Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen Take Phone Calls on New York Cable TV (1978)

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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Acoustic His­to­ry of Punk Rock Sheds Light on NYC’s Low­er East Side (NSFW)

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of CBGB, the Ear­ly Home of Punk and New Wave

The Talk­ing Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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