I don’t know about you, but when I think of Sid Vicious, I picture a young Gary Oldman. The Sex Pistols bassist certainly made an outsized cultural mark in his 21 short years, and Oldman’s performance in the Alex Cox-directed Sid and Nancy has become, for those too young or distant to catch the band at the time, the authoritatively vivid depiction of him. Though arguments routinely erupt about the license Cox may have taken with the facts of Vicious’ life and death, you need only watch a clip of the genuine article to understand how expertly Oldman captured his distinctive kind of surly vitality. I recommend the above late-seventies broadcast from The Efrom Allen Show on New York cable television (part one, part two, part three), which finds the shirtless Vicious sitting on a panel with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (the titular Nancy of the film), Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys, and Cynthia Ross of the B Girls. “THAT’S SID VICIOUS ON YOUR SCREENS, FOLKS,” scrolling text tells the viewers. “IS SID VICIOUS? WHO CARES? CALL 473-5386 TO SPEAK TO THE PUNK OF YOUR CHOICE.”
And call they do. Vicious responds with the same oscillation between articulacy and inarticulacy you may recall from Oldman’s portrayal, and Spungen seems to possess the same behaviorally concealed core of intelligence that Chloe Webb gave her in the movie. She takes up the role of his defender when, lit cigarette in hand, she unhesitatingly shoots down a caller who asks the faintly zoned-out punk icon why he’s “so derivative”: “He’s as original as you get! He’s not derivative of anything!” As the show goes on, this proves not to be the only accusation of its kind. Other calls include inquiries about post-Pistols projects, a suggestion to collaborate with Ron Wood (of all people), and prompts for predictions about the direction of punk rock. “How should I know?” Vicious blurts. “I live my life day by day. I don’t plan years ahead.” Indeed, he didn’t need to. The program aired on September 18, 1978, eight months after the Sex Pistols dissolved. Less than a month later, Spungen would be gone, and less than five months later, so too would he.