The Current, October, 1984
Transcribed (and additional info) by Kathi Gelona
© 1984 Kathi Gelona
John Lydon interview
Interview by Kathi Gelona
Additional Note: I spoke with John Lydon by phone in mid-October 1984 for The Current, which was George Washington University's alternative newspaper. (It is now defunct.) PiL were scheduled to play D.C.'s Ontario Theater on Halloween, so this was early in the '84-'85 tour for "This Is What You Want." This is the interview in its entirety. My transitions aren't terribly smooth; I was 19 and it was one of my first interviews! You may want to add a note to the first question; I'd gotten erroneous info that Martin Atkins had just been fired. (Though from your archives it appears he was fired and rehired a few times!). John mentioned that he was listening to a lot of Afrika Bambataa, without telling me he was recording 'World Destruction' that very month... I was a little annoyed when I heard it on the radio a few months later!
Q: To begin with, who are your musicians now that Keith Levene and Martin Atkins are gone?
A: Keith was never a very important member of the band anyway, for quite some time, in this operation--I'd like to clear that one up.
Q: For how long do you mean?
A: Keith had been a non-cooperative member for a long time and what should have been a mutual parting turned into sour grapes. I suppose that's the way it is. But the new members are Jebin on keyboards, he's from Los Angeles; Brett on bass, and he's from the Los Angeles area; and Mark on guitar, he's from Vancouver. And it's still Martin Atkins as the drummer.
Q: What's your opinion of the new band's sound?
A: We can duplicate the studio album to perfection, not that that's the point of all this, but it's quite important anyway. But the thing is, this band is now a permanent fixture as far as I'm concerned at the moment, because we work very, very well, and everybody has very good ideas. We gel as characters completely. And that's damn important. The new album ("This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get") is just me and Martin recording in London. We formed the band because, well, a financial dictate made that necessary.
Q: What did you think of "Live in Tokyo"?
A: As an album it's fine, I mean, it wasn't my idea to do it. It was [Virgin's] idea because they wanted to use state-of-art technology, so we let them. As a live album it's pretty alright, but I know I can do better.
Q: On your last tours you introduced a new song entitled "Mad Max," which appears on the new album retitled "Bad Life." Any reason for the change?
A: Because it was originally "Bad Life," then it went to "Mad Max." There were two sets of lyrics, see, for the same song. Well, things got a bit haywire, but we were going to put out the same song with different lyrics A and B side, but that never came to pass. It's very difficult to try to convince my present record company, Elektra Records, to release a single of ours. They don't want to. You'd have to ask them as to the reasons why. But it does seem a bit absurd.
Q: Well, singles don't sell as well over here [in the U.S.], perhaps excepting imports...
A: Yeah, yeah, well, as justification goes, that's pretty feeble.
Q: What ever happened to "You Are Now Entering a Commercial Zone," which you were announcing as your next album?
A: That would have been "This Is What You Want," but it became impossible to work with Keith, so we scrapped the entire project and moved to London to record. And that bootleg that's currently available--and shouldn't be!--is all demo tapes. And it sounds really, really bad.
Q: In a recent interview, you stated that "This Is What You Want" is a "happy album." What makes you feel that way?
A: I'm probably the only person on God's given earth that can be asked, "Why do you feel happy!" [Laughs] Please!
Q: But what's happy about the album?
A: It's jolly! It's up! Yes, there is hope for the world!
Q: Why are you living in L.A.?
A: Because it's near Australia.
A: And I'm on my way to Australia, aren't I.
Q: Are you?
A: Yes, I will be doing some recording there over Christmas, December through January.
Q: So where's your permanent home, or do you have one?
A: I can't discern. I don't have one. Haven't had a home for about four years now.
Q: Weren't you living in New York?
A: Well, that wasn't home, was it. It was rented apartment stuff. Not the same. I'm a very transient kind of person, I suppose that's the gypsy in me.
Q: What do you think of most of the music of today?
A: I think it's very sad. The major networks, radio-wise, are so limited. Their playlists are decided for all kinds of corrupt reasons, none of them based on taste. I find it quite depressing, but then again, I always have, because it's like, you know, records that sell a lot--there's no use playing them on the radio--everybody's bought them!
Q: You think there's nothing interesting going on?
A: Music-wise, at the moment, apart from me, no, I don't so. It tends to be all heavy metal, doesn't it.
Q: Well, I've read that you like hip-hop...
A: Hip-hop? What's that?
Q: You know, kind of like rap...scratch music...
A: But why do you call it hip-hop?
Q: Because that's what it's called! What do you call it?
A: Well, maybe in Washington it's called that, but nowhere else in the world! I'm not into Grandmaster...too show-bizzy for me. I'm more into Afrika Bambaata. [Ed. note: As it happens, Lydon records "World Destruction" with Bambaata the month of this interview.]
Q: Let me ask you about your goal of several years ago...to destroy rock 'n' roll.
A: Yeah, I think I've succeeded. Whatever's currently available, e.g. heavy metal, is a rehash and always sounds like desperation. And it's quite sad that that stuff is so popular. But I think that's because they tend to corner the market and eliminate competition by sheer numbers.
Q: Then what do you call something like the music of, say, Springsteen?
A: I call that rubbish! Absolutely! I don't like anything the man does and I cannot understand the enthusiasm over him, except that there's a hell of a lot of boring people out there that he's got for a boring audience.
Q: But what about the new American guitar bands?
A: Like who?
Q: Say, Jason and the Nashville Scorchers....
A: I'd hardly call them new!
A: X is awful!
Q: So you don't like any of them?
A: Well, no, not really. I mean, there's just not a lot out there that hasn't been done before. Bands usually know better. See, these people, they're not offering any new alternatives, they're offering rehashes of old standards, and to me, that's....quite unforgivable.
Q: How is the tour going?
A: It's going down really well. Proving my point. There are a lot of people that do not like to hear what they hear all the time. For music in order to survive, it has to have alternatives and it has to have progression. At the moment in America, those are two things that are being ignored, much to their detriment, and hopefully to my benefit.
Q: Well, do you think that you've, for lack of a better phrase, calmed down a bit since your days in the Sex Pistols?
A: Oh, yeah, I sound really calm, don't I. Real nonspecific. Yeah. Sure. Ha, ha.
Q: Not that you're nonspecific...
A: That's usually what the term "calmed down" implies, doesn't it? I've always been dedicated and I always will!
Q: No one is questioning your dedication.
A: Calmed down...am I selling out, have I gone commercial. Come on, now. You have to say these things. Because you know they're there in the back of your mind!
Q: No, they're not.
A: Well, then, don't ask!
Q: I'm asking in the sense that you're much more accessible to the press right now...
A: Listen, I don't mind talking to the press at all. The English press I do have definite serious doubts about, because they tend to be politically motivated and very naive, as much as they tend also to be failed musicians, which makes for very bad conversation.
Q: Anything more you'd like to say about the album, in particular?
A: Just that I think it's a very good album, I'm very pleased with it...I'm not so pleased with my present record company and their lack of faith in it.
Q: Could you explain?
A: It doesn't seem to be promoted all that well. I do not see record stores full of it, I do not see posters, I see nothing on their behalf. I see me having to organize a tour here, finance it myself...
Q: You say you financed the tour?
A: Yes, that's right.
Q: How extensive is it?
A: It's very extensive. All sorts of gigs in America, but it also entails Japan, Australia, New Zealand, bits of Europe, and then back here again. [Ed. note: PiL did tour Australia, but the tour ended after three dates in Japan.]
Q: What can we expect at your Washington gig Halloween night?
A: You can expect sheer talent! [laughs] And quote those laughs!
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