Sunday, November 5, 2023

book review: Triggers: A Life in Music by Glen Matlock


review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A-

        In 2023, a first-pressing of the Sex Pistols' one-and-only studio album, Never Mind The Bollocks, in VG condition commands $500 in Toronto shops. In 2023, their original fans are paying down mortgages while the Pistols themselves are members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (though they never showed up). All bandmates are alive, and in fact Glen Matlock is playing bass on the current Blondie tour.

Thankfully, Matlock took time out to pen his second set of memoirs, following 1990's long-out-of-print, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. Whereas that earlier book ended when he left (not fired for liking the Beatles, he stresses), Triggers is his update, covering his later years to the present, including his band, The Rich Kids, and the Pistols' lucrative mid-1990s reunion.

Triggers is a fuller book, covering much more time and written by a man looking back on his life. He celebrates, laments and forgives. Both books detail his time working at Malcolm McLaren's provocative fashion shop in London, SEX, and yes, both books declare the infamous manager McLaren as full of shit. Then again, his bandmates agree, which is the only thing they agree on.)

Triggers, though, offer a few new details about the Pistols. I like reading about Matlock's writing process behind the band's early, key song, Pretty Vacant. It started with a raw riff, but he needed to hear the bassline in Abba's SOS to complete it. In that chapter, Matlock explains that a song can feature a melody like the Kinks' Waterloo Sunset, a driving riff like Whole Lotta Love, or both as in the Stones' Satisfaction. After all, Matlock was the Sex Pistols' main songwriter, and it's a shame his partnership with Lydon didn't last.

Matlock also opens up about his personal life, like his struggles with booze, and his ups and downs as a musician searching for a gig. The tone of his book is personal and warm, no posturing, as he offers historic details married with personal observations. He compliments each of this bandmates for their talents. True, there's no love lost with John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), who comes across in the book as a talented wordsmith and performer, but also a diva, wanker and a millionaire cheapskate.

Some things I learned:

* Matlock's son was nearly cast as Johnny Rotten in Danny Boyle's rubbishy mini-series, Pistol (streaming on Disney+ of all places)

* Matlock is furious at Boyle for portraying that the band fired him, when he insists he left

* there will unlikely be another Sex Pistols reunion, because Lydon lost his silly lawsuit against his bandmates over letting Pistol use their music; and because Matlock can't see himself sharing a stage wearing a singer wearing a MAGA cap (don't blame him)

* Debbie Harry pecked him on the cheek backstage in 1978 (an experience Matlock mentions twice, though I don't blame him)

* speaking of Blondie, drummer Clem Burke tried to recruit Matlock for the band's 1999 reunion, but couldn't reach Matlock who was in Paris in those pre-cell phone days

* Matlock wanted to write a musical about Sid Vicious called Sidney

* offstage, Iggy Pop is a very polite guy

* Steve Jones actually likes The Beatles (but never said in the 1970s, because it was uncool among punks)

        Of course, the highlight of the book are the early Sex Pistols years. The infamous Bill Grundy story has been told a million times, so there's little new here, but the months leading up to and following that pivotal moment demand non-stop reading.

Fans of the Pistols, punk rock and rock itself should seek out this book to get a good picture of the seminal rock band. If you can, also track down Steve Jones' memoirs, Lonely Boy, but think twice about Lydon's memoirs, which tends to self-promote and exaggerate.

Now, piss off.

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