Since 2004, former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones has been holding court on LA radio as the host of Jonesy’s Jukebox, a delightful free-for-all that finds him spinning beloved tunes and having rambling conversations with various pop culture figures. But the show is often at its best when Jones is left to be his thorny and brutally honest self, telling stories or letting stray thoughts tumble out, all in his thick London accent.
That same feeling is what gives Jones’ new memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, its moxie and its significance. Written with British journalist Ben Thompson, the book, like few other rock chronicles of recent vintage, actually reads the way its subject thinks. It’s arranged chronologically, but wanders off on assorted tangents and silly anecdotes. And it’s all written in an unaffected patois peppered with cockney slang and coarse language.
Lonely Boy is also marked by a deep-seated well of pain that Jones seems to have only recently come to terms with. An awful upbringing that involved sexual abuse at the hands of his stepfather and some serious neglect by his mother incited an internal rage and a dismissal of all authority figures, the formula for what he would bring to bear on the early days of UK punk, as well as his years of drug and alcohol abuse.
The real meat of the book, naturally, is his recounting of the short history of the Sex Pistols. It’s well-trodden ground, but there’s actually some fresh insight to be found through Jones’ lens. He still seems annoyed and bemused at how the band rocketed to infamy, and he’s still got a wellspring of rage for the group’s former manager Malcolm McLaren and lead singer Johnny Rotten. Jones also spares us the grisly details of the Pistols’ ill-fated tour of the US that wound up splitting up the band in 1978.
From there, the book quickly and messily limps to the finish line. The focus is primarily on the dark days of his addiction and his path to sobriety, with stops along the way for some key musical moments and his decision to call Los Angeles home. But outside of a lovely and therapeutic moment when Jones spends time with his mother and stepdad after years of avoiding them, it becomes yet another parade of famous names and cheeky humor. For such an exuberant beginning, the rest feels pretty vacant.
Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol
by Steve Jones
(Da Capo Press)