About the Author
Okay, so you’ve probably heard of the Sex Pistols before, and there’s a decent chance you’ve heard their music before as well. I’m sure “Anarchy In the UK” has been in at least one commercial by now. There’s even a chance (albeit a really small one) that you read my Self Made Men article about Johnny Rotten, the Pistols’ singer and hyper-loquacious media personality. Well, John isn’t the only guy from that band who’s worth talking about. In fact, I’d say that the most interesting member of the Pistols is the one no one ever talks about: their drummer, Paul Cook.
I mean, if nothing else, Cook is one of maybe five relatively normal people in the decades-long history of punk rock, so he’s eligible for Awesome Man status by the law of averages alone.
Then again, it’s easy to look sane when your bandmates are a photogenic junkie (Sid Vicious), a gangly loudmouth (Rotten), and a shagged-out kleptomaniac (guitarist Steve Jones). Cook’s normal haircut and easy-going smile stuck out like diamond earrings on a pig in the band’s publicity photos, and when the other three were spitting and bleeding all over everything, Cook just looked happy to be out of the house.
Which is understandable; Cook grew up in Shepherds Bush, a rough neighborhood in west London, where he also became friends with Steve Jones. They decided to start a band in 1972, since there was nothing else for working-class youth to do in recession-era London, and they also sought out Malcolm McLaren to manage them, since he had connections to the music industry and they hung out in his clothing boutique all the time anyway. That band morphed into the Sex Pistols once Johnny Rotten was recruited to sing for them.
Cook’s main contribution to the Pistols was his steady sense of rhythm – he didn’t do a whole lot on the drums, but he did just enough to keep the guitar and bass in line (for which he should get an OBE, considering his bandmates), and kept a pace that wasn’t too fast for people to dance to (or understand Rotten’s nasty-old-lady vocals), but wasn’t so slow that it was boring. He was also the only member of the band to actually buy his equipment, as opposed to stealing it.
That’s not to say that Cook had no emotional ties to what the Pistols were doing. He was poor and young and frustrated, and felt as displaced and uncared for as a lot of British youth at the time. He just, for whatever reason, didn’t let those emotions consume him like so many others of his generation. Cook is proof that you don’t need tragic Shakespearean flaws to feel dispossessed or find fault with the system, or even to find a place for yourself in the counterculture.
Cook took his lumps, too. Like Rotten, he was attacked in the street by monarchists who didn’t appreciate “God Save the Queen,” their song mocking the apparent uselessness of the Royal Family at a time of massive youth unemployment and frequent public employee strikes in London.
But really, what makes Cook cool is that he’s a real musician. After the Pistols broke up, he kept working; he played with Johnny Thunders, and also with Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott and Scott Gorham. He also produced Bananarama’s first album, and I’m really surprised he didn’t get attacked in the street for that, too. Cook is currently drumming for Man Raze, who kind of sound like Def Leppard because Phil Collen is also in the band.
Considering that he’s best known for being in a group that’s considered more of a short term media gimmick than anything else, Cook’s follow-through and dedication to the music industry are commendable. He’s still working now, and lives in London with his family and probably Steve Jones whenever he needs a couch to sleep on.
I’ll end with this interesting clip of Cook, humble as ever, looking at famous photographs of British musicians and talking about the business. He gets in a nice dig at Oasis, too.