The Sex Pistols finally ground to an ignoble halt at California’s Winterland venue in 1978. The PA was shoddy, the band were falling to pieces and the crowd came expecting expect the grotesque. Rendered as little more than a cartoon, Johnny Rotten peered into the crowd and exclaimed: “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
The band’s second chapter, though, has turned this on its head. Keeping complete control, The Sex Pistols have been able to gain the money and international fame that eluded them first time round – except this time, it’s the fans who have been cheated.
Virgin Money unveiled their new range of credit cards yesterday, utilising imagery from the Sex Pistols catalogue. Designed by Jamie Reid, the sleeves of ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ and ‘Anarchy In The UK’ have been co-opted for quick-fire Waitrose purchases, utilised to ease those end of evening restaurant debates on who will foot the bill.
It’s all rather sickening, but part of an inherent pattern. The band’s reformation in 1996 appalled those who believed that it was better to burn out, as Neil Young once noted, than to fade away. But since then, the group have continuing poked at their own legacy in a prickish manner. Dubbing their inaugural re-union jaunt as the ‘Filthy Lucre’ tour, members of the Sex Pistols have since asserted their right to do whatever the hell they like with the band’s legacy.
So fans have witnessed often-indifferent shows, the inclusion of the highly offensive, Sid Vicious-penned ‘Belsen Was A Gas’ and much more.
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Selling the rights to their catalogue to the Universal Music Group in 2006, the band seemed none too bothered as to what might occur next. Re-issued and re-packaged to within an inch of its life, the Sex Pistols’ output – one of punk’s defining documents – has been used as a means to fleece fans.
To take a quick example: earlier this year ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ was re-packaged once again for Record Store Day, despite copies of the album being available on almost every high street in the UK. It’s an unedifying situation, whereby a group seem willing to subvert their own legacy, to use ‘selling out’ as a means of idle and mis-guided protest.
Applying their name to several brand endorsements, the Sex Pistols launched their own scent in 2010. Working alongside Fragrance and Beauty Limited, the fragrance seemingly “exudes pure energy, pared down and pumped up by leather, shot through with heliotrope and brought back down to earth by a raunchy patchouli.”
And so forth.
What truly rankles about the Virgin Money situation, though – and what has no doubt led to social media meltdown – is that the Sex Pistols have now been allied to sheer commerce. With the impact of the banking crisis still being felt, the band’s imagery – which retains its power after so many years – is being is being utilized in the most flaccid, impotent manner possible.
Virgin Money’s Jayne-Anne Gadhia recently wrote on the company’s website that the credit card scheme aims to be “as challenging of the status quo as the bands of the ’70s.” No matter their intentions, it’s simply ludicrous and insulting to apply the rules of banking to the career of the Sex Pistols – a band who challenged musical and stylistic norms, and who the establishment lined up to shoot down.
To many, the Sex Pistols were a life-changing experience. Witnessing their early shows and buying their material felt like an act of defiance against a world that felt tepid and stale, which seemed to choke the life out of the young. Now, the band seem little more than a trademark, a simple means of cultural transaction with little to no meaning.
Perhaps it’s best to use the words of lifelong fan and Lowlands festival director Eric van Eerdenburg. Booking the Sex Pistols in 2010, he declared their performance to be “saddening”.
"They left their swimming pools at home only to scoop up some money here," he said. "Really, they're nothing more than that."