TEDDIE DAHLIN: A VICIOUS LOVE STORY
Thirty-five years ago, the Sex Pistols began a Scandinavian tour that kicked off with a two-night stand at Daddy's Dance Hall, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 13-14, 1977. The band rolled through Norway, and Sweden, where most of the shows took place. By all accounts, the Pistols were happy to get out of Britain, where the sensationalism surrounding their scandalous image had reached an intolerable peak.
Teddie Dahlin and her friends weren't paying attention to such matters, they were too busy grooving to Boney M, Earth, Wind & Fire, Hot Chocolate, and Leo Sayer - between debates of whether Bryan Ferry or Rod Stewart cut the more dashing rock figure. Suffice to say, Teddie wasn't a Pistols fan, as she admits in her new book, A Vicious Love Story (Little Acorns Publishing):
"I thought the Sex Pistols' music was crap and they represented everything I didn't like about Great Britain; the 'I don't give a fuck attitude,'; the 'no future for you' lyrics; the spitting and the swearing; and their total lack of of respect. They seemed threatening and dangerous, and definitely not worth the price of a ticket."
Teddie's typical teenage life changed forever when Johnny Rotten (vocals), Sid Vicious (bass), Steve Jones (guitar) and Paul Cook (drums) rolled into Trondheim, Norway, on July 21, 1977, for a show at the Studentersamfundet - and local event organizer Tore Lande needed somebody to help the boys get around. Teddie's bilingual abilities made her a natural for the job, for which she entertained no great expectations (to the point of not even learning the individual members' names).
Teddie's initial glimpse of Sid - sprawled out on the hotel couch, dead to the world - proves equally inauspicious.. Once he wakes up, it's a different game entirely, as they begin chatting, and realize that they do connect emotionally - though Sid comes off as socially awkward: "I've been trying all day to figure out how to make you see how much I like you. When did you notice?"
For Teddie, hearing such questions ("It was something you said on the playground"), seems contrary to the cartoon punk Frankenstein that she's expected. However, when Teddie voices disgust over the song title, "Belsen Was A Gas," Sid's response sums up the Pistols' philosophy succinctly: "I make music for me, and I don't care if people like it or not. Why do people always have to have an opinion? Don't listen if you are put off by the title."
Before long, however, Sid's charisma draws Teddie into the Pistols' world, and its scabrous irreverence. Over two days of togetherness, a plan of sorts emerges: Sid wants Teddie to follow him on to Sweden. But revelations of another girlfriend in London - the notorious Nancy Spungen - give Teddie pause. So does the sight of Sid injecting himself with something-or-other, followed by roadie Steve "Roadent" Connolly stubbing lit cigarettes out on his arm.
Not surprisingly, Teddie begins to rethink her presence, writing,"I seemed to have wandered into a parallel universe where everything was taken to surreal excess." Presumably, Sid's response to Teddie's discovery doesn't reassure her ("It's not like I need it, just a little speed and it gives me a buzz"). But just as she's about to give up on him, Sid shows surprising self-awareness about the consequences of life with Nancy ("It's a crap relationship. I've been thinking seriously about what I do"), and manager Malcolm McLaren ("He says we'll get more later, but it never happens")...which is enough to keep Teddie torn between angering her parents, if she leaves - and following her intuition, if she goes.
To see how the conflict plays out, you'll have to read the book, whose frank, conversational tone compares favorably to efforts like I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol (Glen Matlock), or Harmony In My Head (Steve Diggle). Aside from chip-in comments from players like Roadent, there's no long-winded speculation to bog down the narrative, which helps carry the reader along.
The author also has a keen eye for details that show how mundane the live music-making business often becomes - such as her recollections of the pre-concert preparations ("It's amazing how much duct tape you need for a gig"), or the boys' delight at scoring Levi's 501 jeans that were impossible to come by in London.
Behind those images often lies a sting in the tale, though - the arguments that Teddie witnesses between John and Steve about their hotel accommodations foreshadow the more destructive showdowns to come six months later, on the first American tour. These aspects will most likely draw closer scrutiny from Pistols fans, as well as the last chapter ("New York") - which traces the final arc of a life that became synonymous with hard drugs and self-destruction.
However, this book isn't a cash-in effort, as critics may suggest; surely, the ideal moment would have coincided with Sid's death at 21, in February 1979, Alex Cox's flawed biopic, Sid & Nancy (1985), or the Pistols' 1996 reunion - therefore, if "filthy lucre" had motivated the author, that ship sailed long ago. In today's compulsively confessional culture, it's remarkable that Teddie sat on her feelings and memories for so long. Such restraint speaks well for her efforts.
What we have left, then, is a tantalizing glimpse behind the myth - not the lurching, barely-there bass player of punk legend, but "just a really great guy called John," as Teddie remembers him. On that level, A Vicious Love Story succeeds admirably, whether you're a Sex Pistols fan, or not. For best results, crank up "Pretty Vacant," crack open the aquavit, and take it from there.
TEDDIE DAHLIN: A Vicious Love Story
Highlights: Black and white period photos add to the period ambiance, and not just the live shots (although those are nice)...check the after-gig party on page 67, contrast the Swedish tour manager's elaborate feathered hairdo and scarf with spike-topped Sid and his padlock necklace...proof positive of that saying, "one picture is worth a thousand words."
The author's recollection of ducking beer bottles flying from the boys' hotel balcony to the strains of "Waterloo," from ABBA's Greatest Hits album - the only tape, apparently, that they owned to break the monotony of touring life, and played constantly at meltdown levels: "Funny, but I actually liked ABBA until that night"...a true Pistolian moment, and a priceless one, at that.
Lowlights: None, dammit!
[Near-perfect, but for some minor typographical errors, notably the rendering of "Bernhard Rhodes" for Clash manager Bernard Rhodes, and "passed" for "past", which hopefully will be corrected for the print edition]
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