Author’s Note: September 14, 2019: Since the time that I posted this article in January 2011, I was approached by international filmmaker Danny Garcia (The Rise And Fall Of the Clash, Looking For Johnny, Stiv, and Rolling Stone: Life And Death Of Brian Jones). Danny had read the post I wrote, and he was interested in my point of view for a documentary he was doing about Sid Vicious. I appeared in Danny Garcia’s 2016 film Sad Vacation: The Last Days Of Sid and Nancy, where I told the story of what happened on the night of Sid Vicious’ last public event. I also served as a producer for the project, and my song, Knuckle Sandwich (1975-76), was featured in the film. Below is my original post.
Since Sid Vicious’ last public event occurred at my concert in New York at Hurrah’s in December, 1978, the story has never — not even one time — been reported accurately by anyone in the media. And not one person from the media has ever made any legitimate attempt to interview me about what happened back then, even though all the action took place at my performance, literally a few feet in front of me. No one could ever claim that I’m not easy to reach, and no, my band and I weren’t drunk or high that night either….
As far as for my part, I have accurately described this event on my website, spoke about it in the commentary section of my CD release “What’s This? 1976 – 1979,” and have truthfully referenced it occasionally on my Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace pages.
I had that pesky little sneaking gut level feeling that, just like everything else I’ve ever read and heard about Vicious’ last public event, “Who Killed Nancy” would also be filled with falsehoods, erroneous information, and omissions. Still, I wanted to keep my promise to my Facebook friends, so I finally watched the DVD on New Year’s Day, 2011. Just as I suspected, the film barely mentioned anything at all about what occurred that night, and, of the little that was said, much of it was startlingly inaccurate.
First, here is the miniscule bit of information contained in the film that was correct: This occurred at Hurrah’s in New York City. A band (merely referred to as a “loud band” in the film), was playing. Sid Vicious attacked Todd Smith (the brother of singer Patti Smith), and glass was everywhere.
Here are the “let’s make up whatever we fancy” falsehoods that were stated in the DVD: Todd Smith was referred to as “some drunk moron,” who deserved to be attacked. It was erroneously claimed that Sid was dragged out of the club by his buddies.
Now, for those of us who care about that old dinosaur, the truth: First, Todd Smith was absolutely not drunk that night. Of course, he didn’t deserve to be attacked, and was hardly just “some drunk moron.” He was unassumingly doing his job, which was to watch the stage so that he could help out in case any equipment malfunctioned or anything else went wrong at my show. Todd was his sister’s (the legendary Patti Smith) road manager; he was only working the Skafish show that night as a favor to us since Patti was not on tour at the time.
Secondly, Sid was not dragged out of the club by his friends or anyone else, but by then Skafish road manager, Jimy Sohns. At the time, Sid Vicious was out on bail for the alleged murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen on October 12, 1978. He specifically came to Hurrah’s to see Skafish play, even though in the movie, the actual name of my band was not mentioned even one time.
He was brought to the show by Danielle Booth, who hung around with my band back in 1976-1977. Danielle, who claimed to have been a groupie for The Rolling Stones when she was 14, was from Dune Acres, Indiana, and her family had money. When Skafish first played CBGB’s on April 12th and 13th 1977, she hitched a ride with us from the Chicago area to New York. A while later, Danielle and Sid Vicious became friends and bonded through doing drugs together.
When Vicious came to see our show, he stood right at the front of the stage and was staring intensely at us during our set. Artist Robert Mag snapped the picture of Sid (above in this post) minutes before the attack. During our performance, Sid first began making gestures from the audience at my guitarist/vocalist Karen Winner. As our set progressed, Sid took notice of Skafish female drum roadie Tara, and started making flirtatious advances toward her, including pinching her.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tara, she once dated Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander, and was brought to her first Skafish show in Chicago in the fall of 1976 by the band. She then may have become the first female drum roadie ever when she started working in that capacity for Skafish shortly after she saw us perform.
I was not surprised that Sid noticed Tara, as people were often attracted to her. In February, 1978, when Skafish headlined the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles, Doug Fieger (who had yet to form “The Knack”), was at the time a member of the opening band, “The Sunset Bombers.” Fieger, like Vicious, took strong notice of Tara, and subsequently wrote the song “Oh Tara” about her, released it on the Knack’s debut LP “Get The Knack” and dedicated it to her. At the time, Tara completely rebuffed Fieger’s gesture of the song’s dedication to her, and in the same way, she was not in the least bit interested in Sid’s flirtatious advances either.
By the time Vicious was making overtures to Tara at our show in New York, we were all used to unpredictability at our concerts, so no one lost their cool. Todd Smith (who was dating Tara at the time, and subsequently married her) simply went up to Sid and politely asked him to just wait to flirt with Tara till after the show, as she and he were watching the stage for us that night. In addition to what I observed from the stage, Tara later confirmed to me that was exactly how Todd dealt with the situation, as he was not confrontational, upset, or territorial in the way he approached Vicious regarding his making advances toward Tara on any level.
That’s when Vicious, totally unprovoked, suddenly smashed a beer bottle right across Todd’s face. Smith did not fight back. As for the Skafish band, since we were so used to all kinds of violence at our shows, we just played on. Ironically, at the time of the attack, we were performing the rather sedate “She Lives For Love.” Sid’s ambush-style assault caused Todd to be rushed to the hospital to receive multiple stitches.
Reacting immediately to the attack, our then road manager Jimy Sohns (singer for the legendary “Shadows of Knight”), rushed from behind the mixing board where he was doing sound. He punched and strong-armed Vicious, dragged him through the club and threw him down the flight of stairs that led up to Hurrah’s. Amidst the unpredictable insanity, we completed our performance that night, as usual.
Then, a little less than two months later, Sid Vicious unfortunately and sadly died on the morning of February 2, 1979 from a drug overdose taken the night before….
For me, as I look back on this event that happened a little over 32 years ago, it is still crystal clear to me. Since I’ve been victimized by revisionist history throughout my entire musical career, I once again felt it necessary to set the record straight after watching the DVD “Who Killed Nancy.”
In most versions of Vicious’ last public event, the majority of the actual story is simply left out, and the blanks are filled in any way that fits someone’s preposterous flight of fancy. I have read various contradictory accounts by several people who all claim that THEY were the ones who actually grabbed Sid Vicious that night and removed him from the club. Some associates of Vicious assert that it was HE who was the victim of an unprovoked attack by Todd Smith, and that the glass from Todd’s assault is what actually cut him, not Sid.
I’ve been in disbelief every time I’ve read that the person Sid flirted with was one of my band members, instead of Tara. I don’t know where people got this one, but I’ve read that the assault occurred at 2:30 AM, way AFTER my band and I finished our performance. Oops – and one more for the road: I’ve noticed multiple accounts that this occurred at Max’s Kansas City. The erroneous misinformation that’s falsely sold as “history” just gets more “colorful” all the time, especially the inaccurate and utterly ludicrous claims about Todd Smith’s role in all of this.
I learned a long time ago both as an artist and as a person that unfortunately, truth is not something that people as a whole value, even though everyone would swear that’s exactly what they want. After all, who would admit to lying and/or wanting to be lied to? What people perceive as truth, though, is often what is emotionally convenient to them, and bought into via those who know how to effectively manipulate the media and get their point of view out there, no matter how inaccurately.
I find it compelling that this piece of rock ‘n’ roll history unfolded right in front of my very eyes. It fascinated people in December of 1978, and as I’m sure that we’ll see even more “versions” of that night popping up from here on out, I’m more than willing and happy to tell anyone who genuinely cares to know what really happened back then the actual truth.
All photos taken by and courtesy of Robert Mag.