Hope You Die Before We Get Old

The reunited Who and Sex Pistols cheat death one more time

The band returns to the stage to play five more songs, including such better-known numbers as "Holidays in the Sun," "Pretty Vacant" and "E.M.I." But there's little applause once the Pistols finish, almost none until the band returns to encore with "Anarchy in the U.K." Only then does the crowd--most of whom weren't born when the song came out--explode, dancing, cheering and singing along in English.

The Pistols wind up the set with the old Stooges song "No Fun." "This is what you've been, and what we're having," says the ever-pleasant Rotten when introducing the song.

But despite his taunts, many young fans insist after the show they were pleased with the performance. "I liked it very much--them and Sepultura," says one 19-year-old girl. "Maybe they are only doing it for the money," adds her 15-year-old friend, "but it's still good music. They still have something to say." Even if it's "Fuck you" one more time.

As the Pistols' bus speeds off into the evening light on its way to the next gig in Munich, Messila returns to normal. Headliners the Leningrad Cowboys, a Finnish band that parodies metal and country, perform the Pistols' "God Save the Queen," then slip imperceptibly into Elvis Presley's "Burning Love" before winding up with the all-too-appropriate lyric, "Noooooo future, less vodka for you."

A Tale of Two Cities
Two days later, on the flight from Finland to London, the airplane dips over Hyde Park, and I can see a bunch of workers erecting the stage for the Who concert that will occur there next week. A mile to the north, in Finsbury Park, the stage has already been built for the Sex Pistols' second London debut in two decades.

By midday, the tube is full of bright-haired punks heading up the Victoria line to see the all-day concert. It is Sunday, June 23--the day of the Sex Pistols' triumphant return to their birthplace.

This is the show the Pistols want the press to attend, to help propagate and fuel the hype that's going to drive them across the Atlantic this summer; it is also being recorded for a live album Virgin Records will release later this year. And when it comes to hype, the English press is happy to oblige, just as it did the first time. But where skepticism about the Sex Pistols' reunion barely edged out healthy indifference in Finland, England is brimming with stories about punk's 20th anniversary. Besides this much-talked-about show, a festival in Blackpool this August will feature reunions of X-Ray Spex and the Damned, among others.

Given the number of young Mohawked punks you see on King's Road now fueled by Green Day and NOFX songs--the 1996 equivalent of hippies on Haight Street still grooving to a Dead beat--it seems like the time for the Pistols' ridiculous reunion is ripe here in the U.K. And yet, according to Time Out! and Capitol Radio, sales have been slow for this concert despite all the hype. It's unclear if the intended audience for the Pistols' tour is 16-year-old Rancid fans paying homage to their elders or older fans who never got to see them in the first place.

More than likely, the latter: The day of the concert, Finsbury Park is hardly an advertisement for British beauty. It's a melange of old punks basking in the foreign sunlight; their shirts are off, their fleshy bellies protruding and messy hair receding, and their skin has the unfortunate hue of dead fish. They resemble the cast of the touring company for Mad Max: The Musical.

The Finsbury Park show comes off without a hitch: The warm, clear weather and England's unexpected victory against Spain in the European Cup soccer quarterfinals the day before have combined to cast a euphoric spell over all Britain, and nowhere so much as here. People are friendly and smiling, blissed out, beaming. Nothing could blow their high today, and the Sex Pistols--preceded by Iggy Pop, the Wildhearts, the Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers and a few others--don't even try.

Prior to taking the stage a half-hour late, the Pistols treat the audience to prerecorded music of all the worst songs from 1976: Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," for example, and "The Night Chicago Died," plus winners of the Eurovision Song Contest, too terrible ever to have been heard in the United States. This was the music the Pistols meant to destroy, and the crowd immediately gets the joke, singing along with every insipid word.

This time, when Rotten and Co. take the stage--"Are you r-r-r-ready?"--and rip into "Bodies," a giant roar of appreciation goes up as an audience of 20,000 sings every syllable, every scream. Everyone is arm in arm, laughing, dancing, singing along as if to a Christmas carol: "She was a girl from Birmingham! She just had an abortion!"

Wheee! If nothing else, there's no denying that the rest of the Pistols' set is one long white riot, with the audience, warm and fuzzy and full of good cheer, chanting, "No future! No future!" like so many idiot savants. Next day's papers report that the concert was attended by Johnny Depp, Kate Moss and the inevitable Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, who are clearly ubiquitous in London (a few days later, one of them startles poor Burt Bacharach by leaping onstage at the Royal Festival Hall and telling the audience how great he thinks Burt is).

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