Melody Maker, October 28th, 1978
Transcribed by Karsten Roekens
© 1978 Melody Maker
THE DANCEABLE SOLUTION
Words: CHRIS BRAZIER. Pictures: DENNIS MORRIS
Consumed by nervousness by trying to hide it, I followed Dennis Morris through the door of John Lydon's house.
Bought with Pistols earnings it's modest but comfortable, with a spacious living room on the first floor that's dominated by the stereo with its massive speakers, the next most noticeable (and important?) feature being the beer can debris which mounted steadily during the hours I was there. The walls are decorated with posters marking various stages of John's infamous career – a whole corner is devoted to 'God Save The Queen', while on the other side is a poster from the Anarchy tour advertising the banned gig at Derby (for which I had a ticket), which looks strangely disorientatingly dated as if it could as easily be a memento of the sixties as of the seventies, were it not for the unmistakable Rotten visage staring out from top.
The present-day owner of that face looked very young somehow, but then he said the same about me as we were introduced. This was the first time I'd spoken to Lydon, and a part of my apprehension dated back to early gigs where I'd found him too intimidating to approach, even just to give a fan's encouragement. A year or so later, with a blind faith that is difficult to understand now a further year on, I'd imputed to the Pistols and to Rotten in particular motives and ideals that I was by no means sure they actually held.
Apart from anything else then, I wanted to speak to John to find out at last exactly what he did think, beneath all the press distortions and the public image, both now and when the Pistols started. Having spent so long in the past assuming or guessing his intentions, I was anxious to know the truth. I'd imagined all kind of things preventing me from finding that out, but Lydon was from the first amazingly forthcoming – not just willing to talk, but even eager to communicate what he felt about past, present and the future.
Jah Wobble hadn't arrived yet, and PIL's Canadian drummer Jim 'Donut' Walker wasn't to turn up, so while Keith Levene sat over the other side of the room, John sat on the floor and talked to me on his own for a long while. Despite the distrust and wariness of the media, which is natural to him after his encounters with the press in the past, he talked openly in that characteristic slow, cutting way which was only replaced by a more familiar London accent near the end of the interview, presumably because he was then more relaxed.
We talked first of Malcolm McLaren, about whom he has very strong feelings.
LYDON: "When we started out the rest of them had no idea what they were doing. So I was the leader, and that was all right. Malcolm was a laugh then, too – he was into wrecking things, and then he saw the money coming in and thought 'Ah, if we can smooth it down a bit we'll make more money.' That was just after EMI, and then they were telling me to write nicer songs and 'Wouldn't it be good if we turned out to be like the Bay City Rollers?'"
BRAZIER: "Oh come on, they didn't really say that ..."
LYDON: "Yeah, that was when Glen was around, it was Glen's idea to be like the Bay City Rollers."
BRAZIER: "And Malcolm went along with that?"
LYDON: "Malcolm loved it! When Glen got the boot it was him or me, and seeing as it was me that wrote the fucking songs there was no question who had to go. Getting Sid in was a problem, cos Steve and Paul had a prejudice against anyone I knew. And then Sid went sour because of Nancy and heroin and fucked himself up and became a total idiot."
BRAZIER: "Did he start doing heroin as soon as he joined the band?"
LYDON: "Yeah, as soon as he had money. Before that it was just speed and silly things that don't make much difference to your life anyway. But then he was impressed by this groupie from New York – like most silly arseholes he had this delusion about New York being the hip place, man, where it all happens, and it doesn't. It's a shithole, it's just one big Dingwalls. But enough of that trash, it's behind me ... baby."
BRAZIER: "But it's not really behind you when Malcolm still impinges on your career, is it?"
LYDON: "Well, that's the shit about it, isn't it? Like, in the new band I'm just one of four members, but the cunt's doing his utmost to destroy us. I don't like that ... I don't like that at all."
The words are characteristically slowed down and clipped for bitter emphasis.
"I'll beat him, there's no way I'll let a little shit like that put me down. Malcolm McLaren the bourgeoisie anarchist – that about sums him up!"
BRAZIER: "Does he or did he ever believe in anarchy as a principle?"
LYDON: "As long as it made him money."
BRAZIER: "But you did say he was in tune with what you were doing at first?"
LYDON: "Yeah, and then he became corrupted."
BRAZIER: "But when he had this idea of a band called the Sex Pistols ..."
LYDON: "He didn't form that idea. That's another myth, another lie."
BRAZIER: "He didn't make up the name?"
BRAZIER: "You see, the way it's been represented is ..."
LYDON: "That's because we've never ever been given the chance to say what was happening with that band, ever. The press was always saying 'Yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before,' and putting it down to Malcolm's ingenuity, which was just total crap. The man was just a collector of ideas - I mean, everyone would sit down and babble on about how they thought things should be, and he'd put it down on paper and that'd be it. A chairman, no more."
BRAZIER: "He didn't think up directions?"
LYDON: "He can't tell me what to do, I wouldn't have it!"
BRAZIER: "Not even at first? The way it was always seen was that Malcolm had this blueprint for a band which was perfected when he saw you in 'Sex'."
LYDON: "Malcolm didn't even ask me to join the others. Bernie Rhodes did, who also designed the T-shirts for that shop, the ones Malcolm took the credit for – that was one of the biggest jokes of the lot. All their T-shirts after that just gatecrashed on the latest sensation, just like the daily papers. That shop was just a big front for the 'Sunday Mirror', no, the 'News Of The World'!"
BRAZIER: "Do you regret your association with them?"
LYDON: "No, I got a helluva lot out of it, didn't I? Experience. It never occured to me before then to join a band. I was given the chance and used it well."
BRAZIER: "You'd never had the idea if that hadn't happened? What do you think you'd have been doing now?"
LYDON: "You can't know, can you? I'd probably ended up in a band at some point, what else is there? People only become seriously involved in music when there's fuck all else left. I mean, you reach a stage when you're just sick of listening to other people's records cos they're not doing it properly, so you set out to do it yourself. You make your own entertainment, and that's the way we are now: we make records for ourselves, not for audiences. You can't be condescending about it, I don't agree with bands who make records to please audiences, that's bad. Virgin tried to change the mix of the single, you know. They didn't like the way we mix things, so they tried to change it after we'd handed over the acetate to them. I don't like that. You know, when you do your own producing they really hate you! They don't like what we're doing, and it's not our job to know about things like VU meters and all that crap. But we just know what sound we want, and we get it. Producers, promoters, all those people are total rubbish!"
He stops talking to play me three songs from the album that they'd like to have out by Christmas, unlikely though that seems at the moment.
LYDON: "You might as well hear what we've got to offer before you comment, it'd be stupid for you to do this otherwise."
If I'd been a little surprised by Lydon's willingness to talk, his desire to convey effectively Public Image Ltd's music was even more noticeable. As he played me 'Religion' he even stood by the deck, periodically turning down the bass so that his words would be more easily discernible. Of the three songs, 'Religion' was probably the most impressive on first hearing, a typically scathing attack on conventional religion, which he pretended at first was called 'Family At War' "because when my family hear it there will be a family at war!"
The sound they achieve on 'Religion' is startingly inventive, the rhythm so immense that the beat itself seems to take on a reggae colouring, which they deny is there. When Rotten's voice enters it's as different as the total sound, unrecognisable as last year's sneer, chanting out his attack bitterly, perhaps parodying a liturgical chant as he spits: "This is religion, there's a liar on the altar / The sermon never falter, this is religion ... This is religion, your religion, and it's all falling to bits, gloriously ... The apostles were eleven, now there's a sod in heaven."
But if the words are scything the music is even more so, especially Keith Levene's acid guitar slices and the unsettling jangling piano (?) intrusions. Perhaps the most important thing about Public Image Ltd's music is that, notwithstanding the lyrics which John feels to be much improved, his voice is more a contributing instrument than the final focus. It is a total sound as on the excellent single, which makes Virgin's abortive attempt to bring up the vocal in the mix such folly.
Jah Wobble's bass is remarkably good considering he only started playing this year (only good, why not great?), but if anything it's Levene's guitar that catches the ear, especially on the immensely powerful 'Annalisa' with his vitriolic style brilliantly undercutting Rotten's railing. Six minutes of relentless attack, 'Annalisa' is "about these silly fucking parents of this girl who believed she was possessed by the devil, so they starved her to death." An actual event in Germany, Annalisa was the girl's real name, and her parents have already made complaints.
The third track they play me (seven are laid down, though not finally mixed, of a planned eight numbers) is much less accessible. Called 'Theme', it constitutes eight minutes of jagged exploration with Lydon singing "I wish I could die" over and over again, playing on "random themes." It's difficult to judge when you're being played the music by the artists themselves at an overwhelming volume, but it all sounded very exciting. "And you can dance to it!" said John jubilantly as one of them faded.
BRAZIER: "What do you think about what's happened to Sid, John?"
LYDON: "Don't care." (long silence)
BRAZIER: "You must have some reaction?"
LYDON: "No." As if reluctantly, he goes on. "I don't see why I should have any feelings about it at all. You see, Sid decided quite some time ago that he was going to become an arsehole, and he did."
BRAZIER: "When did you stop being close to him? When he met Nancy?"
LYDON: "All that fucking heroin shit, it just got on my nerves. I mean, yeah, people take it once in a while, but not every fucking day! And then that decadence trip that he got into, you know, cutting himself, and, ugh! It's nothing."
BRAZIER: "So you didn't want him to do any of that on stage in America?"
LYDON: "No! It was boring, it was fucking silly! He couldn't play the bass, and it made doing gigs just a waste of time cos I had no idea what was going on behind me. There was no tune that I could pick out on, one song sounded very much like the other one. It just all became pointless."
BRAZIER: "But don't you feel sad that a former friend's in that position now?"
LYDON: "Oh, I'm sure Malcolm's looking after his best interests, e.g. he's going to make a wonderful film out of it!"
BRAZIER: "And get him out on bail just to make an album, that's sickening."
LYDON: "He'll try and make a bigger cunt out of Sid than he is already. Malcolm wouldn't even put up the bail himself, the record companies had to do it, that's how great Malcolm is! And then he goes to the press saying 'I'm doing everything I can to help Sid,' when all he's doing is making a film. Let's face it, if Sid gets fucking life that's a perfect ending for Malcolm's 'Rock 'n' Roll Swindle'. So I have no comment cos nothing I can say or do will change that situation."
In case this sounds in any way callous, John was later to say how much he does care about Sid and his predicament. By this time Wobble had arrived, and John put on a reggae tape before moving over to sit beside me, still eager to talk.
LYDON: "The Stranglers, with the help of Harvey Goldsmith etc, couldn't get a gig in London. We managed to get one on our own, the most prestigious in London, which is why we did it. The sarcasm is immaculate," he added coyly.
BRAZIER: "Do you like the Rainbow, then?"
LYDON: "Without the seats yes, which is what we've got. We got that by just talking to them, you just ask them, it's as simple as that. Nobody even bothers to think of things like that."
BRAZIER: "How much did you have to pay them?"
LYDON: "Three thousand. We're going to lose a lot doing the Rainbow, but that's not the point, is it?"
BRAZIER: "Why Christmas Day?"
LYDON: "Birth of Christ." He tried to keep a straight face, but it cracked into a smile.
BRAZIER: "To tie in with 'Religion'?"
LYDON: "To tie in with anything. I don't believe in Christmas, I don't see why others should."
BRAZIER: "Most people accept it not as a religious festival but just a happy time, the day for going back 'into the bosom of the family.' How does your family feel about what you're doing? You're close to your mother, but how will she react to that song 'Religion'?"
LYDON: "She understands my point of view. She's very religious, but she understands that what's wrong with it has to be pointed out. Religion has become a big business. You read your Bible just once, and then look at organised religion, and there's an immediate contradiction. The two just don't go together."
BRAZIER: "There are enough contradictions in the Bible itself before you get to the way it's preached."
LYDON: "The Bible is open to so many interpretations it just isn't true. But I ain't gonna argue about it because I don't care. I know that the Bible has been changed ten times in history, and that's ten known times, so how many unknown times has it been affected? What was originally written is not what you now read."
BRAZIER: "Are you going to print the lyrics on the album?"
LYDON: "Yeah. I didn't before because I didn't think it was worthwhile, but I will this time."
BRAZIER: "You didn't think the other words were worthwhile?"
LYDON: "Of the other songs? What, on 'Bollocks' and that? Some of them were worthwhile, others were throwaways. Things like 'Lazy Sod' weren't worth bothering about, that was a trash song, that was me being bullied into doing it I must admit. No, from that I like 'Bodies', 'Problems', 'Submission'. 'No Feelings', I'm afraid, was thrown away on a bad mix."
BRAZIER: "What was 'Bodies' trying to say? There's been a lot of debate about that song."
LYDON: "Yeah, it was put down as an anti-woman song, anti-Woman's Lib, which is total crap, I don't understand how people work that out! 'Bodies' was about a girl who actually carried her abortion in a plastic bag. There was no social statement in it or anything, it was just about one person. I only like writing about things close to me, know what I mean? Woman's Lib isn't close to me, nor are a load of other subjects like that. It's none of my business."
BRAZIER: "But it could be, though ..."
LYDON: "Maybe if I grow tits. Look, I took it for granted that we were all equal, understand? It's not my problem, I eliminated that from my life some years back."
BRAZIER: "You think so? You think you've eliminated all the conditioning that a man goes through in growing up, all the crap that's drummed into him about how to approach life, to be hung up on achievement and the outer world and ignore his inner life, his emotions, how he must never cry ..." (evangelism again)
LYDON: "Bring that down to basics: you have to do what your family expects!" He laughed, the more so when he saw my frustration at not being able to convey what I meant. "Never give anything a serious thought, because it isn't really worth the effort. Just get on with what you want to do, and if you get slagged off for it that's too bad. At least you've tried."
BRAZIER: "But were you for or against abortion in 'Bodies'?"
LYDON: "Those thoughts never entered my mind. It's nothing to do with that at all, it's about this girl bragging about having a dead human in a plastic bag, which I found offensive. She took it around with her into clubs in this see-through polythene bag, because according to her it was highly fashionable. It offended me."
BRAZIER: "You're not nearly as intimidating as I imagined you'd be ..."
LYDON: "Don't believe all you read in the papers."
BRAZIER: "Right – even if you write it yourself. Are you aware of the image you're projecting now?"
LYDON: "Look, the 'Public Image' record comes out of a newspaper presented with it, full of rubbish aricles that mean nothing. The whole thing is written just like the 'Daily Mirror', it's absolute garbage that you can throw away, it's as simple as that. We've no image at all, we do not present any image at all and I will fight for that utterly and totally. I refuse to be put in any bag ever again, I got branded before and I'm sick of it. I will do my utmost to keep my distance from an image, because images are wrong. You either like a record or you don't. If you're involved in the image and what goes with it, and the decadence, you ain't into music, it's as simple as that!"
BRAZIER: "I took the lyric of the single to mean, you've given me this image, it's what you want, so it's what I'll give you and call it my own creation, my grand finale."
LYDON: "'Public Image', despite what most of the press seemed to misinterpret it to be, is not about the fans at all, it's a slagging of the group I used to be in. It's what I went through from my own group. They never bothered to listen to what I was fucking singing, they don't even know the words to my songs. They never bothered to listen, it was like 'Here's a tune, write some words to it.' So I did. They never questioned it. I found that offensive, it meant I was literally wasting my time, cos if you ain't working with people that are on the same level then you ain't doing anything. The rest of the band and Malcolm never bothered to find out if I could sing, they just took me as an image. It was as basic as that, they really were as dull as that. After a year of it they were going 'Why don't you have your hair this colour this year?' And I was going 'Oh God, a brick wall, I'm fighting a brick wall!' They don't understand even now."
BRAZIER: "But didn't you talk over the issues with them?"
LYDON: "Yeah, but you try talking to illiterates."
BRAZIER: "Yet you didn't despair early on. Weren't you ever friends with Paul and Steve?"
LYDON: "No. I just thought 'They're never going to understand, so I'm going to use this the best way I can.' At least I got out some of my thoughts, which was important to me. I do believe I have something to say that's worth saying."
BRAZIER: "How do you see what you started off now, how much do you think it achieved?"
LYDON: "A helluva lot! I'll tell you what ruined the Sex Pistols: it was that year's delay when we couldn't get gigs. Malcolm kept saying 'we can't get gigs anywhere, it's your image,' blah-blah. I found that out to be total rubbish, total lies. I was deceived myself cos I actually fucking believed it! I defended it and said we couldn't get gigs, but then I go out to somewhere like the Music Machine and they say 'We offered gigs ages back but Malcolm wouldn't take them.' My mouth fell four foot! I'd be treated like a cunt, and I didn't like it. And America was the proving of the theory. For instance, the last gig me and Sid were bunged in a motel outside San Francisco on the motorway, a real shoddy little shithole. Steve and Paul were with Malcolm in the biggest hotel in San Francisco, and the roadies had got a bed in there, but they wouldn't let me and Sid in. I only found out later that it was because Malcolm hadn't booked us a room, he didn't want us around. So that was it, I walked out. And then I heard about the Ronald Biggs fiasco, six hours before I was supposed to go to Rio. Nobody had bothered to tell me and I found out from a journalist! I rang up Malcolm, who 'couldn't speak, he was tired.' It just went on like that, Malcolm all the time stirring situations in the band. It was ridiculous. I was used."
BRAZIER: "Why did it take you so long to realise you were being used?"
LYDON: "I probably realised all along, but I just hung on in there, baby. I find it very hard to give things up once I start them, I like to carry things through.
I thought the Sex Pistols ultimately could have achieved what we set out to do, and that's destroy the big band system. I thought we could have done that and brought things back to a danceable level."
BRAZIER: "You don't think you succeeded?"
LYDON: "No, we failed. Very badly. Lots of egg on face."
BRAZIER: "That would have been your manifesto two years ago, to conquer the big band system?"
LYDON: "Still is. To stop record companies manipulating. To eliminate producers, which no band should need because who better to decide what your own records should sound like than yourselves?"
(Wobble had said earlier that they should maybe have used a producer "to tell us when we could go to the toilet in the studio.")
LYDON: "An engineer is there to show you how to get what you want. Why have promoters and agencies to book tours when you can do it yourselves?"
BRAZIER: "But you didn't stand for that at first, because you did use promoters and an agency ..."
LYDON: "Yes, but I was put into that situation, don't you understand? That's what I was against, but Malcolm turned the fucking tables on me. When we first started, the 100 Club gigs we booked ourselves, we rang them up ourselves. But Malcolm got bored of that and we got in an agency, and things just went sour. Then there was a year off doing fuck all and we fell apart. Then we did that small tour up North ending on Christmas Day – a year before the Public Image gig, which is another reason for playing then. And that gig was in front of orphans, which Malcolm didn't like cos it didn't make him any money, it was free. He was very annoyed, I was very pleased, and Sid was very scared, because he was junked up and couldn't cope with kids throwing cake at him."
What a wonderful picture, the current bête noir of the civilised world, terrified by orphaned children throwing cakes at him.
LYDON: "I thought it was brilliant, it was excellent. I tell you, young kids just suss things straight way. They don't go into complicated philosophies, they just like or they don't like, and surely that's as simple as it should be."
John went on to say that Wobble, Keith, Dennis and Dave (PIL's secretary) were all friends of his that the Pistols disliked, and that Malcolm especially resented John's friendship with Dennis on the Scandinavian tour because it didn't fit in with the image he had in mind.
LYDON: "Because of the image I wasn't supposed to have any friends. And the irony of the situation was that I gave them their public image in the first place. Whether I was aware of it at the time or not is irrelevant. Actually I wasn't. I just did what I thought was right, and they took that image to promote me inside it, and I wouldn't have it. I would not become a parody of myself."
BRAZIER: "In fact Malcolm must have wanted you to be exactly what 'The Sun' and the 'Mirror' wanted you to be."
LYDON: "Yes, yes, totally."
At this point he called over Wobble and Keith, who were probably tired of sitting on the sidelines. This was after all supposed to be a group interview.
BRAZIER: "I'd like to know exactly what PIL are trying to do."
LEVENE: "We're not trying to do anything."
BRAZIER: "You're not trying to achieve anything?"
LYDON: "Every band has an image they project, we refuse to project any one image. It's as simple as that. You will see advertising campaigns that project nothing but total blandness and emblems."
WOBBLE: "That sort of thing Devo are aiming at but will never achieve."
LYDON: "No, Devo are into factories."
LEVENE: "And mass production. We're out of factories."
LYDON: "They're just a version of the business, a record company taken to extremes, that's what Devo are."
WOBBLE (with exaggerated politeness, but sincerely): "I'm trying to get into a band to make a bit of money and have a bit of a laugh, because I'd rather do that than spend the rest of my time down Whitechapel, going into backstreet pubs in a dead-end existence, signing on and getting kicked off the dole and crawling my way back on it alternate weeks. I'd rather have a steady wage and a comfortable place to stay because I don't like the cold. If you think that's selling out, then I have. I've been waiting for the chance for twenty years."
LYDON: "Sold out! I'll tell you, that's bullshit. That's a middle-class term for people who've always had money and try and pretend they haven't. I've never had anything from day one, so now I think it's about fucking time I had something, know what I mean? I want what I've never had, and I want it in huge amounts, quite rightly so 'n' all. Oh no, money's great, you can use it."
BRAZIER: "How would you use it?"
LYDON: "Listen, how do you affect things like 'Vogue' magazine except by infiltrating it and changing its approach?"
BRAZIER: "Take it over? Would you do that?"
LYDON: "If I had the fucking cash I would. I want to change all that shithouse things."
BRAZIER: "What would you replace it with?"
WOBBLE: "Look, you keep asking us for exact answers when we're only just finding out ourselves."
BRAZIER: "I've only trying to find out how you think ..."
WOBBLE: "I try not to think about it too much cos it gets very confusing."
LEVENE: "I really don't think about what I'm doing, right? I'm just doing what I want really."
LYDON: "It's like the Pistols, right? Somehow or other we started off without knowing what we were doing, didn't know what the fuck was going to happen, but other bands seen something in there they could pick up on and take further. It's just unfortunate that the punk thing went the wrong way."
WOBBLE: "We're not into any exacting sociological philosophy. We're just picking up on what we want. It's taking form and everything'll become more apparent in six months or so."
LYDON: "All right, let's talk about something else now. I think we've lectured him to death with our bullshit, our drum talk."
WOBBLE: "We need the money from the single to allow us to do the things we want to."
BRAZIER: "With the band, you mean?"
WOBBLE: "Well, I don't mean to buy Rolls Royces."
LYDON: "Fuck that. This is the ultimate, this is what I've always wanted: a big front room. And I got it so dirt cheap it was unbelievable."
WOBBLE (laughing): "We're doing a lot of benefit concerts in a couple of months, benefits for Keith's new car and my new house!"
BRAZIER: "What are your finances like now?"
LYDON: "We're bankrupt. We've spent all the first advance just paying bills for rehearsals cost. We don't own our own equipment yet, just the guitars. Don't you think people like Eno should lend us their gear when we can't get any ourselves? They came out with all this shit about supporting what we were doing, but they don't help us like we help other bands."
WOBBLE: "What happens is that we go to Branson and ask for something as a special favour, and he says yes with embarrassment all over his face. And then you're invoiced, and when you say Branson said it was all right they go 'He's just left, gone to a meeting.'"
LYDON: "Gone to buy another houseboat."
BRAZIER: "Or another island. Don't you ever regret joining a company?"
LYDON: "What's the alternative, forming our own? Ultimately I'd like to do that. Unfortunately I'm restricting the other three because I'm obliged to Virgin and Warner Brothers, which means we have to accept slightly bummish deals. Unfortunate but true! Hopefully we'll get out of it in about, what, eight years time." (laughing)
WOBBLE: "Did you like the music?"
LYDON: "Don't you think they're good dance songs?"
BRAZIER: "Yes. There is a strong reggae influence though, don't you think?"
LYDON: "No!" (amazed)
WOBBLE: "I can see what you mean in that the bass is heavy, and there's a bit of a ring on the snare drum, and the guitar's bit toppy. But that's all."
LYDON: "Don't you see that all of us have always had the opinion that rock should sound like that: the bass should rattle the floorboards, the treble should be ear-piercingly good so that you feel up."
LEVENE: "I've always hated rock 'n' roll guitar, I've always been against twelve-bar riffs. My guitar isn't based on anything. All the chords I do are different, I don't do anything the way I learned it. I'm trying to make my own sound, pick up on my own way of playing. I might have done it with The Clash, but every time I wrote a song Mick Jones would come in with a new version the next morning, and they always took Mick's version. They always thought my ideas were just jokes, so I left or we split up or whatever. So my guitar was like that in the first place, but I didn't have room to use it in that band."
BRAZIER: "Are you deliberately being anti-melody?"
LYDON: "What? You're joking! Quite the opposite!"
WOBBLE: "There's a lot of tune in there. Normally in westernized music the singer follows the melody that they're following behind him. But with us it's like in reggae, like with Dennis Brown: the singer sings the melody he wants."
BRAZIER: "Would you say you have to look for the melody in the bass and guitar as well, with the voice just another instrument, instead of all the emphasis being on the vocal?"
LEVENE: "Yeah. Normally the guitar lays out a rhythm and a melody-line is laid on top, but with us the guitar can be playing either a rhythm or a melody-line. I use inversions of the same rhythm with nothing set, I use random rhythms to open it up, though I usually adapt to what John sings."
LYDON: "We work very quickly because we don't limit ourselves to basic rock 'n' roll standards of verse-chorus-verse-chorus. We do songs like that, but we also use abstract themes, whatever you can dance to best."
WOBBLE: "We're where a lot of bands are trying to get, we're what they'd love to be. Bands like The Pop Group and all them other avantgarde bastards."
LYDON: "You snob!"
WOBBLE: "It's true though, innit? When they hear that, they're gonna toss off in frustration."
LEVENE: "You wait till you hear them more than once. 'Public Image' is good, but it's just a single, but the rest of it ..."
BRAZIER: "The single won't be on the album?"
LYDON: "A different version with different words. There are about twelve verses to 'Public Image'."
WOBBLE: "I think the single should be on the album cos it means people waste 90 pence, which I think is funny." (much laughter) "All I think of an album is: twenty minutes a side, which will get me my advance. That gay disco band the Village People did an album that was eight minutes a side – now that is class! It's all about money."
From which point the interview descended into a mess of piss-taking that made me uncomfortable, with Wobble and Levene having sussed out my aversion to wealth and crass materialism pretending to be completely unscrupulous exploiters of the kids, aiming to retire to a tax haven in the old style.
The only interesting thing that emerged was that the two of them are going to follow up Wobble's 'Dreadlock Don't Deal In Wedlock' single with an album, contributing to the idea they have of Public Image Ltd. as an umbrella concept rather than just a group.
Later on, as we watched the film they gave to 'Saturday Night People' (apparently as much to refute Mickie Most's claim that he'd get them banned from the network after the 'Revolver' farce as anything else, though the film is even available to 'Top Of The Pops'), John started to open up again on a one-to-one basis.
LYDON: "What was pissing me off was that there were so many imitations, do you understand?"
BRAZIER: "You didn't want everyone to follow you."
LYDON: "No, that wasn't the idea, the idea was to be yourself. I've always gone down as saying that I don't care what people wear, it really doesn't matter. It's the personality that counts, the old grey matter up here. Unfortunately most people misinterpreted that to mean imitating me, that was the shame of it, and that's why that had to stop."
BRAZIER: "Do you ever set out to offend anymore?"
LYDON: "No. Setting out to offend is boredom at its worst."
BRAZIER: "But there seemed to be a point at which you seemed to be becoming 'cleaner' before you went back the other way again. One of the signs was changing your name to Lydon, though it seems to have reverted to Rotten lately."
LYDON: "No, that's just down to the press again, innit? I never set out to use me own name. Sometimes they call me Lydon and sometimes they call me Rotten, and I have no control over that."
BRAZIER: "How do you want to be known?"
LYDON: "I don't really care. I couldn't care two shits what you call me, but don't write that as a deliberate act by me to set myself up as ... I never called myself Rotten anyway! I was called it because of my bad teeth."
BRAZIER: "But there seemed nevertheless to be a time when you were setting out to show how intelligent and broadminded you were, instead of the opposite."
LYDON: "Well, this is down to the journalists again, isn't it? I was always the same, it's the way they present you. A few people just started saying 'Let's present him as intelligent instead of as the ignorant cunt we presented him as before.' It's all down to you, and you know that. You can make me look a fool by merely using certain things I say out of context. Look at all the interviews with me, they're absurd. I've gone through years of it now, I don't trust journalists at all. Don't expect me to trust you, because I won't, to me you're just another one of those cunts that misinterpret, until I see what you do. Criticism is essential to a band, but unnecessary and pointless criticism is just destructive."
BRAZIER: "But wasn't the Capital Radio programme you did designed ..."
LYDON: "Ah! The Capital Radio show, another crucial issue. I played all the records I liked on that, all kinds of music because I like all kinds of music. But Malcolm & Co. were furious when I did that and didn't play Iggy and The Stooges and the New York Dolls, things like that which as far as I'm concerned are very trivial rubbish. The shit I got from Glitterbest was just unbelievable! They said I'd destroyed what we stood for, but I wrote the fucking songs, didn't I? I know where I stand, even if I can't´put it into decent English because I'm not very bright and haven't had a good education and all that. But you must understand what I mean."
BRAZIER: "Well, I wish you'd actually come out and say exactly what you stand for ..."
LYDON: "It's very difficult because I don't think about it that obviously, I don't sit down and write it in words. It's in my mind but I can't put it into words because those words haven't been invented yet. They're feelings that I can't describe. Annoyed, fucking annoyed, I'm just pissed off with things the way they are. They should change."
BRAZIER: "Do you mean in the music business?"
LYDON: "So far yes, but everywhere else too. Take one trivial example: everything is shut down on Sundays because of religion, when most of the population don't follow religion. But you can't change anything because the papers and the television are controlled by the top 1%. You're manipulated at every single turn, no matter what you do. It's like I'm fighting a losing battle permanently. Everything we do is destroyed by other bands imitating and weakening. That's why image has to be destroyed from here on in."
BRAZIER: "But if you're so anti-image, why call your band Public Image?"
LYDON: "Limited! Public Image Limited! It's a piss-take, it's ironical, do you not understand? The Public Image is Limited!"
BRAZIER: "That's what I hoped you meant."
LYDON: "It's very hard to put into words, because the words have been corrupted by so many people. I just hope it comes out on plastic. Unfortunately the single has been misinterpreted by arseholes. That's a real annoyance because as far as I'm concerned that's a jolly good record which beats any competition. So, like, the press to us is dirt now. To be honest to the press is pointless because they'll manipulate you anyway. The press have been bastards. I've been through rubbish now for so long that I have to throw rubbish back at you, baby, and I really don't care. The shame of it is, I do."
A disarmingly open and endearing smile lights up his face as he says that. Even on tape the moment is touching!
LYDON: "I don't like being misinterpreted."
BRAZIER: "Misinterpreted as saying you don't care when you really do, that's what it's always been really, isn't it?"
By now it felt as though the barriers were really down. Dusk was falling but no one made any attempt to turn on a light. The television churned out its usual Saturday evening mind-numbing trash, though no one was watching. John's voice was suddenly warmer, more relaxed.
LYDON: "It's an odd position. I've left an infamous band, I'm not being judged as a starter any more. I'm up on a pedestal, and that's bad news, it affects the band and it shouldn't. That was something I did and stopped, and now I'm doing something else which in my opinion is better. We're approaching it in the way we should have approached it in the start. I learned a lot. I intend to throw garbage back into everybody's faces as long as I live. People who believe what they read are fools. I think the record far surpasses everything else around, a gem in a pile of shit. I quite frankly think 'Public Image' is brilliant, I think it's superb, and I think I've got a wonderful voice."
BRAZIER: "Are you trying to sing more on the single, instead of sneering your way through it like you used to?"
LYDON: "I sneered before because I was taking the piss out of ourselves as much as anything, while trying to avoid being a parody of myself. I was never allowed much scope in that band, it was limited to Chuck Berry riffs and I had to deal with it accordingly. I'm now in a band that is, er, very versatile, shall we say?"
BRAZIER: "But wasn't that part of it, their being limited musicians?"
LYDON: "No, not the way I see things. The whole punk phenomenon to me was something that could just take over. Brilliant, basic, subversive and straight, you know, different attitudes all at once."
BRAZIER: "And different kinds of music all at once."
LYDON: "Yes, definitely!"
BRAZIER: "But just supplanting the old reactionary forms?"
LYDON: "Stopping the old Grateful Dead syndrome, you know what I mean? Seventeen albums that all sound the same, and super gigs, that I found unnecessary. Which brings us to the Rainbow. People have been complaining about the £3,50 tickets.But if you can set up a show for Christmas Day with several support bands, your own PA which costs the earth, in a place that size, and sell tickets at under £3,50 I'll give you a medal! We are losing already. People who criticise should know what they're talking about."
BRAZIER: "But a lot of the criticism will have come from people in the street, who'll complain at the price in the same way you did a few years ago for a gig by, I don't know, The Who."
LYDON: "Hang on a minute! The Who were at £3,50 five or six years ago, which is the equivalent of six or seven quid now. I could have charged that price and still filled it, but I didn't want to. That's the difference. Poet And The Roots are gonna do the gig – I love that album! You see, him I judge as like being on an equal level with us, in a different sphere: he's dealing with black problems and we're dealing with white problems. And the two won't meet ... yet."
BRAZIER: "But it helps to make your audience aware of ..."
BRAZIER: "Point taken. Would you ever go back to America with this band?"
LYDON: "Yeah, yeah, I've seen America, but they haven't."
BRAZIER: "But do you think you'll be able to get your message across, don't you think it'll just get lost in that great hunk of blandness?"
LYDON: "Oh, well, that's for sure. The American press are definitely out to kill punk, because it's lowering the sales of their top albums."
BRAZIER: "Like 'Rolling Stone' making 'Rumours' its album of the year, when its writers had voted for 'Bollocks'?"
LYDON: "That's it. You got it."
BRAZIER: "So my point is, is it worth it if your message is going to be lost there? You'd be that much more concentrated and relevant if you stayed here."
LYDON: "What do we do, give up? The more those cunts pit themselves against us, the more we fight back. Listen, as a band Public Image Ltd. will either win or lose, the can't be no in-between. We'll probably lose, but let's face it, that's not such a great catastrophe, is it? That's doing a helluva lot more than the competition. You know, people credited Glen with writing some of the Pistols' songs, well show me, I've listened to a lot of Rich Kids songs: where's the competition?"
BRAZIER: "He said he wrote all of 'Pretty Vacant' but two lines."
LYDON: "Oh really? That's not true. I'll tell you now, just to clear the record, that 'Pretty Vacant' was a combination of two songs that I wrote. Glen joined the two together with a bassline and that is the connection, no more. I don't like people who claim credit for what I write. Like Malcolm apparently spread a rumour that I didn't write 'Anarchy'. That I find really offensive. People never bother to get my side of things."
BRAZIER: "Well, you're not easy to get hold of, you don't like being phoned up, which is understandable."
LYDON: "Not by the press. I put it straight down. I mean, like with this Sid fiasco - that phone had to be left off the hook for two days because of the bullshit. Wanting my comments on Sid and Nancy, I mean, it's nothing to do with me, that's his personal life. I couldn't interfere and I wouldn't want to. Sid is a mate of mine, I still term him as a mate, even though we had battles and God knows what arguments."
WOBBLE: "I can just see it: the day after 'Melody Maker' is printed 'The Sun' coming out with 'Johnny Rotten Says: Sid And Me Are Still Chums – Exclusive!'"
LYDON: "Don't you understand? Before, what I said was against the public image of things in the Sid affair. Sid to me is a mate. He's always been a dodo. I've known him a long while, but I won't comment on that kind of scandal. It's nothing to do with me and him. He's been manipulated, that is the problem. Most people are just accepting that he did it, and Malcolm is doing nothing to solve that. Was it the 'Express' that quoted him as saying Sid has always had a bad public image and a tendency to be violent? He did him no favours. Sid isn't capable of killing her. It's not possible."
BRAZIER: "Not even in an extreme moment?"
LYDON: "No. It is not possible. Full stop. It sounds so corny when you say, a victim of circumstance. I won't comment. I don't want to be printed as saying anything about it. God, it's so difficult! Say it was a close friend of yours and the press wanted a comment because it's good press. You feel so bad. I don't want to know, I just want to keep out. Malcolm's making a lot of money out of Sid's personal tragedy, and that offends me. There's not too much I can do about it either, it's as simple as that."
BRAZIER: "Does going out still bother you?"
LYDON: "Oh, here comes the paranoid question! Am I scared of going out? No, I don't give two fucks. Question: Where would you go then? Answer: Nowhere, because it's all boring. End of comment. That's why I'm totally involved in writing songs. I'm not scared, that's press again, they love the scandal aspect. 'Rotten Is Scared', it does read good, I must admit. If it wasn't me I'd have fits of hysteria about it. The crux of the matter is that there's nowhere to go. I don't like the bands that are doing the circuit at the moment. I'm bored. I only usually go to reggae clubs."
BRAZIER: "Don't you approve of any of the bands now, don't you think any of them have carried the flame? Don't you like anyone?"
LYDON: "Well, let's see, I like Peter Hammill's records, they're good fun, but I met him and I talked to him and I didn't like him as a person at all – I thought he was a big-mouthed middle-class cunt, I never understood a word he said. Who do I like? I like Neil Young, not 'After The Goldrush'-shit but the stuff where he experiments with sound. I love it, I like it a lot. Magma I liked for a period, but they've fallen apart. Tim Buckley I liked."
It was dark now and John was dancing enthusiastically to some reggae, as Wobble called me over for a few last words. We'd talked earlier about his previous lifeline out of the "dead-end existence" he mentioned – he was a junior at Spurs but didn't make the grade, but he's committed to music now, not only developing fast on bass, but keen on his solo work.
WOBBLE: "I've got more singles to come, and I'm going to be producing some reggae bands. I've got a lot of reggae to get out of my system which I'll play with Keith, who can play reggae drums and guitar. And I've got some ideas for instrumental sound effects-type music." But Public Image is the main event. "I hope you realise that we're gonna lose. We're not gonna win, we're gonna lose, and I'll end up in a mental home or a nick. We all will, we're all well and truly fucked, and next year will be the end of the line. We'll have a bash, but if you stick your neck out for too long it gets cut off. Our necks are gonna be cut off cos you always lose. You enjoy the first album or two, and then that's it. Life's like a big mental home, they keep you under observation and you don't get away with too much for too long."
And with those doomy words in my ears I disappeared into the night. The last glimpse I had of John was appropriate – he was still dancing.
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
© Dennis Morris