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|The Harder They Come
By John Holmstrom
I was sitting behind my desk at the PUNK Magazine office (on 225 Lafayette Street, NYC) when the phone rang. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to miss the Sex Pistols tour, but found some consolation in that we had front-row tickets for the Ramones' upcoming show at the Palladium-their first big headline gig in New York City.
"Hey, man, I saw the Sex Pistols last night!"
It was Tom Forçade The Mysterious & Secretive Founder of HIGH TIMES magazine. A couple of days earlier I had been in the HIGH TIMES offices and noticed a film crew hanging around, and I heard that Tom flew down to Atlanta to see the Pistols on their opening night. I had no idea why he'd call me about it. Just rubbing it in, I figured.
"Really?" I said.
"Yeah, man, they were really great!"
I began to wonder if he wanted to write a story for PUNK or something. Why else was he calling?
Forçade had been involved with PUNK in one way or another since our sixth issue. I didn't understand why at the time, but he was one guy (with lots of money) who claimed he was a big fan of what we were doing and would put his money where his mouth was. He had been promising to put together some master plan for PUNK so we could make it big. And even though he was the mysterious & secret publisher of the world's biggest hippie magazine, he really liked punk rock. It didn't add up, and I was always in suspense as to what his real motives were.
Being involved with Tom Forçade was always an unsettling situation. His only stipulation for helping us out was that we could never, ever admit to anyone that we knew him. If we did, he promised that we'd never get help, or even see him again.
"Yeah?" I said.
Tom was always saying "man."
"You should have been there, man."
I was kind of pissed off that he got to go while I didn't. I mean, yeah, sure, he had the money and could afford to go and I couldn't, but it didn't seem right that the world-famous editor of PUNK Magazine, Voice of Punk Rock, was not going to get to see the Sex Pistols tour, but the Secret & Mysterious Publisher of HIGH TIMES Voice of the Hippies, had a front row seat. Then again, the Pistols were inviting this kind of bullshit by putting together the strangest idea for an American tour I had ever seen.
The Pistols had this ridiculous plan. They were going to avoid all the cities where people actually wanted to see them, like New York and Los Angeles, and would instead open in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, etc. Visa problems forced them to skip the first part of their tour, though (and the only cities where we had any chance of going to see them) so they opened the tour in Atlanta, Georgia.
I was in Atlanta once, in 1969. I had hitchhiked down there with a high school friend for a three day rock festival on July 4th weekend. Well, the festival itself was in Macon. I saw the Allman Brothers before anyone had heard of them (they were like the house band and did several sets), and I thought they were really boring. A bunch of big-name (in 1969) bands played, like Jimi Hendrix, Ten Years After, Richie Havens, Grand Funk Railroad, the Chambers Brothers, and a bunch of other hippie-era bands. It was great.
Eight years later, I was not at all ready to hitchhike to Georgia in December to see the Sex Pistols. And I was too poor to fly down there.
So there I was, listening to Tom Forçade brag about being in Atlanta... and seeing the Sex Pistols
"Yeah, they were fucking fantastic!"
"Yeah?" I asked, barely interested. "How the fuck would you know, you fucking hippie?!" I thought to myself. I knew that the MC5 were his favorite band and that he seemed to like punk rock, but he always seemed so detached. It was hard to tell if he really liked it or if he liked it because he thought he was supposed to like it.
"Yeah, man, you should have seen them."
I couldn't think of anything to say other than, "WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU RUBBING MY FACE IN THIS???" but was too polite to say anything
"Yeah, you should come down here and see them, man! They're playing in Memphis tonight."
"I'd love to, Tom, but "
"Great! Come on down, man! My assistant, Maureen has a ticket waiting for you!"
My jaw dropped. My heart was pounding.
"Yeah, man! Come on down! She'll give you the details. Just ask for me when you get to the Taliesyn Ballroom. I'll be around, just ask for me or the film crew."
"But the show starts in just a few hours! How can I get there on time?"
"Don't worry about it. See you later."
I looked at the time. It was already almost four o'clock. The show started in four hours. I called Tom's assistant, Maureen, and she confirmed that the round-trip ticket was ready, but I only had about an hour and a half to get to the airport and make the flight. I didn't see any way to do this, but I had to try.
I grabbed a cab to my apartment, which was directly above Stromboli Pizza on the corner of St. Marks' Place and First Avenue. I had been able to scrape together about thirty-five dollars and some spare change, found some clean socks and underwear, grabbed my tape recorder and a notepad, and figured that would just about do it. After all, I was just going to fly down & back. I didn't need to worry about anything more than that.
I flew downstairs to the street, grabbed a cab to JFK airport. My head was spinning. I made the flight a few minutes before takeoff. While on the plane I struck up a conversation with the person next to me, trying to find out where the Taliesyn Ballroom was. He knew Memphis, all right. But he said the ballroom was pretty far from the airport. There was a bus that could take me out there, but it would take about an hour. Since I was landing around 8:30, I'd probably miss the show, and the whole trip would be for nothing. A cab would get me there sooner. But I barely had enough for the fare.
I managed to get the cab, and barely made the $15 fare. Upon leaving the cab I realized something was wrong. There were police cars everywhere, flashing their lights. It was a cross between a crime scene and a psychedelic light show. When I asked what was happening, I heard there had been a riot over the tickets. Apparently there were a lot of bootleg tickets around, but the people who couldn't get in didn't want to hear about it. When I asked about my chances of seeing the Pistols, people laughed and said there was no way I was getting in. No way in hell.
So there I was, suitcase in hand, with about one dollar in small change left to my name, no ticket and no way to get inside. I went to the ticket office and told them who I was. I wasn't on the list.
There was NO WAY I was getting inside. No tickets were available. I tried to explain that I had flown in from New York, and how desperate I was to get in. After all, they were supposed to go on at around 8:00, and it was already almost 9:00. I didn't want to miss any of it.
Suddenly Gary Kenton, the Warner Brothers publicist, materialized and I caught him and told him about my dilemma. He looked at me, looked at my suitcase, and said, "Of course we'll let you in, John."
He whisked me past the door security as it were the most natural thing in the world that I be there. I was never as grateful for a favor from a publicist.
Once I got inside, the scene was as bizarre as it was outside. Half the audience was standing on their seats, screaming at the sound crew to take the tape off. It was Alice Cooper: "Killer," one of my favorite records of all time! Everyone else was sitting in their seats and looked like they had been waiting a long time.
I asked somebody why they were booing. "TAKE THE FUCKING RECORD OFF YOU ASSHOLES!" He was screaming. "TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT OFF!!!! ASSHOLES!!!"
"What's the matter with the record?"
"NOTHING!" He screamed. "EXCEPT THEY'VE BEEN PLAYING IT OVER AND OVER FOR THE LAST TWO HOURS!!!"
While I tried to figure out what was exactly wrong with the picture, I looked around for the film crew. No sign of even a camera. Meanwhile, the Alice Cooper tape kept going on for so long that even I got tired of it!
Finally the Pistols came on, did a lackluster set, and left. I was trying to write the review in my head during the concert. basically I would have said they were good, but not as good as the Ramones. But only later did I find out why they were so low-key during the show .
After the show, I looked around for someone I knew. I saw Joe Stevens (famous rock photog) and talked with him for a while, and he told me which hotel he was staying at. He asked me what I was doing but I had absolutely no idea where I was going or what I would do. I had to get back to the airport, but I figured I would find the film crew or Tom and get a ride with them. By the time I finished looking for them, the place was empty. And it was late. So I was on my own.
I figured I'd walk to the airport. I asked for directions and started to walk. They said it was about fifteen miles. I didn't know how I could make it, but I was gonna try.
So I started walking, and walking and walking. After what seemed like fifteen miles I came to a restaurant. I asked them how far away the airport was. "Oh, about fifteen miles down the road!"
Oh, man. I decided to stick my thumb out and see what happened. I got a ride immediately.
Read all about the Sex Pistols' infamous U.S. tour in "The Harder They Fall" in Punk #14!Return to top
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