John Lydon:
Record Mirror, July 28th, 1979

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1979 Record Mirror


MIKE NICHOLS shares a sofa with Jukebox Johnny

Record Mirror, July 28th, 1979There's a battered looking telephone in the middle of the lounge floor, held together with insulation tape. For obvious reasons the disc on the dial bears no number, just a name – 'Rotten'.

Yes, this indeed is chez Lydon, home of the man who never claimed to launch a thousand ships, nor even be the figurehead of the bands who played on board.

"If I was," he later tells me, "it certainly wasn't self-appointed. Everything I stood for was against stardom. The only people who pushed me into a star bracket, the people following me, should have known better."

The room is curiously reminiscent of a vintage hippie pad: high ceiling, makeshift settees, posters on the wall and a brash, powerful sound system sticking out like a sore earlobe. The floor is strewn with empty lager cans and fag packets.

Jeannette tells me this is the result of having had some friends round the night before. Jeannette helps Public Image Ltd. She is neither manager nor PR, but acts in a similar capacity. A deceptively winsome voice at the end of the battered phone, she has the responsibility for saying whether or not interviews will take place.

On account of the recent McLaren/Pistols spread, Record Mirror's chances, particularly mine, were slim. Then after much indecision an offer was made, within minutes of it actually taking place. John was sufficiently bored to be in the mood!

The friends are still around, circling the place like extras on a film set. The unusual ambience is completed by the silent flickering of a faulty TV whose garish colour settings flash triple vision images around the room. Johnny gets fed up with running a guest house.

"It's a pain in the arse, I can tell you. How terrible of me," he corrects himself, switching to self-parody, an occupational habit retained for the rest of the afternoon and evening. "I don't mind talking to people, but I don't see why I should be a piece of public property."

He wouldn't go out on his Fulham balcony, even if he had one, to wave to the masses, but he sure knows how to make an entrance. John suddenly arrived, Mae West-style, from his bedroom, dressed in celebrated togs - bright tartan jacket, green tapering slacks and slip-ons. No shirt or socks, thank you very much. Greetings were barely exchanged when the phone rang.

"My God! It 'ad to 'appen, didn't it," he fumed. "Tell 'im to call back in half an hour."

As it happens it was 3 ½ hours before I left.

"This is the story of Johnny Rotten," I smirk, quoting the latest Neil Young lyrics. [1]

"Christ! Him!" he rasps, before mimicking his high-pitched wail. "He must be pretty hard-up if he's got to have me as a subject."

Public property or not, the fact remains that PIL have a large audience. Former Pistols followers or fans of the new sound?

"Fucking hell," he begins ingloriously, "I've got no idea. Mainly curiosity, which I don't like. It's a bit silly, but, I mean, it's expected, innit? I don't like to be a showpiece," he adds dryly, "I've had enough of that before."

But isn't that what the kids want?

"Well, they can piss off because I'm not going to be anyone's ego."

Do you like performing?

"Very much – all the songs take on the meaning they should have on plastic. Really, before you can appreciate any song by a group, it's best to see it live, then at least you can get an idea about attitude."

Attitude – always the vital factor with JR. Then why haven't you toured at all?

"I couldn't take it. That's like nine to five, terrible. My God, that's the worst thing about the music business," he declares, "expecting bands to go on the road. It's a prison sentence. Now, all these – er – other supposed revolutionaries," he continues, beginning the familiar sneer, "if they're gonna try changing things, how come they're still doing 30-date tours?"

So what's in it for you, then – just the odd gig?

"Yeah, the odd gig. That is it! I'd rather just get in a van and say 'Ooh, let's go to Edinburgh tomorrow. See what we can get out there.' So easier, so cheaper as well! So much fun!" He grins ludicrously. "You don't wear yourself out, or get ex-ci-ted!"

So you're still on this spontaneity vibe?

"It's not quite as hunky-dory and daffodils as that," he remonstrates. "Just, say, instant. Most bands don't give a thought about playing the same songs in the same order night after night. They sooo robotised!"

The last non-robotised PIL odd gig was at The Factory in Manchester. [2] A secret one, a couple of weeks ago. What was that like?

"Damn good."

How did the audience find out about it? A word-of-mouth job?

"Yeah, only up there word-of-mouth ain't like London – a load of arty-farty intellectuals or big-mouthed goons with an attitude of 'Huh, it better be good, entertain me.' Northern audiences are just so much more open to things. They don't have preconceptions and prejudices. It's alright."

He then scowls at the thought that the gig was reviewed.

"But I don't like it when the press find out, like. I find that rather clichéd of them," he adds in another flourish of self-caricature.

John's not fond of the music papers.

"There's not one you can open and feel happy about – you just pile through a load of dribble. If they enjoy music, how come journalists throw out depression and gloom in each issue?"

Why talk to them then?

"I suppose I must be a masochist," he ponders glumly. "No, I do interviews because I don't want to fade into oblivion and never be heard of again."

Well, if that ain't honesty ...

"All forms of communication are important. People must know you exist."

Including TV, it appears.

"I was determined to do 'Top Of The Pops', [3] even though it was pure hell," he offers in his defense. "Why? Because there's no point in hanging on principles and morals if nobody in the world can hear you. Now, they don't play our record [4] on the radio, except in the chart countdowns on a Sunday afternoon," he says distastefully, "and that I don't like. I want that record to be heard. That's reasonably fair."

Another one of John's recent TV appearances was his petulant performance on 'Juke Box Jury'. [5] That had nothing to do with promoting 'Death Disco', so why did he agree to go on?

"Cos it was a racket!" he beams. "Quite frankly, it's the most awful goddamn programme in the world, and it's about time someone said so!"

Do you think you succeeded?

"I got some reaction, even if it was only 'sell-out' and 'ignorant lout'. You don't have to like or dislike as long as it gives you some kind of motivation, and the telly is so bland it really is pathetic. One monotone, one level, it matters not what you are watching," he intones mockingly. "It's no wonder people don't think for themselves – they're hypnotised out of it."

"But you're a TV addict yourself," I counter, looking at him gazing at the silent flickering screen.

"I love TV, yeah. I can see the humour in it. I don't watch it the same way," he says, somehow without seeming arrogant. "I like the bad acting, that's what gets me most. God, look at that!" he exclaims, watching the assorted cavortings of the cast of 'Oh Boy!' [6] "Gene Vincent would turn in his grave!"

Conversation turns to PIL's music. Here he gets a little touchy, particularly when I enquire whether anyone of the band has been the most influential in creating the present sound.

"I refuse to talk about silly things like that," he sulks. "A sound's a sound when a few brats get together and make a racket."

Yeah, but there's a big difference between the kind of music you're playing now and when you were in the Pistols?

"If you're talking about that hollowness," he exasperates, "that's because we cut out all the mid-range. Everything is mid-range, and I don't like it! Records are manufactured that way, so they come over nice on the radio. Now, I listen to my records at 'ome," he continues with increasing sarcasm, "and middle-of-the-road records are not nice at 'ome, they sound muffled. When you chop the bass and water down the guitar nothing strikes you as particularly outspoken."

This opinion is evidently shared by the rest of PIL. Earlier in the afternoon Keith Levene had been talking about his ringing guitar sound, and as we're talking drummer Richard Dudanski walks in.

"Brilliant review of the single you gave us," he says caustically as Rotten introduces me as being from "the real swingers' paper".

A former 101'er with Joe Strummer, Richard recently replaced Jim Walker who, according to Johnny, left the band in a flurry of solicitors' letters. How were his other law suits going?

"I'm winning," he replied. Despite earlier reservations about 'The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle' film coming out, he now wants it released – for financial reasons.

"The Pistols' estate is in a really bad way. There's a lot of money that has to be paid back. If the film don't go out and that money recouped, their bills will be transferred to yours truly – and I'm not having that!"

And presumably you're not having anymore managers?

"Right," he vowed. "You don't need a manager. A manager serves no purpose, no middlemen do. If you keep paying out 25%, you end up in debt yourself. Then again," he seethed, "if you want to follow the same publicity claptrap pattern that bands have been in for the past fifteen years, get yourself one."

How about relations with Virgin? Is there anybody there you can trust?

"That's the whole point!" he snaps. "Trust doesn't come into it. You just need to know they're doing their bit. You can't trust anyone in this business. They're all crooks."

The tension which has been gradually growing is at this point relieved when Jeannette leaves the room and John asks me to sit next to him. There are still a couple of aides around but since they are out of earshot, one in particular is less of a nuisance with his interruptions. I mention the last time we met, at the preview of Linton Kwesi Johnson's documentary 'Dread, Beat An' Blood'. [7]

"Did you tell me you liked PIL?" he wonders.

I don't think so.

"I do. I remember somebody telling me they actually liked it, and I was quite flabbergasted. That album wasn't reviewed, it was condemned before it was even heard. I was expected to carry on the Sex Pistols sound, and I'm afraid that's just a bit too clichéd," he wearily complains.

Too many jumped on the bandwagon, huh?

"Well, let's face it, there was a deluge of them. The Pistols was just a piss-take of rock 'n' roll, with very pointed lyrics. Now it's just tedious regression ... except for us," he adds with a glint. "I think I bring a little ray of sunlight."

Er ...

"Whether you like it or not," he continues. "At least it ain't cliché-ridden garbage loaded with trendy intellectual sayings and RAR slogans."

Actually he wasn't wrong. I had liked the PIL album right from the start, except for that large indecipherable load of dirge dubbed 'Theme'. This doesn't half get his wind-up.

"You know what that is about? No? Maybe I should write out the lyrics and explain every song, because it just gets more and more apparent and annoying that people aren't capable of translating, and they should be. I mean, when you put on a record you don't just sit there and say, like, 'Give me my dose of blah-blah', it should be like 'Now, what's this about?' There should be some brain power put into it."

So what is it about?

"I thought of telling people, but I won't," he sniffed.

Finally he did explain the meaning of the song, along with that of 'Death Disco', which came as a shock.

"It's about how I felt when I watched someone die," he said quietly, "someone I knew really well. It was vile."

Whether or not it was his mother, who died last year, he didn't say, but the inevitable silence which followed was not broken until some tracks off the next album were played. This, the second PIL LP, will be released in August.

First up was 'Albatross', unlike the single real disco, complete with upfront drums and wild screaming guitar.

"Most people want to play like Keith," says John, "but they'll never do it."

Then it's back to comic Rotten, looking for the next tape.

"No more cassettes? What a bore. Still, not as much as listening to them."

Eventually 'Spanish Job' [8] is found and 'Chant'. The latter is divided into two parts, the second of which will be derived from one of four mixes.

"Well, we can't put them all on, can we?" he says regretfully. "But if you switch from one channel to the other there's two separate numbers."


"Yeah. People won't suss it out cos they're stupid! The first album was full of things like that. What did you think of it anyway?"

Prefer it to the other stuff, I reply, referring to the Zappa/Beefheart excess of 'Chant' part one. 'Spanish Job' is a bit too unconventional for my conservative tastes.

"Well, it doesn't bear much resemblance to 'I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside'," he muses, "but I refuse to go through with that verse-chorus-hookline cliché stuff. What about this one?" he enquires, playing an untitled track.

"The best of the lot," I opine.

"What!? There's no logic – you're mad!" he shrieked.

Now, coming from him, is that a compliment or is that a compliment? Time was getting on, so in suitably clichéd style I disappeared into the gathering gloom.


(in the same issue of 'Record Mirror')


By Mike Nicholls

Johnny Rotten, singer, recording artist and native of Fulham, has been having a high old time as a TV star – not outstaying his welcome on 'Juke Box Jury', [4] startling teenagers on 'Top Of The Pops' [3] and getting chucked out of the recording of 'Check It Out', [9] the weekly Tyne-Tees Television magazine programme. At least this is the story put out by the Tyne Tees press office:

"Studio staff asked to have him removed so they could continue with the recording of the programme tracing the development of youth movements over the last 25 years, from Teds to punks."

Unfortunately Mr. Rotten was unaware that this was the purpose of the show.

"They asked to go up there and do an interview about PIL," he told me in the intimacy of his London abode. "So we went all the way to Newcastle and found a planned script where we were butchered to pieces with – er, what do you call 'em? – video inserts of people like the Angelic Upstarts!"

Before the 'interview' PIL had played their current single, 'Death Disco', and the unrecorded 'Chant'.

Then John was cordially invited to reply to Upstart Mond Cowie's remark that he was an old man and finished. This he was not pleased to do, and after an angry exchange with presenter Lyn Spencer he deserted the set with the cameras still running.

Simpered 'Check It Out' producer Andrea Wonfor: "We invited Johnny and his band in all good faith to play and discuss which direction his music would go next."

Evidently there was more to the picture than met the eye.

"It was like a big set-up," said John. "All about how glorious the Pistols were and us bad boys, and then the Upstarts waffling on about how we sold out to the working classes. I thought it was diabolical. If I'm asked to do something then I'll do it, but I don't like to be set up. I mean, I'll talk about PIL, but not about the past and other people."


[1] lyrics of the song "My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)" by Neil Young and Crazy Horse (from the album "Rust Never Sleeps", freshly released on 22 June 1979)
[2] 18 June 1979
[3] PIL performed their new single 'Death Disco' on Top Of The Pops (12 July 1979)
[4] this episode of 'Juke Box Jury' was broadcasted on 31 May 1979
[5] PIL's new single was 'Death Disco' (released 29 June 1979)
[6] the American '50s Rock 'n' Roll TV show 'Oh Boy!' was resurrected in 1979 and was broadcasted on Monday evenings at 7.00 p.m.
[7] the documentary was premiered in early 1979
[8] most probably a working title for 'Memories' [9] recorded 2 July 1979 and transmitted the next day


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