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40 Years Ago: A Young Morrissey Reviews New Band the Sex Pistols

Graham Wood, Hulton Archive, Getty Images / Pat Bellis, Rough Trade
Graham Wood, Hulton Archive, Getty Images / Pat Bellis, Rough Trade

Morrissey proved to the world with his 2013 autobiography that his clever writing went beyond his lyrics. But decades before the book, he frequently wrote unsolicited letters to NME, Melody Maker and other British magazines. In one particular NME review published on June 18, 1976, he mused on punk upstarts the Sex Pistols.

“I’d love to see the Sex Pistols make it,” he wrote of the raucous group. “Maybe they will be able to afford some clothes which don’t look as though they’ve been slept in.”

The Manchester, U.K., concert Morrissey attended preceded the landmark debut, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, by more than a year. Sid Vicious hadn’t even joined the lineup yet. But what wasn’t in its embryonic stage was the reviewer’s cynicism. From his descriptions, one can see a 17-year-old Moz with arms folded, glowering at the “bumptious” musicians.

He was a glam fan, after all. These artists, brought together by bondage clothing store owner Malcolm McLaren, were the antithesis to the dandy icons of Morrissey’s youth. Yet it was McLaren who managed Moz’s greatest heroes, the New York Dolls. Much of his letter reflected this conflict of style. It was as though Morrissey — like many teens who worship at the rock altar — was disillusioned that his precious McLaren had sold out.

“The Pistols boast having no inspiration from the New York / Manhattan rock scene, yet their set includes, ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,’ a number believed to be done almost to perfection by the Heartbreakers on any sleazy New York night and the Pistols’ vocalist / exhibitionist Johnny Rotten’s attitude and self-asserted ‘love us or leave us’ approach can be compared to both Iggy Pop and David JoHansen in their heyday,” Morrissey wrote.

Rotten aka John Lydon would later respond to Morrissey’s comments in his 2014 autobiography, Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored, by calling him an “angry yooong man.”

Though Morrissey has made news by sharing his opinions throughout his career, he may have distanced himself from his 17-year-old mindset. As all of us are wont to do, we look back on things we held as holy in our adolescence and realize maybe we were taking ourselves too seriously.

When asked by The Telegraph in 2011 whether he still believed British punk bands were inferior to New York bands, Morrissey said, “No, I don’t.”

“I didn’t really see the British punk movement, if that’s what it was, as wildly original, because I had been listening so intently to all the New York music since 1973, really,” he added. He further noted, “I was always very impressed by the Sex Pistols. I saw their very first three gigs in Manchester, which was 1976, and I thought they were fantastic.”

Maybe for the young lad, the “discordant music and barely audible lyrics” of the Sex Pistols were a joy after all. It was just in his nature at the time to give backhanded compliments and criticize that which didn’t fit strictly into his ideals of pure artistry. It’s what teenagers do.

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