The Story of Johnny Rotten, Part 1
The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
August 30, 2003
Tonight, I worked as a production assistant for the Sex Pistols.
What makes or breaks these experiences more than anything is the band’s tour manager, which is who I usually report to. Some bands are more demanding and particular than others, but the x-factor is how well the tour manager handles it, how well he/she anticipates what the band will need throughout the day, and how well he/she communicates these things to me, the local guy he/she relies on to get everything taken care of.
Some tour managers — some road people in general — are just miserable old bastards with the bedside manner of a junkyard dog. In most cases, the work load gets the better of people, time management is the first piece of the equation to go, and everything becomes a dire emergency. This guy managing the Sex Pistols tour, Skip Rickert, is the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Aside from being very together, knowing every detail and being able to answer any question via instant recall, he is very cool, calm, collected, and extremely friendly.
It was an easy day. It was a busy day, they always are, but from the minute I got there I knew exactly what was needed. When I commended him on being so even-keeled, Rickert said, “I was Ozzy’s tour manager for many years. This is nothing. Sure, these English punk bands are out of control; the guys are a certain kind of crazy. But Ozzy? That guy is truly insane. Deep down, he is the sweetest and most genuine guy you’ll ever know, but he is a crazy guy; his tours are crazy. You never know when he’s gonna round up 50 midgets and make them engage in a wheelbarrel race, you never know when Sharon’s gonna catch him with his girlfriend and beat him with a mic stand … These things happened, and all you’re thinking at those moments is do I have the lawyers after-hours phone numbers? But with John (Lydon) and the band, I know what to expect, so it’s manageable. Sometimes John (Lydon) gets wrapped up in being Johnny (Rotten), but I knew that going in. Hey, the tour is over in a week, it’s all good.”
During the day, things seemed like they could go south. The way the Aragon is set up backstage is thus: At stage-level are the production offices, where the promoter’s people are set up. A supply closet is there, and not much else. On the second floor is the first-balcony level; on one side is the “star’s” dressing room, which is large with a private bath and shower and private balcony for the headliner’s guests (closest opera box to the stage, stage right, house left), plus a smaller room for the headliner’s production people, computers, phones, etc. On the other side there’s the catering area, which is set up in what would be the closest balcony area to the stage, plus two smaller dressing rooms for opening bands and a shared bathroom with a shower. One thing the opening band side of the Aragon has that the headliner’s side doesn’t have is a fire escape, which comes in handy during the summer.
Anyway, Skip Rickert arrives at the venue. We give him a tour of the rooms, and he says, “No, this isn’t gonna work. We’re gonna have to make the opening bands (Reverend Horton Heat and Dropkick Murphys) use their buses as their dressing rooms.” This isn’t a terrible thing — as you’d know if you’ve ever been on a tour bus for a band at this level, those things are nicer than most venue dressing rooms — but nevertheless, I ask why.
He says, “Well, the thing is… John — are you familiar with the band? Johnny Rotten — he and the band, they hate each other. Can’t be in the same room together. They share a stage for an hour a night and that’s it. They have separate buses, separate dressing rooms. You don’t want them in the same area; it’s bad news.”
I suggest letting the Dropkick Murphys use one of the opener’s dressing rooms while John uses the other and he says “No, that definitely ain’t gonna f—in’ work, bunch of Irish guys next door to John. S–t, that’s worse than having the Sex Pistols next to John. Best way to handle any situation is to totally isolate John. It’s best for everyone.”
A few minutes later, I ask who in the Reverend Horton Heat’s and Dropkick Murphys’ camps I should talk to to advise them about the dressing room situation. Rickert looks up and says — here’s where I realize I like this guy — “You know, f— it. I’m putting the whole band together. Fuck it. First time on the tour we’re doing this. Eric, you may see some memorable moments in Sex Pistols history tonight. You know how to break up a fight, right? It’s gonna be interesting, but I’m gonna contribute to the polarity of this band dynamic and I feel pretty good about that.”
The rider is equally surprising. I figured the Sex Pistols would be one of those bands with a ridiculous rider full of goofy s–t they put on there just to make the local guys jump through hoops (see Blink 182). Nope. Beer, juice, water, tea, Gatorade — nothing you can’t find in any ordinary grocery store.
John Lydon arrives. I’m assigned to take his bus driver back to the hotel so he can sleep until the show is over, at which point I’ll pick him up there and bring him back to the Aragon. The bus pulls in and sits for a while, 15 minutes or so. Knowing how drivers value their sleep, I see a guy standing by the driver’s seat and figuring I’ll make sure he knows his ride is ready, a shadow covers his chest and head so I knock and ask Are you the driver?
A guy steps out of the shadow. It’s John Lydon.
For an instant I’m thinking, here’s where Johnny Rotten spits on me, calls me an ignorant Yank and tells me to piss off — but he is already laughing, looking very relaxed with a bottled water in his hand and a small black bag over his shoulder, and he says “No, mate, I’m just the singer.”
I feel like a idiot and say Hey man, I’m awfully sorry, I couldn’t… — John steps back into the shadow and then back out, smiles, and I say, Yeah, see you. Well, if you see you’re driver … forget it, I’m an idiot and then he laughs aloud and says “Don’t be so hard on yourself, mate!” I smile give him a thumbs-up and walk away. That’s my first Johnny Rotten experience of the night.