The Sex Pistols add prickly punk culture nostalgia to the Queen’s Jubilee
In Britain, there are several traditional elements to a royal birthday: pageants, street parties, the Sex Pistols.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Pistols have been linked since the punk pioneers released the song God Save the Queen during the 1977 Silver Jubilee which marked the monarch’s 25 years on the throne.
The anti-authoritarian anthem – not to be confused with Britain’s national anthem of the same name – has been reissued for Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, 70 years as Queen. It’s one of many cultural ties – critics might say cash-ins – boosted by the royal milestone.
Members of the group that rhymed “God save the Queen” with “fascist regime” and “she’s not a human being” have mellowed over the years.
“I’m not against it,” Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones said of Britain’s four-day Jubilee extravaganza, which begins Thursday and includes military parades, concerts, picnics nics and countless Union Jacks.
“I see all the flags are up everywhere,” Jones said on a visit to London from Los Angeles, where he has lived for more than 30 years. “I mean, it’s something entertaining. Tourists love it.”
Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, recently told Talk TV he was “really, really proud that the Queen survived and did so well”.
We are a long way from 1977, when God Save the Queen was launched on Jubilee weekend with an anarchic concert by the Sex Pistols on a riverboat – the Queen Elizabeth – which was interrupted by the London police.
The song sparked outrage; members of the group were attacked in the streets and it was banned from broadcasting on radio or television. It nevertheless reached number two on the charts, below Rod Stewart. I do not wanna talk about it – although rumors persist that the Sex Pistols song actually sold more copies.
The band’s record label hopes it will reach number 1 this time around, although it failed to crack the charts when it was reissued for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and the jubilee diamond in 2012.
Other cultural institutions also participate in the action of the jubilee. Auctioneer Christie’s is selling two Andy Warhol serigraphs of the Queen. Rival Sotheby’s offers a lightbox portrait of the Queen by Chris Levine and the now iconic artwork by Jamie Reid for the Pistols God Save the Queen, showing the monarch’s face covered in ransom letters.
Many museums and galleries offer exhibitions and special events. Some are quirky, like a Jubilee-themed Drag Queen Bingo hosted by the Horniman Museum in London.
The British monarchy has a sometimes delicate, but increasingly close relationship with popular culture. Who can forget the Queen’s scene with Daniel Craig’s James Bond at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, which ended in a brace for the monarch parachuting into the stadium?
Pop music – nothing too edgy – plays a central role in this week’s Jubilee festivities. A concert outside Buckingham Palace on Saturday will feature artists such as Elton John, Alicia Keys, Duran Duran and Diana Ross, while Ed Sheeran is due to perform at the main Jubilee Competition on Sunday.
TV shows The crown exploited the Queen’s long reign for drama and blurred the lines between fact and fiction for millions of viewers. The Sex Pistols have their own moment where fact meets fiction with Gun, a Danny Boyle-directed miniseries based on Jones’ memoir Lonely boy.
The Sex Pistols broke up in 1978 after releasing an album. Jones says he had “just enough. It was so dark and awful in that moment.”
But he’s proud of the band’s heritage, even if he sometimes seems tired of talking about it.
“It was an important time in music and I’m glad it happened,” Jones said. “Because it made people think, and it made people think, ‘Well, I can do this. Before living in England, you didn’t have many options.”
But, Jones added: “I don’t particularly listen to punk rock anymore. My taste in music has changed a lot over the years, you know, and I’m 66. I’m not a kid anymore. is It would be kind of silly if I still flew under that flag.”
“I love Steely Dan,” he said. “Is it bad?”
Pistols bassist Sid Vicious died in 1979 at the age of 21, but the surviving members reunited sporadically for gigs. Lydon and his former bandmates clashed in court earlier this year when the singer tried to block the band’s music from being used in the Gun TV series.
A new musical reunion – possibly for the Queen’s 75th birthday in 2027 – seems unlikely.
“I can’t see it,” Jones said. “But you never know, man. This band – you never know. – PA