Nancy Spungen, the one-time girlfriend of Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious, solidified her position as a leading figure of the 1970s punk scene. Throughout her life, she was ailed with various health issues. From being born with severe cyanosis to being diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 15, Spungen’s life was as turbulent as was her death and, in reality, the final three years before her death was especially frenetic.
Spungen first moved to New York City where she started working as a stripper and prostitute before landing in London. It is here that she met Sid Vicious and became involved with him and the band. Upon Sex Pistols’ disbanding, the couple checked into the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York and, tragically, Spungen would never leave. Her relationship with Vicious was as toxic as it could get. It was interspersed with bouts of domestic violence and they whiled away their days in a daze of drugs.
On October 12th, 1978, Spungen was found dead in the bathroom of her and Vicious’ hotel room with a single stab wound in her abdomen. Her death was as mysterious as it was horrific. The knife that caused the wound reportedly belonged to Vicious and he was charged with second-degree murder — but got out on bail awaiting trial. Vicious, however, died before the trial could take place and the case was subsequently closed.
Spungen’s life and death became the subject of much controversy among the fans of the Sex Pistols. Alternatively, it also became the inspiration for a musical composition by a band that had just started to come into the purview of the punk rock scene. The American band Misfits were recognised as the forebearers of a very specific sub-genre of punk, that came to be known as horror punk. As the name suggests, horror became a recurrent theme in these songs. Sometimes it would include violent imagery from horror movies and, at other times, as in this case, it would straight up refer to real-life incidents.
The Misfits’ third single ‘Horror Business’ was reportedly written on Spungen’s unsolved murder at the Chelsea Hotel. Released in 1979, less than a year after Spungen’s death, ‘Horror Business’ consisted of lyrics such as “Don’t go in the bathroom with me” and “I’ll put a knife in you”, that was suggestive of the harrowing incident that surrounded Spungen’s death.
With a jarring instrumental in the background, Glen Danzig’s voice was in a league of its own. The minor notes in the song often gave it a rather serious demeanour. However, horror punk, in essence, was a genre that employed a satirical or humourous approach to its songs. This was palpable in the chorus of ‘Horror Business’ where the melodic and happy vocals and tunes camouflaged the severity of the lyrics “I’ll put a knife in you”. The song, however, could have also referred to the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, which also featured a scene of Marion, a character in the film, being stabbed to death in a bathroom.
Curiously enough, the production in the distribution of the song also came with a horror story of its own. Due to a pressing error, almost 20 copies came with ‘Horror Business’ on both sides of the vinyl. The story, as it was fabricated, went that the band recorded the song in a haunted house and as they were later mixing the tapes, they heard strange voices and sounds in the background. In an interview, Jerry Only, the bassist for the band said: “There was a weird sound on there and we didn’t know where the hell it came from.” The band were out of any more money or effort to put behind the song so Only suggested, “Let’s just say it was recorded in a haunted house. Everybody’ll love that!”
A horror story complementing another horror story – a true collaboration, wasn’t it? Here is ‘Horror Business’ by the Misfits for you to listen to: