Tuesday, November 9, 2010

And I Don't Want to Live This Life

Just months before Nancy's death in the Chelsea Hotel in New York on October 12, 1978, Suzy Spungen, Nancy's younger sister, sat in her mother's kitchen while Sid and Nancy sat excitedly sharing stories in the living room with the family.  "How can  you watch that? How can  you watch her dying like that?" Suzy demanded from their numb, disenchanted mother in the final chapters of And I Don't Want to Live This Life written by Deborah Spungen.

That is the question that any parent could fairly demand from the woman who stated in her book, as if everything she did was right and good in the land of perfect parenthood, that she is now the mother of two, not three, children.  That her son David now has only one sister.  That they do not talk about Nancy, the girl they threw away.

Author:  Deborah Spungen
Published:  1983
Pages:  432
Recommended:  highly, for parents, parents of troubled children, music fans

Throughout this book, Deborah Spungen makes statements in such a way that she obviously feels upright and well-intentioned, all the while making the reader cringe with her selfish, narrow-minded attitude.  Excusing some of her actions as being a new mother in the '70s only removes the sting of some of the things that happened to Nancy.  Wipe away Chloe Webb's nauseating, nerve-grating performance in the Sid and Nancy film.  That was not Nancy.  Nancy was prettier, softer, and smarter than the movie's directing and acting portrayed her.

An irritable baby, hyperactive toddler, and depressed teenager, Nancy was born into a Jewish household where she did not fit into the mold of her mother's admitted preconceived notions of what the perfect home should be.  Early  on, Deborah Spungen began searching for answers that would relieve her of responsibility.  Psychiatrists, doctors, teachers were consulted trying to pin a name to Nancy's behavior.  Deborah claims that one doctor gave Nancy a diagnosis of schizophrenia but neglected to inform the family.  Some doctors told them that Nancy was mostly alright.  It's a hard call to make by reading the mother's account, which seems designed to absolve her of sins and free her conscience.

Nancy was a happy girl with a few problems who turned dark and moody at age 12, like most girls on the planet.  With a nervous, hysterical mother, whose intelligence was far below her own gifted mind, Nancy sought ways to instigated break-downs in Deborah.  When the siblings came along, she was jealous of the differences in treatment she saw between herself and them.  Then she was sent away to a special school for disturbed children, never to be back in normal society.

She was brilliant and graduated at age 16.   Seeking a place to fit in, Nancy longed to go to New York.  Deborah and her husband decided to put Nancy up in an apartment in the middle of New York City at age 17.  She was troubled, with a series of possible mental conditions and a history of destructive behavior, far from her suburban Pennsylvaia home, and alone.  All for the relief of her parents and siblings, so they could live what they saw as their ideal life without Nancy embarrassing them.  The Spungens tossed Nancy away into the most destructive environment they could find, because Nancy wanted it.

What teenagers don't want to be alone in New York City with money and drugs and musicians and sex? Difference is, Nancy was troubled and underage and her parents, following a life time of habits of doing so, gave in to her.  What follows is a downward spiral of sex and groupies, rock stars, drugs, and fame that follows her to London where she meets Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. 

Through phone calls for drug money, attempts to reach out to Deborah for help by both Nancy and Sid, and stories of the perfect life without her eldest child, Deborah unknowingly portrays herself as a terrible mother who sent her daughter away to die.  That being said, the book is very well-written.  It adds a human aspect to the two-diminsional character whose whining and witchy appearance is well known to fans of the Sid and Nancy film.  In the closing chapters, Deborah explains her opinion on what happened the morning Nancy died, how she behaved toward Sid and his mother when they tried to contact her, and encloses two letters to herself from Sid. 

The letters are heartwrenching, expressive, and mature.  Sid shows grief and loss and a desire to tell Nancy's mother what kind of daughter she had.  It also ends with the poem that he sent to Deborah that he had written for Nancy.

You were my little baby girl
And I shared all your fears
Such joy to hold you in my arms
And kiss away your tears
But now you're gone
There's only pain
And nothing I can do
And I don't want to live this life
If I can't live for you.
To my beautiful baby girl. Our love will never die.
~Simon (Sid Vicious)

Every chapter of Nancy's life is engaging, offers insight, and depicts a failed attempt at reaching a difficult child.  Photos of Nancy throughout her life are included.  I've read the book several times since it was published and it is one of my most cherished.  Deborah Spungen comes across as selfish and deluded, but what is surprising within her story of Nancy's life, is that Nancy's voice cuts through, as if her spirit is too strong even for her mother's bitter words to stifle.

This is the book version of my Sid and Nancy blog.  On Monday, November 15th, please check for my book/movie/documentary article, The Sid and Nancy Story, on The Ultimate Negative.


  1. It would be fascinating to see if Deborah has matured at all since 1983 when the book was published. It would be pleasant to think that she has recognized and addressed some of her patent shortcomings as a mother and a human being.

    But really, is her attitude so surprising? A wise man once said, "It is natural to hate those whom we have wronged."

  2. In 2009 a magazine tried to get her to do an interview for the 30th anniversary of Nancy's death and they refused. Not even to say a kind word about the journalist who was publishing nice things about Nancy.