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The Day Punk Died

Nancy died early in the morning from a stabbing. The details of that day are ensconced in legend. At 2:30 a.m., Nancy begged actor and addict Rockets Redglare to score them some Dilaudids. Female moans were heard coming from the room before 7:30 a.m. Vicious called the front desk about 10 a.m., asking for help. Early that afternoon, he would be arrested for her murder, apparently having confessed to the police; they never seriously considered another suspect. But all these years later, no one I spoke to believes he killed her. “I think when Sid awoke stoned out of his mind and realized she was dead, he might have assumed he did it,” says Polk, explaining the confession. Everyone has a different theory: drug deal gone awry, robbery, or just a mistake that came from having too many knives around. Bassist Howie Pyro, who was with Sid the night he died, believes Nancy might have been so desperate for attention that she stabbed herself, thinking Sid would come to her rescue, but that he was too stoned. Nancy’s wound wouldn’t have killed her if it had been attended to promptly, but Sid had gobbled fistfuls of the barbiturate mix Tuinal. “In my opinion, he was a little on the henpecked side,” says Colicchio, in and out of the room that night. “I don’t think he would’ve killed her unless she told him to.”

Nancy’s death remains an intoxicating subject, swirling in mysteries that will probably never be unraveled: British author Alan Parker, who has written books about Sid, is currently in production on a documentary called Who Killed Nancy?, due for release next year. But what everyone agrees on is that her death—and Sid’s overdose four months later—was a horrible symbol that hobbled the scene almost beyond repair. “It was like the Manson family in the sixties,” says McNeil. “It killed punk overnight. We were doing the Punk magazine awards. Lou Reed was there, everyone was there. All the camera crews were there, and they just wanted to talk about Sid and Nancy. It was disgusting.”

“There was a lot of hope at that time,” says Colicchio. “The music was catching on, bands like Talking Heads were breaking out. A lot of us were thinking, Hey, we may not have to get regular jobs. A lot of it hinged on Sid. He seemed to be the last one carrying the torch. When he died, we all felt like it was over. A couple of bands didn’t even want to gig. What was shunned was now persecuted. It was almost as if the war was over and we’d lost.”

The original punks only lost the battle. Ten years later, punk was on the upswing again, still fringe music and mildly dangerous, but with a muted tone. Bands like Sonic Youth, the Replacements, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds thrived on apathy and neglect instead of hatred. In the early nineties, Nirvana finally broke punk to a wide audience. But winning the war changed everything. Today punk is a worldwide brand, predictable, devoid of significance. You can imagine Nancy’s reaction: Winners suck.

Legs McNeil doesn’t live in New York City anymore. He bought a house in rural Pennsylvania and doesn’t relish his return visits. He’s now a recovered alcoholic wearing a black Hawaiian shirt decorated with pictures of exotic cocktails and pegged black jeans 30 years out of fashion. He wants his old New York. He glances at a girl in slutty Sex and the City clothes that aren’t slutty anymore, talking on her cell phone while her dining companion gazes patiently into space. The sight brings out a little of his old fire. “I don’t know who the fuck they’re talking to,” he sneers. “Are they talking to other people in restaurants eating breakfast?” Where’s Nancy when you need her? She would have hated it here. She wouldn’t have lasted a minute.