The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, Julien Temple’s satirical documentary of the Sex Pistols’ rise and fall is the source of much disagreement among the involved parties. Is it an acidic send-up of the music industry or a self-serving paean to manager Malcolm McLaren? Is it an amateurish mess or a well-thought out document of punk rock history? Whatever you believe, it does offer the chance to see the Sex Pistols in the all their ragged glory, and for that alone a cleaned up digital version is welcome.
In advance of Swindle’s DVD release, erstwhile Pistol’s guitarist Steve Jones took the time to talk about his opinion and recollection of the film as well as his recent success as a DJ with Jonesy’s Jukebox on Indie 103.1 in L.A.
PopMatters: What are your thoughts about The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle as you look back on it?
Steve Jones: Well, it was done not like any other movies were done. We were just kind of wingin’ it as we went along. There was no real script. It was fun; I enjoyed it, because it was kind of chaotic. I regretted that Russ Meyer didn’t do it, like he was originally meant to. Did you know that?
PM: I did know that. And wasn’t Roger Ebert supposed to do the script?
SJ: Yeah, exactly. I think it would have been good if them guys had done it. It would have been like more of a proper movie. More organized. And there would have definitely been a lot of birds with big tits. But I enjoy the outcome. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s very entertaining.
PM: How much input did the band have into the way it ended up and how much did Julien Temple or Malcolm McLaren?
SJ: I think it was mainly Julien who was kind of steering the ship. Of course, McLaren had some ideas, but it was Julien. I’d ad-lib on stuff I was doing as well.
PM: It seems like McLaren is using it to make himself look like a genius. Were you aware that that was how the movie would turn out?
SJ: I was so not concerned with all that. We all know what McLaren’s like. Some of us accept him that way and some of us don’t.
PM: Do you?
SJ: I accept him. Because I’ve known Malcolm ages, before the Pistols ever started. If you believe all the stuff he says then you’re a fool. It’s pretty obvious that he’s full of shit.
PM: He makes it sound like he could have gotten any four guys off the street and made them the Sex Pistols.
SJ: So why didn’t he get any other bands after the Pistols? Malcolm did have some great ideas in the beginning. He’s an egomaniac, you know. Unfortunately, he started believing his own bullshit. That was the downfall of him. He’s never had a bad heart though.
PM: I was almost beginning to think the stuff he says in the movie was a joke. It’s so clearly not true.
SJ: I think that’s part of it. Part joke, part hoping that some people would believe it.
PM: Did he ever have any input into the content of the music?
SJ: None whatsoever.
PM: So it was all the business and the publicity?
SJ: He didn’t take care of any business. It was all the other bullshit. Press, trying to scrounge up some media stuff. That was more what he was good at.
PM: Regarding the media stuff—in the film people say things like, “the Sex Pistols would be vastly improved by sudden death.” How did you feel then about creating that kind of resentment, and looking back how do you feel about it now?
SJ: At the time, it was genius.
PM: What do you mean by “genius”?
SJ: Just because, you couldn’t buy publicity like that. Even though we didn’t deliberately go on to shock anyone. The mainstream bullshit papers latched on to it. Then the punters bought it hook, line, and sinker.
PM: You never felt nervous or scared? To have someone say they wish you were dead—no one’s ever said that about me.
SJ: I know, but it’s all bullshit. Propaganda. Back then it was a big deal. No one had ever really tapped into that. It hadn’t been done before. Everyone was wearing flares and clogs.
PM: Hard to imagine what you’d have to do nowadays.
SJ: Hopefully there will be something to come along. I just hope it happens and I hope I don’t like them and I hope they’re very successful.
PM: Looking back at old footage, it seems like you had a playful attitude about the whole thing.
SJ: That was pretty much my personality.
PM: How seriously did you take the whole punk rock thing?
SJ: I didn’t take it seriously at all. I didn’t have a clue about intellect. It was just a big laugh and I was a juvenile delinquent—And loving every minute of it.
PM: Speaking of being a juvenile delinquent, I heard a rumour that you stole one of Bob Marley’s guitars.
SJ: No. It was his Amp. But don’t tell anybody.
PM: Did you use it?
PM: Was it a good one?
SJ: Very good.
PM: I’ve heard other rumours of you nicking stuff from big stars. Was that just for kicks?
SJ: It was part for kicks and it was a connection to be involved with rock ‘n’ roll.
PM: That was a way for you to feel part of it? To take their stuff?
SJ: Yeah, it was prior to being in the band, prior to being able to play—anything. I just did a lot of speed and got good really quick.
PM: Did people get tired of punk?
SJ: The reason it fizzled is because we broke up.
PM: But there were other bands.
SJ: What would the British invasion have been like if the Beatles and Stones had broken up after one album? I’m not comparing us. But you know what I mean?
PM: Can we talk about the radio show?
PM: Why do you think it’s taken off the way it has?
SJ: Pepople who like music are tired of the radio because it’s just crap. I come along and play good songs, and people are starved of that. I have the freedom to do what I want to do on my show. There are a lot of people out there who are into music, not muzak. Which is pretty much the shape of radio in America. Anything where people can just turn on the radio and hear some good music is like an oasis. That’s one of the reasons.
PM: What are some of the other ones?
SJ: The other reason is cuz I’m not all showbusiness. It’s personal. People think they’re sitting in the living room with me. There’s obviously a lot of people who are not interested, because they couldn’t care less what’s on the radio. Maybe they want to listen to the same ten horrible songs day in and day out. But there’s definitely a market for people who are not interested in that.
PM: Why do you think radio personalities seemed to disappear?
SJ: In the ‘70s is when it was happening. ‘80s it was okay. ‘90s it was about saving money and making it all the same across America and everyone’s paying to have their song put on there. Same song across America is cheaper. The days of some DJ in some little town playing a record and it catching on are over. It’s like everything else in the world. The record companies have all been bought up by one guy. It’s like shopping malls. I really don’t think there’s a future for the corporate way—it’s like a pyramid, you come to the top and that’s it.
PM: And then what will happen?
SJ: I don’t know. I’m just doing what I’m doing and if you like it, great, and if you don’t, don’t find me.
PM: How do you pick what you choose to play?
SJ: I couldn’t tell ya. Just how I feel when I wake up in the morning.
PM: Do you actually like Journey? [Journey gets airtime on Jonesy’s Jukebox]
SJ: Yeah, Journey’s great. Back then I couldn’t like it because it wasn’t cool. When you get older, you just appreciate a good song, whether you’re wearing flares or bondage pants. I love catchy pop rock. You can’t knock a good song. But my first day, if I would have played Journey, I think I would have buried myself. I had to ease into that stuff.
PM: How long did you wait?
SJ: About a year, actually.
PM: Sorry, but I have to ask, going back to the film: In the scene where you take a shit on the gold record, were you really taking a shit?
SJ: No, it was plastic.
PM: You did a good job of acting.
SJ: Well, I know what it’s like to squeeze one out.
PM: Do you have any tips for the aspiring rock ‘n’ roll thief?
SJ: Yeah. Steal all you want, but not my stuff.
PM: But where do you keep your stuff?
SJ: I’m not telling you.
PM: Why does a dog lick its balls?
SJ: Because it can.
PM: Thanks for talking.
SJ: It’s my pleasure, mate.
// Notes from the Road
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