Would it be too preposterous to think about a member of one of the pioneer punk bands in the world, infamous for his rowdy behaviour, getting his name from a cute and furry hamster? Maybe so, but the way the story goes, it seems like the hamster wasn’t completely innocent either. The man was none other than Sid Vicious from the band Sex Pistols, who were one of the first bands to initiate the punk movement in the United Kingdom, paving the way for future punk artists. Created in 1975, their formative years lasted a mere two-and-a-half years, after which the band came back to the music scene intermittently.
Simon John Ritchie, popularly known as Sid Vicious, was the bassist and vocalist for Sex Pistols, replacing Glen Matlock, who had had a falling out with the band. Vicious wasn’t a particularly favoured artist in the music industry. However, the manager for the band at that point of time, Malcolm McLaren, once said: “If Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude.” Even though Vicious’ punk attitude did help form an image for the band, perhaps too much of that attitude proved to be fatal for himself in the long run.
Sid Vicious, who was appointed by Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), the lead vocalist of the band, was the “ultimate Sex Pistol fan”, according to Rotten himself. Vicious was the drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Flowers prior to his joining Sex Pistols, and he met Lydon when they both were students at Hackney Technical College. Vicious was 17 when “the Four Johns”, namely, Ritchie and Lydon and John Joseph Wardle and John Grey were squatting together in London town.
It was during this time that Vicious got bitten by Lydon’s pet hamster, named after Syd Barrett, which prompted his comment on how “Sid is really vicious!” And that was it. It resulted in Ritchie being named Sid Vicious which clearly struck a chord with the people around him, who, thereon referred to him by that name. Lydon described the hamster in question as “the softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth” which is most definitely the truth.
Vicious, on the other hand, became increasingly disruptive. From creating a ruckus on stage and at the recordings and generally becoming too difficult to work with other people, to being self-destructive and addicted to drugs, to being charged with assault on Patti Smith’s brother Todd Smith, to being charged for murdering Nancy Spungen, Vicious’ attitude got way out of hand.
However, that was one side of the story. Some of the people who knew him did portray him as a humble, lovable guy with a sense of humour. So maybe Sid Vicious’ fate was much like the hamster he’d been named after – generally, a joy to be around but turned vicious due to circumstances. That is certainly not to juxtapose Vicious’ behaviour with that of an animal and, more importantly, it is not an excuse for the choices he made for himself that, in turn, affected others around him.