Mojo, July 29th, 2010
© 2010 Mojo / Andrew Perrt
Johnny Rotten Versus Gaza?
Interview by: Andrew Perry
John Lydon is kicking off royally. Oxford's O2 Academy is still reverberating in the aftermath of a high-intensity set from the latest incarnation of his other great band, Public Image Ltd, when MOJO is summoned to his dressing room for an audience. We knock on the door, push it open a few inches and there, for a nanosecond, is the erstwhile Antichrist, in the buff. Eeek! The door slams loudly shut, and sweary fury ensues.
In another few minutes, Mojo is summoned once more. Thankfully, Lydon now has other targets for his spleen - those people who question his decision to proceed with an appearance at a festival in Tel Aviv, while other Western acts have boycotted it due to Israel's continuing occupation in Gaza...
MOJO: Erm, sorry about earlier, old chap!
Lydon: It's okay, but you caught me with my pants down. God bless you. When my willy's out and my bum's wet, I can't have it, sorry.
Let's change the subject. The band's on fire!
We're as tight as you can get, and we can take the songs anywhere we like. These are chaps that don't get a fair crack of it in the music business. I'm the same. We all feel slightly disenfranchised, and we shouldn't be. Everybody cops from us, and there's no fucking appreciation. Lu [Edmonds, guitarist] has gone forward leaps and bounds from that drunken arsehole in The Damned! He's fantastic. You don't have to stay in the same mode all your life. If you don't advance yourself - on a daily basis, actually - then you're wasting space, and wasting time. An awful lot of them punk bands are still trying to sound as bad as they did originally. That's not too smart, is it?
Key songs like Death Disco are obviously very personal, about your mother's passing, but you're doing some more political tunes on this tour, like USLS1, about Lockerbie. Are you feeling more engaged with the world at this stage?
I've got this bizarre situation wrapped around me, with these student union groups, or student hippie bodies, or whatever they are, claiming that if I now go and play in Israel, I am supporting apartheid, which is the most nonsensical point of view. I've been accused of many things in my life, but that now tops it. Some of our songs, like Four Enclosed Walls tonight [a non-judgmental song from inside the head of a Muslim extremist] - you can't be telling me that the Israeli government is sponsoring that.
Anyway, it's not the Israeli government sponsoring us, it's a promoter. We're going to Israel to play for people. I'd love to go to Palestine and play to people. I'm waiting for the invite, alright, and it's been a long time coming. I've played in countries where there's many mixtures of religions, but not a strictly Islamic country. And Islamic countries have political problems; they don't seem to like outsiders. I don't view myself as an outsider.
I volunteered the Sex Pistols to go to Iraq, when that invasion first started, and I thought that was a pretty fucking brave move, because we had to go through the American government, who told us outright, No, unless we played to the troops. Well, my answer to that is, I'll play to the troops any old time, in their own country, but not in Iraq. I wanted to play to the people of Iraq, and let them know that the West has got many bad things - and at that time, it was George Bush - but it has many good things. And that's not the message that governments want to spread.
You cannot separate music from people. You cannot use it as your political joystick. If PiL is to be reduced to Elvis Costello cowardism, who doesn't agree that all people are innocent - all people; all governments are guilty, but all people are innocent - then we have no world."
So you don't subscribe to the logic of sanctions?
You tell me if sanctions ever cured anything. It's not doing too well in Iran, is it?
It didn't exactly work in Iraq either.
No. And what are you doing if you sanction? You're starving the people, you're starving them of food, water, music - influence, outside influence. If they're not accessible to outside influence then the situation remains the same.
You've been talking about making a new PiL album - your first in 13 years...
With a bit of f__king luck. There's so many shenanigans going on. It's clearly obvious that the record company [Virgin, to whom Lydon is still contracted] are not favourable. The only one I've met was a sarcastic arsehole in Holland. That's not good enough. It's not really a record label anymore, so much as an accounting department, and it doesn't take account of certain things. It just runs you into debt.
So you'll release it on your own?
One way or the other, we'll do it. I mean, I've got the songs. Bloody hell, it's clear we're a band. We really, really love what we're doing. I can't say what it'll be like - that's not possible until you actually make the thing. Look, I've done a really good thing on this tour [which Lydon self-funded, reputedly from the proceeds of his Country Life butter advert]. I've dropped the ticket price by half. I could be scooping it up. Then I could guarantee a recording by the end of the year. But I thought, No, I'd like to do it this way. I mean, times are fucking hard out there for all of us, alright? So we'll make it on this lower budget, right? We're determined.
But it's a liberty. That band's a bit too good to be ignored. It don't make no sense. We'll find somewhere else, don't worry about that. It's a little more concrete than I'm implying - but it's slow-setting concrete.
You seem to be totally on it up there with PiL. Have you missed accessing this musically more ambitious and personal side onstage?
It's like playing to my Mum and Dad really, 'cos I miss them. But yes, of course I did. The record company made sure I couldn't get it together, kept me in debt, kept me out of it. It's a shame the Pistols didn't earn enough for us, that just kept things ticking. But I love the TV work I've done very very much, and I see that as part of PiL anyway. It doesn't always have to be musical. Skipping through life, like I do, is a melody in itself!
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