Sid made a brief appearance in our living room months ago, but we hadn’t sought him out in conversation until recently. Really, Sid kept popping into our heads, showing up and sitting quietly, waiting for us to engage.
On one sunny afternoon, as we arrived at the national park to go for a hike on the back trails and the secluded beaches, we decided to initiate the conversation. Here it goes, from memory, with Sid helping me out:
I was mildly surprised by the energy and the body Sid presented to me initially. He was this calm, quiet fellow, small frame yet incredibly physically strong. His language was very *precise*. Notably different from John Lennon’s accent: John tends to draw words out. He’s showing me his body when he was young, first getting into the scene, when he was happy and feeling free. There was a brief period there, when I was alive, where I felt liberated. Punk did that for me. Drugs did that too, before I was addicted.
I had a terrible childhood, horrible trauma.
I hear screaming, feel the intense fear of Sid as a vulnerable child. He was surrounded with alcoholism, domestic and sexual violence. He was physically beaten and bullied, rather used to being terrorized. He left home at the earliest possibility of being able to fend for himself, lived with friends or on the streets occasionally. (I don’t see much written about this, so I have no confirmation, although one article alludes to his mother using and occasionally selling heroin “throughout his childhood”.)
He was small-framed, yet incredibly strong and healthy in the early days before heroin. He could do sit-ups while hanging upside down from a pipe. He was proud of his physical strength, because it came as a surprise to most people, since he looked quite small. (After a year of heroin addiction, he lost a lot of muscle mass.)
He changed his name from something weak and nerdy sounding, like Eustace, Eugene, something like that. (I looked it up and according to Wiki, his given name was John Simon Ritchie)
He chose Sid for its androgyny. It could be a boy’s or a girl’s name. He didn’t particularly identify with the masculine ideals of society, and he was bisexual, although he didn’t express this aspect of himself sexually very often in his life. He was just aware of it. (Wiki tells a story of Johnny’s hamster named Sid. Sid says, “Oh, don’t ask me for the hamster story!”)
I was beaten up for being too (girlish?) I was called “fag” all the time. I avoided that part of myself. I never hated queer people though, I knew I was one of them. We were all outcasts, together. Lots of queers in the punk scene, it’s safer underground.
Sid couldn’t avoid violence in his life, so he learned to provoke it and enjoy it. Part of his pride in his body came when he developed the capacity to defend himself in bar fights, although his best mate always kept an eye on him, ready to back him up should he suddenly get in over his head.
Sid would start bar fights by sitting too close to an uber-masculine man, look at him suggestively, use feminine posture and body language to trigger the guy’s insecurity. Inevitably the guy would order Sid to fuck off or he’d get a beating outside the bar, to which Sid would respond, “Let’s go then.”
Johnny, Sid’s mate, would go outside to watch, sometimes not even looking like he was involved.
Sid gloated, I knew just how to punch a man so he’d puke. He’d bend over to throw up, I’d kick him in the nose. I had good aim. Once he was puking and bleeding, he was beaten. I learned how to absorb a punch and not let it slow me down. I would give the guy this look like I didn’t even feel it. That scared the shit out of them! That’s how my reputation began, for being crazy. The fear would kick in, then so would I, and the poor bastards couldn’t win. Their pride always took a worse beating.
Sid targeted men who were taller but noticeably weaker than he, with beer bellies and dark circles under their eyes, usually quite slow and drunk. He could get away with these fights, since no one ever blamed the smaller guy for starting it. It was always funny to any onlooker, the surprise of this small fellow whipping the hell out of a great lout.
Johnny’s presence made Sid bolder too, and he’d pick fights with men much larger than he was, knowing that the worst case scenario, Johnny would jump in. This backfired once or twice, (Sid admits) But Johnny was okay. He enjoyed a good fight.
There was something about this bar fight period that gave Sid great confidence and pride in himself. He was no longer a vulnerable child, but a freak and a weirdo who could do whatever the fuck he pleased. He couldn’t avoid trouble – he was targeted for not measuring up to the standard masculine ideal. So he embraced trouble, caused it, became it. He loved it, it made him powerful.
Around this time, Sid started to foster the “crazy”. He would carefully cut himself, he knew the layout of the veins in his body intimately. He’d trace surface cuts up his arms before performing so that he’d bleed dramatically on stage. The cuts would close off by the time he was off stage, and were “pretty much healed” by the next day.
This was our first conversation with Sid on the walk. A few days later, we watched the movie “Sid and Nancy” with Sid joining us and making commentary. Kurt showed up too, and I was aware he was giving support to Sid somehow. Kurt seemed senior, stronger, wiser, somehow, than Sid in this context. He was helping a friend talk about difficult times.
When the movie started, Kurt shouted, “There’s my baby! Isn’t she beautiful?” We knew Courtney Love was in the movie, and for a moment we thought she was the actress playing Nancy, but soon decided that wasn’t it. When we watched the credits later, which were in order of appearance, it turned out that Courtney was one of the first people to appear in the movie, a few seconds in a scene where they brought out Nancy’s body.
The movie picked up around the time in Sid’s life when he met Nancy. Nancy was portrayed as a really annoying, needy, whiny American who utterly consumed Sid.
“God, was she really that whiny?” Sweetie asked.
Sid showed me how he felt. Nancy enveloped him, wrapped herself around his body and all of his thoughts, like smoke. She was better than any drug for him. She loved him completely, desperately, sexually, a complete love he hadn’t before experienced. He was enthralled, addicted from the first hit – he smiles, that half-wink squint, referring to the rumour that Nancy got him hooked on heroin. I was using before I met her, I would’ve gone there anyway. She showed me how to love the drug, I fell in love with both of them.
Sid and Johnny had a bromance thing going, a mutual love between close male friends that borders on territoriality. Johnny was not impressed with Nancy, nor was anyone else who met her. Her presence was like nails on a chalk board. To them she was pushy, annoying, invasive. To Sid, she was a balm for all his wounds, and misunderstood – just like him. He felt relaxed around her, he could surrender, he could lay down the hyper tough-guy bravado that kept him alive and become this quiet, soft-spoken, introverted lad he truly was, yet seldom allowed himself to be.
This calm, quiet, almost shy Sid is the first energy I felt from him. The stage presence he developed, the fuck-you attitude was a survival mechanism, an alter-ego that allowed him to defend his space and find respect among his peers and his dark little corner of society.
That’s enough for today… we’ll continue in the next entry.