John Lydon & Keith Levene:
Hot Press, April 3rd 1981

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1981 Hot Press / JOHN McKENNA


Hot Press, April 3rd 1981John Lydon and Keith Levene talk to JOHN McKENNA. Pix: Mike Laye

Sitting here at a ridiculously early hour of the morning (that is to say my slumbering terminated) with a cup of tea made from my sweetheart's flatmate's tea bags swimming tastelessly around a cup to my right, I try to decide on a certain number of things to say about PIL.

What can I say? How is it to be confined? In what fashion? Something old played with, something new interjected? I got tired of asking people questions they couldn't or didn't want to understand, and it's not all over yet, but people take it so seriously. Ask a general question and it always returns to me.

For scenario setters, we met in Virgin's Vernon Yard HQ, a place I didn't like. Jeannette didn't turn up, Keith Levene is not at all like I had imagined (a true gent) and my mother would advocate a clout around the ear for John Lydon, and she might be right.

The interview runs straight through to keep everything in context, and please forgive my questions but I'm not too good at this sort of thing. The only thing to be said about 'The Flowers Of Romance' is that I like it for my own reasons, and they are not important here.

Quote of the week?
1. Tom Waits on introducing 'Tom Traubert's Blues': "This is a song about throwing up in a foreign country."
2. John Lydon: "Rock 'n' roll's a car without a fucking engine, innit?"

JOHN McKENNA: "There seems to be quite a jump forward with the new album."

JOHN LYDON: "There always will be."

JOHN McKENNA: "The layout of the lyrics seems similar to Ornette Coleman's sleeve notes in a way."

JOHN LYDON: "Well, after the 'Metal Box' we just wanted the simplest sleeve possible, because there's no point in continuing with that. We'd have to give away free speedboats or something to top that!"

JOHN McKENNA: "The lyrics seem to be rather open-ended."

JOHN LYDON: "It's about people, I write about people. I write about people and people always change, so there's no beginning or end."

JOHN McKENNA: "But most people don't write lyrics like that."

JOHN LYDON: "Well, that's too bad, isn't it? I don't really care about what they do, I care about what I do."

JOHN McKENNA: "The lyrics seem rather pessimistic."

JOHN LYDON: "Oh, I'd say optimistic! The fact that I can waste my time pointing out people's bad sides obviously shows there's room for improvement. I wouldn't waste my energy on a lost cause, would I?"

JOHN McKENNA: "They seem to be quite panoramic, political even."

JOHN LYDON: "No, they're about people politics, not world politics. I avoid world politics, I've no interest in it at all. You're crawling up your own arse if you, like, waffle on about that stuff. It's well out of all of our hands. I don't think world politics has anything to do with people anymore, I think it's just high finance and power."

JOHN McKENNA: "You're more concerned with personal interactions?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, before you sort out the world's problems you've got to sort out your domestic ones. And the way people just fucking talk to one another, cutish for a start. There are so many barriers thrown up in any one conversation."

JOHN McKENNA: "Would you say language is more of a barrier to, than means of conversation?"

JOHN LYDON: "It can if you use it in the typical approach, the average conversation, yeah. I mean questions that mean nothing and answers that mean even less, I keep away from that, I hope. Not always. I use it when it suits me."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think it would be possible for people hearing the album to work it back to themselves?"

JOHN LYDON: "I would hope you'd see something in it involving yourself, yeah."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think it's important?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's not important, no."

JOHN McKENNA: "Is it important to you?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's important that I do it, yeah. I leave it up to the listener to work out what they want from it. There's no dictation involved, I'm not, like, stating this is the be-all and end-all. I mean, I can be wrong too. Even me!"

JOHN McKENNA: "Any sort of reaction you would prefer?"

JOHN LYDON: "Just be open to it, just listen to it. I mean, you either like it or you don't, right? That's all that matters. I mean, don't get involved with, like, the image that the press has built up about us or any of that, that shouldn't mean anything. Unfortunately most people do tend to think like that in terms of fashion - 'Well, they're not trendy at the moment so I won't listen to it.' Silly."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you believe there are a lot of preconceptions about PIL?"

JOHN LYDON: "There are about everything, not particularly about us. I don't know who our particular audience is, I've no interest in finding out either. I think that's silly. One misconception is that we're some bunch of fucking intellectual automaton robots. I don't like that at all. It's been said that people who buy and listen to our records are, like, intellectual. I find that disgusting. I mean, that's an ignorant thing to say, how could they possibly know?"

JOHN McKENNA: "It's just an easy, glib remark to make."

JOHN LYDON: "That's all it is. It's unfortunate that people can read that and let it influence them."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think the image that has been painted of you is unfortunate?"

JOHN LYDON: "Which image? There's been several. If I was to take that seriously I'd be in a fucking mental hospital trying to compete with it. I just don't care what they write, it doesn't matter. It changes from month to month anyway."

JOHN McKENNA: "But there is still an image of you as being lazy and contemptuous."

JOHN LYDON: "Surely that's a fault that every human being suffers from, from time to time."

JOHN McKENNA: "Being contemptuous of people?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, yeah. You can't go around loving the human race for ever and a day. We all have faults."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think people prejudge you?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, prejudge us, that's highly likely. I do try and keep myself away from it. Like, most of the questions I'm asked only deserve a flip answer. All I care about mainly is that people know this album exists. That's what the press should be there for - to supply information."

JOHN McKENNA: "You don't think the press should provide the critical judgements?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, that as well, but it goes beyond that into personality clashes which I think is, well, wrong."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think you could ever shake off the tag of your history?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, I've no intention of forgetting what I've done, because I'm quite proud of everything I've done and it will continue to be that way. What I don't like is to be continually asked about it, I find that pretty feeble that the majority of journalists can be three years behind me."

JOHN McKENNA: "Don't you get fed up with Johnny Rotten?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, that's my name! It's a joke name, my, or what is it? Nickname, that's it. That's all it means to me. I couldn't use that name for a while because of Malcolm, he claimed it was his. He claimed my nickname as his property, imagine that! How absurd. That man is an arsehole."

JOHN McKENNA: "What do you think of what he's doing now?"

JOHN LYDON: "Don't know. Don't care."

JOHN McKENNA: "You've been referred to as artists."

JOHN LYDON: "I don't like that term at all."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you consciously try to transcend the fashion ethic of rock music?"

JOHN LYDON: "We don't approach things in neither of those ways. We don't do a thing to be fashionable or not to be fashionable. We make records because we want to, we make them for ourselves first. We don't ever, like, condescend to attitudes like 'people will like this'. That would be well fucking stupid. I wouldn't, like, want to put out a record I didn't like, I wouldn't do it. This'll do for now until the next thing I do comes out, right? And then that immediately has no place anymore. That's the way you should live, you should live for the present, not the past. I mean, you can still listen to it in five years time but it's not going to be like that. That's giving it false values, that's putting it on a pedestal. I could never do that. It's up to each particular individual, but I'm not dictating that that's the way it should be, definitely not."

JOHN McKENNA: "What is your musical involvement on the album apart from the singing?"

JOHN LYDON: "I play a few of the instruments - sax, violin, cello, a bit of synth."

JOHN McKENNA: "Did you play on the 'Metal Box'?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah. It was mostly taken off because it didn't work. We flooded that album with instruments, it ended up to be a real joke."

JOHN McKENNA: "What do you think of the 'Metal Box' now, the packaging and all that?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, we did it and that's that. I don't look back on it. No hindsight from this one! I thought it was a very nice album, and that's that."

Gentlemanly overcoated, smaller than imagined, hair a carrot-crop, Keith Levene (that's e-n-e) arrives.

KEITH LEVENE: "Fucking pigs! You've only got to push your car. They're such cunts, I'm sick of them, so fucking sick of pigs. Bastards, I'm so sick of them, I practically live with policemen. I socialise more with policemen than anyone else. I never get recognised, y'know, the way John would get recognised. The only person who recognised me is the pig who pulled me the other night, I said my name and he said 'Oh, Public Image!' I thought great, a fucking pig recognised me. Right, sock it to me, baby!"

JOHN McKENNA: "Has it ever occured to you to try to work in a more orthodox fashion and try to compete as such?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, never. It seems so pointless."

KEITH LEVENE: "We're on our own, we're independent entities."

JOHN McKENNA: "You've never tried to work more conventionally and try to prove or establish a sort of superiority?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I don't understand, how can that prove superiority? If it's a situation where, like ... Oh yeah, I could write loads of records and get in the Top Thirty, but, like, I`m into more intricate stuff. If it's a question of, like, doing that just to prove you're successful, is that what you mean? Well, that's stupid, that isn't successful at all."

JOHN LYDON: "You're using someone else's ideas to begin with. You're stuck by those limitations."

KEITH LEVENE: "If it comes to a position where we do compete, I don't think there is any competition in terms of artists like Bowie or Eno. But apart from that, all those bands like Andy Gibb's band and all, none of them have got anything on us. They've got nothing on us, none of them are as fucking deep, you know? None of them have got anything on us."

JOHN McKENNA: "Have you ever tried to construct a theory around your music, like Brian Eno?"

KEITH LEVENE: "The thing about Eno is that he's, like, a non-musician. He maintains that, and his approach to music is totally different. Em, our approach to music can entail that process and, like, John can't play any instruments in a traditional way, but on the last album he played a lot of instruments. So in terms of not being a musician but using sound, getting sound, yeah, that process does occur, but we don't proclaim that to be our mainstream thing, y'know? It's just that I think we have a 360 degree scope, we're very open-minded to what we do. On our approach we have no set ways. We never prepare our material, anything can change at any time."

JOHN McKENNA: "Would you say that helps you to express yourself better?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I'm not aware of wanting to express any one thing particularly. I mean, John writes the lyrics. I'm aware of the lyrics. The way I feel about it is that I would have written them like that, but I just can't write words. I just can't do it, but that's how I feel it anyway. But I don't notice PIL in the music expressing any particular message. By our corporate setup we're setting an example. What was the question ...?"

JOHN LYDON: "I remember when I was in the Pistols, Joe Strummer's motivation was to be better than the Pistols. I found that amusing, but I certainly don't respect him for that."

KEITH LEVENE: "Attitudes like that exist among most bands."

JOHN McKENNA: "But there is a hierarchical scale."

KEITH LEVENE: "Yeah, but instead of understanding each other and working together and finding real alternatives, they all hate each other's guts and slag each other off, and they're all as big wankers as each other. They're all crawling up their own arses and getting nothing out of it."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think there is any value in the old rock music clichés and formulas?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's extremely limiting but, in as much as you need loads of different attitudes in music, I suppose it has value then, it gives you a choice. It's just unfortunate that people in that particular field think that that's how it all has to be."

KEITH LEVENE: "It's wrong to say ... I mean, we hate the verse-chorus-verse-chorus trap, but it's wrong to say it shouldn't be there, because it is there, and because of that you get great singles and so on. And there are certain artists who write using that format, maybe Peter Hammill and such others, and they're really good at it. Well, fuck it - take The Clash. I mean, someone like Mick Jones, it wouldn't occur to him to think of an alternative. I mean, it's an unwritten rock 'n' roll rule, verse, chorus, middle-eight etcetera, and their minds are too limited to think past that. And then, when they hear someone like us saying 'Bollocks to that!', they go and take offence. They don't think 'Ah well ... might be an idea.' Now what they've resorted to doing is, like, instead of doing it in their own inimitable style like when they first came out, they're now on their kind of quadruple, octo-whatever-it-is album, it's like fucking family favourites. A bit of rock 'n' roll, a bit of punk, a bit of this and that, y'know what I mean."

JOHN LYDON: "They've used the same rock 'n' roll laws and applied it to reggae."

JOHN McKENNA: "Does much thought go into deciding what you want?"

JOHN LYDON: "We knew what we didn't want to, that was one of the things."

JOHN McKENNA: "Is it more instinctive or the result of a mental process?"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, we're not complete animals! We think about what we don't want to do."

KEITH LEVENE: "We tend to be that more than the other way around, we tend to be positively negative. Which is good really, because instead of thinking up a known, you're rejecting. And that means you're definitely going to come up with an unknown, which means you're going to come up with something different, things that don't exist. I mean, you're striving for something that doesn't exist, and it is a gut feeling thing so it is instinctive, y'know."

JOHN LYDON: "You see, I see intellectuals as people who waffle on and do nothing, who debate for ever and a day. We do it."

JOHN McKENNA: "Intellectuals never get beyond the point, because they're too obsessed with talking about and examining the point, rather than to see if the point is not a good basis. Would you say working the way you do in a corporate persona has helped the end result?"

KEITH LEVENE: "You're missing the point, actually. We're called Public Image Ltd., and we're saying we're not a band, and we're using music as a vehicle to maybe finance ourselves to do other projects. I think our music is very valid, is needed, and I'm beginning to have enough of music. The whole corporate thing is to make the point that we are a group of people not limited to one particular outlet, the fashion that we work in. When we do our music, that's just another part of us, that's just what we're like. It coincides with the way we go about a lot of things. When I think of corporations I think of big companies in big office blocks, right, with secretaries who are either mega-efficient, or like record companies who are inefficient. The distinction with us is, like, we're setting out to be a corporation, not a band, and it's a very important distinction. Whether it's efficient or not, I don't think it matters, really."

JOHN LYDON: "So long as we do what we want."

KEITH LEVENE: "I mean, I'd rather it was an inefficient corporation than an inefficient rock 'n' roll band."

JOHN McKENNA: "How would you say your unorthodoxy has come about?"

KEITH LEVENE: "We're not orthodox, we're individual. We're individuals."

JOHN McKENNA: "But most individuals aren't as individual."

KEITH LEVENE: "Well, that's a compliment then, thank you. We're strong together. The first second I saw John, it was at the Nashville [1], I mean, I didn't think I'd get to know him cos I didn't want to crawl up his arsehole, but I was very interested in him. He looked fun, you know, and I just liked the look of him. And we ended up together. I don't know what his thoughts were of me, but I know he noticed me. And Jeannette - the three of us are individual. Technically everyone is an individual, because they're individual."

JOHN McKENNA: "What has happened to Dave Crowe?"

JOHN LYDON: "He hasn't died yet!"

KEITH LEVENE: "In respect of PIL he's no longer with us."

JOHN LYDON: "He's got nothing to do with us at all in any way. Lack of commitment is why he had to go."

KEITH LEVENE: "His initial function on joining the band - because definitely he ended in PIL, like, he joined about two days after we formed it - was, because we had a very close feeling for him, John had known him for years, so, like, any excuse would do to get him in the band. So we made him a secretary and he ended up kind of keeping accounts and receipts together and so on. But the PIL thing is that each person must take initiative and must have ideas and just go about them. Not like the way Wobble did in a mercenary way, using the company, y'know. Crowe ended up wanting to be told what his job was. And his head, he was creating, like, a lot of head problems which weren't there."

JOHN LYDON: "He adopted a role."

KEITH LEVENE: "And we gave him the fucking fairest chance, but he's no longer with us, and that's it."

JOHN McKENNA: "There are no clearly defined roles in PIL?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, couldn't be."

KEITH LEVENE: "Like the idea that it's Keith Levene, guitarist? I'm not a guitarist, but that pisses me off. And they always spell it wrong. No, there are no set roles. It's possible, if the situation came up, that I could go into a land deal in Peru, like buy a mine or something. And, like, really, I should talk to John and Jeannette about it, but if the thing just came up and I couldn't get in touch with them, like, they'd have the trust in me to, like, if I want to go ahead with it and draw money out or whatever, I can. And PIL would be not only a music corporation but also a mining corporation. And that's only an example!"

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you not think the stock market is a bit dodgy?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I don't know anything about the stock market. I know diamonds are worth money."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think you can actually go beyond, into the spirit of a piece of music? It's been said of you."

KEITH LEVENE: "By James Blood Ulmer. [2] Someone like him saying that makes it all worthwhile. It's a very great compliment, because we haven't had very much feedback. You're asking if we get beyond ourselves, well, I don't know about that, because in a sense we're non-musicians. Until just recently my whole thing with the guitar was, I hated it. I could play it, but I hated it, and that's why I devised that new way of playing guitar. I just de-learnt guitar. Like, even though we're making records, the situation we're in is, like, we just plonk ourselves in a studio and we use it. What you're talking about is a very musical thing where, especially in terms of jazz, players try and get an energy. Like Miles Davis, if you see him live he's, like, playing his trumpet and he's with his band and he's, like, conducting them, and sometimes he's doing his thing with the drummer, y'know. He don't give a shit about the audience, they're not there, they can get whatever they like out of it. But that whole thing is connected, that whole energy thing, and they do go beyond. Our thing is a totally different thing, it's not a musical thing. Our thing's got a lot, a fucking lot of depth, and it makes a lot of statements. It makes maybe a lot of anti-musical statements, but all they are really is different, it's just different music. So it goes beyond in that sense, but not any other sense."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think people underestimate you?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Oh yeah, because I think they'll listen to our record and it'll knock their head off, but you can't just listen to a record once and like it."

JOHN LYDON: "What we do has total commitment, it's not done just to be weird."

KEITH LEVENE: "But it's like that with us. You could never listen to the 'Metal Box' in one go, you're not meant to, it's a load of singles. With this album you can listen to one side at a time. It's very intense but it's got a lot of depth, which tends to put people off."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think people take your reclassification of records as you might want them to?"

JOHN LYDON: "That's up to them really, there's no dictation. But we know why we made them."

KEITH LEVENE: "Like with the 'Metal Box', we just thought it would be good. People were saying 'Oh, you can't get the records out of the box', and one complaint was that people would have to keep getting up to their record player and turning it over and changing the records."

JOHN McKENNA: "Don't you think that's great?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Course I think it's great, if they want to listen to it in one go, fucking great."

JOHN McKENNA: "Isn't there too much tendency with records to slap it on and slump down?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Yeah, exactly. Well, fuck that, y'know, that's been done for, like, seventeen years. Like stick your album on and sit down and smoke your joints, and then realise the album finished and then change it over, and all that crap, yeah. We just thought the 'Metal Box' was a good thing cos it's three records and a load of material. Trying to get the record company to understand that! We had to pay them back £33,000 to get them to release it. We just put it out as a good idea, y'know. I didn't know how people were going to take it, because at the same time while it wasn't a commercial gimmick, it was a commercial gimmick, and I didn't know if they were going try and use it as a gimmick or not."

JOHN LYDON: "We know why we did it. There's no great thought in it at all, it's just that a film can looks great, full stop."

JOHN McKENNA: "Would you say you start from a very basic point of view and are not as intricate as people make out?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's too bad if people fall into that silly trap. I won't."

KEITH LEVENE: "How can we communicate to people? I mean, that would be great because that's what I want to do, I want to communicate with people. No bullshit, just do it."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think people get frightened off?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I don't know, I don't know what people get. They've got so many preconceptions sort of attitudes about it, like, is that one thing? No one knew if PIL was taking the piss or whether they were serious. And my answer is, if they like the record it doesn't matter if they're serious or not. Why can't people decide whether they like something or not?"

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think there are too many preconceptions about what is good and what is not good?"

JOHN LYDON: "Too many rules and fucking regulations."

KEITH LEVENE: "Dunno, does that person who's a little bit hipper than them like us? Like the journalists, like, Ian Penman did an article on us and he heard 'Flowers Of Romance', and he wouldn't commit himself either way."

JOHN LYDON: "He wouldn't form an opinion. He was frightened."

KEITH LEVENE: "I don't expect people to say it's the best thing that's happened in music, cos there's no need for those kind of remarks, but he didn't commit himself, a real tosser. And that happens a lot, they wait until it's safe, y'know. But you've got to deal with that thing all the time."

JOHN McKENNA: "Are there any intentions of doing any video work for the record?"

KEITH LEVENE: "There's no intention of doing a set of promo videos, no. The thing about PIL and video and, like, Virgin is, that we intend to do a lot of things, videos connected with the record and otherwise, y'know."

JOHN LYDON: "Emphasis on we. Most videos, Visage and all that, they have nothing to do with the videos, they're just used."

KEITH LEVENE: "There's a lot of video stuff that we'd like to do, but Virgin are trying to restrict our finance rather than help us."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think it's important to get into the video field?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I think it's important to avoid the video field that is currently emerging on the market. But it's important for PIL to get involved with video as soon as possible. Sometimes you get a scene emerging and you can't do anything about it. You're around at the same time as it, all you have to do, all you've got to do is, like, see it through but just go along with it. We are currently working with video, on the design of video systems and all, but we have no intention of contributing to the barracking, because I think the video scene at the moment is very, very bad. There are so many aspects of it, with the market coming up, what a video is, what a video could be. When you talk about videos with groups, you're talking about advertising."

JOHN LYDON: "They're just being used in those cases as a promotional vehicle. If that's all the word video means to people, then that's well wrong."

KEITH LEVENE: "That's an important point. Videos have only just now got beyond having just the group playing, so they've twigged that."

JOHN LYDON: "We're not approaching it in that way at all. It's a new outlet for us, we want to make films, short films on video, because they're more accessible to the general public."

KEITH LEVENE: "There are so many restrictions, so many union restrictions. What we intend to create is a complete independent alternative to that MGM thing. It will be the strongest communication point, if it succeeds, of maybe the century. But it's going to take a long time. We're working on it now."

JOHN LYDON: "You don't necessarily just have to make a film to promote a record. We've got loads of short stories and all, and we're just going to, like, use them. We need another outlet for them, and there's definitely going to be a video market."

KEITH LEVENE: "It's really weird, but recently loads of ideas I've had that I can now say were wrong, have been echoed by namely Jerry Dammers. He literally echoed something I said, and later on I found out that the idea I had was totally redundant. Nevertheless he used it to sound good."

JOHN McKENNA: "Have you found restrictions within the music field?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Yeah, it's the Musicians' Union. If you want to put a video on 'Top Of The Pops' it's got to be 2 inch tape. There's a code on the tape, and if you use something else the technicians won't put it on. It's all wrong, it's all restrictions, it's all bollocks. It restricts groups of people. There's all sorts of Catch-22 situations that are all rubbish."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think you'll achieve what you want to?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I don't know what I definitely want to achieve, I'm really depressed at the moment. Certain things have just been going wrong on all sides of the field. I think PIL's going through a very crucial stage at the moment. We've got to get this record out and get it promoted, but, like, Virgin are only pressing up 20,000 records! They say that they'll press up more when it's sold, but if a record is not in when someone wants it, four out of seven won't go back."

JOHN McKENNA: "Are you having a bad time with Virgin?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I am. John and Jeannette aren't, but I am."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think they see you as leading John away from something that would sell more?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Well, they'd like John to be in The Professionals, but, like, he wants to be in PIL. [3] He is in PIL. What Branson doesn't realise, well, what Branson doesn't realise, what he doesn't realise is, that PIL are ten hundred times more worthwhile having! They're scared of taking any risk, like us having to pay them back 33 grand to get the 'Metal Box' released in case it didn't sell, it's fucking crippling, it's so stupid! I don't know if they do it on purpose, because they're crooks or what. It's crippling us. What they don't realise is that this album could sell a whole load and thus sell more of the 'Metal Box' and the first album. They don't realise that."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think PIL records could, and should, sell a lot?"

KEITH LEVENE: "PIL records aren't made for any particular age group. Like, my dad really liked the 'Metal Box'. They're made for everyone. Virgin Records don't realise that if they don't change ... they should listen to us, then they'd make more money."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do you think there's too much pigeonholing of music?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Yes. The only reason why big record companies took on punk bands was not because they thought 'Oh, good, something new.' It was because they realised there was a commercial advantage."

JOHN McKENNA: "Do record companies actually seek to change bands?"

JOHN LYDON: "They stop them existing!"

KEITH LEVENE: "No, they think 'We'll get them in and get them off the street and get them into the establishment.' Or else they get them into a load of debt so they'll have to do what they're told. 'Fuck this, we can't have all these cunts changing the system, otherwise all our Dolly Parton records are going to stop selling!' Their main concern is keeping their cushy little lives, clinging onto their cushy little situations, making sure that their money keeps rolling in. That's why it's so important to become independent, because then you're up against the Mafia and that. We're talking about this, but the average band haven't a clue about it, they're too busy to be stars, too busy dealing with the middlemen."

The most extraordinary thing about the two PIL participants is the earnestness of their approach and the genuine passion they retain for their projects. In comparison to most, the certainty in their minds as to the context, content and value of what they are doing is rigid and unbending. They stress a total commitment and certainly seem to possess it - a definite heaviness surrounds their discussion of events. This is a distracting factor, where their certainty rejects any form of criticism, and certainly their approach is at best open to misinterpretation.

PIL are an advance on most music being created, but only in rock terms. People who listen to the Art Ensemble of Chicago will not be surprised by 'Flowers Of Romance', and Don Cherry wolfed down the elements of eastern music in a much more decisive fashion a long time ago.

PIL would like to reject all values pertaining to music, but they are not all bunkum. There is a value in attempting to improve on the prevailing content and basis of popular music - could it be that PIL simply can't do it?

In a way journalists give PIL too easy a time. Much as I've liked their records, they're no big deal, musically or otherwise, and I for one wish they would do less talking about "future products" and just bring them to completion sooner.

Much salt should treat certain of their pronouncements: look closely and reflect on remarks about contempt for people and the stock market. Hardly very encouraging.

PIL are a great example of how single-mindedness can create a new artefact and a new sound and approach, but that is the essence of it. Ultimately, 'The Brothers Karamazov' is a better buy and rather more intense, and Dostoyevsky never whined ad infinitum about his contract. Some things get a little wearying, like John Lydon's often shallow cynicism. Not that deep.

"Alright, I finished."



"The firm of Public Image Ltd. was founded a wee while ago. Its authorised capital is not much, its shareholders are all drunk, and the directors as dissolute a bunch of ruffians as I have ever encountered in a Watney's household.

"Was it not my learned colleague and brother Lord Denning who said: "I believe this to be true, but I'm not sure and I could be wrong, and I probably am anyway, I think, perhaps." That fine legal brain would have been astounded at the facts of this case which I will now relate.

"They are, eh ... Well, we'll deal with the facts later. However, this prosecution of the directors is correctly brought. I fail to see why the defence should allege that this Honourable Court has no power to create offences. Of course it has.

"Here the charge is one of conduct likely to lead to a breach of the past. A heinous offence, involving creativity, a sense of fun and an unwillingness to listen to 12-bar boogie. Well, gentlemen, it won't do at all.

"The company's last two adventures, the takeover of the engineering supply company, the 'Metal Box', and the market garden enterprise, the 'Flowers Of Romance', are depraved examples of illegitimacy and general too-hoo and blathering. Does the company's prospectus permit such acts? My Lords, not since the case of Coleman v. D.P.P. has such an abomination been foisted on the land. I say to you that no company could, or should, comprehend such acts. Guilty on all counts.

"The second charge is one of inconsistency, to wit, a lot said but a little achieved, activities likely to enrage and annoy, revealing a lack of sympathy for the general populace and sheer bad manners. Gentlemen, I do not know how that fine group, creator of such masterpieces as 'Special Brew', could get involved here, but, on all other counts, guilty.

"A liquidator will be appointed to wind up the company, not, mind you, that the directors were by any means averse to doing that themselves most of the time. Was it not my coll... no, it wasn't, was it?

"I sentence them to extended workouts with The Blues Brothers and Philomena Begley. That is all."

Hot Press, April 3rd 1981

[1] Keith Levene attended the two Sex Pistols gigs at the Nashville Rooms in London W14, supporting The 101'ers (3 and 23 April 1976)
[2] James Blood Ulmer supported PIL's Palladium gig in New York (20 April 1980) and praised PIL's ability to go "beyond music" in interviews.
[3] The Professionals were formed in 1980 by ex-Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook. John Lydon stated in his autobiography that Richard Branson personally asked him to become the singer of The Professionals. Lydon rejected.


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© Mike Laye
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