Queer Noises - Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Music
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Pr., 1995

by John Gill

Chapter 13 - 'Oh Patti' - pg. 131-133

There is no suggestion that any members of the Sex Pistols were queer - Sid Vicious dated Nancy Spungen, Cook and Jones are beery lads, and John Lydon is heterosexual enough to have once targeted this writer with a number of homophobic comments. Thanks to Jon Savage, however, we have access to artefacts which put an oddly queer tinge to some of their imagery. Among the wealth of images in Savage's 'England's Dreaming', there are four images of the individual Pistols by Peter Christopherson, taken when Glen Matlock was still in the band. A director of the design agency Hypgnosis (remember all those Pink Floyd sleeves?), and better known for his involvement in noise terrorists Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Coil, Christopherson also designed the controversial body-part installations that graced the windows of the BOY botique in 1977. These were extremely lifelike bits of a body - a booted foot, part of a hand - that looked as though they had been mutilated, or at least severed, during a fire or explosion. They drew crowds, until the police removed the exhibit from the window. Christopherson, Sleazy to his friends, is quite candid about his interest in SM ritual and gay sex magick, and he also produces photographic works featuring people in carefully posed medical and accident settings (a homoerotic counterpart, perhaps, of the work of American photographer Cindy Sherman). One of these eerie and rather disturbing images, of Christopherson tending a blood-spattered teenager beneath a neon sign that says 'PLAYLAND', graces the inner sleeve of Throbbing Gristle's 'Heathen Earth' album.

Early in 1976, Christopherson photographed the Sex Pistols in similar, if less obvious fashion. Lyndon was photographed, smiling, against a wall in a straitjacket; fairly straightforward punk imagery for its time, really. Matlock was posed topless and vulnerable in an institutional or public washroom (the industrial soap and towel dispensers - even though Matlock seems to have his own towel - relocate it away from any domestic setting), the institutional context lending itself to various interpretations. Steve Jones was handcuffed and in pyjamas, seated on the floor, surrounded by shadow but with his left hand handcuffed to the arm of someone else (who isn't in pyjamas, but looks like they're in control) out of the frame. Paul Cook was photographed topless in bed, reclining, head to the left but eyes open, two large sores or buboes on his chest, looking for all the world as though he's dying of some medieval plague (and, yes, today they do look a little like Kaposi's sarcoma lesions). The images of Lydon and Matlock might pass for unconventional publicity shots, although there's something intimate and intrusive about the Matlock shot that makes it look very odd (it could simply be a dressing-room shot, but not when included in this particular quartet of images). The images of Jones and Cook, however, like Cindy Sherman's images of herself in her 'Untitled Film Stills' series, invite you to run little movies of these scenes, filling the before and after of these enigmatic but loaded images. These little movies are homoerotic narratives in the manner of the late Curt McDowell's autopsy chic movies.

It's unlikely that the Pistols were aware of the full import of Christopherson's work, but that doesn't lessen the homoerotic content of these images. It could hardly be described as incriminating evidence, though, nor is it really meant to be considered as such, but along with Joe Strummer's blowjob from a male admirer captured in the film 'Rude Boy', it throws a few curves on people hitherto considered straight.

Same source - pg 163-165, chapter 17 'Queer Noises'

About the same time that Test Dept were risking life and limb in every performance, two unholy terrors were hatching explicitly queer outrages on the periphery of the mainstream. Peter Christopherson, the man responsible for the BOY window displays and the homoerotic photographs of the early Pistols, is no stranger to controversy. As a member of Throbbing Gristle, the 1970s art/noise guerilla squad, he had sometimes performed concerts which, like a particularly notorious concert at London's Filmmaker's Coop, dissolved into riots. TG did not actually incite the riots themselves - this began as an attack on the band from a gang of Slits and Clash roadies - although some aspects of their performances, films that appeared to show scenes of castration, frightening electronic discord (which they dubbed Music from the Death Factory), iconography that could be mistaken as crypto-fascist, songs that took their titles from the gas used in the Nazi death camps ('Zyklon B Zombie') or that catalogue a medical black museum of horrors, were frequently provocative. His partner, Genesis P. Orridge, a fine arts graduate and art historian who had been involved in the Fluxus movement in Britain, was once put on trial at the Old Bailey for sending 'obscene' material through the post, but a coach party of artists and writers gave evidence in his defence and Genesis was acquitted. With his TG collaborator, sometime stripper and performance artist Cosey Fanny Tutti, he also staged an exhibit of used tampons at the ICA in London. The tabloids had a field day.

In 1981, Throbbing Gristle disbanded; black-edged postcards sent to the media announced 'The Mission Has Been Terminated', and added that following the termination of this project their label, Industrial Records, would no longer be accepting mail orders for their product.

Orridge and Christopherson resurfaced the following year as Psychic TV, and with a spanking new album which ditched the primitive noise terrorism of TG for clever sampled sounds recorded on a revolutionary new 'Holophonic' system. One of the highlights of this project, first heard on their album 'Force the Hand of Chance', was the sound of being buried alive. Orridge and Christopherson had also plunged into the culture of body piercing; during an interview they proudly showed their brand new Prince Albert penis rings, among other things, which they said had been painless to insert and which immensely increased sexual pleasure. I took their word on that one.

Christopherson left Psychic TV shortly after its foundation, and with his partner John Balance formed Coil, whose 1984 debut recording 'How to Destroy Angels', a wash of temple gongs and bells, was subtitled 'ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy', and they weren't joking. Their distributors, Rough Trade, gave them a hard time about the male exclusivity of the project, but the self-styled sex magic initiates stuck to their guns. With subsequent albums, such as 'Scatology' (they weren't joking there, either) and 'Horse Rotovator', Coil outdid Psychic TV with a sophisticated and eclectic sound that saw no difficulty in moving from medieval fanfares one minute to Lalo-Schifrin-style brass arrangements the next, and straddling sampled funk to eerie electronic landscapes.

They ran into trouble in 1985 with their cover of 'Tainted Love', particularly with the sleeve note that profits from the record would go to the Terrence Higgins Trust. In America, in particular, where their work would have been relatively unknown and their motives open to misinterpretation, they were called sick and evil. Some stores boycotted the release, and gay record store owners wrote to denounce them. Their cover of their friend Marc Almond's song was, in fact, a quite heartfelt, if controversial, response to the AIDS crisis, a powerfully romantic reading of the original, refuting the demonization of homosexuality in the media. This was at a time when HIV was still known as HTLV-III, when epidemiology was barely beginning to comprehend the scope of the epidemic, and when doctors and scientists I had interviewed in London admitted that they were still flailing around in the dark. Little surprise that Christopherson and Balance - two very sweet men who live together, in fact, but who, like writers Kathy Acker and William Burroughs, are sometimes mistaken for the content of their work - were misread. Coil remain one of the innovative units working anywhere in popular music in this period.