They’re not worth killing” he said.
There was great live footage of Generation X rehearsing over their track Kiss Me Deadly, Sham 69 performing Borstal Breakout, the Dead Boys playing All This And More and Hey Little Girl were memorable too.
Towards the end there was a disturbing interview with Sid Vicious slumped alongside a slightly more alert Nancy Spungen. Sid lapsed in and out of consciousness, clearly on something, trying to talk about why the Sex Pistols had split up on their American tour, but he kept falling asleep and dropping lit cigarettes on Nancy and the bed instead.
Only a few months later, both would be dead.
The footage of Punk bands, especially the Sex Pistols on their doomed US tour, the images and interviews with Punk gig-goers in the US and the UK, as well as the footage of bleak 1970s Britain, all nicely fit with themes in my own Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out!