PiL interview:
Muziekkrant Oor, January 1979

Transcribed by Karsten Roekens

© 1979 Muziekkrant Oor

Fodderstompf: Review and interview originally from the Dutch 'Muziekkrant Oor' magazine (Amsterdam) January 1979. Rediscovered and transcribed by KARSTEN ROEKENS; with thanks to Frank Hessens from AB Promotie, Brussels.


Brussels, Theatre 140, Belgium, December 20th 1978

For unclear reasons the premiere concert of the first post-punk supergroup 'Public Image Ltd' will take place in Brussels, at the rather cosy 'Theatre 140'. Two concerts were fixed. One at 18.00 and one at 20.30. Both were sold out...

'Public Image Ltd' are a band who were formed in spring 1978 by John Lydon, the 22 year old red-haired Londoner who found worldwide fame as Johnny Rotten, leader and brain of the historic Sex Pistols. Lydon sings and writes the lyrics for 'PiL'. Jah Wobble, plays bass. Keith Levene, co-founder of the Clash (and co-author of the Clash song 'What's My Name') plays guitar, and the Canadian Jim Walker, without pedigree, is the drummer. They have a British hit ('Public Image') and a badly received LP ('First Issue') on their account.

Because of problems with the owners of the hired P.A. the first PiL concert didn't begin at 18.00 as planned, but at 19.30. At that time outside the venue the waiting audience of the 20.30 show were pushing in the backs of those who were in possession of a ticket for the earlier show. Precisely one minute before the doors would give in, John Lydon reluctantly resigned and gave the P.A. system, in his opinion ridiculously inappropriate, his OK. The band then gave a mess of a concert and didn't manage for a second to get into contact with the audience. Booing followed, and it kept swelling until the second concert of the band was over, which was an unmistakable nadir in the history of public entertainment.

Who fooled who? And who had an advantage from it? Not the band, who were dragged like a pack of flogged dogs on stage and looked apathetic into the hall. Surely not the audience,which was driven out of the hall like slaughter kettle. The enormous arrogance with which John Lydon treated his audience during the 'concert' made me sick. On the other hand his refusal of leadership and involvement in the Rock n Roll industry, provided it's meant honestly, sets an example. With these mixed feelings I stepped down the iron spiral staircase which leads to the dressing rooms in the 'Theatre 140', where I started without any enthusiasm from both parties an interview with one the legends of these times...

While you sit here apathetically and slurp whisky, the audience which came to watch history's first Public Image Ltd show is beaten out of the hall. A new load comes in immediately, who had to pay 220 Francs each and had the pleasure to wait for two hours in the freezing cold. I don't say it's all your fault, but I really want to know what you think about it.

Jah Wobble: Nothing.

John Lydon: We have absolutely nothing to do with it. If the promoter has difficulties to get the people out of the hall, then it's his problem. If he has difficulties to get the new ones in, then it's his problem too. And if he thinks he has to hand out punches, then it's again his problem.

It could have worked out if Public Image Ltd started the first show in time, for instance, and not one-and-a-half hours too late like now. It made people cross, but they would have forgotten it if only you hadn't put up such an inferior show.

Keith Levene: Inferior show? Do you want punched? What was inferior there, mate? Inferior compared with what? With other rock concerts? Well, then I pass, we have nothing to do with Rock 'n' Roll.

John Lydon: If the audience got that this evening then we have achieved something. Public Image Ltd have nothing to do with Rock 'n' Roll, because Rock n Roll is the most sickening and boring thing this century has produced.

You sound bitter.

John Lydon: Nothing's bitter! I don't say that by chance, but reflective, and most of all because of all that I've seen and heard over the last 18 months. Rock 'n' Roll is the most shameless form of cheat that I know.

They should forbid it!

John Lydon: I wouldn't go that far because I'm against being dictated. But I'm well intending to tear down the Rock 'n' Roll industry with my own hands, if necessary.

This evening was the first successful step in this process.

John Lydon: This evening was a pile of shit. I've never seen such a lethargic crowd. Were they all sick or something?

Keith Levene: You could see their jaws drop by the first number. No, they didn't expect that. They surely hoped we would sell them sweet hard rock in Punk costume like the flops of The Clash?

John Lydon: Or they wished we should have dished them 'God Save The Queen' or 'Anarchy in the UK', sure? I heard a fool from the fourth row ask for the numbers with my own ears. Even at that point I thought it's all senseless. I don't want to have anything to do with the former band I was in anymore.

But you start with it by yourself. I really think that a great part of the audience of this evening was really interested in what you want to do with Public Image Ltd. People here are not so stupid not to know that the Pistols have split a whole year ago, or not to have noticed that what PiL are doing is something different.

John Lydon: Why didn't they respond, then?

Perhaps they didn't find it good.

John Lydon (loud): Ig-no-rants! They don't know nothing. They don't even know what we were trying to say. They keep pogoing while I sing "I wish I could die".
PiL live at Brussels, Theatre 140, Belgium, 1978 © unknown
I think we are starting to talk in circles if we don't remind one thing clearly: you hate Rock 'n'' Roll and all mechanisms that come out of the rock star - audience relationship. Did I get that right?

John Lydon: Astonishing but true. You got it right.

Good. But at the same time you get angry if the audience doesn't like what you're doing. Especially as it wasn't good this evening.

Jah Wobble: Will we throw him out, John.

John Lydon: No, no. Tell me more.

To make it short. You stood on stage this evening to do harm to the Rock 'n' Roll world. You repeatedly said '"I am not a pop star" and "I refuse to be your hero', which I found articulate. But afterwards you get angry because you couldn't capture the audience. Because you got boos. Because when you finally came to the encore nobody really wanted it.

John Lydon: That's not right. I was really glad to watch this wave of hate and sickness coming up to us. It was the proving that people at are at least thinking about it. That they don't just swallow it. I repeat it again: I hope this evening people go home in another state than that when they came into the hall. I hope they think twice next time before they spend their money on a pop concert. Because this evening they had just come to watch Johnny Rotten who once played with the Sex Pistols. They wanted to watch their hero, a star, and I don't want to be neither of that.

Presumably you are honest you just can't deny that you are one. People only know your face, your name, and I must say that you don't really work hard to get out of the spotlight. At least it's you that does the talking in this interview and not the other three. You also are on the album cover. Badges and posters with your face are sold. And in the London underground the PiL LP was advertised with your face on the placards. "I don't want to be a star" you say then, but a recluse acts different, I think. True or false?

John Lydon: Completely false. Regarding badges and posters, I have nothing to do with it. They do it without asking me, money makers. I don't have the energy to care about that too, to sue all these blokes who are cashing in behind my back. Regarding the rest of your accusations I can make it short. We sit here as four people for the interview. And as you put the questions to me, I'm answering. If you put them to the others, I'll be silent. And the album cover thing is also a lie. I'm not on front because there is no front. And there are also pictures of the others in the London underground.

But you are a personality which is part of a chapter of this century's history. You are not anonymous and you can't get it again anymore. The 'public image' is pinned down. By the media, by yourself, perhaps also by Malcolm McLaren. You can rage like a devil in a holy-water font now, but you can't get rid of this image.

John Lydon: If this is true then it will destroy me. But if I'll be destroyed by Rock 'n' Roll I will make sure Rock 'n' Roll will be destroyed with me. I was being cheated like an idiot in my Pistols time, and since I came over it I gathered enough 'anger' to defend myself until everything will be devastated.

Including John Lydon?

John Lydon: Of course. I don't intend to be the sole remain.

Now I want to ask you something about your albu

John Lydon: Ask whatever you want.

It's not a proper question, rather an impression. The album gave me an impression of 'Cold Turkey' after I had listened to it.

John Lydon (laughs)

Keith Levene: I think that's a compliment, John. Really. You mean 'Cold Turkey' by John Lennon or 'Cold Turkey' the drug term? Coming down.

I think I can't tell on the last one, but I suppose John Lennon could when he wrote and sang 'Cold Turkey'. So I mean the song and the feeling as well.

John Lydon: If you mean the feeling I agree. But I have nothing to do with the music of that old Guru. (Begins to sing 'Cold Turkey'. The three others laugh admiringly). What do you mean with this comparison?

I said it was an impression. Like I had to think of John Cale during the concert, and of 'Fear'.

John Lydon: What "Fear"? During what number did you have that feeling?

During 'Attack'. But also during the whole concert. There was something anxious in it.

John Lydon: That's not true. Perhaps it was you who was anxious. There's no fear in our music, I deny that. If you felt fear than you have to look for it inside of yourself. And I'm not a psychiatrist, you see, I can't help you. Fear, fear, fear. Where does it end? You are speaking too much about yourself, my friend. That s not healthy.

I don't speak about myself, I'm asking questions.

Keith Levene: Will you ask me one,too?

Are you an equal member of Public Image Ltd?

Keith Levene: Why do you ask?

You wanted a question.

John Lydon: Everyone is an equal member of Public Image Ltd. If you noticed that we wrote 'Public Image Ltd' as the song's composers, you should know it.

Jah Wobble: And we write the songs together. From out of a bass line. Then drums are added. Then lyrics.

John Lydon: But nothing of this all is of any significance. We have absolutely nothing to say. I don t want to be dictated, and I don t want to dictate.

Pardon. When the people didn't leave the hall fast enough you came back with the message "Clear the hall, please". I found this was a command, and a rude one too.

John Lydon: It was cynical.

Jim Walker: People didn't like it but they asked for more. I didn't understand it.

John Lydon: They found half an hour too short because they get two hours at a Rod Stewart concert. Of course they don't realise that he's fucking about just as much as me. At least I admit it that I'm no use. Really, maybe I'm the biggest cunt of them all but unfortunately I'm a little honest, too That's why can t find it in my heart to fool people with a boringly botched Rock n Roll show I tell the people "Go home" and I find that the wisest somebody can say on stage.

Too bad they had to pay the 200 Francs first.

John Lydon: They have all enough money here in Europe.

I'll walk through the city with you tomorrow and show you all the people who have enough money here.

John Lydon: That's not my cup of tea.

There are two pieces on your record called 'Religion'. You criticise church and religion in general. Considering what happened here this evening there is a line in it I want to talk about. You sing "There's a liar on the altar" and I think it fits, because a stage is also some kind of altar, and you are some kind of priest to a certain part of the audience yourself, and so you are probably a liar, too.

John Lydon: At least! You understood the beginning, the end and everything in between. That's precisely what it's all about. That's all I have to say. That's all what Public Image Ltd. Stands for. "Don't worship me", that's all I want to say for the time being. Until the Pistols are finally forgotten I can't think about music. First I have to come to terms with what happened. And I have to come to terms with the idiot that I was. I 'm not such a cunt like the others. I said it before, but I try to be honest.

If you put it that way then Public Image Ltd seems to be a kind of Kamikaze operation.

John Lydon: The public image, you got what you wanted, the public image belongs to me, it's my entrance, my own creation, my grand finale, my goodbye...

(Meanwhile above our heads the band 'Mad Virgins' from Brussels begins to play. A part of our conversation gets totally drowned out. I see Lydon's lips moving but I can't hear what he's saying. Jah Wobble and Keith Levene ask me questions that I can't understand. Lydon stares around and asks then, when it's quiet in between, if I really liked the LP. No, but gripping. And some parts good. He laughs.)

John Lydon: In England we didn't get one good review.

Jah Wobble: In England they hate us.

Keith Levene: Everybody hates us.

John Lydon: Even our record company hates us. The only thing I ever got from Virgin was three cigarettes and half a meal a day. When they heard our record for the first time they nearly had to vomit. They would rather have had 'Never Mind The Bollocks,Vol. 2', I think.

Jim Walker: Everybody hates us.

I presume you all don't think that's too bad?

Jah Wobble: If you listen what they like instead, yes, it's bad.

Jim Walker: The Clash for instance. There are no words to describe how bad they are.

John Lydon (pointing in direction of the Mad Virgins): Or this band above us. What suckers are they? Every other band sounds that way. (Listens shortly) Oh,how bad they are.

Jim Walker: It could be the Clash.

John Lydon: It could be anyone. However, apart from Public Image Ltd I'm too tired to explain it all over again, but do you understand this? We have nothing to do with all the circus botched together in the wake of the Pistols. All these school kids selling stupid blabbering over three chords. That's miles away from me, from us. Look, we don't want to be loved. Is that clear? We don't want to be found nice. The fact that everybody's against us proves that we're up to something good. And we didn't even invent something. We do now what's always been there, but we dare to do it.

I want to know something about 'death'. This "I wish I could die" screaming on 'Theme', do you mean it? Would you like to be dead?

John Lydon: Not really. But life is very hard for me, too. Didn't you ever have that feeling when you get up with a hangover, and you look at the world and think 'Count me out. I'd rather die'.


Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
PiL live at Brussels, Theatre 140, Belgium, 1978 © unknown
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