Hope you die before we get old

Reunited Who and Sex Pistols cheat death one more time

By the time the Pistols take the stage at 10 p.m., the field in front of them is littered with audience members passed out in their own vomit. Thousands of young and bleary-eyed Finns--all mythically drunk--rock and sway to the recorded music, bellowing insults in Unpronounceablese between swigs from huge plastic jugs of booze.

This is the Sex Pistols' first time in Finland. They were supposed to play here in 1977, but the show was canceled when the promoter heard their material. Tonight, the problem is indifference: Although hundreds of the kids here sport "Anarchy" T-shirts and multicolored hair, the crowd as a whole seems oblivious to the Pistols' music. The Sex Pistols open with "Bodies," but then immediately play five relatively obscure numbers including such rare B-sides as "Done You No Wrong" and "I'm a Lazy Sod."

This induces sudden boredom in kids who, just moments before, had gone apeshit over Sepultura and Bad Religion. History books are indeed written in invisible ink: The Pistols' music sounds clean and shiny and even Johnny Rotten seems bored, uttering the equivalent of things like, "Hello, Finland! Do you want to rock and roll?"

No wonder the kids start pelting them with things. Twenty minutes into the set, Rotten stamps off the stage in a rage. "I am not your target," he yelps. "There are worse things than me in this world. You should be fucking grateful I'm here." Rotten makes good on his threat to quit after the next song, telling the crowd, "That's it! Fuck you! Fuck off!" The rest of the band leaves with him. "Get some Finnish cunt up here to take your abuse."

The poor sod left with that unenviable position is one Billy Carson, an African-American actor, popular in Finland except on this night. "Idiots! Morons!" he shouts in broken Finnish. "This band has come here after 20 years. You should treat them with respect."

The Pistols return to the stage to play five more songs, including such better-known numbers as "Holidays in the Sun," "Pretty Vacant," and "E.M.I.," but there is little applause until they return to encore with "Anarchy in the U.K." Only then does the crowd, most of the members of which weren't yet born when the song came out, explode--dancing, cheering, and singing along in English. The Pistols wind up the set with the old Stooges song "No Fun." "This is what you've been, and what we're having," says the ever-pleasant Rotten when introducing the song.

Many young fans insist after the show that they were pleased with the performance. "I liked it very much--them and Sepultura," says one 19-year-old girl. "Maybe they are only doing it for the money," adds her 15-year-old friend, "but it's still good music. They still have something to say." Even if it is "fuck you" one more time.

As the Pistols' bus speeds off, Messila returns to normal. The headliner, the Leningrad Cowboys, a Finnish band that parodies metal and country, performs the Pistols' "God Save The Queen," then slips imperceptibly into Elvis Presley's "Burning Love" before winding up with the all-too-appropriate lyric, "Noooooo future, less vodka for you."

A tale of two cities
Two days later, flying into London, the airplane dips over Hyde Park, and you can see the stage going up for next week's Who concert. A mile to the north, in Finsbury Park, the stage has already been built for the Sex Pistols' second London debut in two decades. By midday, the tube is full of bright-haired punks heading up the Victoria line. It is Sunday, June 23--the day of the Sex Pistols' triumphant return to their birthplace.

This is the show the Pistols want the press to attend, to help fuel the hype that is going to take them across the Atlantic this summer; it is also being recorded for a live album. When it comes to hype, the English press is happy to oblige, just as they did the first time. But unlike Finland--where skepticism about the Sex Pistols' reunion barely edged out healthy indifference--England is brimming with stories about punk's 20th anniversary.

Given the number of young mohawked punks on King's Road now fueled by Green Day and NOFX songs--the 1996 equivalent of hippies on Haight Street still grooving to a Dead beat--it seems like the time for this ridiculous reunion is ripe here in the U.K. Yet [according to Time Out! and Capitol Radio] sales have been slow; it is unclear if the intended audience for these shows is 16-year-old nouveau-punk Rancid fans paying homage to their elders or older fans who never got to see them in the first place.

More than likely, the latter: Today Finsbury Park is not an advertisement for British beauty. It is a melange of old punks basking in the sun, their shirts off, fleshy bellies protruding and messy hair receding, their skin the unfortunate hue of dead fish. They resemble the cast members of the touring company for Mad Max: The Musical.

The Finsbury Park show comes off without a hitch: The warm, clear weather and an unexpected soccer victory against Spain have cast a euphoric spell on all of Britain. People are friendly and smiling, blissed out, beaming. Nothing could blow their high today, and the Sex Pistols--preceded by Iggy Pop, the Wildhearts, the Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, and others--don't even try.

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