John Lydon:
Melody Maker, March 7th, 1992

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1992 Melody Maker / IAN GITTINS


Melody Maker, March 7th, 1992This may be PIL's 11th album, but the passing of time doesn't seem to have mellowed JOHN LYDON, recently seen inciting chaos on 'The Word'. IAN GITTINS met the great pop nihilist, who lashes out at everything from disco to Gorbachev.

Has Johnny Rotten become a cabaret turn?

"Rolling Stone have just reviewed our LP, you know," [1] sneers John Lydon as he walks me across a London car park. He's wide-eyed and wearing a bright lime green shellsuit. He looks dead funny.

"They said it's dull, derivative and sounds like Van Der Graaf Generator. And do you know why?"

The question is rhetorical. I shake my head.

"Because I told one American journalist that I like Van Der Graaf Generator. And immediately every hack starts writing that we sound like them. Oh God, the amazing ignorance of the American media!"

And then I get the Lydon cackle: "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

Has Johnny Rotten become a cabaret turn? You may answer yes or no (maybe is not allowed, Sid didn't die for you to sit on the fence). Here are some hints to help you reach your answer.


Two weeks ago John Lydon was asked onto the Friday night yoof cock-up legend 'The Word', [2] ostensibly to perform Public Image Ltd.'s new single, 'Cruel'. But the true reasons ran deeper. The programme's producers wanted some vintage sensationalist punky confrontation. So acid-tongued, sneering Johnny Lydon was scheduled to meet 'The Word''s hapless, question-less 'interviewer', Terry Christian. The script ran thus: the aging punky lion would maul the vulnerable Christian. Punk's not dead! Would John kick the sofa over? Lydon played his role perfectly. As the show ended, he jumped onto the presenters' IKEA coffee table.

"Mr. Rotten is here!" he snarled. "They say I can't play my single! What shall we do?"

It was prime rabble-rousing. As the credits rolled, Lydon was wrestled from his perch by also-crap presenter Katie Puckrik but re-emerged to give the camera The Stare. 'Word' producers beamed. The crowd howled. Bill Grundy drank his Ovaltine, sighed and went up the wooden hill to bed.

Lydon also savaged Radio One's asinine Jakki Brambles and fellow guest Mike Rutherford on 'Singled Out'. [3] So, a good week's media work. The enfant terrible had delivered the goods. Self-parody? You bet!


Public Image Ltd. have just released their 11th LP, 'That What Is Not'. It doesn't sound like Van Der Graaf Generator, but it's solid rather than spectacular PIL. A mass of conspiracy theories and lopsided accusations rolled into a snotty ball and flicked at an indifferent world by Lydon's whined vocal and John McGeoch's metallic (not metal) guitar. Lydon's vocal veers irritatingly from facetious falsetto to deranged howl to clumsy sneer. In truth, it's no classic.

Any yet ... and yet ... it's still a masterful outpouring of bile and choler. 'That What Is Not' is belligerent, irate, spiky, awkward, joyfully contrary. Outrage remains an art form in these skilled hands. John Lydon's targets remain dishonesty, injustice and apathy, and he lances these boils with spiteful sarcasm and belittling wit. As ever, he's opinionated and abrasive. 'That What Is Not' is decidedly not a lazy record. Johnny Rotten is as pissed off by the world as ever.

"Oh, that's just me, isn't it? I'm a moaner by nature. I'm never totally satisfied, I don't think you should be. I question everything. Everything! I don't like the glibness most people settle for, it's too cosy. I'm a spoiler!" And the arch-spoiler raises a comic eyebrow. "Next question."

'That What Is Not' is very aggressive, John. Very malcontent.

"Well, thank you," deadpans the human exclamation mark. "Some critics think it sounds meek and mild, you know? I don't know what they've got between their ears to listen with. It took us a year to write. That's quick for Public Image!"

There's a lot of humour there. You've always been very funny, even in the Sex Pistols.

"There has to be! Most people don't see it, but that's too bad. They want a blinkered version, like Paul Weller, ha-ha-ha-ha! But if you want to change anything, you have to attack it every way you know. I use all of my weapons."

At the end of the opening track, 'Acid Drops', an eloquent anti-censorship rant, there floats in like a ghost in the machine that most sacred of all punk texts, the "No future" chorus of 'God Save The Queen'. Why did you do this when you must have known you'd become a sitting duck for critics to take potshots at?

"Well, that started off as a joke," he explains. "The producer threw it in one night for a laugh. I didn't find it too funny at all at first! But now I think it's perfect for the song. Oh, why not, I can't take myself too seriously."

But many people miss that irony, they still see you as a lout. En route here today a cab driver told me you were "arrogant and twisted." Do you mind being regarded as an eternal bitter nihilist?

"It used to annoy me years ago," he says. "Now it makes me laugh. Who cares? People think I'm arrogant because journalists tell them so. In England they think you're arrogant if you have an opinion on anything. They want you to be nice all the time, and what an insult, how terrible – how could you live with being thought nice?"

People are intimidated by your enormous confidence. John Lydon appears immune to self-doubt. Indestructible.

"No, I'm full of self-doubt, the songs show that. I question myself all the time. Oh, I'm a nervous wreck! I can trot out in front of 20,000 people and feel fine, but the hour before kills me. I'm normally puking with fear!"

Yet you always seem to have this huge self-esteem ...

"Well, that's an act. It's obviously a front, but it's one that I can use."


How did you feel about the mountain of words written about the Sex Pistols last year for the much-touted 15th anniversary of punk? Did the celebrations have any value?

"I felt annoyed because most of it was wrong. That Jon Savage book [4] was typical – too much waffle and fantasy, not nough accuracy. Most of the time I spent in the Sex Pistols I was very frightened and confused, the press were a lot to blame for that. So now I'm writing my own book to put the story straight."

Lydon grins as he tells me his tome will feature affidavits from his infamous court case versus McLaren, scurrilous evidence, "the whole fucking lot." He looks extemely gleeful. Is he on good terms with McLaren now?

"No, we have never been on good terms. We've never spoken, never ever, really."

Have you heard any of today's panto-punk bands? The plucky Preachers or fuck-wit Fabulous?

"No. I mean – the punk revival? Come on! It sounds too much like the rockabilly revival. You've got to live in the present time. That was then and this is now!"

Right. The punk revival? No future!


Melody Maker, March 7th, 1992I'm sorry to report, dear reader, that I have a minor set-to with John Lydon. We're sitting round a Calor gas fire in an empty studio, see, getting on famously, when I ask him what music he's loved or loathed over the last two years.

"I find the whole disco set-up a very great evil," he seethes. "Nobody in that business is doing anything original. It's all regurgitated and the kids slavishly accept it. It's factory fodder which leads to a totally sheep-like mentality. This generation is the most apathetic and indolent for a long time. They adore stupid dance music which is totally anaesthetised and druggy."

That's not true at all, John. If you went to a few raves you'd find a very positive vibe. Ecstasy has made this generation a singularly caring one. Raves are happy, friendly events.

"Happy and friendly?" Lydon gasps, mock-outraged. "Polluting their brains? No, it's mindless! Where's the creativity on your part? People are dancing to CDs and plastic and machines, there's no humanity in there, no lyrical content. It's like playing Pink Floyd to cows!"

No, there's a real community atmosphere ...

"Well, you may like it but I don't. I find it cattle-like, it doesn't go much further than that. It requires darkness to get away with what it's doing."

So do rock concerts.

"Mine don't!"

I never thought I'd see Johnny Rotten on the wrong side of a generation gap. But two Irish eyes are distinctly unsmiling. Time to move on ...

The highly articulate and erudite John Lydon (somebody give this man his own chat show now!) takes me on a most entertaining whistle-stop tour of his views on the state of the modern world. It's impossible to reproduce his informed rant in full, but it would fill the whole paper. Twice, at least. So here are the edited highlights.

"There is no current world order. It's all chaotic. The Russian states could press the button at any time, their military won't give up power that easily. It's a sick joke to think so."

Surely it's a shame for poor Gorbachev. He liberated a people, who then turned on him.

"Well, did they? Was he really a hero? I doubt it. If you listen to any Russian, they don't have a nice word to say about him. They had to suffer under him. And that coup was far too cosy, it smacked of bad timing. Everybody knew it was coming. If it had been a genuine coup, they'd have slaughtered him! The trouble with communism is, it became bureaucracy very quickly and, as we all know, bureaucracy doesn't work. Anything that doesn't cater for the individual will fail eventually. Individuals will always break these things down."

John Lydon also despises the upsurge in racism in Europe. 'The Independent' newspaper, Terry Waite, Catholicism, the establishment (still!) and the limits of modern democracy.

"One man, one vote? No, I'm sorry. It's just not working, it's not enough!"

How will he cast his own vote come Election Day?

"I've always voted Labour, always have, but – oh, I can't have Neil Kinnock running the country! It's just not on! Somebody said the other day they'd like John Major to be the Labour leader because the blandness has a certain security to it, and I could see their point entirely!"

Is John Lydon ever tempted to look at the current sorry state of the planet, give up on mankind and become a misanthrope?

"Not at all, because it's our lives they're messing about with! That's a lazy attitude. My ideals stand more than ever, if some dumbfucks would just realise it. People are still divided by things like race and creed and colour, and it's all a sham, a nonsense!"

Are there any of your punk contemporaries that you still admire now?

"Oh, who knows, I can't think what they're doing now! Joe Strummer, he did the 'Rock Against The Rich' tour, didn't he? The contradictions there were hysterical, Joe Strummer's a very wealthy man – just give all your fucking money away, Joe, that'll solve the problem! Ha-ha-ha-ha!"

Can music change anything? I thought punk proved it couldn't.

"No, of course it can. But not by sweeping statements, it's a gradual thing, very slow. Something you heard ten years ago will ignite a spark in your brain and get you thinking, that's how it works, you see? It's very subtle, ha-ha. I think PIL are subversive, except that word sounds far too spiteful."

Have you ever fancied being a dad? Would you like a little Lydon or a little Rotten to nurture?

"No. It apealed once, but now it doesn't. I enjoy the act of procreation very much, but not the end result. Anyway, I'd have to start making pop records to support the little fucker!"

Asked if 1992's John Lydon is a happy man, the tall singer with the yellow rat's tail nest of hair baggles in mock-horror.

"No! Certainly not, how dare you! I'm not one of those senile delinquents! If things aren't going wrong, I want to know why, ha-ha-ha-ha!"

You sound paranoid, John.

"I probably am. Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex once sent me a poster which said 'Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean everybody isn't out to get you!' And she was in a mental home at the time! Oh, that cheered me up no end, I can tell you."


Has Johnny Rotten become a cabaret turn? Maybe.


[1] 'Rolling Stone', 20 February 1992
[2] 'The Word' (Channel 4) 14 February 1992
[3] Earlier the same day.
[4] Jon Savage: 'England's Dreaming – The Sex Pistols And Punk Rock' (published in October 1991)


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