John Lydon:
Flipside fanzine #25, August, 1981

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1981 Flipside


By AL KOWALEWSKI John Lydon was interviewed one hot afternoon in June at the Sunset Marquis in Hollywood. This was a spur of the moment interview. Keith Levene was supposed to be interviewed, but he left for New York, John said he would fill in for him – we didn't complain.

There has always been something about this man that has attracted so much attention. I can remember back in '77 listening to Rodney say in his radio show: "We've got something special tonight, it's the new first single from the Sex Pistols."

I didn't know what to expect, we had been hearing about this band for a few months now, and finally we were going to hear them. Well, as usual I wasn't paying much attention – but then I heard the opening chords to 'Anarchy In The U.K.' I didn't have to be told it was the Pistols, I just knew it was them. How did I know? It was the singer! This guy is angry!!! Then there was 'God Save The Queen', who else could pull off a line "we mean it, maaan"? You know all the rest.

Lydon continues to be the only member of that band doing anything original, he was the one that would continue and keep the world guessing. But interviewing this man who is blown up the legend proportions proved to be quite easy. He talks feely and honestly and even laughs. Sometimes you get the feeling that all the kids with PIL shirts on got the wrong guy. This is not Johnny Rotten, the rock star, and he would be the first to tell you that. You figure it out for yourself – here's the interview.

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What are you doing here in California?"

JOHN LYDON: "Being fucking bored."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Hmmm, I guess you can't go out?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, why not?"

AL KOWALEWSKI: "You have so many fans, won't people mob you?"

JOHN LYDON: "Too fucking hot to get mobbed here. Everything's done like forty times slower."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "I saw you in the Thrifty once."

JOHN LYDON: "Oh, I like the thrift stores here, they're good. You can pick up some really good gear for cheap."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "I mean, I saw you in a line in a drug store, and you just shot in and out. You're used to a faster pace?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, in England it's always cold, so you have to keep moving or you freeze to death. It's really fucking hot here now, all the fucking air conditioners pumping all the fucking hot air out into the streets and cold air into their houses ..."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Are you out here for any special reason?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, to talk to Warners. Some of our projects need finance, and they're playing they're not interested. So fuck 'em – scared of anything that's outside the norm." [1]

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Oh, how's the new record doing?" [2]

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, it went straight in at number 12. Fuckin' gave me a heart attack, I'll tell you, cos I thought it would go nowhere fast."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Why did you think that?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, we handed it in last November and the record company had absolutely no faith in it at all. They had pressed the minimum amount and it just fucking sold like no one's business. You don't normally expect stuff that's off the wall or different to be consumed so quickly. It made me feel very happy about society. I suppose it's because people are so fucking bored with fucking normal ... anything just to get away from it."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Did you do it ..."

JOHN LYDON: "I did it because I like making records."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Are you under pressure to do things differently?"

JOHN LYDON: "No. If I like it, that's that. Fuck off – what do you think I am, some kind of conceptual artist? 'I've got to be weird, I've got to ruin this tune!' Bollocks to that, I'll leave that up to Eno."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "You used a lot less guitars on the new album ..."

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, Keith just can't be bothered to play anymore, he's gotten really bored with guitar. He thinks he's taken it as far as it can go for the moment, so that's fine."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "He played the synth/keyboard stuff."

JOHN LYDON: "There's not a lot of synth on it, and I did most of the keyboards. Keith played the violin."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Atkins on drums?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, Atkins and Keith."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "How do you record? You never say where, or the producer, or ..."

JOHN LYDON: "We produce ourselves."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "And engineer, too?"

JOHN LYDON: "I don't know. Engineers are as far as I'm concerned maybe there to repair what we break. If you gotta use a studio and make your own stuff, then you gotta know how it's gonna sound yourself. And when you put your material in the hands of producers and engineers, it's no longer your song really, cos they'll try to make it commercial or some other crap. I've never understood why The Clash never did their own stuff."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "But they did on the new album." [3]

JOHN LYDON: "Naw, there's producers all over it. Yeah, 'assisted by' – it's a joke, it's like they really haven't learned anything."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Do you like their new album?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, I don't like their album at all, it's like bits and pieces of everything. It's a compilation album of the worst in music at the moment, done-to-death rock and roll-style. All the clichés are there, all the wrappings – the reggae, pseudo jazz touch. It's wank."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Who does most of your songwriting? You never ..."

JOHN LYDON: "I've got a question to that. How can you write a song?"

AL KOWALEWSKI: "OK, who writes the lyrics then?"

JOHN LYDON: "I write the words, I have to – I'm singing them, or yelling them."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Do you have a part in the music?"

JOHN LYDON: "That's done between us, like, whoever's doing whatever or blah-blah sounds the best, then that's what will be used."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "You must have a lot of unused studio tape."

JOHN LYDON: "Funny enough, no. We use practically everything. Things are usually done in one take and then worked on from that. No rehearsals, we never rehearse. Well, we did once for fifteen minutes." (laughs) "I'm not joking!"

PAT DIPUCCIO: "You guys have a good feeling between you."

JOHN LYDON: (nodding) "It works. It works fine."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What happened to Wobble?"

JOHN LYDON: "He got interested in jazz funk, and that's where he wanted to go. And to me that's too fucking limiting by far, you know, pseudo Miles Davis. I'm not interested. I mean, that stuff's been done to death, I don't need to carry it on. He's got a new band called Ker-rang." [4]

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Why did you play that gig in New York?" [5]

JOHN LYDON: "We were offered it the day before, because Bow Wow Wow cancelled without bothering to tell anyone. So we grabbed it. The Ritz rang us up and offered it. It was some kind of an anniversary or celebration they had, and they wanted us to use their video equipment, so we did. They had it there for quite a while and never used it, so we did – and look at the results!"

AL KOWALEWSKI: "A successful gig."

JOHN LYDON: "I think so. At least it's something you can talk about, rather than some boring artsy-fartsy fucking pseudo-intellectual nothing."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Will you be doing any more gigs, tours?"

JOHN LYDON: "Tours no, that's awful."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Sporadic shows?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, we need a lot of equipment first, cos we'll build a recording studio and a video studio when we get the equipment. We have the films and stuff, it's just the money."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "And that's why you're out here?"

JOHN LYDON: "I'm on the beg, right? All donations accepted, I need your money, it will be worth it in the end. We've got a lot of video stuff, film we haven't shown ever yet. That Ritz gig was about the closest we've come to showing a lot of our stuff, but the audience wouldn't have it. So fuck them, they didn't know what they missed, ha ha!"

AL KOWALEWSKI: "That may have gone better over here ..."

JOHN LYDON: "I doubt that. That Olympic gig, that was a piss-off. [6] Too many people bummed out of their brains, too fucking thuggy, too much into, like, smacking each other up for real reason. Just like 'I'm dumb and I'm proud of it!' I don't like that at all. There's nothing clever about being an arsehole, and they're no better than fucking head-banging hippies."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What made you bring that kid up there on stage?"

JOHN LYDON: "He was being crushed down in front. Good though, weren't he? You know what he's doing? Any way of getting in contact with him? Cos it would be real funny to see what he's doing now."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Didn't you have kids up on stage with you in New York too?" [7]

JOHN LYDON: "Several. It's good to bring them up, as long as they're just not up there to wreck things. If they're taking part in it all, then you're winning. If they're to just smash things up and spit, then fuck 'em."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "You don't like the spitting?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, it's bullshit. It's what they've read in the papers or seen in the movies."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Do you feel you're getting through to the audience, are they learning anything?"

JOHN LYDON: "Do I feel it down in my heart? I don't, do I? I hope so, I mean, that's the whole fucking point. But if I'm not, that's too bad, cos I'm still very, very fucking happy doing what I'm doing, and I'll continue to amuse myself for many years yet. I will not go away!"

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Do you get a lot of feedback, like fan mail?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah. It's all fucking loony, all lunatics."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Doesn't that make you wonder about your audience?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, if you question yourself! I've had too many fucking marriage proposals, right? You end up banging your fucking head, aarrgh, don't they fucking understand? 'Oh, you're so handsome and adorable', and I know I'm an ugly cunt!" (good laughs on that one) "And if I know that, I'm damn sure they should be aware of that. What the fuck does it matter what I look like anyway?"

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Oh, then – what's your natural hair colour?"

JOHN LYDON: "I don't really know, ha! I've dyed it so many fucking times, it could be anything. If you use dye too long you don't have a natural hair colour anymore."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Did you ever think you would be a ... public ... figure like ..."

JOHN LYDON: "If you mean better than the rest?"


JOHN LYDON: "Put it this way: when I was at school I loathed it, the way they'd always accept what's being told to them blindly. So I've always been against that sort of shit. I've always questioned everything that's been told to me till I find out the truth behind it."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Does that cause problems with Warners?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, caused problems for me cos, like, at school you notice kids that do that get treated real bad by the rest of the class. You're not liked trying to be too smart for them ... wankers. Yes, I had it tough." (laughs) "I didn't though. I had it so easy it was a joke, I just never went."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Your parents never got down on you?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, they knew. Everybody knows schools are not doing a fucking thing for you. It's just a place to send the kids in the daytime when you go to work, not really helping them. You know, all the promises of life – the world will be open to you, great jobs, the rest of your life will be absolutely excellent – it's all a fucking lie."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "When did you decide not to put up with this shit?"

JOHN LYDON: "Didn't decide, it was just a natural occurrence – buuurp! Especially the part where they divide you up into sections in England, for your different religion."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "What about what's happening now with the hunger strikers and all that?"

JOHN LYDON: "Ah, it's not wise for me to talk about that. I'm from an Irish community, you're dancing with real death. For sure America doesn't know what's going on. Basically it's two groups, IRA and UDA, just fighting it out amongst each other, and millions of people getting hurt inbetween. It's getting really awful, not a place to want to live."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Would you ever move out here?"

JOHN LYDON: "Not forever, no. We're here because there's more facilities here. We can get access to cable TV real easy here. Yes, you'll be seeing us on the telly real soon, folks. Our very own programs, you can't do that in Eng."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What do you have in store for the future? Have you changed the goals of your company?"

JOHN LYDON: "No. I just don't want to make records forever and ever and ever and let that be the only thing. I like making music, it entertains me and hopefully it entertains others. But there's more in my brain than just that, and if I get the chance to use it in other ways, I will. I think that's only fair."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "What about writing?"

JOHN LYDON: "I couldn't write a book, uh, it requires too much patience."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What would you do next?"

JOHN LYDON: "How the hell should I know, I didn't know where I was going last year!" (laughs) "I'm here now. There is no big plan to dominate the universe, though I wouldn't mind."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "How long does it take you to put words down for songs?"

JOHN LYDON: "Some songs take months, some only ten seconds."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "What was a hard one?"

JOHN LYDON: "Uh, 'Under The House'. That's about a real, actual haunting. I'd fucking watch this fucking beast running around for several nights. Fucking frightened the living daylights out of me."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Where's that?"

JOHN LYDON: "This studio that Virgin owns. [8] It's spooked. We were scheduled to record but we did nothing."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "I heard that's a nice place?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, I saw things these stoned-out hippies don't bother to notice. I've either got a very good imagination or I'm psychically in tune."

Talk goes on about how all the songs run together on the 'Flowers' LP, why Lydon doesn't name songs or bother to separate them.

JOHN LYDON: "We just hand the tape to the secretary at Virgin and say 'Call them what you like, here's the words.'"

They get along good with the people at Virgin, except for the ones with the cheque books.

JOHN LYDON: "Our position with them is very clear – soon as they try to dictate we cease to function. I'd rather cease to function than be dictated to by any of those cunts."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "How's the album doing over here?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's 114 in the charts. What does that mean? Better than 115. The single 'Flowers' is in number 54 in the disco charts!" (laughs) "Now that amuses me, that's funny, that's good. Now we're breaking down barriers but it ain't no huge big deal. Just amuses me a few seconds out of the day."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "What if Virgin decides to drop you?"

JOHN LYDON: "Oh, boo-hoo. We'll just have to go somewhere else."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "What if no one ..."

JOHN LYDON: "Now, that's pretty negative, innit? We need distribution and we will get it one way or the other. That's why it's not particularly frightening. I don't believe no one will ever want to touch us."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "But doesn't WEA want you to tour and ..."

JOHN LYDON: "They can sit on it. No, we won't do a tour, and yes, they would love us to do a tour and normal rock and roll things. But that's no good, is it? That is just turning ourselves into a Van Halen-type thing, and once you do that you're trapped. It's impossible to get out."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Who is involved with PIL now? No managers ..."

JOHN LYDON: "No manager, we like to spend our own money. It's me, Keith, Jeannette and Stacey. Stacey is with us now, she used to work for Warners but quit. And Lisa works with us in England. We're quite content with ourselves. And Martin, our drummer, but he has his own thing going. Every gig he's done here as Brian Brain he's got hurt. He's not well-liked, he's trying to bring like Monty Pythons to American audiences, and it ain't working. It's silly, it's no good."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What do you do all day, watch TV?"

JOHN LYDON: "TV's one of my hobbies, yeah. I like to absorb all that crap, I think it's fascinating."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What's your favourite show?"

JOHN LYDON: "Mary Hartman. I like to see what its function is, what its purpose is, how bad the commercials are. It seems the worst quality a commercial is the more successful its products, that's fascinating. So I would dearly like to make some adverts cos there's some products around that I'd dearly love to massacre!" (laughs) "But knowing them I'd probably make them more fucking successful. Have you ever seen Roach Motel? 'They check in but they don't check out.'" (laughs) "Really crass!"

PAT DIPUCCIO: "How does TV out here compare to England?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's a lot higher quality in England. There's less of it. They turn it off at 12 and there's only three channels – BBC1 and 2 and ITV."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "But it's better?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, it used to be. Right now they're going through a recess, so they're showing a lot of American rejects, 'Starsky & Hutch' and all that stuff. Anything that has to do with San Francisco is on English TV, I don't know why. There can be some really fucking excellent plays, like where every bit of dialogue means two different things, end up your brain fucking racks. I like that. Deadly serious dramas, I love 'em. Have you ever seen a film called 'The Lion In Winter'? You should, if you ever get the chance to see it. Katherine Hepburn and, uh, what's his name, Peter O'Toole. It's about Henry II and French wars, it's fucking fascinating."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Do you do much reading or just wait till it's on TV?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's always better on TV. Books annoy me. I've got bad eyesight so I can't read long. And I find them uncomfortable, it takes too much patience to hold pages open."

Stacey walks up and starts talking to John about food. John likes Indian food and says Mexican food is "reject waste product". She brought more beer ...

STACEY GREEN: "Oh, you've got a sunburn!"

JOHN LYDON: "Naw, I've just been scratching."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "You've got enough cigarette burns on your arms."

STACEY GREEN: "Memories."

JOHN LYDON: "They're still with me. Some of my best friends have been up my arm."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Have you tried the pool?"

JOHN LYDON: (looking surprised and puzzled) "Naw ..."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Can you swim?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, I just don't want to. The fucking water is heated. It's nauseous, not refreshing. Where'd we go today? Up the hills, Holl–"

STACEY GREEN: "Holloway ... Hollywood sign!"

JOHN LYDON: "We could see all of L.A.! It was sickening, you could see no further than that." (arm gesture)

AL KOWALEWSKI: "It's a bit smoggy, you'll get used to it."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "It's not as bad as Cleveland."

JOHN LYDON: "Cleveland's horrible, isn't it?" [10]

PAT DIPUCCIO: "I've never been there. No wonder it's so receptive to English acts. I've never been to London though ..."

JOHN LYDON: "You're not missing much. Everything is dirty and nothing works."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Where do you live? London?"

JOHN LYDON: "Fulham."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "In a house? An apartment?"

Talk goes on to New York where Stacey is from. "At least you can get to where you want, can't do that here," is John's observation before he leaves to take a piss. Stacy got involved with PIL last year in New York, and this year they asked her on again – permanent ...

STACEY GREEN: "When I first met them I was scared. I'm not really in tune with that kind of stuff, but they're really great guys, so is Jeannette. I was leaving Warners anyway at that point, but it just worked out well. There's probably some sort of message there."

John comes back and Stacey leaves. John opens another Dos Equis beer which he really likes ...

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Have you been down to Mexico?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, loved it." [11]

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Where'd ya go?"


AL KOWALEWSKI: "Where abouts?"

JOHN LYDON: "All over. We had a recreation vehicle, an RV with six beds, fucking excellent hotel."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Wasn't it hot down there?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, but it's natural heat. There's no air conditioning, you can take it. It's a real pleasure."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What'd you do down there?"

JOHN LYDON: "I Dos Equis-ed about!" (laughs) "Fucking excellent place. No one for a hundred miles in any direction, deathly stillness. Fucking loved it!"

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Did it scare you at all?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, it was spooky but it was worth doing. Like at night, right, you see a campfire a couple of miles away and you wonder who the fuck's there. Gets your imagination playing all sorts of fucking tricks."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Did you hear stories of banditos?"

JOHN LYDON: "Fucking seen 'em! They come out from up in the hills down on their horses and go 'Hey Gringo!'"

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Did you like the Mexican food?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's questionable. It's not like it is here. Slot of fish, shark I had. God, shark is delicious, it's a really nice dish. This RV, it's like 25, 30 feet long, and you're driving along and suddenly the road narrows like that" (arm gesture) "and you're 100 fucking feet on this ledge, total drop, no way up or down, and these diesel trucks are coming down the road. And they don't stop, no one has any brakes, they just fucking keep coming. Mad place, I loved it. Some of them were fascinated by my red hair, why did it stick out like that? Thought I was weird."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "What'd they call you, Gringo Cactus Head?"

JOHN LYDON: "Oh no, they reserve Gringo for the Americans, cos I weren't no American."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "How could they tell that?"

JOHN LYDON: "Soon as you open your mouth. It's the way you approach things. An American tourist barges in everywhere. Like, the local kids at some of the villages go out at night and dig these 20 foot pits, and they cover them with thin cloth and cactus leaves. And in the daytime you get all these American tourists with their dune buggies ripping up the desert, and" (laughs) "then they fall in the hole and are left there!" (good laughs on that one) "I was on the beach one day and there were loads and loads of American tourists in their dune buggies zooming by going 'Oh look, thinks he's Johnny Rotten!' Little did they know!" (laughs) "That's good fun, get accused of imitating yourself."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Did you ever think you'd be that kind of a rock star?"

JOHN LYDON: "Oh yeah, all my life. I read it in the stars. It's a pain in the arse, right, when you want to go out and enjoy yourself. I want to go see Dennis Brown tonight, and fuck knows what will happen. I hate when people keep pointing at you and fucking bothering you. If you tell them to fuck off they just think you're a snot-nosed superstar cunt. I can't spend my entire life talking to every cunt. It's not fair, I have my life too."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "There's good and bad that goes with that. You could've stopped it before it got out of hand ..."

JOHN LYDON: "I thought I did that. It was out of hand before."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "Do you think people will accept anything you do now?"

JOHN LYDON: "The exact opposite."

AL KOWALEWSKI: "They'll be more critical?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah. There's a lot of bullshit that's recorded these days and it is accepted blindly."

PAT DIPUCCIO: "Like all the new Pistols stuff?"

JOHN LYDON: "That's all disgusting. It's like death cult. I thought if I had nothing more to do with that lot, all that would cease to function. But if anything I've made it more profitable by finishing it."

The talk went on at about the same level. We talked about drugs, John will only take stimulants, no downs, and says cocaine is the biggest rip-off of all. More talk on record companies and how the band wants to take a vacation. John seemed to be enjoying himself until we wanted to take some pictures, then he got tired and went up to his room.


[1] PIL and Warner Bros. Records mutually agreed to terminate their contract by autumn 1981.
[2] 'Flowers Of Romance' (released 10 April 1981).
[3] 'Sandinista!' (released 12 December 1980).
[4] Ker-rang played their debut gig in March 1981 and then changed their name to The Human Condition.
[5] The Ritz, New York City (15 May 1981)
[6] Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles (4 May 1980)
[7] Palladium (20 April 1980) and Great Gildersleeves (22 April 1980)
[8] The Manor Studio in Shipton-on-Cherwell.
[9] Stacey Green, PR representative for Warner Bros. in New York, was mentioned in 'Impulse' magazine (May 1980) and possibly Levene's SPEX interview in 1983 ("with the third record" [Warner Bros.] "threatened to fire members of their staff if they did anything to make the album a success! And two people were actually dismissed!").
[10] PIL played Cleveland on 30 April 1980.
[11] According to an earlier interview (The Face, 20 November 1980) this trip to Mexico happened right after PIL's last Californian show in 1980.


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