John Lydon:
Los Angeles Times, November 29th, 1987

© 1987 LA Times

The Story of Johnny Rotten, Career Man

Interviewed by Steve Hochman

A hand is extended in friendly greeting, accompanied by a warm smile and a cheery "Hello."

This is the story of Johnny Rotten?

Well, that was the story of a recent interview outside Virgin Records' Beverly Hills headquarters. The English singer who a decade ago set out with the Sex Pistols to topple the very structure of the rock industry has become the thorough rock professional.

His band, Public Image Limited, has settled comfortably into it's first truly permanent lineup since it began in 1979 (the current quintet has been together for two years) and is playing the standard midsize halls on a current U.S. tour, including a stop Thursday at the Universal Amphitheatre.

It's latest album, "Happy?," carries a big rock sound around that could be almost called conventional, at least in comparison to the dark experimentation of the early PiL.

But seconds after his cordial introduction, Rotten - who these days answers to both his Sex Pistols moniker and his given name of John Lydon - flashed the persona he first became known for.

"I am the immovable object," he said, his hands on his hips and his smile now turned knife-edge sardonic as he told a publicist in no uncertain terms that he would not conduct interviews in an outside courtyard at Virgin's office.

And Lydon remained testy through a 10-minute photo session, his displeasure at having to stand in the sun compounded, he said, by the flu and a hangover.

But once he settled in for the interview along a streetside walkway (he refused to do the interview indoors due to his distaste for central air conditioning), he was nothing short of pleasant as he discussed politics and music.

Is the once incorrigible, anarchic punk now content to play the industry's games?

"I wouldn't see talking to the press as a game," Lydon, 30, said firmly in his elastic Cockney manner. "I would see that as essential. It's very important for the general public to know I'm alive and what I'm doing. It's not a game to me. It's a career."

The irony of Johnny Rotten, Career Man, is not lost on the singer. Asked his reaction to the term rock star, he said, "Well, it implies tedious foolishness, doesn't it? You know limousines, drunken behavior."

But with a hearty, cough-ridden laugh, he quickly added, "And here I am, delivered by a limousine, drunk.

"Life is so full of brilliant contradictions. You enjoy these things. The record company's paying for them, so I don't care. It's perfectly fine. I'm not selling out my principles. I've got nothing against Cadillacs. I think they're nice cars."

Lydon is also quite enjoying the prospect of playing such "nice" venues as the Universal.

"Brilliant, huh?" he said with a triumphant air. "A place I'm not supposed to be playing in; not allowed. Says who? If I want to play on the White House lawn, I will."

He also rejects the notion that what he's doing now is less ground-breaking than what he did when the Sex Pistols stood pop music on it's ear a decade ago.

"I'm still doing that - definitely still doing that," he said. "I've created several musical trends, really. That's not because I'm so far out and fabulous. It's because most bands have no ideas of their own. They're so desperate they'll grab at any old straw."

Among the trends he links himself to are the dub/funk styles he developed in the early PiL with guitarist Keith Levene and bassist Jah Wobble and the heavy metal-punk synthesis of last year's "Album."

But he admits that his current music is not about to start a revolution - something he believes the rock world once again needs.

"It needs a new generation to come out and kick everybody," he said, pulling on the bits of various colored wigs he had glued to his head to compliment his own red, ratted hair. "I mean, I'm not going to do it myself. I've done my bit for society."

And when that new generation comes along, will Lydon be one of the ones to get kicked?

Very likely, he acknowledged. "But they'd be wrong, of course," he added. "The day I run out of ideas is the day I stop making records. It's as simple as that."


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