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AtlantaOn January 5th 1978 the Sex Pistols played their first show in the US, in Atlanta. And on Jan 14th they played their last show at San Francisco, California’s Winterland Ballroom.

It just so happens that the first and last shows of that brief and meteoric tour are the two locations of Mixed Bag Media, so it only seemed fitting that we commemorate the event with two blog posts – one from Atlanta and the other from the Bay Area.

This is the Atlanta report.

The first show of the US tour was at the Great Southeast Music Hall, located in a shopping plaza on Piedmont Road. On that winter day so long ago I was 15 years old and not particularly interested in the Sex Pistols. Pink Floyd, Neil Young and Yes were more my speed. But it was hard to avoid them and the other “punks” that had burst on the scene the previous year. I read about them in Newsweek (my parents had a subscription) and saw lurid reports on TV. The shock to my suburban sensibility of the spiky pink and yellow mohawks, chains, combat boots, tattoos and piercings transcended any musical context. The punk sound and look was an assault – menacing, threatening, weird, and futuristic in a Clockwork Orange kind of way (I was a big Kubrick fan).

Never MindI wasn’t really affronted or offended by the punks. Even if their sartorial style and music were very different from mine I understood at a gut level the rebellion they represented. Like my 60s counterculture heroes they were also “giving it to the man.” And I was happy and strangely honored that they’d chosen Atlanta for their first US show.

In the wake of that first show I distinctly remember reading the Newsweek article where it was reported that the first words spoken to the American audience from Johnny Rotten were “Hi, I’m John and we’re the Sex Pistols.” I remember thinking how plain and everyday that sounded – not “punk,” not menacing or threatening, but somehow just human, regular.

A fellow sophomore from Campbell High School had gone to the show and wrote about it in the Panther Tracks, the school newspaper. In the story he said that in spite of all the hype they were actually a pretty basic rock band and had some pretty catchy numbers. Years later, reminiscing with another high school friend about that article, we couldn’t believe that the likes of that nerdy high school newspaper reporter could’ve seen the Pistols and that we’d been so clueless to the historical opportunity the show represented.

Man RayFor you see, in the intervening years I GOT IT – The Pistols f***ing ROCK!! In my early 20s I started listening to Never Mind the Bollocks all the time. It became a standard party record and one which inevitably lead to the destruction of property. A song I wrote at the time in reference to those parties is representative. After reporting that drunken friends have arrived and put on the Sex Pistols our narrator describes the ensuing carnage: “Posters on the wall? No, holes in the wall! And what is that over there in the corner? It’s the curtains, all torn down and destroyed. No! If I told you once I told you a thousand times!”

Of course the Sex Pistols opened the flood gates and made possible a lot of the music that I came to love: The Clash, The Meat Puppets, even someone like Elvis Costello. And by retraining my ears to appreciate well-made noise I also came to love their predecessors, proto-punk bands like The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, opening my mind to limitless possibilities in music and alternative approaches to living. I ended up playing in a local band (Man Ray) in various Atlanta clubs that sprang up in the wake of the Pistols’ visit. And even down to today I think my instinct to look at video production with a flexible and open mind can in some ways be traced to the DIY ethos that the Sex Pistols and Punk in general fostered.

Long Live the Sex Pistols!

-Jim Threlkeld

Photo of Johnny Rotten by AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr.
Photo of Man Ray at the 688 by Joe Peery