Hell on Earth

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The Independent Online
The week has come to a bad end. Hard upon the news that the remaining Sex Pistols are making a comeback after 18 years, and just before Mrs Thatcher animated her audience of posthumous Keith Joseph admirers, came the Church's disavowal of punitive Hell. Can it be true, I wondered, that Johnny Rotten and Kenneth Baker are both to escape eternal punishment? No demons with pliers, no Boschian monsters by whom to be eaten and then excreted, none of the fates which one had mentally stored up for the offensive and the morally deficient?

No threat of damnation will therefore prevent the coming together of Britain's most notorious punk band - even if God has already taken care of the complex bassist, Sid Vicious. The other bands of the era are long gone, the young men to become journalists and wheelwrights, the girls to take up veterinary nursing, or (as in the case of Poly Styrene, of "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" fame) to devote themselves to Krishna consciousness. Only John Lydon et al have apparently betrayed their art to become "accomplished musicians". Next year they go on tour with all their old hits.

What will their act be like? As I am almost exactly a contemporary of theirs, I am painfully aware of my increasing limitations. Pogo-ing is technically feasible, but can only be done in five-second bursts with 10-minute rest periods, to allow the cartilage to pop back. Gobbing, too, is not what it was: age dries up the juices a bit, and it would take an awful lot of hawking to summon up anything worthwhile. Take it from me, boys, at 40, anarchic sexuality has to be carefully organised - a case of Try And Find The Bollocks.

But what is truly awful about the Sex Pistols' return is that it is a return. Unlike, say, the Rolling Stones or Bowie, who have kept at it and developed, Rotten & co are attempting to be their former selves, unchanged. Going on is OK, it's going back that is so appalling.

Consider this nightmare. The whole country indulges in a 1977 reunion, forced to resume the roles and lives we all led then. Except that we cannot become younger, or shed the experiences of the intervening years. So the elderly Jim Callaghan presides over a tottering cabinet, including Denis Healey, Michael Foot and Shirley Williams. An embittered David Owen is Foreign Secretary.

Margaret leads the Tories, not in her naive, almost girlish 1977 incarnation, but as she is now, with recessive gums, thyroidal eye-bulge and an enormous chip on her shoulder. In Washington, a decrepit Jimmy Carter is just beginning his stint in the White House.

As if this weren't bad enough, the whole country is invited to hold street parties in a ghastly post-Diana parody of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, British Leyland makes cars, a pontificating Geoff Boycott leads England out against the Aussies, tubby 40-plus footballers with Scouser moustaches pantingly contest the Cup Final, and Virginia Wade creaks her way to victory over Chrissie Evert at Wimbledon.

A wrinkled, balding Woody Allen directs Diane Keaton in a comedy of sexual manners set in New York and featuring relationships with very young women - so no change there. Larry Holmes fights George Forman for the heavyweight championship of the world. Sorry, that's a bit far-fetched.

I am transported back to a grimy room in a student house in Ladbroke Grove, living off Birds Eye individual shepherd's pies and arguing about the toilet-cleaning rota. From time to time I am visited by various girlfriends whom I used and abused in those days. Except that now they have children and therapists, complain about the cleanliness of the sheets, talk about what they want out of sex and fail to fade away on demand.

No, Johnny. No, Maggie. There can be no going back. To revisit the past, knowing what we now know, that, surely - whatever the bishops say - would be Hell.

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