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Sex Pistols

Poison in the Machine

The explosive story of the Sex Pistols is now so familiar that the essence of what they represented has been lost in a fog of nostalgia and rock ’n’ roll cliché. In 1976 the rise of the Sex Pistols was regarded in apocalyptic terms, and the punks as visitors from an unwanted future bringing chaos and confusion. In this book, John Scanlan considers the Sex Pistols as the first successful art project of their manager, Malcolm McLaren, a vision born out of radical politics, boredom, and his deep and unrelenting talent for perverse opportunism. As Scanlan shows, McLaren deliberately set a collision course with establishments, both conservative and counter-cultural, and succeeded beyond his highest expectations.

Scanlan tells the story of how McLaren’s project—designed, in any case, to fail—foundered on the development of the Pistols into a great rock band and the inconvenient artistic emergence of John Lydon. Moving between London and New York, and with a fascinating cast of delinquents, petty criminals, and misfits, Sex Pistols: Poison in the Machine is not just a book about a band, it is about the times, the ideas, the coincidences, and the characters that made punk; that ended with the Sex Pistols—beaten, bloody, and overdosed—sensationally self-destructing on stage in San Francisco in January 1978; and that transformed popular culture throughout the world.

240 pages | 45 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2016


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Sex Pistols: Poison in the Machine dares to be different. Why? It is not another regurgitation of the history of the Pistols. It aims to place the reader back in the 1960’s & 70’s and explore the Sex Pistols phenomenon as it was experienced in the era that spawned it; one of scant information, sparse news outlets and very little access to the music. It reminds the reader how different the world of today is, where Pistols’ footage, audio and even the Grundy show can be accessed in an instant on the internet. Back in the day, if you didn’t see it yourself, you didn't see it. Importantly, the book helps define how the myth, controversy and enigma of the Sex Pistols was given oxygen by, ironically, this very vacuum."

“Sex Pistols is, whether intended or not, a response to the famous boy band critique. It tells the story of the Sex Pistols with an emphasis on manager and provocateur Malcolm McLaren, from his early days to the dissolution of the Pistols. It’s an interesting story alone, but with this new perspective, dimensions are added. . . . It’s a fast read, with clean writing and little editorializing. Scanlan has clearly put a lot of work into the fact checking, with a good chunk of the book dedicated to references. He uses quotes and rare photos to give the reader a sense of the time and place, which is as important to the Sex Pistols as the people involved in their rise. Great book for fans of the band who need a little more ammo in the face of trite dismissals, or punk history buffs alike–this is a fascinating read.”

Dying Scene

Table of Contents

Introduction: tales from the near future
  1. I will be so bad
  2. Dolls, crims and rock ‘N’ roll
  3. London and New York
  4. The Bizarro cabaret begins
  5. The new Elizabethans
  6. Bollocks
Afterword: Fables of the sex pistols
Select bibliography
Photo acknowledgements

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