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“Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy”: Romeo & Juliet in black leather, roaring into hell
Spanish director Danny Garcia’s Sad Vacation: The Last Days Of Sid and Nancy is a 2016 documentary film about the “tumultuous and stormy” relationship between the Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, which ended tragically in Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel. It’s streaming now on Night Flight Plus, where we’ve got a wide variety of music documentaries for you to check out.
Garcia began working on Sad Vacation after accumulating quite a lot of good off-camera Sid and Nancy anecdotes while working on a previous film, Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders, which is also streaming over on our Night Flight Plus channel.
Before he was dead of a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-one, before he was accused of murdering his groupie girlfriend, before he was the bassist in the Sex Pistols, little John Simon Ritchie (called Simon) was, in the words of his friend Johnny Rotten, “an oddball hippie.”
Vicious had been raised by his mom, Anne Beverley, who drifted from job to job after splitting with his father and briefly re-marrying Sid’s stepfather.
At one point they lived on the island of Ibiza, before moving back to live in a few different towns in England, finally settling in Hackney, London. Mom made a living by selling marijuana.
Vicious first met Rotten — then known as John Lydon, the name he goes by today — at a state-run art school, where he wore the same time of clothing (and platform shoes) favored by his favorite glam rockers, including David Bowie, Marc Bolan of T. Rex, and Roxy Music.
It was Lydon who began calling his friend “Sid Vicious,” after a pet hamster that had bitten his father, and when glam was displaced by punk rock, in the mid-Seventies, Sid embraced his new name wholeheartedly.
Sid made a few attempts to play music before he joined the Pistols, playing the drums for Siouxsie and the Banshees at their first gig, at the 100 Club Punk Rock Festival in 1976, and even forming his own band, the Flowers of Romance, with Keith Levene (later of Lydon’s band, Public Image Ltd.), future Slits members Viv Albertine and Palmolive and Adam Ant guitarist Marco Pirroni, among others.
Mostly, though, Sid Vicious was simply a music fan, omnipresent at local London punk gigs.
In fact, he’s credited by some for inventing the pogo dance, which happened at a Pistols gig because he was too far from the stage and couldn’t see over the heads and shoulders of the crowd in front of him, so he merely hopped up and down in place, but the dance he was doing caught on and soon the crowds were pogoing along to the music.
He also befriended a lot of people who, like him, would also go on to join existing bands.
Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees once said that before Sid drifted heavily into drugs, “.. He was one of the funniest guys. He had a brilliant sense of humor, goofy, sweet, and very cute.”
He wasn’t always sweet, and cute.
Another friend, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, has recalled seeing Sid wielding a length of bicycle chain and whipping it around on the dance floor, laughing maniacally as the clubgoers dove out of the way.
He was famously arrested after beating UK music journo Nick Kent with the chain, and he may have also tossed a beer glass at the Damned, at the aforementioned Punk Rock Festival, the shattered glass shards cutting up the face of Dave Vanian’s girlfriend. It was an act of stupid aggression which also led to him being arrested.
Mostly, though, Sid directed his usual acts of violence against himself, cutting himself to watch the blood flow down his arms and face.
He self-abused drugs too, of course, and was shooting up heroin even before he was asked to join the Pistols, which happened in the Spring of 1977, after Rotten invited his friend to join when their original bassist, Glen Matlock, quit.
Rotten was warned by Sid’s own mother that her son joining the Pistols — who were already getting themselves into plenty of trouble without Sid’s help — might be a dangerous move, but Rotten thought joining the band might give Sid some direction in life, which was already spiraling out of control at that point.
One problem: Sid Vicious didn’t know how to play bass, but their manager, Malcolm McLaren, later noted that “his craziness fit into the structure of the band,” adding, “he was the knight in shining armor with a giant fist,” which is probably the nicest way to describe Sid’s psychological damage.
He continued to spiral further out of control, though, only now, the UK music press were writing about Sid’s reckless tangents, making him a bad boy pop star in the process.
That bad boy behavior was certainly attractive to someone like Nancy Spungen, a New York stripper and dominatrix who had a reputation for sleeping with musicians and buying them drugs.
She had traveled to London from her home base of New York City on a mission to grab a Sex Pistol and bring him back home with her to NYC.
Nancy — a heroin addict who had her own emotional and mental issues to deal with — fell hard for hard-partyin’ bad boy Sid, who hadn’t had much experience with girls before she came along.
By all accounts, Sid struggled with trying to be a good boyfriend, alternating between acting like an asshole and verbally and physically abusing her one moment, and then turning around and taking care of her the next, being attentive and kind, like when she fell ill, which happened frequently, due to her own drug problems.
Their relationship was one of true co-dependence, and Rotten thought that when the Sex Pistols went on their tour of the United States that Sid’s separation from Nancy might do them both some good, allowing his friend to get straight, but that’s not what happened.
The month-long tour — which launched in January 1978, with most of the gigs set in the South — brought out even more self-destructive behavior in Sid, who was encouraged by groupies and fans to be the nasty punk rocker they imagined him to be, and Sid didn’t let them down.
In fact, his offstage antics were soon part of the band’s stage act.
In Dallas, at the Longhorn Ballroom, after he was head-butted by a rowdy Texan that caused blood to drip down his face, Sid ripped a pus-soaked bandage off of his arm and throw it into the crowd, who then clamored for the souvenir, ripping it to shreds, which Sid enjoyed watching from the stage.
Then, at a truck stop en route to their gig in San Francisco, Sid stuck a steak knife in his hand after some rowdy rednecks questioned whether his tough punk talk was all part of an act. Sid got into fights onstage and off, even challenging his own bodyguards to fistfights.
His heroin use escalated too, and he frequently disappeared and his handler Noel Monk (hired by Warner Bros Records to keep an eye on him) later found him in a hospital E.R., where he’d been admitted, finding that he’d carved “GIMME A FIX” into his chest with a knife.
In Memphis, High Times publisher Tom Forcade — who had hoped to film the Sex Pistols for a documentary — had lured Sid away with the promise of scoring him heroin, which ended up causing a fracas at Forcade’s hotel room when Monk showed up, looking for his charge. Sid Vicious ended up attacking a security guard at the hotel pool that time.
Malcolm McLaren was asked by Noel Monk to intervene, but McLaren — who probably enjoyed the chaos and notoriety his band were generating, onstage and off — failed to act, and there was no one around to keep Sid Vicious in check.
The Pistols tour ended at with a highly-anticipated Winterland gig in San Francisco on January 14, 1978, the show where Rotten famously sneered and asked the crowd, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
The Sex Pistols fell apart after the tour, with Steve Jones and Paul Cook heading off with McLaren in order to finish their film, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.
Sid, after first shooting some sequences for the film in Paris, ended up going back to heroin and to Nancy, first in London, and then in New York City, shooting up and nodding out, and suddenly, the music press were writing about them both.
Nancy’s mother would later say that they were being portrayed “as Romeo and Juliet in black leather, roaring into hell.”
Sid played a few solo shows at Max’s Kansas City in NYC, and in Philadelphia, her hometown, but towards the end of September they mostly spent their time together in room 100 at New York’s Chelsea Hotel, strung out on junk, laying in bed with piles of garbage and dirty laundry piled up around them in the room, watching cartoons in the dark.
On October 10, 1978, while out with friends, Nancy bought a knife that she later gave to Sid as a gift, the same knife that two days later was responsible for the deep wound to her stomach.
She was already dead when paramedics arrived to the couple’s Chelsea lair, finding her slumped over, a bloody mess, in the bathroom. She was just twenty years old.
When Sid was questioned about what had happened, he told police detectives that they’d argued, and he defiantly told the cops that he didn’t stab Nancy. Then he said he did.
He was arrested on murder charges, and reportedly told the cops, “You can’t arrest me. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star,” and while he was being escorted out of the Chelsea in handcuffs, he threatened to smash the cameras of the news reporters that had showed up to snap photos.
After a few days in Riker’s Island jail, Sid was released on bail, which was paid by Virgin Records’ honcho Richard Branson, who’d been phoned up by his old friend, the band’s now former-manager, Malcolm McLaren.
McLaren had also hired famous defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, but McLaren’s motives were called into question when he announced that the Sex Pistols were going to reunite to record a Christmas album in order to help pay Sid’s attorney fees.
At his London clothing store, McLaren also began selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “I’M ALIVE. SHE’S DEAD. I’M YOURS.”
Sid mourned Nancy’s death, phoning her mother and telling her, “I don’t know why I’m alive anymore, now that Nancy is gone.”
He also sent her a letter which in its own rambling way was meant to be apologetic. It included a heartfelt poem he’d written about Nancy, which claimed: “And I don’t want to live this life / If I can’t live for you.”
Eleven days after Nancy’s death, on October 23, Sid Vicious slit his wrists and attempted to jump out the window of the hotel room he was now sharing with his own mother.
He called Nancy’s mom a few days later, from Bellevue Hospital’s psych ward, and he sent her one more letter which apparently hinted at what really happened on that fateful night at the Chelsea.
In Sid’s confessional letter, he wrote that he and Nancy “always knew that we would go to the same place when we died,” and he further claimed that they wanted to die in each other’s arms. It also included the promise he’d made to Nancy, that he would kill myself if anything ever happened to her, a promise that she’d reciprocated.
After a few weeks at Bellevue, Vicious was released, and he immediately went back to heavy drug use, and even ended up back at Riker’s on felonious assault charges after he got into a fight with Patti Smith’s brother Todd at a NYC nightclub.
This time, McLaren was initially hesitant to bail Sid out, but he eventually put up bail money, and Sid was out of jail on February 1, 1979.
That same night, Sid Vicious got together with his new girlfriend, actress Michelle Robinson, and although he hadn’t shot up for nearly two months, he ended up shooting up some heroin that his mother had purchased for him.
Sid’s mother Anne discovered him the next morning, in Robinson’s bed, dead at age 21 from a heroin overdose.
In the pocket of his leather jacket — he’d asked to be buried in the jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots, right next to Nancy — she found a suicide note which stated, quite plainly, “We had a death pact.”
Director Danny Garcia’s Sad Vacation — narrated by Huey Morgan (front man for the band Fun Lovin’ Criminals) — tells us the sad tale of troubled Sex Pistol Sid Vicious through interviews with some of his friends and fellow musicians (some of whom, according to the film’s Indiegogo page, “actually liked Nancy as a friend and as a human being”), including Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls), photographer Bob Gruen, Walter Lure (The Heatbreakers), Leee Black Childers (Sid’s friend, who briefly managed his band, the Flowers of Romance), Howie Pyro (D Generation), Kenny Gordon (Pure Hell), Cynthia Ross (The B- Girls) and many, many more (some of whom have never told their stories on camera before).
The documentary goes into great detail about their deaths towards the end, giving us a look at previously-unseen Grand Jury testimony and some of the circumstantial evidence that points to Sid Vicious as a suspect in Nancy’s death.
Sad Vacation was completed in August 2016, which was approximately the 40th anniversary of punk rock, and screened during the last two months of the year at festivals and select theaters in both the U.K. and U.S. before being released on DVD, which is packed with extras, including behind-the-scenes footage, music videos, and promo material.
The film also features soundtrack music by Sid Vicious as well as the Heartbreakers, the Boys, the Members, Neon Leon, Pure Hell, Sami Yaffa, Luigi & the Wiseguys, Skafish, Corazones Muertos, the PrimaDonna Reeds, Supla, and Silke Berlinn & the Addictions.