Penthouse Retrospective

by Deborah Spungen Originally Published: October, 1983

Nancy Spungen | BONUS Penthouse Legacy

“Oh, he is. He’s a very nice lad, Mum.” Nancy was starting to pick up an English accent.

“With that name,” I said, “you’d expect he’d be, I don’t know, kind of rough.”

“Oh, no. That’s just for the act. He’s nothing like what the papers say. That’s all made up. Would your daughter go out with someone like that?”

I decided then and there to find out what the papers said about the Sex Pistols.

“Is he on heroin?”

“No.”

“Are you?”

“Yeah, but I’m going on meth again. Sid wants me to. See how good he is. Can you send me some money? So we can get settled? Sid’s broke, too.”

“If he’s such a big success why doesn’t he have any money?”

“I think they’re holding out on him.”

I told her I’d think about it. I ended up sending her fifty dollars.

The Sex Pistols’ first album, Anarchy in the UK., was released in England in November 1976. The group first came to the attention of the mainstream British public a few days after its release because of an appearance on a national television talk show. Its host, Bill Grundy, asked them to say something outrageous to the viewing public. They obliged by letting loose with a string of snarled obscenities, resulting in front-page news the next day, as well as the suspension of Grundy.

By the time Nancy arrived in London four months later, the Sex Pistols were the biggest sensation in England.

It was only natural that she would like the Sex Pistols, want to be involved with them. They were angry and violent. They were the newest thing on the musical horizon, the next step past the underground New York punk scene. They were celebrities. Later, when she herself would become a punk celebrity, journalists would characterize her as a girl who took to punk because it was a repudiation of middle-class life. Not so. Nancy loved being middle-class. She was making no social statement. It was simply the music that attracted Nancy to punk. Always, it was the music. It was her flame. All she wanted was to get close to it. As close as possible.

Nancy and Sid stayed with his mother for less than two months. She and Nancy apparently didn’t get along. So Nancy and Sid moved into a hotel. Nancy phoned me from her new place of residence. From her calls, I learned that she was becoming exposed to the violence that surrounded the Sex Pistols.

“I got beat up, Mom,” she moaned. “My nose is broke somethin’ ‘orrible. It’s all over my face. It hurts.”

“Who did it?” I asked.

“The Teddys. They don’t like us.”

“Who are the Teddys?”

“Assholes who hate punks. They attacked us on the street. They gave me two black eyes, too. Sid got knifed. But we’re okay. And I’ll be ready for ‘em next time. Sid bought me a truncheon.”

Two weeks later she phoned to say she and Sid had moved to a different hotel. When I asked why, she replied that the manager of the hotel had asked them to leave.

“Sid got mad,” she explained, “and dangled me out the window. I was screaming at him to let me back in and I guess it pissed off the people in the hotel.”

“Are you okay?” I asked. What else could I say?

“Oh, yeah. It was nothing. He was just upset.”

They got into another reportedly violent quarrel in a different London hotel room at the end of November. Again, Nancy’s screams brought the manager. This time the British press was also alerted. The papers reported that the manager went up to Nancy and Sid’s room to find a blood-stained bed, a near-naked Sid bleeding from cuts on his arms, and broken glass all over the carpet. There was a bottle of pills on the nightstand. A police inquiry was launched.

A second problem also arose to doom Nancy and Sid’s life together: Sid’s career. The Sex Pistols were an overpromoted, talentless outfit, and after the novelty of their outrageousness had worn thin, the group disbanded. Sid tried a solo act in London. He cut a single called “My Way,” but it failed to take off.

Few can tell a tragic story as well as a mother, and the Nancy Spungen story qualifies as one of the most sad. Beware the dreams of the Punk Romantic..

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