Riot At The Ritz

In May 1981 PIL, the front band for ex-Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten was approached by the Ritz in the East Village to fill in for Bow Wow Wow. The band wasn’t into doing the gig but according to Ed Caraballo, the band’s cameraman said to the band, “Wait,they have all this fabulous video equipment there and we could do this really cool performance art thing.’ He said ‘yeah?’ So we went down to check it out.”

After seeing the stage the band decided to play behind a screen just to piss off the audience.

The night was bad.


A sell-out Bow Wow Wow crowd.

PIL tormented the audience by not letting anyone into the Ritz until the arrival of Johnny Lydon.

The bouncers were my friends. I resold the tickets for SRO shows. Tonight was a one of those nights. We all stood to make several hundred dollars, so they let me in before anyone else, saying, “Make us green.”

I don’t remember the first band, but after their set I descended to the door and grabbed a stack of tickets from the bouncers. Everyone was in a good mood. Money has that way with us back in the 1980s.

The tickets went fast and I handed the bouncers their share.

50/50 in my favor.

The dance floor was packed and I went to the sound booth.

The audience was shouting, “PIL, PIL, PIL.”

I was standing next to Jerry Brandt, the owner, and asked, “What’s with the screen?”

“Johnny Lydon wanted it.”

“For what?”

The crowd was pissed at the long wait in the rain and the even longer delay in the Ritz. It was almost 1am. The audience was getting nasty, They wanted a show and wanted it thirty minutes ago.

Some woman came out and yelled on a mike, “HI, I’M LISA YAPP! I’M HERE TO TALK ABOUT PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED!”

Beer bottles flew at the stage and I turned to Jerry and said, “Watch this.”


“A riot. But don’t worry, you’re with me.” I had a reputation back then and $500 in my pocket. Half of it should have gone to the club, but that half was better in my pocket.

The music was trash.

But good trash, however the audience wanted to see the band.

It wasn’t happening.

More beer bottles hit the screen.

Then Johnny berated his fans, “Sil-ly fuck-ing aud-ience, sil-ly fuck-ing aud-i-ence…”

“Fuck.”Jerry on the phone to security.

It’s too late.

PIL sucks and they don’t care if they suck.

This is art.

And Johnny’s loving the danger.

It’s 1981.

I told Jerry, “I’ll see you later.”

“Fuck you too.”

He wasn’t happy with any of it.

I wouldn’t have been happy either if I was him, but I wasn’t and had $500 in my pocket, which was a lot in 1981 and still is today.


To see the riot online, please go to the following Url

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