Melody Maker, August 8th 1987
Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens
© 1987 Melody Maker / Black Mat Smith
PIL are a band again, but are they happy or is 'Happy?' just the title of their forthcoming album? BLACK MAT SMITH met up with the seething jokers to discover the lengths they'll go to get the last laughs. Pics: TOM SHEEHAN.
This summer's most glorious sight was John Lydon enjoying himself at Island Records' 25th birthday party. While the second division celebs flitted around the photographers, desperate to be seen talking to or tongue-sandwiching anyone who might prolong their fifteen minutes, Lydon just sat there, dressed to the nines in a white silk suit, with his glorious suntanned wife by his side, while a constant stream of admirers made the pilgrimage to his table. Light-headed, they were all sent away amused or abused. Whatever the reception, they all felt immeasurably better for shaking the hand of the man who ... Never had the gap between the haves and the have-nots been so sharply defined.
JOHN LYDON: "Why should I have moved around? I had my seat, and how rare were seats that night!"
BLACK MAT SMITH: "What you were doing there seems more to the point, John."
JOHN LYDON: "I went to that cos I know Chris Blackwell. I have done for years and he's done me a few favours. Then, from that I got this invite to the Slimelight. They've done me a few favours as well, if you need a free drink after midnight, the Limelight's the place. It's alright, it's just the company you have to keep in those places – a lot of turd-burglars, rear-runners and fudge-packers."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Ouch! It'll be in 'The Sun' by the end of the week – 'Lydon Blasts Gays!'"
JOHN LYDON: "Oh, don't – Johnny Rotten and his right-wing views! Well, more fool for the people who believe it. There was a letter in your paper last week about me buying a castle, I mean, fuck off! What kind of a moron bases their reality on what they read in 'The Sun' or the 'Mirror'? They don't question that, but they question me? Scandal! That awful Gill Pringle and her vendettas. She's out to get us now, cos I told her where to go. So expect lots of nastiness from her in the future. Old cow."
With the inevitability of the prodigal son, John Lydon has returned and he wants his old room back. Contrary to popular opinion, he hasn't been in L.A.
JOHN LYDON: "I don't know where they got that one from, but as long as the taxman is under that assumption everything's fine. Anyway, L.A.'s awful, like Liverpool with palm trees."
Nor is he afraid to talk about the skeletons in his cupboard, even though the safety pins hanging from their ears have long gone rusty. And even when he's only on so-so form it's a rare pleasure to be in his company. A pleasure to hear that infamous tongue recoil, ready to lash out, and a pleasure to drown in the resulting stream of invective. His abuse is vicious but rarely crude. Sometimes ungainly but always well-placed. John Lydon is your past, your present and could still very well be your future, given half a chance. Given more than half a chance, he'll talk you under the table about anything, from shark fishing and Dolly Parton to Boy George and the media.
JOHN LYDON: "They turned it into a light-hearted farce, didn't they? Which it wasn't. Anyone who fucks about with heroin is a naughty boy and should be seriously disciplined. But he seems to have come out of it. He's alright, he can sing."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "And Terence Trent D'Arby?" 
JOHN LYDON: "No, don't like him, boy. Too old-fashioned for my tastes. Tamla, ugh, I've never really liked it. I'm into rollicking rock 'n' roll voices meself, anyone but Gene Pitney and Jerry Lee bloody Lewis."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "What do you think about Curiosity?" 
JOHN LYDON: "That's silly, isn't it? Not worth talking about, all that wimpy stuff is no threat to anybody. That's the trouble: safety first, isn't it? At least Terence does threaten to explode. Did you see that spotty Ben Perrier water bloke on 'Network 7'? They asked him 'When did you first masturbate?' Ha ha ha! He went so red, I thought he was going to ask 'Why, does it show?' Ha ha ha!"
Lydon creases up in giggles on the sofa, waggling his feet in the air like some out of control turbine engine. Only the sobering tought of U2 brings him to a halt.
JOHN LYDON: "Couldn't care less about them, mate. It's just mediocre pub rock on a big scale, not threatening in the least. It appeals to the mediocre, and the mediocre are the majority."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Isn't there anything you've liked recently?"
JOHN LYDON: "No, not really. Oh, hang on, yes – surprise, I like the new Wet Wet Wet single, even though the band are absolute goonybirds. Did you see them on 'Top Of The Pops'?  Fucking hell, buck teeth galore, they looked autistic!"
If he'd wanted he could have been a millionaire by now. Probably a few times over.
JOHN LYDON: "I've never taken the easy options, even though they've been there all the time."
Following his acting debut in 'The Order Of Death', he was inundated with film offers. He turned them all down.
JOHN LYDON: "There's never been a serious offer. It's all rubbish, and I won't take rubbish."
Mention of Alex Cox's 'Love Kills' provokes a similar reaction.
JOHN LYDON: "By the time Alex got in touch with me they'd almost finished shooting, and that was very rude of him. The film is a piece of nonsense, vile and dreadful. It glorified the grottiness of heroin. There are enough fools out there who'll think that it's a good way to go – it isn't, and to see any romance in that is pathetic. Alex Cox is just a Johnny Come Lately who wasn't interested in anything but his own version of the truth. Unfortunately that seems to be the case with most people of that kind. It's a tragedy that in only ten years since the Pistols the truth has been bastardised almost beyond recognition. The things that people suppose I was all about and still am all about are all wrong. The political ranting and raving I left up to The Clash, nothing to do with me, thank you very much. I believe in personal politics and individuality, which of course no party caters for."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "What did you think of her re-election?"
JOHN LYDON: "A farce, as always. It makes no difference whether she's in or out, the same policies will continue and always will. The status quo must be maintained. 'The Sun' has got a lot to do with it, and the working class themselves of course ask for it, seeing as though they buy 'The Sun' in their droves. Buy it by the case, they do."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Do you think you'll ever see a Labour government elected back into office in your lifetime?"
JOHN LYDON: "Do I want to, you mean? I remember them as being incredibly boring and never doing anything. They were so mundane they couldn't even be bothered to make you a promise! It's a tragedy, and it's true. I'd go for a common sense party. I'm definitely not interested in the extreme left, cos that's just selfish rubbish – 'I've got nothing, therefore no one will have anything.' It's inverted selfish rubbish, so fuck off!"
He waggles his head, rolls his eyes and flops back onto the couch, exhausted with the effort of it all. Despite the monumental ranting, Lydon's happy. And to prove it, he's just given the new PIL album that very title, adding a question mark for characteristic open-ended sarcasm.
BLACK MAT SMITH: "So why 'Happy?', John?"
JOHN LYDON: "Why not? We're all going to die, so we might as well go out on a good note. We're all fairly happy and proud of what we've just achieved. It's a magnificent piece of work."
Lydon's characteristic big-headedness, although it comes over as such, is not, repeat not, an act.
JOHN LYDON: "I don't believe in false modesty, I find it stupid. I'm not gonna play the humble, that's nonsense. I don't believe people when they come that crap."
After a protracted midlife crisis, during which Lydon seemed to be picking up anyone and everyone around him, PIL are a band once again. 'Happy?' marks the vinyl debut of former Banshees and Magazine guitarist John McGeoch, Lu Edmonds, Allan Dias and Bruce Smith, a group that toured Europe and America with John Lydon last year.
JOHN LYDON: "It was driving us up the wall not being able to do our own stuff, but we've done that now and we're gonna drive you up the wall!"
He says, leering into the tape recorder. Despite their frequent criticisms, particularly for the label's lack of financial support on the last tour, PIL have re-signed to Virgin on what Lydon calls "very favourable terms, boy," licking his lips and lighting a fag with a £50 note just to make sure I get the message.
JOHN LYDON: "They didn't want us to go. I'll tell you that, they know talent when they see it. They fought tooth and nail to keep us."
The thought of Branson entering bids by Vodaphone from a balloon halfway across the Atlantic is one to relish.
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Wouldn't it have been fair game to return the label's trust with an LP of unaccompanied readings from the Brussels telephone directory?"
JOHN LYDON: "No. I've never done anything for those sort of reasons. I get into things cos I want to involve myself in a certain area, not to shock. This is a very pop record, there's a great deal of variety, it's not experimental. Whether there's a number one single on it I wouldn't know, that's up to the general public. I think everything I've done should have been number one."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Does it piss you off then that PIL still aren't taken seriously?"
JOHN LYDON: (in mock horror) "Aren't they? There's a great suspicion among the journalist clique because I'm smarter than the average journalist, and this they resent. There's this huge fear of intelligence out there, you're not supposed to know what you're doing. I'm afraid, I know what I'm doing, and I know exactly why I'm doing it. And I will win sooner or later, because I am better. And this I genuinely believe."
He insists, fixing me with The Stare. Lydon does believe it, and he's probably right too, however it's a far cry from original PIL bassist Jah Wobble's comment to MM's Chris Brazier in 1978: "We're not gonna win, we're gonna lose." 
JOHN LYDON: "Well, he won't ever win," he lashes sardonically, curling the word 'he' around his tongue as if it's some kind of maggot. "He's too busy collecting tickets at Covent Garden tube station." 
Lydon has never been a chameleon in the accepted sense of the word, nor does he intend to alter after this long.
JOHN LYDON: "I don't change my colours, I'm not a hypocrite!"
He wears one coat, admittedly of many colours, and he wears it well.
JOHN LYDON: "People have these silly taboos about things which must cease. I myself buy all kinds of music and I always will. I'm not fearful of anything, the image side of it can go to hell, I just like music. I go right across the board, there isn't anything out there that I'm afraid to dabble with."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Oh dear."
JOHN LYDON: "Oh dear reminds me of country and western, which is a bit fearful, but I'll still have a go at it sooner or later. I'd love to do a duet with Dolly."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Have you made any approaches?"
JOHN LYDON: "No. I couldn't get near her."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Why do you still bother?"
JOHN LYDON: "Because it's enjoyable. A good gig can be heartwarming. I do it cos it's relevant. I don't want to die in obscurity. I make records for myself and if they're liked then that's good. If not, then good too, cos there's plenty more where that came from."
JOHN McGEOCH: "It's something that gets into your system. I remember when I left the Banshees I was producing a couple of Swedish bands,  and after about three months I was just dying to get back into a group."
Like a couple before him and more since, McGeoch was sacked from the Banshees when his opinions on which direction the band should take clashed with the others'.
JOHN McGEOCH: "She likes to surround herself with a lot of sycophants."
JOHN LYDON: "Obsequious runts."
Lydon clarifies, grateful for the chance to put in his two-penneth.
JOHN McGEOCH: "We've made up since then, though I don't see her much."
JOHN LYDON: "Drunken ol' cow's probably forgotten about you by now."
Lydon giggles, wrestling with the ring pull on a can of lager. The Lydon/ McGeoch partnership has worked amazingly well. So well in fact that during their days off in between the recording of 'Happy?' they went back and re-recorded new arrangements of old PIL songs for a proposed LP possibly called 'Renovations', which "won't be full price, and if you don't want it you don't have to buy it," Lydon states, deflecting the flak at source.
A car arrives to take us to the photo session. As we stew in a traffic jam, I ask him if he doesn't ever feel like giving it all up, settling down and having some kids.
JOHN LYDON: "Not in this world, mate, maybe the next. Too much responsibility, and I can't then devote my life to my work. Once you've got kids you've got to look after them. Then you can afford to be deceitful and conning, because you have to. The very nature of children requires that, because it's their lives that count from thereon in, not yours. Children are very important. You can't go and fuck up their lives."
His thoughts are reflected in 'The Body', one of the tracks from the new LP.
JOHN LYDON: "It's about people who have babies and don't realise that it's a life they're dealing with. The second verse is a direct lift from that play 'Cathy Come Home' – Cathy go home without your daughter, in a welfare state she'll be well looked after. Children should not be abused, and anyone who does abuse them should be hanged. I have no qualms about that, child abusers should be castrated, then hung, drawn and quartered very slowly. I'm not being reactionary, I'm applying forward clear-thinking – it has to stop! But bloody hell, you better base this on some serious evidence, cos it's quite easy for neighbours to point the finger, as is happening in Middlesbrough right now." 
As if to emphasise his point, Lydon snorts loudly, rolls a lump of phlegm round the back of his throat and propels it expertly through the car window.
JOHN LYDON: "Oh Gawd, I almost got that copper! What an embarrassing arrest that would have been!"
He may be growing old disgracefully, but Lydon is far from becoming an embarrassment.
JOHN LYDON: "I'm definitely not the norm though, am I? The art, of course, is individuality. I don't allow people to manipulate me. I'm a threat to the majority and I always will be. I'll never fit in."
He recounts the lists of magazines who still refuse to talk to him, while McGeoch informs me that Hammersmith Odeon have banned the group from appearing there.
JOHN McGEOCH: "Motörhead are okay, but not Public Image, just because of John's past."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "It seems like a tag that's impossible to shake off?"
JOHN LYDON: "But it's not a tag, it's a blessing. Blind acceptance is a sign of stupid fools who stand in line!"
Apart from his continual quoting of old Pistols lyrics, which he does to show their original meaning has been misunderstood, Lydon repeatedly drags the conversation back to punk in an effort to unburden his frustration.
JOHN LYDON: "Did you see that poster there?"
He exclaims, pointing out of the window. A load of American tourists taking pictures of punks.
JOHN LYDON: "Well, that's it – if you're gonna wear the clichéd punk outfit, you're reduced to nothing more than a tourist attraction. And they don't seem the slightest bit worried! It angers me. It angers me that they're still incapable of accepting progress, which is what's it all about, Alfie."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Do you think any good came out of it?"
JOHN LYDON: "Of course, of course, but what's good is in the back of this car. I don't like the term 'come out of', I haven't come out of anything, it's still an ongoing force. Certain elements tend to drag behind, but that's not my responsibility or fault. I find it disturbing that punks these days insist on a regimented approach. They must all look the same, sad. They just replaced the teds. The thing that really depresses me is that passive resistance was never fully understood. Violence will never solve anything, ever. I've always said it and I always will."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Do you ever find yourself thinking about Sid?"
JOHN LYDON: "No, only when you mentioned him. He's dead and gone, and that's all there is to it."
Despite his new-found zest, Lydon admits his hobbies are still few and far between, though not because of his oft-quoted laziness. And he brushes aside his ignorance of the hip film list with the excuse that he's far too busy to go to the cinema.
JOHN LYDON: "I don't even know what people are reading at the moment. When I hear them discussing the top ten books it leaves me mystified, I never knew there was a chart for books! I know I can't bear sci-fi, not at all, ever, it drives me up the bleedin' wall. All that laser gun nonsense and aliens speaking gobbledygook, it drives me mad, I don't care if it is a good plot. Marine life is absolutely enthralling to me, particularly ..."
JOHN McGEOCH: "Sharks!"
McGeoch has obviously heard it all before and butts in with the answer.
JOHN LYDON: "Yes. One of these days when I get some time off, I'm gonna go diving. Sharks have always fascinated me. Alright, let's be really corny here – it all began with 'Jaws', and I used that as an excuse not to go swimming in the sea. Then it turned into a morbid fascination, then I started to study their biology, and I found it completely fascinating. This is one boy that doesn't need an honorary degree. I'll earn it."
JOHN McGEOCH: "He's got piles of books on sharks."
The cab driver looks in the mirror warily and I tell Lydon about a shop off Charing Cross Road that sells shark's heads.
JOHN LYDON: (in that monotone whine) "Oh no, I don't want bits of a dead shark. That I do find offensive. Sharks are essential, they wouldn't be there otherwise. To go on slaughtering them is appalling."
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Are you against bloodsports of any kind?"
JOHN LYDON: "Yes I am! And yes, I do eat meat, and no, it's not a contradiction. Because cows are too stupid, they deserve to be eaten."
One thing Lydon refuses to talk about is his private life. I was going to ask him if he'd reassessed his infamous opinions on "squelching" in the light of the supposed AIDS epidemic. However, as he's a happily married man now, I thought better of it. He still had an anecdote anyway.
JOHN LYDON: "The 'Standard' rang me up last year with some old crap about me lying to them about my marriage. They'd looked for our marriage deeds and couldn't find them registered anywhere, so we sent them on this fucking scam all around the world to find them. They spent a fucking fortune and came back with sod all, ha ha ha. I mean, who fucking cares? The tabloids are there to be ridiculed. If only the general public understood that what you read in these things is utter garbage, a manipulation by extremely tedious, spiteful third-rate people. The gossip columnists of this world, they strike me as people who can't have sex, so they have this huge chip on their shoulder and everyone must suffer because of it. Normal people just wouldn't behave in that way! I saw this thing on telly where they sat Bob Geldof next to John Blake. Aw, fucking brilliant! Geldof tore him apart and there was dumb Paula next to him, probably going 'Oh Bob, what are you doing, you're ruining my career! Be quiet! Oh, my business!' Ha ha ha!"
Lydon probably alienates more people in one interview than Hitler did in six years. This is just a smattering, the blueprint was far more exhausting and included Paul Morley, 'Smash Hits', the organisers of Plymouth Rock  and Jim Kerr, the latter simply because he happened to be on the front cover of a magazine lying within eyeshot.
JOHN LYDON: "Is he cross-eyed or is it the picture?"
Yet you know he wouldn't have it any other way. As the b-side of the new single 'Seattle' testifies: 'If I ruled the world, there'd be no one in it.'
BLACK MAT SMITH: "Still doing the exercises, then?"
I say, as he jumps spritely out of the car.
JOHN LYDON: "Yeah I am. The trouble is it doesn't get rid of the fat, and on top of that I'm getting huge muscles. I have a beer gut, and to be quite frank I'm not interested in getting rid of it. This is fun to me. I'd rather be drunk and happy than miserable and thin."
And with that he's gone. Off to do it all again, but this time in pictures, not in words. As he scurries down the stairs he stops, turns round and adds by way of an afterthought:
JOHN LYDON: "I'm happy with what I've got. I don't aspire to anything out there. I go out to these Limelight bashes and see all the famous people, and they all look bloody unhappy to me. They've strived for nothing and they're still no better than me!"
Happy? Course he is.
 PIL drummer Bruce Smith played on Terence Trent D'Arby's debut album 'Introducing The Hardline' in 1987.
 Curiosity Killed The Cat
 Wet Wet Wet appeared with 'Wishing I Was Lucky' on TOTP on 5 June 1987.
 Melody Maker (28 October 1978)
 Jah Wobble worked for London Underground from January 1987 to summer 1988, first as a ticket collector in central London, then as a train guard.
 McGeoch produced an album by Swedish band Zzzang Tumb in 1983.
 Lydon refers to the Cleveland Child Abuse scandal of 1987.
 PIL's planned appearance at Plymouth Rock Festival on 18 July 1987 was cancelled.
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
© TOM SHEEHAN