Steve Jones Talks Sex Pistols, Sobriety and Why He's Lucky to Be Alive

By Patrick McCartney 01/17/17

"It’s a myth that you're better when you're [messed] up, that you're more creative, that’s a myth... it’s way better being straight when you’re working and creating." -Steve Jones, Sex Pistols

Steve Jones, Sex Pistols

In 1975, Steve Jones co-founded the Sex Pistols, and a year later the band released their one proper album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, changing the face of pop music as we knew it. Forty years later, now ensconced in Los Angeles and sober 26 years, Jones’ memoir has just been published. Lonely Boy charts his childhood in Shepherd's Bush, his first bands, finding Malcolm McLaren’s SEX boutique on King's Road and the formation of the Pistols—all leading to his life as a DJ and 26 years of sobriety in Los Angeles. The Fix caught up with Jones by phone from his home in California.

My favorite line in the book was “I’m lucky to be alive.”

Yeah. I’ve been sober 26 years now. October 28th, 1990 was when my coin dropped. I’d been messing around for about six years prior to that in the program. I just wasn’t ready, it took a couple more times to really get to a place where I feel, “That’s it, I’m done, I’m ready to do what I have to do to not go back this place again,” ya know?

You say in your book that until you did the 12 steps properly, you didn’t feel like you were going to be able to maintain your sobriety. What does that mean to you?

I’m not like a 12-step Nazi, but rain or shine, that’s gotta come first for me, because I just don’t want to go back to that place of being a slave to drugs and alcohol, I just can’t do it anymore. I look at it like I have two lives, one prior to sobriety and one after—you know, it's like two different lives have happened.

via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of people struggle with the God stuff. What do you tell somebody who feels it’s about Christianity?

As far as being sober and going to meetings?

Yes and working with the steps.

Well, it’s got nothing to do with Christianity. It’s a spiritual ride, nothing to do with religion. You know, that’s where a lot of people get confused, they hear the word "God" and they go straight to whatever religion they knew growing up, or still do, but I’ve never been a religious person. After all, I don’t believe in it to be honest with you. I don’t know where that came from, that thing. That shouldn’t stop you getting sober, that little thing. When you’ve been around a while, you know it’s got nothing to do with any kind of religion.

Right, it’s about fellowship.

Fellowship, doing the right thing. Everyone knows the difference between good and bad—most people do anyway. And yeah, you know you get sober to get sober, and to get our lives back on track—that’s it, not to get anything else. Anything else that comes on top of that is just gravy, ya know?

I love that phrase, “just gravy.” What do you think about creativity and sobriety? Do you think that’s a myth?

It’s a myth that you're better when you're fucked up, that you're more creative—that’s a myth. You know, I’m sure you come up with some great stuff when you're high, I’m sure Jimi Hendrix came up with some great riffs, but as far as clarity goes, it’s way better being straight when you’re working and creating. But it’s two sides to that coin, ya know.

Oh yeah. I do comedy, and when I first got sober I had an experience that you described when you first started playing again, how terrifying it was when you played your first gig sober.

Right… The only thing I don’t like about being sober and playing live is, to come back down is difficult, I find, when you played and everyone else goes and has a beer and whatever. What I'd normally do is go back to the hotel and decompress that way, which is a bit of a drag, sometimes, but yeah…

 So, punk rock—what are we going to do in the age of Trump?

Oh, I don’t know man, I think it’s all Coke or Pepsi, I don’t think it makes any difference, to be honest with you.

But lyrics were so important to what you guys were doing. The Pistols, they launched a revolution that was not just about fashion and attitude, it was very political.

John’s lyrics definitely captured that whole thing, very relevant even to this day—the lyrics, which you know, are amazing coming from a bunch of 19-year-olds. The insight he had in writing the lyrics at the time was fantastic, but—I don’t know, man—the older I get, the more I realize your vote really don’t mean nothing.

You're led to believe that you actually got a say in the country, in the world. I don’t think you do, I really think you don’t. Everyone is getting on this guy, but he’s not just going to be doing whatever the hell he wants. We’re living in a different time, we’re living in a social media time, where we’re tweeting and all of this seems to matter when, I just wouldn’t sweat it too personally, you know.

I have friends in LA that love your radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox. Is it back on the air?

Yeah, it's back. I’ve been doing it a year. I’m back on KLOS 95.5.

I saw that you interviewed Gary Oldman. Was his Sid Vicious eerily accurate?

I thought he did a great job, yeah. It was funny, he didn’t like doing it though, he didn’t want to do it originally, but he said it was going to be the first time he was actually going to make some money, which is why he did it. He’s a great guy, Gary Oldman, don’t get me wrong. I love him, he’s one of a kind.

I love that you called Brian Wilson a complete cunt. You really let loose in your book, especially on Legs McNeil [author of Please Kill Me].

Mr. New York, you know everything started in New York. I mean, he’s so up his own ass about that. What has he done? He wrote for a fucking magazine.

What do you think about this current opioid epidemic? For me, it starts with the first drink, which led to a lot of stuff. You talk a little bit about the difference between heroin addiction and what it means to be an alcoholic. Could you elaborate a little on that?

Well, to be honest with you man, I mean, it’s all the same, it really is. It’s just trying to reach this gate, you’re not comfortable with yourself, and then you act out in whatever way you do it—sex, heroin, booze, shopping, it’s all different extremes to how far you go.

Shopping? You really think that’s a thing?

Well, you know people spend money and they gamble. It’s all different levels, but it’s all based on the same thing. You want that feeling of chase, it’s all part of it to me.

And when I stopped the drugs, like I say in the book, it immediately switched over to sex. I was just acting out the same way when I was shooting dope, like a compulsion, I couldn’t stop.

You quit smoking through hypnosis.

Yeah, I’ve been off cigarettes for 16 years.

You still help a lot of people out there?

I still do the business, you know. It’s not like I have to, but I enjoy going to meetings and helping others and that’s part of the joy of it all, you know. I like doing it, and you keep going man, you can’t slide off. I’ve done that and relapsed. When you start, like going to three meetings a week, or one meeting a week, then no meetings a week, I know what happens after that and I can’t afford it. And I like going, I like doing what I have to do to maintain it.

When you guys are on the road?

The first thing I do is find out where meetings are in that town. There’s places where it’s tough to get to, and you’re like, “Oh fuck it,” but it’s having the willingness.

Do you think your alcoholism is genetic, or was it an environmental thing? Or, do you not even question that?

I think it’s a gene, personally. Like, my mother was an alcoholic, her brothers were, I do think it’s a genetic thing. I don’t think you acquire it from your environment; that thing that makes you an alcoholic, I don’t think that happens from certain circumstances that happen to you. I do think that certain circumstances want to make you get high quicker.

Yeah, and there are like people who get out, but I don’t think they’re alcoholics, it’s that way of thinking in their head.

It’s not even about drugs and alcohol, man, it’s about your fucking head, whether you’re sober or you're drunk, we think differently than normal people. We just do—it’s our perception, our reality. If you put it in one word, it’s a bunch of scenarios; your feelings get hurt, it’s easier. It’s a weird thing. I’m not Mr. AA, but I think it’s a genetic thing.

To me it’s a heightened sensitivity to the world.

Yeah, for sure.

It’s hard to describe it sometimes to normal people.

Well, we shouldn’t have to. I don’t understand them, they don’t understand me, that’s the difference, that’s having that gene. But that’s the worst when you have to explain it, I don’t always bother, and I just walk away.

Patrick McCartney is an actor, improviser, teacher and contributor to The Fix.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Patrick McCartney .jpg

Patrick McCartney is an actor, improviser, teacher and contributor to The Fix. Find him on Linkedin and Twitter.