On Tour With the Sex Pistols

Over at Texas Monthly, John Spong writes about about photographer Roberta Bayley’s experience covering the Sex Pistols’ ill-conceived 1978 tour of the United States. Never much a fan of Johnny Rotten and company, reading about the culture clash — which was purposely engineered by Malcolm McLaren (e.g., “His goal was conflict and the free press it would generate”) — is fascinating nonetheless:

For those of us who were old enough to be aware of the Pistols but too young to attend—I was in the sixth grade in Austin, and my mom wasn’t going to drive me to anything in San Antonio but the Alamo or the zoo—the images are still mesmerizing. There’s heroin addict Sid Vicious onstage in San Antonio, unable to get drugs on the trip, with “Gimme a fix” carved into his chest. Or constitutionally disgruntled Johnny Rotten hunched over and leering at the crowd in Tulsa (or anywhere, really). But one of the most famous images from the tour doesn’t show any of the band members. It was taken in the parking lot outside Dallas’s storied Longhorn Ballroom, one-time home of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, by a young New York rock photographer named Roberta Bayley. It’s a remarkable yet simple photograph, extremely subtle compared to the balance of the coverage. Against a wan, blue sky, a large, barn-shaped sign announces the honkytonk’s name. Closer to the ground, an eight-foot tall statue of a steer is flanked by two wagon wheels. And in between, a marquee reads “Tonight Sex Pistols, Jan 19 Merle Haggard.” The message is immediate: this was a surreal collision of radically different cultures. Just a glance at the picture and you imagine that, shortly after the sun dipped below the horizon, somebody got his ass kicked.

(Photograph: Roberta Bayley. Caption: Dallas, Texas, 1978.)