Maclean's, June 2, 1980
Transcribed by Dave K & M
© Macleans 1980
"I Really Don't Know What To Say"
John Lydon, better known to the world as Johnny Rotten, was the most highly acclaimed innovator and trend setter in the realm of British punk rock music from 1975 to '77. With his now legendary band, the Sex Pistols, Lydon shattered the predictable routine of rock 'n' roll, changed fashions and social attitudes of teen-agers and shocked their elders with songs like "Anarchy in the U.K." and "Belsen Was A Gas." Now the 24-year-old cult hero has embarked on his first American tour with his two-year-old anti-rock 'n' roll group, Public Image Ltd. (PiL), to promote its album Second Edition. Toronto free-lance writer and photographer P.L. Noble interviewed Lydon for Maclean's in New York.
Maclean's: Could you tell me about the creative aspects of your latest venture, PiL?
Lydon: I can't be bothered to answer any questions. I'm tired of the past and even the future's beginning to be repetitive. I really don't know what to say. I talk crap all of the time. I'm a liar, a hypocrite, and a bastard. I shouldn't be tolerated. I'm really surprised at people's gullibility. Hi there, my fellow Canadians. I've hung myself. I've done it at last.
Maclean's: Is PiL something more than just a musical outfit?
Lydon: We are a limited company. We are our own managers and we don't use any big-name producers to work on our recordings. We're not limited to the confines of music. If some business ventures come our way, I'm sure there's no doubt that we'll be able to handle them.
Maclean's: If you had an offer to do television commercials for something like Colgate toothpaste, would you do it?
Lydon: Yes, I most certainly would. I'd do it for the money, why else? If a company of that nature is prepared to give me their money for humiliating their product, then they're most welcome. If I could sell toothpaste, then it would be the ultimate irony. You've got to understand that I don't wash in any way whatsoever. I don't use toothpaste. I don't use anything that has to do with health. I can't bear it.
Maclean's: You have no intention of using producers for your records. Isn't this a somewhat narrow-minded viewpoint? Outside opinions can never hurt, can they?
Lydon: Why should we pay 25 per cent of everything we earn to some dreary hippie who dictates how we should sound? It's our music. No one should tell us what we should sound like. I simply loathe producers. PiL doesn't have a need for those kind of middlemen.
Maclean's: You surprise me when you come out with remarks like that. I'm sure you want me to regard you as some horrible little man who spits out vitrol and red herrings as if there's no tomorrow, but suddenly you'll come up with a statement like that which is really quite on the ball.
Lydon: I think you must like me. How vile. I'm not having that.
Maclean's: PiL's first two albums, First Issue and Second Edition, attracted mixed reviews throughout the British press. These recordings seemed to confuse people.
Lydon: In England, before you get involved in anything, you've got to conform to a standard listening procedure. People want to know, "Now how can I relate to this? What style of clothes can I adopt with this music? Will it be good for my cool to like it?" The only reason we're interested in being in a group is because it was an escape from the monotony of life. I just think people must be completely mad to want to see us in the first place. The aspirations of being taken seriously makes the whole situation seem so absurd.
Maclean's: Do you enjoy the fine art of writing, John?
Lydon: No. I enjoy nothing about being alive.
Maclean's: What are some of PiL's expectations? Do you set out to get a reaction from your audience or do you expect them to do the work for you?
Lydon: I enjoy myself firstly. If other people have fun by participating, then that's fine. I'm not out there to entertainI'm out there to enjoy myself. I think interaction with the audience is extremely important. That's why I always invite some of them onstage, y'know, to sing a song or two. As soon as it stops being fun I don't want to know about it. As far as my expectations are concerned, I don't have any. Applause can be quite pointless. When you think about it, it's ridiculousclapping after every single number. It's so bloody farcical. It's a procedure and I find all procedures rather boring. We really appreciate it when we get a response whether it's negative or positive. There's no in-betweens with us.
Maclean's: Do you think your record company (Warner Brothers) understands the ideas behind PiL's music or do they regard you as nothing more than just another amusing product which they have to promote?
Lydon: Whatever it is it's bound to be corrupt. I guess they see us as a liability or an asset because they're a dinosaur company and they can't dictate to a group that manages themselves and doesn't fit into a rock 'n' roll format. That's exactly what PiL isit's a limited company. Our company. In a recent American music publication I said that I wanted PiL music to be a valid threat to rock music, but now I'm not so sure I agree with that. It strikes me as being a petty remark now. As far as I'm concerned rock music is out there and it can go and stew in its own juice. We're definitely not rock musicians! Listen, I don't even have the vaguest notion what's going to happen to us in five years time, and I really do not care.
Maclean's: Surely you're not going to fade away from the music business?
Lydon: I don't think I'll make it to 30.
Maclean's: Sure you will, John. Why do you say a thing like that?
Lydon: I don't want to.
Maclean's: I was wondering if any well-known musicians have tried to go out of their way to introduce themselves to you?
Lydon: That's funny you should ask that kind of question because every f---ing week Linda McCartney keeps sending us her bloody photos and a diary. Ahhh, it's sooo boring. We've got heaps of her garbage. It's really embarrassing. And once, in a cab outside of Harrods as I was driving by, swish and swank as I usually am, Paul McCartney came running over banging on the window. We had to hold the doors closed so he couldn't get in. The cab driver said, "God, I've seen it all now!" I'm not interested in being introduced to the members of other bands. It's really quite dreary and that whole scene is so incestuous anyways. Jah Wobble (PiL's bassist) told me that Keith Richards called us at the hotel last night. People like him would be dead near us. I don't like Keith Richards. The chosen f---ing wonder never got put away for that drug bust in Toronto a few years ago. I despise him for that. I don't know how he can live with himself because if I was him I'd be embarrassed.
Maclean's: Would you like to have a No. 1 single in the charts?
Lydon: I really couldn't care. It would be nice for my bank account. I'm certainly not going to sell myself short for it. Why should I? I'm nobody's puppet.
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