John Lydon:
Alternative Press, July 1989 (Issue #21)

© 1989 Alternative Press Magazine


John Lydon claims that PIL's 9 is the music that he wants to make. Jason Pettigrew wants to sit by the volume control.

John Lydon, the founder, lead singer and attitude strategist of Public Image Ltd., recently appeared on MTV's 120 Minutes program, where he listed his Top Five Antichrists (whom he wanted to destroy, possibly). Nos. 1 through 4 were the Ayatollah Khomeini, and No. 5 was Debbie Gibson. John Lydon putting down Debbie Gibson is about as logical as Jimmy Stewart calling Dustin Hoffman a jerk because Hoffman makes movies.

His repartee with Kevin "Kick Me Hard" Seal was predictable. Seal breaks for a commercial; Lydon turns at the camera with eyes wide and smile firmly locked. Seal speaks to him and Lydon fires off a typically smarmy, brief answer with all of his eye contact focused either off-camera or on the floor. By the sound of the laughter coming from the studio, the MTV crew is quite amused. Good old Kevin smiles too, probably thankful that he doesn't have to keep this going for a whole 90-minute spot. Minutes later Joey Ramone is on the tube yelping about how he doesn't want to be buried in a pet cemetery, and all I can think about is how the prehistoric dinosaurs didn't have that choice made available to them.

"We see you climbing/Improving the effort/Wearing my suit" —"The Suit," 1979

Mr. Lydon-Rotten has this new album out titled 9. What separates this new one from all the previous PiL recordings is that it doesn't challenge, berate, cajole, threaten or disturb the listener. What 9 does do, I'm not quite sure. It goes 'round and 'round on the turntable, or in the CD player, or in the cassette deck, but that's all I can surmise. It doesn't even provoke me to rip it out of the stereo system. It's just stuff. Not fantastic, not atrociously horrible, but... stuff. The operative word here is accessible.

The new album was produced by Eric Thorngren and Stephen Hague. Thorngren is well-praised for his quality dance productions, and Hague has extracted "hits" for folks like New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. Clearly, both men are adept at what they do, and each achieves a specific end result. How someone with as high a contempt capacity as Lydon possesses would choose to work with these men is something of a foreign concept.

"Originally, we were going to do this with [producer] Bill Laswell, but he said the band couldn't play and he hated all our songs, so I told him where to go.

"We moved to Jason Corsaro [known for his engineering work], and then that all fell through. So I took it all back to England. It was financially impossible after the Laswell fuck-up. Laswell's ego has become ridiculous—I couldn't deal with it. He said he'd written songs and I should sack the band and use his people and come out with a U2-type product. To me that reeks of cliché and cop-out. It's very disappointing. [Sings] And he disappointed a few people..." [Laughter]

In regard to his producers this time around, Lydon is positively beaming. "They're professionals, you see, and they do their job. I wouldn't say they dominated us at all. I think that's clearly obvious when you hear the product. It's clearly Public Image."

I'm wondering who's idea of Public Image he's talking about? His? His producers'? Virgin Records'? Perhaps Debbie Gibson's idea of PiL?

"I won't be dictated to by producers. That's not their job, as far as I'm concerned. Their job is clarity, and if you're doing something wrong, to point an easier way around it. Y'know, useful tools. Steve is a musician, and it's very useful to work with people in that way. Eric Thorngren is more like a mad Hell's Angel."

Will he immediately say, "No, John. This is crap!"

"Yeah. But we do it anyway [laughter]. To my mind the band, and their ideas are the most important. All too few people in pop music understand that. They sign up all these too-expensive producers thinking that will guarantee them a hit. It might do, but it makes for an almighty tedious piece of work. I don't want to put out records that sound like everybody else. There's enough of that already."

It's kind of ironic that 9 was shipped to stores in the same new release order as new records by Alphaville and Cutting Crew.

"Don't ever look back/Good days ahead." —"Go Back," 1981

The PiL corporation carries on after 10 years of rattling people's cages. Lydon has changed his modus operandi so many times through each record release that it is absolutely impossible to categorise him. An old friend of mine who used to work at various college and public radio stations always said that the type of format she enjoyed was WIL programming (What I Like). John Lydon can be formatted, after all.

After nine albums it is very clear what John Lydon likes. Upon the crash of his first band (trying not to mention the "P" word, you see), he teamed up with Keith Levene, Jim Walker and Jah Wobble (a.k.a. John Wardle) to create the legendary First Edition. Wobble's heavy reggae/dub-styled bass lines coupled with Levene's dissonant, spiky guitar playing and Lydon's treatises on humanity, religion and love summed up the band's name perfectly: Their public image was extremely limited. There was no middle ground to PiL—you either loved the record or you wanted to kill everyone who had anything to do with its creation.

The next record, Metal Box, was designed as three 12-inch singles in a metal film canister. As a commentary of its own, it was almost impossible to get the records out of the can without mangling them in some form (It was released in the States as a conventional two-record set called Second Edition). Drummer Walker was replaced by Martin Atkins, and some modern sonic architecture was erected in the form of "Swan Lake/Death Disco" and "Poptones." Levene had started practising cruelty to synthesisers along with his unusual guitar dimensions, and Lydon had gotten even more abrasive in his lyrics and vocal delivery. Right about this time, the clone bands started to fester and the Lydon-Levene collaboration was being hailed as an extreme new innovation. A live recording titled Paris In The Spring captured the band's ferocity on stage.

Flowers Of Romance, a record that has to go down in modern pop history as the most grating slab of vinyl ever put out by a major record label, was released in 1981 (By my approximations, Nina Hagen's Nunsexmonkrock places a close second). Wobble was sacked for stealing PiL bass lines for his solo projects, and the three of them carried on with serious primordial drumming and full-bore aural attack. Lydon continued to annoy and irritate, but damn it, he was never ignored. Self-indulgent? Perhaps. But the glorious methodology applied to Flowers was that it reinvented the whole punk ethic of getting on with it. Annoying as hell, and truly a landmark recording.

The aggregate began work on the infamous You Are Now Entering A Commercial Zone record. After being unceremoniously tossed off of Warner Bros. (surprised?), PiL were working with the now defunct Stiff America organisation on a custom label deal. Besides Stiff's failure to succeed in America, the relationship of Lydon and Levene had disintegrated. Levene took the Commercial Zone tapes and released his highly unauthorised bootleg. Lydon and Atkins toured Japan with a group of faceless musicians and released Live In Japan. Shortly afterward, the duo released This Is What You Want This Is What You Get, which featured new tracks as well as completely different versions of tracks from Levene's record. This Is... had some interesting moments, like the dancefloor itch of "Bad Life," the Lydon-as-Sylvia Plath recitation of "Tie Me To The Length Of That"—and, really, who can forget "This Is Not A Love Song" (I know we've tried, but...)?

In 1984 Atkins and Lydon part company. Lydon performs with Afrika Bambaataa on the infamous Time Zone project World Destruction, as well as guesting on "The Animal Speaks" from the Golden Palominos' record Visions Of Excess. In these working situations he meets Bill Laswell. Three guesses as to who is going to produce the next PiL record, and the first two don't count. Lydon's working relationship results in Album (or Cassette or Compact Disc). If anyone would have predicted in 1980 that Johnny Rotten would be on the same record as people like Ginger Baker or Steve Vai, he/she would have been dismissed as a moron. Although there are no credits on the recording, Laswell assembled a team of musicians to create a modern rock sound for the PiL company banner. From the rocking "FFF" and "Fishing" to the foreboding "Round" to the blatant mainstream sounding "Rise," John Lydon succeeded once again in baffling the hell out of everyone once who thought he/she had him pegged in a very small box.

The present line-up of PiL features some of the most powerful talent in British post-punk music. Say what you will about Lydon, but the man has impeccable tastes in colleagues.

Alan Dias is the bass presence who, along with drummer Bruce Smith, gives the band a complex rhythmic foundation without sacrificing gut feeling. John McGeogh's previous experience with seminal bands like Magazine, the Banshees and the Armory Show redefines the guitar sound. Lu Edmonds' twisted sense of guitar playing burns holes in just about anything that attempts to contain it (Check out his dangerous guitars on Shriekback's Oil And Gold record, ye of little faith).

When the band went out on the road to support Album, the record was put to shame by the musicians' sense of arrangements and their sheer firepower. Using an instrumental of "Kashmir" as their opening salvo, PiL proceeded to waste whatever skepticism may have been fermenting at the moment. Five distinct personalities working toward one big confrontation.

This band's first record, Happy?, was characteristic of those live shows. Those personalities were there, and even though the harbingers of "street cred" moaned "sellout" at PiL, the record still proved to be accessible for neophytes while music fans appreciated Lu's deranged guitar, McGeogh's sense of the appropriate and the two-coats-of-paint tightness of Dias and Smith.

Although he appears in the writing credits, Edmonds is missing from the new album. He is going deaf. As a major admirer of his work, I am disturbed. Besides the Shriekback gig, Edmonds did time in bands as disparate as the Damned and the wacky world music of 3 Mustaphas 3. The man is far greater than a functional sideman, and his performances show this.

"Apparently the doctors told him he cannot work live for at least a year," Lydon explains. "If he does, the damage might be permanent. What's happened is that he's lost the top range of his hearing. We thought he was just very weird, but he was actually deaf." (Ted Chou will be doing guitars/keyboards on this tour.)

I have a very strong suspicion that his absence makes for a smoother product. Refer to "The Body" and "Rules and Regulations" from Happy? and you can hear whose guitar has the attitude problem.

"He helped in the writing. The playing wasn't so difficult—once you've got the parts any monkey can put it together. It's the actual writing of the thing that counts. I'm not going to take anything away from Lu at the moment. Life's very hard on him. It's a terrible thing to take a year off of your chosen profession. He's a madman and one of my best friends."

(This is the only time Lydon has pissed me off during the course of our phone conversation. If any fucking monkey can play a part, why didn't he call Johnny Marr, or for that matter, Steve Jones?)

"Let's talk politics/Every dog has its day/For me I don't believe/Better days ahead/Will never be" —"Home," 1984

Besides making nine records that do not sound very much alike, another one of the most endearing features I find in John Lydon is that he refuses to wear a bleeding heart on his sleeve, his t-shirt or his hairdo. Given all the notoriety and media attention he has received over the years, it would be incredibly easy for him to ram home his pet beliefs. His lyrics tend to deal with individual feeling and his own personal attitudes (read: Vent That Spleen). If he does exhibit a public social conscience, it's limited to the obscure ("Francois Massacre" from Flowers Of Romance) or the heavily veiled ("Rise" allegedly being an indictment against South African injustice).

One of the memorable tracks on the new record is "U.S.L.S. 1." It sounds like a narrative on terrorism upon the first couple of listens, with the band working up a tense atmosphere. "It should be pronounced 'Useless One.' It concerns your president. It's about a terrorist bomb on Air Force One. It poses the question 'How would Mr. Bush feel if he knew?'"

"I don't write anything purely just for atmosphere; that would be boring. Things have to have a point to them—unlike Eno's Music For Airports."

I contend it has a point, but I can't listen to it while I'm driving long distances.

"Well that's up to you. That's the individual at work. That's all I ever asked from anybody."

So there will be 100 thousand different listeners' interpretations of this song?

"Oh, I hope there will be more than that! [Laughter] I'm not going to generalise on political issues. All too many people do that, and they never really get to the heart of the problem. And then they merely use it as a podium for a dismal song. I hate all that flag-waving stuff. None of the bands putting out these political statements at the moment truly understand the politics they are dealing with. They just read an article in the Village Voice and they'll take that as gospel and pull out the bits that sound good to them and eliminate the other half, which is usually the truth. There's not a lot of research going on here."

"The whole Live Aid situation, for instance. 'Oh, let's save Ethiopia!' Nobody seems to be aware that there was a civil war going on there at the time. Now which fucking army were these people feeding? More importantly, it wasn't only Ethiopia, but all the other surrounding countries that were equally starving. Nobody wanted to deal with that. So I decided to stand out about it. Of course I got shouted down about it: 'You bastard! Letting people die!' Well, hold on, boys and girls; they are still dying."

"What exactly did these people achieve? They achieved nothing! The whole problem from start to finish was education and their internal political battle. While that goes on it is very difficult to do anything. To leer over someone like Big Brother and say, 'Do stop it now!' That's something people need to work out for themselves."

Yeah, but some people need that. Some people would give up their freedom for equality.

"Oh, stop it. Now you're sounding like Ollie North!" [Laughter]

Well, actually I was thinking more like Alexis De Tocqueville.

"Fine, fine, fine. But you can't hand someone a sandwich, walk off and say you have done your bit. It's an ongoing problem, and if you are going to involve yourself in these things, you have to continue to involve yourself. The only person I see doing that is Bob Geldof. They [other artists involved in the Live Aid charity] have found new causes at the moment, and it's very fashionable. I don't think any of them are doing anybody any favors except themselves. Is Sting going to save the rain forests? No, I don't think so. All it's going to do is make a load of middle-class brats feel that they've done their bit when in fact they have achieved nothing."

"Big business is very wise/I'm crossing over into free enterprise." —"This Is Not A Love Song," 1983

In case you haven't heard, 9 is a real slick piece of work. John Lydon may be a master at chameleon rock, but this pure pop sheen escapes me.

It's really easy to have a field day with jargon when describing the new PiL offering: Accessible, sellout-cult-status-mainstream-corporate-movethoseunitsdammit-disposable-forgettable pop- worthless-radio-fodder... make your own lists.

I'm not going to write Lydon off as worthless, although each time I play 9 the urge still hits me. So I wonder if this is really John Lydon working in a WIL format. And if he is, who's going to buy it?

"It's primarily for us. It's the kind of music we want to make and like to listen to. And if an audience out there respects that, that's well and fine. I would never condescend to make a record that people would like to hear because the minute you do that, you're doing it wrong. There's no honesty to that. It's pandering to the lowest common denominator. Because it's obvious that when you do that, you're doing it for money.

"Every time I make a record it is a risk. The record company might throw me off for being absurd. I'm hardly making Virgin a lot of money, am I?" [Laughter]

I think this time he will, despite the backlash from his previous supporter. Right about this time we discuss some of that jargon attack previously mentioned. Let's start with "street credibility."

"That's a load of bollocks. What the hell does that mean, anyway?"

Well, when you make a record...

"Street credibility? Does that mean you're gullible and easily ripped off? In my mind that's what it means. [Snarls in a gutter cockney accent] 'Keep in touch wid da' kidz, woit?' Aren't kids supposed to be intelligent? They are in my mind."

Well, you're talking a whole new ball game of demographics now. Like ages, I mean a 2-year-old is a kid, right?

"Well, I include myself in that, actually."

How old are you? I'm 27.

"I've been 21 for a few years now."

You're 29. I think you're 29.

"Am I? I'm older. [Laughter] Never mind."

Okay, John. You win. Let's kick around another phrase, like "commercial accessibility."

"[Disgustedly] Yeah, which nobody's managed to explain to me what that means."

Well, let me make an attempt. Music in general of any kind, if most people like it, they play it in the car, they take it to the beach...

"Hold on. What you're saying is commercial accessibility means 'trivial.' 'Disposable.' Well, I don't think I make [anything] disposable. I don't manufacture plastic bottles. I'm into fine glassware."

This is the thing. I mean, how can Rick Astley justify his existence?

"I don't think he can."

I would think that maybe 9 is a lot more commercially accessible for sales than Flowers Of Romance. Due to the things that you were doing on that record, compared to this record, I would think you would have a greater audience appreciate, purchase, consume the record. [Insert pause here]. Then, suddenly...

"Well, with a bit of luck they'll backtrack."

Do you think they will?

"I have no idea. I don't particularly think. That's up to the individual—it really doesn't matter."

"You used to be nice/Now you're twice as nice/You used to be good/Now you're too good." —"FFF," 1984

Do you think your old fans will be alienated by this record?

"No. [Pauses] I don't want fans in that respect that they slavishly demand and expect a similar kind of thing from me all the time—that isn't what it's about. Each record might as well be from a completely separate band. They are separate pieces.

"I've never liked the idea of people slavishly buying every single record by one group. I find that humiliating. Not to treat bands like saviors of the universe because it's only music and ultimately disposable. It depends on how long that will last or not last. You mustn't be too precious—no band is right for anyone all the time. Not if they're true to themselves."

Now you've got me confused, because you've just told me that you are into fine glassware.

"Cut glass is disposable, eventually. In the real world, nothing can last longer than a lifetime."

Yeah, but whose lifetime?

"Mine, I hope, because I intend to be here for many more years."

If you walk out in front of a bus today, what do you think you'll be remembered for?

"Well, I won't know anything else about it, then, will I? I haven't lived a lie."

No you won't, because of this legacy of your work. How many bands have started up from listening to your records?

"I suppose quite a few."

Isn't that a testament there?

"It's good enough."

I'm sure it will continue because even as we speak right now, some kid is picking up a copy of Second Edition And saying, "Hmm. I'll take this."

"What is your point? I feel like you're stumbling in the dark!"

I think you are too hard on yourself in that regard.

"I must never take it serious, right? Because I am always on to the next thing. I won't allow myself to be that precious."

So you are tired of the cult-status type thing.

"Yes. I am not interested in that thing: 'The Cult Of Personality.' I wish I wrote that song."

You could always cover it.

"Well, I'd rewrite some of it; I think it's a bit vague."

You could conceivably cover it. I think it would be fantastic.

"Well, [Living Colour] certainly copied my old hairdo, didn't they?"

"The ordinary will ignore/Whatever they cannot explain/As if nothing ever happened/And everything remained the same again." -"Seattle," 1988

I think John Lydon would be a perfect resource tool for any individual wanting to know about music-biz politics. Here's a guy who started an entire musical movement that is still being acknowledged today (read any Guns N' Roses interviews lately?). He's been booted off a bunch of record labels. I wonder how he feels about the alleged breakthroughs in modern music—like overblown postmodern radio stations.

"Things are worse than ever now because there are all these formats. There are very few people doing anything different. All rap acts sound the same. All the acid stuff sounds the same, all the hip-hop, all the heavy metal bands... It's really terrible. There seems to be no room for individuals, and you've got a young generation out there accepting all this blindly. I think it's a bit tragic for them. Maybe they will wake up soon and start doing stuff themselves again instead of having it force fed to them.

Then there is that whole entire nostalgia trip.

"Like the whole acid-house thing, which is more or less disco."

Do you think that type of regression to older things is dangerous?

"Who to? Once the past has been achieved, move on. It's safe. There is no threat to the past. The people who go to those kind of concerts, they kind of walk around like they're aimlessly lost, trying to relive something that never really happened."

I figure now is as good a time as any to ask him about nostalgia from an era he's familiar with. After all, Stiff Little Fingers average one farewell tour a month; the Buzzcocks reunion rumours fly about; and then there is a rumour that a certain English band from 1976-78 was offered a huge amount of money to tour stadiums in America.

"There is an element of truth to that, yes. My answer is no. I would never do it. I don't care how much the money is, I don't care how many financial difficulties I have gotten myself into; I just will not do it. Period. Ever. It would be contradictory to my entire life. If you do that, you might as well slash your wrists."

I wonder if journalists still ask you questions about your previous résumé.

[Very curt] "No. It hasn't happened in quite a few years."

I heard that the Never Mind The Bollocks had recently gone gold.

"I've no idea. I couldn't care less."

It might mean some royalties for you.

"That would be nice, but then the tax man would get that."

So you'd rather bury it, then?

"Yes, you're dead right."

"The emperor's clothes get clearer and clearer." -—"Same Old Story," 1989

The way he speaks, John Lydon is no millionaire. I was informed that it costs a lot to run what he runs. Elektra did not give him tour support for the Album tour more than three years ago, and he's still paying for that. Another myth exploded. I was looking to see if I had an extra $20 to mail him, but my phone bill is due.

"I've always been under financial stress. Artistically, yes, but I haven't reaped any rewards."

Do you have a family?

"I have a wife. I don't want any children because I'd feel I'd have to dedicate my life towards them. That's the way I feel; I can't do both."

How about the Rolling Stones argument: Could you see yourself doing this many, many years down the road?

"I don't think so. If I do it will be in a very different format. One has to have respect for one's body. The bones do go brittle."

I don't know, Keith Richards has made it back from the dead a couple of times now.

"Blood transfusions and all that. He does actually look like Dracula now... I'm going. You're boring me."

I'm sorry, John. Last question. Given the abuse you get from reporters, given the people who are obsessed with your previous work of the late '70s, the so-called "fans" who will say "Lydon sold out" and the same people who spit and throw things at you at your gigs, and given the misconceptions you have suffered—aren't you tired?

"Other people being pathetic—I feel sad for them, not myself. I have never told a lie in my life, and I don't intend to start. To say I've sold out is nonsense; it's just stupid. I will continue to do what I want to do to the best of my abilities. I present my life to you, and you can make what you will of it."

Because you don't particularly care.

"Not in a cynical way, but a right way. Why should I? Your opinion doesn't matter to me."

"Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" —"Sandcastles In The Snow," 1989

Somehow I am not convinced. I have listened to 9 more times than your average CMJ scribe in a faded Cult Love tour T-shirt, hoping to find some tumultuous teeth kick. Much to the chagrin of my ex-fiancee, I did not hold my breath. Sure, Lydon can tell me about his musical choices until compact discs become obsolete. What I want to know is if his colleagues are going to follow him up the charts.

"I'm quite pleased," says Alan Dias on the phone in a London rehearsal studio. "We put a lot of time into arrangements and melody. This album is more integration of rhythms and melody rather than just really hard grooves on their own. It's all mixed in—it's just another approach. I don't think the weight has been taken out of it at all."

And this is really an adequate representation of PiL?

"I would like to think so, sure. It's a democratic process in songwriting, so everybody is expected to carry their weight."

And what about Lu's absence?

"We miss Lu. It was a shock to have to go in and record without him after he had been involved in the songwriting. Obviously with a sideman playing these parts rather than Lu, it's going to make a difference. But it's not going to affect the show as such."

Dias has played with people like Bryan Ferry and various Class Of '77 fadeouts like Jimmy Pursey and Steve New. I wonder what his working situation is like these days.

"There's a difference, but the challenge is still there. In fact, it is more interesting for me to play music that has no boundaries rather than a stereotyped limited format music."

Bruce Smith is a consummate musician. Whether he is steaming up those records by the sorely missed Rip Rig + Panic or doing the straight 4/4 beat of Terence Trent D'Arby, Smith is always dead on it. Besides being an incredible musician, he's a nice guy to talk to. Maybe I didn't have time to bore him.

"We don't think, 'If we do such and such, we're going to make it big.' We don't make records for that reason. I want to make records that I like at the end of the day. If everyone else likes them, that's great."

I tell him after many repeated listens of the new record, I can't deal with it. I expect so much from PiL, and I don't know what this is supposed to mean.

"One thing that is good about this new record is that several of the tunes are from what Lydon did at home on machines; really far-out pieces of music. Really fucking great, probably the kind of thing you'd like a lot, I might add [Laughs]. The source is more emotional rather than, 'Well, here's the groove; let's put something on there.' To me, if you're going to make a piece of music, it still has to have the initial emotional input. You have to keep that in there—and that's what we try to do."

This line-up, though, seemed so promising with the last album and the tour. I think the characters are non-existent.

"You're right. There were strong characters involved, but it didn't make one character. Rotten's vocals and the music and the compositions have gelled together. On the last record we made, it wasn't there at all."

I think the edges are gone.

"I can see what you're saying. I think some of the tracks might suffer from the final mix being a little too... smooooth, but I certainly would have done it like that."

And everyone's musical choices are still the same?

"The PiL audience is a very wide one-from young to old. You want to do something to the maximum because people will respect you for it. Something like Guns N' Roses, which is the corniest rock cliché you can imagine. Living out these role kind of things like comic-book stuff is bullshit."

"I had a vision/That I was Alice Cooper/And Johnny Rotten rolled into one/I had a vision." —The Royal Court Of China, "Geared And Primed"

Alice Cooper and Johnny Rotten do have a similar attitude plan. They both project these arrogant personas that demand attention , and they both provide a ticket to hell for you if you don't give it to them. Some people get caught up in their guises—Alice Cooper had to put himself through detox. Lydon's healthier method is to make dodgy records and to convince himself that he's justified for doing so.

The press release for 9 includes an opening statement that reads as follows: "I like it here skirmishing on the outskirts. It suits me fine, and it's important. I'm hacking away at the foundation stones." If Lydon truly is hacking away at the foundation stones, he should try using a pickax instead of a package of Kraft American Cheese slices.

Happy? was proof that Lydon could direct his energies into an accessible sound while still maintaining some hard edges. These edges are necessary to convince listeners old and new that this is no sense of Xerox. If he thinks he is doing something subversive, he has only proved that he has no teeth.

Through all of his contradictions (is he sure that he hasn't bowed to a record company whim? Ask Martin Atkins. Are the kids intelligent or are they stupid for listening to the same old thing?), I feel sorry for him. He wants to shed all of his Class Of '77 connections, yet he allows himself to be called Rotten (something Smith did a couple of times during our talk). And how about the cover of "Pretty Vacant" on the Album tour? He was very curt about denying that no reporter ever asked him Pistols questions, and then Kurt 'Voice Of Authority' Loder asks him on an MTV "Week In Rock" segment if we are ever going to see The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle. He keeps distancing himself from his past, but it only comes back to bury him. Lydon's angry insistence to avoid is one end of the spectrum, while his previous co-conspirator Steve Jones is doing a cover of "Did You No Wrong" with Axl 'Clean Needles, Please' Rose. They have started this strain of pop culture, and they can't contain it.

Slagging off Lydon-Rotten only helps to perpetuate the myth. Bands like Journey and Styx have taken critical vitriol to the bank more times than John Lydon has changed hairstyles. Let's not bury Lydon because he has advanced all of us far too much to be beaten up and thrown in an antiquated gun turret of a U.S. war ship.

And let's not raise him on a pedestal because that mindless idolatry isn't sincere if he hasn't earned it—and, let's face it, he would hate all of us if that were to happen. Simply put, John Lydon will make the music he wants to make, regardless of what any label executive, music critic or 'fan' with a back panel patch of Sid Vicious on his denim jacket may say or do. This also means, of course, that we are not obligated to buy it.

So what? It doesn't matter. Don't worry. He'll be fine; he'll still make records—maybe even some ferocious ones that will force us to look at ourselves again and to re-examine our values. But most of all, to make us listen. If not, he can always start a family.


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