Hope You Die Before We Get Old

The reunited Who and Sex Pistols cheat death one more time

The Messila Festival is sponsored by Koff beer, one of Finland's most popular brands, and temporary beer halls abound. Each one bears the name of a U.S. town: Memphis, El Paso, Nashville. The whole place is reeling and hilarious, and night will never, ever fall: When ten o'clock rolls around, it looks like four in the afternoon, and it's not going to get much darker.

At that moment, I thank the Lord for Sepultura, a kindly Brazilian death-metal group whose Finnish record company had left a backstage pass at my hotel in Helsinki. The Sex Pistols' management had refused me access to this gig because they didn't want any press here, but Sepultura was delighted to oblige. Sepultura--the name means "burial" in Portuguese--just recorded an album titled Roots that employs the services of a Brazilian Indian tribe called the Xavantes. When Finnish air, so cold and clean, fills with a taped recording of this tribe's rhythmic chant and thousands of Finnish kids start pumping their fists in unison, it's easy to feel as though global unity has been achieved at long last.

Some Americans might think a concert featuring a death-metal band like Sepultura and a punk act like the Pistols is a bizarre coupling of musical styles, but Sep's Max Cavalera is, in fact, a big Sex Pistols fan. Roots even contains a song called "Cut Throat" that is modeled after the Pistols song "E.M.I."; it contains a chorus that goes, "Enslavement/Pathetic/Ignorant/Corporations."

"I got the Sex Pistols' record [Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols] when I was 13 or 14, and it was one of the only punk albums you could get in Brazil because it was released on a major label," Cavalera says from backstage. "The funny thing about us was we were little metal kids. We listened to Motsrhead, GBH, Discharge. My friends were all, 'Oh, that's stupid punk stuff with stupid hair,' but I hadn't seen pictures of them--there isn't one on the album--and I thought it was fucking great. I didn't understand English then, but I loved the music, the attitude. So while people in Europe and America thought of the Pistols as this punk thing, to me they were like the logical next step after Iron Maiden, who were all played out."

Cavalera says he saw Johnny Rotten at the Helsinki airport. They nodded pleasantly to each other, but Cavalera isn't going to get a chance to talk to Rotten here since Sepultura has to take off for Lapland before Bad Religion's set even finishes.

As it turns out, Cavalera wouldn't have had a chance to talk to Rotten anyway--the Pistols' arrival precipitates a sudden security lockdown. When the Pistols' bus rolls up--a mere half-hour before their scheduled performance--a raft of security guards starts pushing everyone away from the driveway. No one is allowed to see the Pistols up close and personal: They are whisked from bus to trailer to stage in total seclusion. Clearing the path, one guard manhandles Bad Religion's Greg Graffin, shoving him out of the way like a grubby autograph seeker.

By the time the Pistols take the stage at 10 p.m., the field in front of them is littered with audience members passed out in their own vomit. Thousands of young and bleary-eyed Finns--all fabulously, tremendously, mythically drunk--rock and sway to the recorded music, bellowing insults in indecipherabalese between swigs from huge plastic jugs of booze.

This is the Sex Pistols' first time in Finland. The band was supposed to play here in 1977, but the show, a benefit for a children's organization, was canceled when the promoter deemed their material offensive. Tonight, there's the problem of the audience's indifference. Although hundreds of the kids in the crowd sport "Anarchy" tee shirts and multicolored hair, the crowd as a whole seems oblivious to the Pistols' music--especially as the first six songs are relatively obscure numbers, including such rare B-sides as "Done You No Wrong" and "I'm a Lazy Sod."

They open with "Bodies," but then immediately play their five least-known songs, thus inducing sudden boredom in the crowd of kids that had just moments before gone apeshit over Sepultura and Bad Religion. To those of us standing in front of the stage watching the Pistols prove that history books are indeed written in invisible ink, the Pistols' music sounds clean and shiny; even Rotten seems bored, uttering the equivalent of, "Hello, Finland! Do you want to rock 'n' roll?"

No wonder the kids start pelting them with things.
Twenty minutes into the set, Rotten stomps off the stage in a rage, angry because audience members are hurling plastic bottles at him. "I am not your target," he yelps. "There are worse things than me in this world. You should be fucking grateful I'm here."

Rotten makes good on his threat to quit the set after the next song, telling the crowd, "That's it! Fuck you! Fuck off!" The rest of the band leaves with him. "Get some Finnish cunt up here to take your abuse."

The poor sod left with that unenviable position is one Billy Carson, an African-American actor popular in Finland--except on this night. "Idiots! Morons!" he shouts in broken Finnish. "This band has come here after 20 years. You should treat them with respect!"

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