Review: Steve Jones – Lonely Boy
Lonely Boy is an entirely satisfying read. Imagine a film you’ve watched a hundred times or more reshot by the same director from the perspective of a different character; Labyrinth as told by the Goblin King, Bugsy Malone as told by Knuckles – it's a classic tale made fresh.
The first third of the book details the brutal facts of Steve Jones’ youth. Neglect, sexual abuse and theft paint a grim picture of 70s working class life. Jones pulls no punches, as brutally honest in his plumbing his own proclivities – namely, creative wanking and constant nicking – as he is exposing those of the predators he grows up amongst. In this context Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood appear as life rafts, offering rare kindness when they take Jones under their wing, turn a blind eye to his light fingered nature, and let him flourish amongst the freaks and misfits who flocked to their shop Let it Rock.
This then leads to the genesis of the Sex Pistols, and the chapters that deal with that stage of Jones's life fly by, well-travelled terrain told well. The amount of stuff Jones half-inches from other artists is frankly astonishing, with everyone from Bob Marley to David Bowie getting their gear lifted. All this equpiment allows Jones to develop a genuine love of music – and it;s interesting how much consideration he gives his sound- in this telling he actively pursues a brutalist sound, learning guitar from necking Ritalin and hammering along to Stooges records, then happily ploughing through Glen Matlock’s prissy riffs. Most of the tales he tells tally with No Irish No Blacks No Dogs, Lydon’s book of Pistols from a decade back, although he denies one of the infamously icky claims of that book – apparently Jones didn’t slyly fuck the ham bagettes Glen Matlock would eat in rehearsal; he only told Matlock that fucking bagettes was a great wanking technique. Who knows the truth?
The affection Jones feels for McClaren and Westwood goes a long way to explaining why he stuck with them when the Pistols dissolved, despite Malcolm quite clearly taking the piss financially. His feelings towards Lydon are more complex, and he writes of his foil with a mix admiration and exasperation, although he never really gets too far into the nitty gritty of why Lydon is a bastard to be around, alluding to alcoholism and an inherent viciousness but rarely demonstrating either with specifics.
He is also slightly vague on the years following the Pistols – understandably so when his mammoth drug take is accounted for. One pleasure from reading the book has been exploring his later work – his playing on the Johnny Thunders album So Alone is amongst the best of his career – the album may not be up there with Never Mind the Bollocks, but it's close.
If there is a short coming of the book, Jones is open about it; his memory is fucked. He says so on a number of occasions, with whole passages of his life blacked out. He's probably being more honest than numerous rock stars who bang out a book, but it casts the whole thing in an unreliable light. In terms of entertainment, this doesn’t really matter – Jones is a raconteur who doesn’t care, and he merrily bangs out tales of weird sex and shameless drug abuse ‘til the final page. So whilst Lonely Boy may not be solid historical source material, it’s definitely a laugh.