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Thinking Outside The Box: PiL's John Lydon Interviewed
David Gavan , March 4th, 2010 12:12

David Gavan finds John Lydon in unusually candid mode, discussing PiL, friends past and former, Irish and English identity and his idea of a good read

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In recent years, John Lydon has seemingly lurched from one PR disaster to the next. There was that Disneyland fracas in 2002, which involved an animated exchange with Goofy - a story that was greeted widely with affectionate indulgence. Subsequently, events have taken a seemingly darker swerve. In January 2008, Lydon was accused in the press of verbally and physically attacking Roxane Davis - production assistant on Bodog: Battle of the Bands - when the hotel accommodation she had arranged for him was not to his liking [They recently settled out of court, Ed]; or there was "Duffygate", where Lydon allegedly brought the singer to tears after she had thrust her social attentions upon him at the Mojo awards the following June. [Later proved to be without foundation, Ed] Finally, reports that a member of Lydon's entourage subjected Bloc Party's Kele Okereke to racist and physical abuse during an altercation at a Spanish festival later that year did the singer's reputation few favours.

A parallel lowering of the icon's artistic stock has seen him lose swathes of his original fanbase amid accusations of a sell-out. The first audience defections came in 1983 when, having parted company with original Public Image Ltd compadres, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, Lydon toured with anonymous American session musicians. He even began playing old Sex Pistols' numbers - something of a volte face, given PiL's aversion to rock cliche. Thereafter, the singer appeared to fall between two audiences: the original punk contingent, who accused him of betraying an unsigned manifesto, and the mainstream pop pickers who found his music and persona gratingly uncommercial.

By the time the Sex Pistols reconvened for the Filthy Lucre tour in 1996, Lydon and co. were derided as nostalgic cabaret fodder, while the second reunion - the Piss Off tour of 2003 - was generally dismissed as further evidence of a band pulling a smash and grab raid on their own renown. That the Pistols played well seemed to be of no account. Nor the double standard, whereby other punk luminaries like Buzzcocks were welcomed back warmly, while the band that inspired them were vilified. That said, a nadir in Lydon's credibility appeared to be reached in 2004, with his appearance on the British reality television programme, I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, which confirmed the singer's transformation from people's pariah to folk hero. But even this was surpassed by 2008's Country Life Butter ads, which featured the man once dubbed by a British tabloid as "the biggest threat to our youth since Hitler", disporting himself as an English country squire.

Twelve months later, Lydon announced the reactivation of his beloved Public Image Ltd - a band that was about great music, not great profits - as a touring entity. Despite his claim that the Country Life gig will finance PiL's relaunch (they were dormant, never dead), the announcement was greeted with widespread cynicism by aficionados of the group; especially when it was known that the line-up would not feature original members Jah Wobble and Keith Levene. To many, Lydon had long since pawned his inspiration and lost the receipt while clowning around in medialand.

So there was a fair bit of surprise abroad when last December's clutch of seven UK shows proved to be a shockingly bold statement of intent. The band - consisting of PiL veterans, Lu Edmonds (guitar), the Pop Group's Bruce Smith (drums), and new boy, Scott Firth (bass) - exemplified free-form discipline and Lydon's vocals were shockingly powerful. So where to from here?

I introduce myself to Lydon, who is tickled puce to hear that, due to technical problems, I am conducting this phone interview by torchlight in rural Ireland. That I'm squinting at the questions through decidedly weak eyes only adds to his mirth. "My eyesight's going too", he chirps amiably, "so join the club - but then at least I'm not in a field. I'm not even going to ask why. I shall just accept it, which is very Zen of me. Honestly, though, it sounds like we're in a sitcom!" Lydon has a love of the absurd, which is gloriously clear in his response to being interviewed by the local newspaper his Irish relatives favoured. "My grandparents would have chickens flying around the living room, and use that paper to collect their shit", he cackles. "And there I was, all those years later, being interviewed by said paper. You see, life is funny." When I say how pleasantly thrown many were by those epic shows in December, he is pleased yet defensive. "Listen, firstly, that footage is strange because it's off people's mobile phones." He relaxes audibly when I assure him that those YouTube clips sound impressive, yet for someone long enamoured of recording studio gizmos, Lydon expresses surprisingly Luddite sentiments. "I don't know, because I don't do the Internet. You know, it's just not my world."

But then, PiL and its co-founder have always had a nice line in contradiction. I recall their second ever show, which began with the jubilant dirge, 'Theme': a song that boasts a spiritually fried Lydon cackling and shrieking "I wish I could DIE", while periodically assuring his audience "I will SURVIVE". Meanwhile, Keith Levene's guitar and Jah Wobble's bass sounded like a giant, churning mechanism. There was a joyful sense that he was staring down despair. And not blinking. "Yeah, there is darkness in any PiL show, but there's also camaraderie with the audience. It's for the greater benefit: we're not self-indulgent doom merchants. Misunderstood would be the easiest way to put it. 'Theme' is a song about getting out of depression. And the only way to do that, for me, is face the problem head on. That's what that song does: it removes self-pity from the equation. If you do that, you won't be suffering from mental illness."

But", he says in mock pedantic tones, "these are not quick fixes."

On the subject of mental collapse, I mention a recent website interview with X-Ray Spex singer, Poly Styrene, who mentions going over to Lydon's flat and shaving her head the night she became psychologically derailed in 1978. I tell him something else she said. That she believed he was "a nice guy", whose personality was half light and half dark, and that the shadowy side sprang from his recoiling from his Catholic upbringing. Lydon flaps his lips like a horse while pondering the question. "Well, it's not to do with religion directly, it's more an adverse response to religion", he laughs archly. "When you're brought up Catholic, you are really put through the wringer, right. And then later you realise how absurd all that stuff is. You can stay trapped in that, or you can free yourself. And once you are out of it and you're seeing things correctly - with an open mind - well, then you can go into any area you like. So, it's a good thing, really, to be brought up with such nonsense and to then surpass it." All of which calls to mind 'Religion' (I and II) from PiL's pile driving debut album, First Issue (1978). I recount to Lydon how a contemporary review criticised him for his choice of such a "hollow target". I can only assume that the writer did not share his London Irish background.

Indeed, since Ireland's clerical abuse revelations surfaced, the lines: "Do you pray to the Holy Ghost when you suck your host? / Do you read who's dead in the Irish Post? / Do you give away the cash you can't afford?'" will have taken up squatter's rights in many an Irish brain. This was seen as a stunning rebellion by many whose lives were besieged by hard line Catholicism.

Lydon, who remembers the criticism, is quick to respond. "You're dead right there. There are many songs I've written where I've thought: 'Is this coming over as a bit twee?' But, you know what? It's what I really feel. So allow me that chance; to express those things as accurately as I can. It's easy to look at it from the outside and go (adopts a suave toff accent): 'Oh, how foolish.' But I'm approaching these things as a victim, from the inside." Lydon's response to religion and the British monarchy are two of the more passionate expressions of such feelings, and he was well-placed to attack these English and Irish shibboleths, given his cultural duality. With 'God Save the Queen' in mind, I suggest to Lydon that the joy of being Anglo-Irish is he has two piles of Sunday papers to read, and two nationalities to slag off over breakfast. "Oh my", he howls, "At last I find someone who admits to sharing these experiences. The English love to condemn and persecute themselves; the Irish do that too, but with more wit. So you can play both sides of the borders, and you can form your own third nation - which is no bad place to be, psychologically."

Another aspect to Lydon's work which may have been influenced by his Irish background is that certain Celtic darkness shared in the work of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Virgin Prunes and Bauhaus, or writers such as Bram Stoker or Anne Rice (nee O'Brien, of whom Lydon is a fan). I remind Lydon - who was transfixed by the ghost stories his Cork grandparents told his younger self - of his nocturnal sorties into London's Highgate Cemetery in search of vampires. But despite enjoying the romance of such notions, he warns against taking them too seriously. "Yes, that all comes from Irish folk tales; the stories they would tell. You would hear all that stuff from your grandparents, and it's all meant to be exciting, riveting fun. And so it is. But it's a shame when too many people take it all too literally. But then, at bloody 16 or 17, why shouldn't I enjoy getting carried away?" What becomes manifestly clear from speaking with Lydon is his obdurate realism. Despite apparent poltergeist activity in a flat he once shared with Jah Wobble, and more of the same in Richard Branson's Manor Studio in Oxfordshire, he is not sold on the idea of spooks or, it would seem, an afterlife. "Scary things seemed to be happening, but then I'm a sensible person, and I'm aware that there was a huge chemical intake and a massive amount of alcohol being ingested in a lonely manor house. So, again, I'm revelling in letting my imagination run wild. Really, it was all internal. And I have to say I really hate faith healers and spiritualists because they hurt people. They are looking for fear, and it shouldn't be that way. I see them as the enemy."

Lydon ascribes his common sense approach and love of the actual to the meningitis he contracted aged seven, which left him in a coma for three months and virtually erased his memory. He was patiently re-educated by his mother, with whom he would attend Alice Cooper concerts as a teenager. "When you don't remember your name, or who anybody is, and it takes four years to get your memory to catch back, you only want reality. Everything depends upon being told the truth, and you have to understand how much a lie can hurt when you're in that position. That's why there was many a time I've hated journalists. They seem to practice deadly sins: lying, envy and greed. And instead of informing people, they feed them celebrity candy floss." It is striking how the apparently atheist Lydon portrays ethical anaemia in biblical terms. But certainly, he has a reputation for integrity - which may well be a hybrid reaction to both his religious upbringing and the old working class values of 1960s Finsbury Park - and I've heard many stories of random acts of decency on his part. I wonder where Lydon ingested all those values. "That comes from logic, and the sense of community that used to exist in Finsbury Park", he says proudly. "Everybody knew each other, and if you stepped out of line, somebody else's parents would smack you across the head and go 'Stop That!' All of that made perfect sense because there was no need to lock your doors. That's something I sorely miss. Arsenal was a community centre: when you went up onto that North Bank, you knew everybody. It was a social occasion, and that's the way football used to be. Now, all of that has been taken away. Because, whatever socialism or Thatcherism are aiming at, they really do need to destroy working class culture."

A particularly revealing story of the young Lydon is the one retailed in Richard Strange's memoir, Punks and Drunks, Flicks and Kicks. It tells how Richard 'Kid' Strange, the Doctors of Madness singer, sent him a note in 1997 complaining that, while his band were on stage in '76, the Pistols had rifled through their clothes and pinched eleven pounds. Although Lydon was not party to the theft, he promptly sent a note of apology to Strange, along with a crisp fifty-dollar bill. "I never appreciated the idea of stealing to better yourself. That's not self-improvement: it's worsening yourself and the victim. But I would never be going on about that stuff", Lydon cringes when I raise the subject, "because it's a private thing. That's why I hate it when people mention their charity work", he says in a typical jump-cut from personal to global concerns. "I bitterly resent the likes of Sting, Bono and Geldof doing these things in such a pompous way. Any good intent is taken away by with the need to stamp your name on the top of it. That whole Band Aid thing really bugged me because there was a civil war going on in Ethiopia, so I desperately wanted to know which army they were feeding. You can be sure food ain't going to the poor. Minor questions . . . At the time the BBC radio would view me as a curmudgeon, and that wasn't the case at all. I want to help people - genuinely - but not by actions that are based on a lie. Therefore, we run at odds with each other." And so back to the idea of authenticity.

Lydon is ripening interestingly with age. A born polemicist, he appears to be naturally courteous, and comes over as the issue of an unlikely coupling between the Artful Dodger and an Oxbridge don. At one point, we speak across each other, and that well-mannered "after you", "no, after you" minuet ensues. The deadlock is broken amusingly when Lydon intones "AFTER YOU" in his best Richard III voice. Meanwhile, he is an old hand at diverting an unwelcome question with a stream-of-consciousness tirade. Today, as I struggle to decipher my questions by fading torchlight, he is jokily indulgent and, during an especially long pause, he gently interjects with his own question. "Well, let's go back, briefly, to Poly Styrene. How is she?" I say that, from what I've read, she seems fine and has recently released a live CD of last year's X-Ray Spex Roundhouse gig. "The reason I ask is that they came around to my house and carted her away to a mental institution: she was going bonkers in my living room. So it could well be that she has bad memories of me. She had problems to work out", he says wistfully, "and God bless, I hope she did. Those were most excellent songs she had, but she was thrown into celebrity, like we all were. We all had to deal with the press and instant fame - or infamy - and that can really twist your head."

I quote Julien Temple [film maker and chronicler of the cultural legacy of bands like the Pistols, The Clash and Dr Feelgood] who has said that everyone involved in the "firestorm" surrounding the Pistols was scarred in some way. Interestingly, Lydon sees little difference between his first band and latterday outfits. "Well, I wouldn't say it was just us lot because lots of bands before and after us were and are going through that too. I can't give you any other advice apart from DRUGS DON'T FUCKING HELP. Recreation is fine, but there are times when you need clarity. The instant access to escapism in the music industry is really dangerous, and people of weaker constitutions fall by the wayside. I've done my utmost to help many, many people but, once you take the heroin route, you are giving up on yourself. There is no way out. You have to understand that there are certain things that take over, chemically, and re-arrange the workings of your brain."

Hearing Lydon's conviction during this speech, one suspects that his acerbic utterances on the plight of tabloid staples like Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty are tough love Lydon-style. It is also hard to ignore just how damaged he is by Sid Vicious's cartoonishly reported drug death. But what seems to militate against all this decency, I tell him, is Lydon's tendency to slag off just about everyone who crosses his mind in the press, even good friends. Is this disloyalty, or a ploy calculated to neutralize the press? "I'll put it this way", he admits, "the people who are my friends know that this is the case, and we don't really need to explain that to the casual reader. How I get along with my friends is our business, so it doesn't matter what the press report. And the worst aspect of that is gossip magazines. If you're going to live your life through other people, you will end up confused. So, yes, all that is a way to disable the media, and I do that quite a lot. I have to be alert to their ways. When I re-formed the Sex Pistols and did the press conference the first question was: 'So why did you reform?' and my immediate answer was: 'For the money', which shut that right up, because where can they go from there?" Such devilment might explain his reality TV exploits in the Australian jungle, or the time he told a tabloid journalist that he was a successful property developer.

These all sound like classic Situationist tactics I say, name-checking the crew of surrealist Marxist revolutionaries that so inspired Malcolm McLaren. The ever-practical Lydon is not a convert, however. "Well, Situationism is a ludicrous proposition. It's ill-formed and it's perfectly French. That Gallic disposition towards common sense [a vital attribute, chez Lydon, you will have gathered]. L'Anarchie!", he crows. "It all reads nicely, but it's an intellectual entertainment, really. Look, if the Situationists achieved what they wanted, they would be very unhappy and they would have to be Situationists all over again. It's a never-ending process. So I keep myself WELL OUT of that particular way of ruining your life. But you've got to see the fun in those ideas: you just learn what you can from them, and walk away laughing, because these people are HOPELESS IDIOTS. It's just like that wonderful line in that Roxy Music song, 'Really Good Time': "You're well-educated . . . with no common sense." Lydon sings the lines in a parody of Ferry's foppish tones, and then he's onto the damascene perversion provided by Roxy's 'Virginia Plain'. "That single just hit me on so many levels. I heard it when I was working on a building site, digging a fucking hole with the Paddies. I just thought: 'Wow! That's just like nothing I've heard anywhere', right. And then later in the pub, we were having our lunch and it came on again. It just opened up pop music for me in a whole new way."

When I reflect that many people feel the same way about PiL's first single, Lydon seems unsure. "If that's so, I'd be very pleased. I never sat down to achieve that effect, but I knew damn well I shouldn't sound like anyone else, because this is my own world. These are my own pains and thoughts, and they are certainly not going to be set to anyone else's rhythm. Anybody who is not just aping the current genres is always impressing me. The current crop of pop bands just leave me dead in the head and very angry. They have all gone back to these sixties mod hairdos and are trying to replicate the past. But if you sing from the heart, you can never run out of ideas. I mean, I love that band, Magazine. That single, 'Shot by both Sides' was brilliant songwriting and it utterly stunned me. And if they were influenced by the Pistols, that's neither here nor there, because Howard Devoto is taking us into his own world. That's what I've always loved in books; the way you know by reading half a paragraph who has written something." Music and books score a very high glamour rating in Lydonland, and he gleefully joins in when I quote his class war-evoking lines in 'Attack':

"You who sit on golden arses / tinkling your cocktail glasses"

He is even more chuffed when I say the song reminds me of Harold Pinter's plays. "Oh, I love Pinter, how those plays aren't preachy or accusatory: just a slice of life as is. When I was in the Pistols, Malcolm used to say [adopts camply patrician tone]: 'The trouble with John is he's a poet', and it would infuriate me. I'm sorry, it's like being called an artist. I'd think: 'Grrrrhhh, I'm not one of those silly sods.' I was imagining myself in a ruffled shirt, and me doth protest too much-y." Even so, I get the impression that Lydon is secretly pleased by McLaren's lofty accolade. Later, when I ask him how he felt about Pistols' guitarist Steve Jones's description of him as "arty", Lydon reacts with joltingly fresh anger. "My reaction to that would be: 'Well Steve, the fact you can't read or write can be blamed on nobody BUT YOURSELF.' Don't be anyone else's monkey, and arm yourself with all the tools you can from an early age. The whole thing with working on a building site was to raise the money so I could further my education. I wanted to go the whole hog." This tendency to be newly convulsed by old emotions may explain those impassioned live performances. There is also a sense that, once his feelings rise to a certain level, his intellect is overidden by pure emotion.

In an attempt to switch back to the more reflective Lydon, I ask him which writers were stored in his literary arsenal? "Everyone. Myles na gCopaleen [Irish satirist] was in there, and you could chuck Spike Milligan in with him too, along with Derek and Clive. I love Ted Hughes as well, and can go anywhere with him. That stuff is bloody savage, but brutally accurate, with almost Alice in Wonderland-y aspects too. So, I've got all the English stuff, alongside all the Irish stuff. I got my literature 'A' Level based on a Keats' poem", he says tittering maniacally at the idea. "I had always read avidly, so Keats or Shakespeare were not punishing or difficult. They thrilled me! I had this horrible teacher - 'Piss Stains' Prentiss, as I knew him - and he HATED ME, but I loved what he was saying. I'd be constantly asking awkward questions like: 'Why is Lady Macbeth evil?' That's someone's wife pushing them to the nth degree and, in a weird way, that ended up being Sid and Nancy. I wanted to view these things in a down-to-earth way and, if you want to understand characters in great literature, just remember it's seen as great because it's all COMMON SENSE. My teacher's attitude was: 'No. These are beyond mere mortals'. Utter rubbish. I got sent to an approved school because you were considered to be a problem if you asked questions back then. My only prospect of a 'brilliant career', according to the local social worker, was that I'd be good working in a bank . . . maybe."

"Er well", he scoffs, "that's hilarious because I can hardly count to ten."

That questioning impulse continues to bring its own problems. Lydon has regularly showered scorn on identikit punks who, instead of embracing individuality, allowed the gutter press to dictate a uniform, and his sartorial mix and match approach extends to his ideas. Hence his ability to admire, say, Margaret Thatcher's doggedness, while deploring many of her policies ("Left/right: I want the best of all of it."), or his personal affection for Oasis, while lampooning their sub-Beatles tunes and Liam's Lydonesque vocals. Such distrust of one-track thought allows him to "go anywhere" for ideas and is what makes him such diverting company. Yesteryear's self-minted mantra: "I am an individual, and I expect to be treated as such" is not just a fun-sized credo. Any Lydon interview will contain comments that will alienate left and right-wingers alike. In latter years, his newly emollient views on the monarchy, or his expressions of British patriotism (a recent Sex Pistols DVD, There'll Always Be An England, begins with a Last Night of the Proms-like sing-along) have repelled many an old punk. Some have even seen the Union Jack brandishing of second generation Irish musicians such as Lydon, Morrissey and the brothers Gallagher as evidence of cultural bipolarity. A confused nostalgia for an Albion that never existed. This is especially evident in Pete Doherty's 'William Blake jams with Johnny Thunders' stylings. Always quick to cop on, Lydon, who now lives in LA, interrupts before I finish the question. "I know where you're heading, but the point being: in Ireland they view me as English, and in England they view me as Irish", he sniggers. "And I'm not bothered by either, because I don't pretend to be something I am not. I come fully-loaded with both cultures. This is a very, very good thing, which is why immigration should not be viewed negatively. It's to everybody's benefit because diversity leads to creativity. As for Morrissey, we come from entirely different backgrounds, and such comparisons are a very good example of over-educated people over-analysing, and looking for ridiculous connections. You end up hunting UFOs if you're not careful. There's a point where you must say: 'Enough, David Icke-y. I don't believe in the lizard people!'"

When I remind Lydon that his sense of unbelonging led him to reject the very notion of national pride in earlier days, he distinguishes firmly between flag-worshiping jingoism and a love of English culture. "I don't believe in national pride because it creates an 'us and them' mentality. That's not what proper culture does: it should encourage a shared sense of belonging. It's open-hearted and happily accepts other cultures, whereas blinkered nationalism leads to something almost military-minded. It's an excuse for people to switch off, and that's when war-mongering, fascist dictators like Tony Blair arise. What I do believe in is cultural variety. I don't want to see England turn into America, where everything becomes one huge, identical shopping mall. Cultural differences are great, but national pride can be dangerous. At the same time, I love that Union Jack", he growls affectionately: "It was what I was raised under, so I understand it fully, and I think the modernisms of Billy Bragg and those who see the flag as a racist symbol are really foolish." That he can speak positively about Margaret Thatcher and even Winston Churchill (as he has in past interviews) gives some measure of Lydon's widescreen perspective but, when I ask how Lydon reconciles his Irishness with, say, appearing on American chat shows in Union Jack socks, he sounds defensive. "Because I'm English. Born and raised there, so I would be a fool to pretend otherwise. Many, many friends are English" he says in more conciliatory tones, "and I have family connections there too, and I would never want cause a rift between those English and Irish sides. I am here to make friends, not enemies. And plus, it's all done with a great sense of fun. Wearing the Union Jack is not to be taken as a deliberate fascist statement. Quite the opposite, in fact. There was a time when the swastika was an important symbol to tear down and punk understood that utterly. The fascists lost the war, thank God."

That Lydon was parodied by the seventies' music press as Johnny O'Rotten, the professional Irishman, adds irony to recent charges of British jingoism. But then, his relationship with Ireland may well have been influenced by his four-day stay in Mountjoy prison in 1980, after he was apparently victimised in a Dublin pub by two off-duty garda. He admits that his subsequent anger gave the Flowers of Romance album its brooding air, and he did not return to Ireland until 2008, when the Sex Pistols played the Electric Picnic festival. I say that some audience members were dismayed by the St George's flags displayed onstage because they accept him proudly as a fellow Irishman. "That [acceptance] is very nice. I don't know how to handle it, because I wasn't brought up internally. Regardless of The Troubles", he reasons, "the Union Jack and the Tricolour represent good things, and we are not at war - with ourselves internally, or with anybody else. That's for lesser fools who don't think deeply enough. I value the English, Irish and American flags equally." Obviously, being targeted by Britain's MI5 in the late seventies, while simultaneously being investigated by the Garda Siochana as a threat to Irish morals, would promote a certain sense of absurdity. But Lydon eschews bitterness, and clearly relishes tackling these ideas point blank. He particularly derides the concept that a love for a given culture renders someone reactionary. This being a man who took Natty Dread punk, Don Letts, to Jamaica while seeking out reggae talent for Richard Branson. Moreover, he is furious at the racism allegations resulting from the Okereke incident, and agrees vehemently when I quote his stated opinion of the National Front, circa 1978: "I despise them. No-one should have the right to tell anyone they can't live here because of the colour of their skin or their religion... How could anyone vote for something so ridiculously inhumane?"

Humanity is a quality that Lydon values highly and he is certainly no prima donna. The suggestion that his keen intelligence left the young Lydon feeling isolated is met with caustic laughter. "Never occured to me to think like that" he says switching to street urchin mode. "I don't see my love of reading as an excuse to be a snob. Sid Vicious was one of my best mates, and he was as dumb as a coat hanger. But he had a good heart, and that's good enough. And I never ran around judging anyone until they came on to me with their tones." The only time during our conversation when he comes close to lacking humanity is when I complement Jah Wobble's bass playing. Lydon, who is perhaps smarting from Wobble's uncomplementary depiction of him in last year's autobiography, Memoirs of a Geezer, or from his decision not to join the reanimated PiL due to the "very bad" money offered him, responds by saying that "he couldn't play, but he was good enough". When I contend that Wobble is a hugely talented musician, Lydon thinks I am getting at him for not touring with the original PiL line-up, and seeks to clarify matters: "Let's put it this way, PiL launched many, many careers and it has cost me dearly. It's financially crippling, and I want you to realise this. I'm pleased that people have launched themselves into very good careers, but it's costing me a lot of money to get this back together. This is why I pick who I pick, because I can't be forking out left, right and centre. I want this to be a permanent outfit again. We will record new songs as soon as I can raise the cash, because I now have to put people on pay packets. It's not easy, but it will be done. In the early days, the record company was there to help, but now I have to find money from other sources."

So there we have it - Honest John, a man who just "can't be bothered to tell a lie". Certainly this incarnation of PiL is a formidable force, but whether Lydon can equal the inspired dislocation of prime time PiL with employees rather than bandmates remains to be heard. The majestic Album (1986), which was a solo release in all but name, reminds us not to underestimate the man. But one suspects that Lydon needs strong-willed collaborators to offset his formidable self. Common sense tells me that such individuals do not grow on trees.

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Joel McIver
Mar 4, 2010 6:15pm

This ia an excellent interview -- I've always wondered what Lydon's take on the Situationists was. Well done. The only downside is the introduction, which goes to great pains to explain that his credibility has been on the slide since the 80s. This is bollocks, and I'd like to see your argument that this is the majority view.

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Mar 4, 2010 8:29pm

Yeah, really enjoyed that. I'd disagree about Lydon being out of favour in recent years too - the post-punk era's been loved to bits over the last decade, and you won't find many music fans who wouldn't put PiL at the top of the pile.

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Mike
Mar 4, 2010 9:56pm

A really interesting interview there but a few of your comments made me twitch - namely the introduction and the comment that Pil are now 'employee's' - which I don't think is true in the sense that they have no input. Lu Edmonds especially is a guy Lydon always said he wanted to work with in PiL again.

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Martin
Mar 4, 2010 11:08pm

Superb interview and absolutely exquisite writing. Hats off to the author.

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james
Mar 8, 2010 5:05am

A stunning interview and yes Album was and is magnificent.

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Jockster
Mar 8, 2010 5:46pm

I reckon that the intro stuff, even if the interviewer isn't playing devil's advocate (which he might be, as a tribute to Lydon's thinking outside the box), is quite representative of how the first wave of Pil fans felt. Overwhelmingly. Really, those '83 shows were grim, compared to the original line- up. And if you doubt the idea that Lydon's credibility (or,certainly inspiration)dwindled thereafter, You could compare Commercial Zone with This is what You Want= no competition. Lu Edmonds is certainly a talented guitarist, but he's just not in the same league as Levinewhen it comes to writing. Those early PiL recordings demonstrate this comprehensively. Play them alongside Happy if you need proof. Album is brilliant because Lydon had some good songwriters on board. He's basically a words and atmosphere man, so it isn't on for him to slag off Wobble's playing.Fascinating chap,though. Atotal original.

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Tequila
Mar 9, 2010 3:48am

A well written articulate about a stellar subject!

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Cracknell
Mar 9, 2010 11:15am

It's good to see this amazing subject getting serious treatment for a change. He sounds like a diamond geezer and of course those racism reports are rubbish. This blows that right out of the water, methinks.

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Jill
Mar 10, 2010 12:47pm

Wow! This confirms my feeling that John Lydon's a very bright and well- meaning man. This gives an idea of how misunderstood he has always been all these years.

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Ian Parker
Mar 15, 2010 3:26pm

It's funny how every Lydon interview starts with a complete character assassination before seguing into a hypocritically polite Q&A. This one's not too bad but those that slag him off are actually criticizing his unswerving integrity. They pick and mix the bits of his work and life they approve of from the safety of their own ineptitude.
He has always had the bravery and vision to walk away from any given situation, when its run its course, and try something new. Accusations of "sell out" are preposterous, selling out would have been never leaving the pistols, or flogging away with wobble and levine for 15 years. He still rubs people up the wrong way for the right reasons and long may that continue.

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matthew Grainger
Mar 20, 2010 8:08pm

Pick n mix? Surely the ability of Lydon to pick n mix ideas, rather than slavishly accept cliched narratives,is his main strength. That's surely obvious from this interview with the man. I dont know about all the others because i'm not so obsessed. From the safety of their ineptitude? Surely ineptitude is not a very safe place to work from, unless you are a banker or a politician. It's great liking pop stars but that doesn't provide an insight into their motives. I don't care about unswerving integrity (again, how do you know???!!!!), I just wish the last couple of pil records hadn't been so instantly forgetable. And, generally, he happens to rub me up the right way, but for reasons I can't begin to grasp, not having born a mind reader. But, sure, long may it continue.

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Serge du Nord
Mar 24, 2010 12:49pm

Thank you Quietus. This is totally an antidote to all those cheesy Lydon interviews. As this interview shows, Lydon is literally light years away from the character assassination crap you normally get from cynical journalists. Thinking outside the box is right. What a complex and misunderstood human being. And yeah, he sometimes may have lost the plot creatively down the years, but these recent pil concerts were extraordinary. Can't wait for them to record!!

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nik h
Apr 9, 2010 10:53pm

It's really sad that Lydon & Wobble couldn't sort something out together - it pains me to the depths of my soul that these two can't get on or sort out money issues - having recently read Wobble's biography I understand why they wouldn't get on or get together again - they are both possessed of a fiercely independent artistic vision and won't compromise that for anyone...(although I dearly wish they would)

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wayne vanderwL
Jan 8, 2012 2:57pm

Jonny rotton is the best asshole Hopefully forever You guys nailed it. .I love the man.Jhon rot tells the truth.Listen to what John Lydon has to say.He is very well spoken and informed.I Love the man. I love the pistols,John Lydon is what the sex pistols are. John'style made a whole new bitch in the rock world.
Wayne

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Charles
Mar 29, 2012 2:04pm

Yawn..Lydon bores me and sounds like a broken record. How long do we all have to "feel sorry" for him? Levene and Wobble are the real musical genius' behind the original PiL.

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Cincyjim
Jul 10, 2012 7:38pm

he never topped metal box.it's that simple.

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Chelsea
Jul 11, 2014 12:44am

Thanks for this terrific interview. Long live John Lydon - the world could do with a few more real blogues like him.

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J. J. Lantry
Jul 11, 2014 8:51pm

His "I am the antichrist" and "anarchist" lyrics irked a lot of religious right and monarchists - and 40 yrs down the line he's a cultural icon of sorts (and Richard Branson a Sir, as well as John Mortimer who defended free speech with the "Bollocks").
This article made me appreciate how great it is to live in UK-America, that you don't get locked up in Putin's prison for singing what you believe (nor for what you don't believe - "not the Spanish Inquisition!"). Civil liberties are so fragile, we can never take it for granted.
In that sense John Lydon is a great Brit. Thank you for this superb article.

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