John Lydon & Jah Wobble:
Record Mirror, November 4th 1978
Transcribed by Karsten Roekens
© 1978 Record Mirror / BARRY CAIN
IMAGES OF PUBLIC IMAGE
Donning his sardonic mask, BARRY CAIN lurches into Sloane Ranger territory (Chelsea to you) and tracks down one J. Lydon and his mate Jah Wobble, the former sounding frighteningly sane – the latter not.
Not a bad gaff this. Wallfull of posters. Floorfull of pretty good carpet. Telefull of interference. Speakerfull of Public Image. Fridgefull of lager. Rottenfull of bitter (draught). Wobblefull of cute quips. Sidfool in NYC.
John looks like he's ready to take over from David Essex in 'Evita'. Khaki jungle fighter outfit and black barnet. Clambering around Epping Forest gunning down pliable picnickers and quick jab courting couples.
Whatever happened to the incandescent revolution? Maybe Malcolm McLaren bought it and sold it at a profit. Maybe straight bottoms held the shit in too long. Maybe, just maybe, it's in abeyence, a kind of splendid hibernation, ready to stretch and pounce on some future crazy kid.
So what remains? Public Image, for one thing. JR (Lydon to you John), Jah Wobble, Keith Levene and Jim Walker.
JR – a well-known singer about town. Part-time existentialist, part-time headline hoarder. Full-time rock 'n' roll artist.
Jah – the best is yet to come.
Keith – ex-Clash guitarist (two weeks). Ex-Slits sound mixer. Ex-act. Lee.
Jim – Canadian. Moose lover. Spent his Public Image money on a moose head which he hangs in his flat and talks to. Incessantly. Flat littered with stale bread. What can a poor boy do?
Acting on information received I proceeded to a terraced house in Chelsea, where after gaining admittance I questioned the accused in relation to the primal past, the oppressive present, the fulsome future. I concluded, Your Worship, after looking at their glazed eyes, after smelling their drink-soaked breath, after noticing they were unsteady on their feet, that perhaps things hadn't changed that much. So I partook in their little soirée and feel a better man for it, Sir. Consequently, I'd like to hand in my badge.
"Oh, you must mean the Sex Piss-ups," John, lost in his huge sofa, spat (You mean he's still up to his old salivary tricks then? - Ed.) out the words. "There weren't many songs that band wanted to do. They were such a bunch of arseholes."
"They wanted to chug, chug, chug, chug-chug-chug," adds Wobble grinning.
"Yeah," continues John, "they were only really happy doing 'Johnny B. Goode' and cover versions of Everly Brothers' songs. If I'd have asked them to listen to this" (indicating the Public Image sound on the speakers) "they would have gone 'Oooh, that's a bit heavy, ain't it, John?' Anyone who expects us to come out with 'Cosh The Driver' ditties is in for a big surprise."
'Annalisa' (six minutes long, don't seem like it, eh John?), 'Theme' ("about things going on and on and on"), 'Religion' ("a put-down of what they have made religion into, I started writing that songs in the States"), all three songs confirm his "surprise" expectations. Elegant writhings from four levels – voice, guitar, bass, drums – surging to a coupling climax. A million miles away from anything.
"We've written 469 songs already," says Jah. Somehow you never really get to believe Jah.
"That's exactly the way we want to hear music, danceable but good. High, high treble," adds John, calming down from a newspaper report he had just read which detailed his life as a drug addict.
The actual article confusingly said he took "smack (cocaine)" and also mentioned how punk stars fell into a life of drug-taking: "smoke, cocaine, sulphate AND speed" – damned informed lot, these journalists! Actually, the article was merely an excuse to get John on the subject of Sid.
"Contrary to public opinion, I've never taken heroin. Oh sure, they used to say it was in my eyes and all that shit. Taking that stuff is totally against everything I stand for. I'll sue!"
So, uh, while we're on the subject, what about …
"Sid eh? Nope. I'm not giving out any sensationalist copy."
I attempt to comfort him (a good substitute word for persuade) by swearing whatever he says won't be misconstrued or given pride of place.
"There's nothing to say anyway. See, the geezer has always been a failure. He couldn't play bass and he couldn't cope with his images. And as for him being violent … He met Nancy when she followed Heartbreakers' drummer Jerry Nolan over here from New York. He just picked her up and that's when he started on heroin. Right away she tried to interfere with the Pistols, you know …"
He and Jah both begin to mimic a ramshackle, nail across the blackboard, feline East Coast voice: "Ooooh Sed, yaw're reeelly gooood, yaw'd be sooo much better off withowwt those other guuuys!"
"She was a star fucker. I spent a year trying to get Sid off his habit. A year! And every time I turned my back he would start shooting up again, thanks to Nancy. And when he did eventually try and kick it he got hooked on the cure." (methadone)
Would he like to assist Sid out of his predicament?
"If I could help him personally, I would. But he'd have to get rid of McLaren for a start, and then stop trying to kill himself. I know, a few people think I got jealous of Sid grabbing some of the limelight in the States. That's absolute crap. Steve and Paul never wanted him in the band at all, it was me who got him in. Me. And when we were in America it was Sid and me who decided we didn't want to get involved with a failed bank robber. McLaren was infuriated and he never even bothered to book hotel rooms for us over there."
"There was no reason for the Pistols to bust up, no reason at all … except for McLaren. Sid agreed with me. Steve and Paul were overconcerned at finding themselves on their own, they were scared of that cos they need someone else to do everything for them. They like people telling them what to do. It was all just a 9 to 5 job with them, and that's a contradiction of what the band was all about. Consequently, with them whatever Malcolm said they would do."
"I spent a lot of time writing lyrics I felt were important and valid. But when I confronted the others with it, they'd say 'I don't think Malc's gonna like these words, John.' How can you run a band like that? As a group we had regular talks about his role. It used to get me down, but at the same time I kept thinking at least the songs were getting out, getting across to people. And all the time Steve was happy with his Chuck Berry impressions and Paul with his never-sounding-different drumming. It was me who had to bear the brunt of the studio work. They would fuck off leaving me and producer Chris Thomas to listen to the final mixes, Chris trying to make us sound like Roxy Music and me trying to fight it. We were just too limited."
And I always thought they were a good band. It's easy to slag off in retrospect, but Rotten transcends the he-owes-me-three-quid syndrome. What he feels is unrefined, diamond-tough hatred.
We are to assume then that he never liked anything the band achieved?
"I like the good things. I like 'Problems', I like 'God Save The Queen', I like 'Anarchy', not much else. But what I loathe most of all is being set up, taken for a mug, and that's exactly what happened. Malcolm would tell me we were banned from playing everywhere and I believed him. It took six months to discover he was lying. At the beginning he was great, then it was all so perfect for us to dominate the world. And then he changed. We never saw him from one month to the next, and when we did try to ring him a strange voice at the other end of the phone would say he was in L.A. or Paris or anywhere."
"Hahahahaha," courtesy of Wobble. "And while Malc was busy having global fun poor ol' John was living in a £100-a-week dive in Kings Cross amongst a bunch of squatters. It was so damp, I swear, people actually drowned …"
So John demanded £12,000 and acquired his current home, and that, according to him, is all he ever made.
Keith Levene comes skateboarding in.
"Good ennit, John? Only costs £35, too!"
Rotten examines the board enthusiastically.
"Great! See, we can't go surfing up the Thames, so we go skateboarding along the Embankment."
You can imagine the four of them (when Jim's around) wending their ways past the bridges, managerless, promoterless, boundless.
No more bad times, eh John? No more stitch-ups. No more misanthropy feigned. No more midnight beatings. No more torrid TV. Just Public Image.
"At last I'm not limited to the old ways of doing things. At last I find myself in a situation that far surpasses my wildest dreams – I feel totally proud of being in the same band as this bunch of cunts. Christ, it took me so long to realise that these people have always known what I was about. They're old friends, friends I've known so much longer than the Pistols. Public Image Ltd. is a collection of friends."
"And they've got a bass player who looks good, too," says bassist Jah. What a happy chap!
We're in the boozer round the corner from John's place. The girl who wrote the erroneous drug-angled article was dealt with, verbally, when she came round to explain …
"Piss off, shitbag!"
She does, and over a pint John pleads ignorance.
"I really never seriously realised the consequences of being a member of the Pistols and talking the way I did. The press has never behaved like that before, never so sensational, never so personal, never so hateful. Normal situations begin to look extreme. But as much as people try to put me down, at least I've done something. Something they'll never do. People who have attacked me are so, so silly. Now I've managed to get myself into the best possible set-up. Now I'm more involved with the way things should be rather than the way things are. This is not Johnny Rotten's band – if anything, I'm probably the weak link."
Keith up until now has taken a no-comment stance, but the mellifluous tones of John's voice bring out the bee in him.
"The Pistols was a totally different thing to Public Image. Last time I saw that band perform Johnny looked as if he was doing a cabaret act or something. Completely out on a limb, alone. It remains to be seen whether this band will be all Rotten or just us. That it just so happens to be the most important band to emerge in a long time is irrelevant. To me it's the only set-up that has four personalities. Sure, with John we're gonna get a certain amount of attention, but we'll get over that. We'll succeed because we are interesting. An interesting unit in an uninteresting climate. The only alternatives you have are Jimmy Pursey and Boney M., and they're only alternatives because there are no alternatives."
Johnny the Sylph has wandered back home alone. Dave, company secretary etcetera, was just a little concerned about ill-intentioned iconoclasts of the pugilist kind.
"It still happens. Some people still have grudges."
We follow Johnny back. He's laying in front of the TV, watching 'The Hustler'. Keith leaves. Dave opens a bottle of lager. Jah and I decide it's time to split.
A toddle with Wobble on Chelsea cobbles is an altogether illuminating affair. His jacket collar upturned, his head submerged, the headless phantom of the Kings Road avoids the pavement cracks and basks in the shadows between the lamplights. A quarter of a mile behind us Minnesota Fats stalks the blue-beige meticulously and Rotten revels in the ivory clicks and squeaking chalks. He met Wobble at Kingsway College of Further Education when both enrolled for their O-levels. The two remained firm friends. Keith knew Johnny from way back. He just rang him up after the Pistols debacle and the Public Image kernel materialised. Jim Walker (remember him?) was found through a classified ad. And that, dear friends, is how all good fairytales come true.
"Let's go in there," says Wobble, indicating a flasho Frenchie establishment custom-made for garrulous three-piece suit execs with Chicago tapes in their TR7s.
Avocado and prawns eventually arrive. He proceeds to eat. Stops. Drops his fork. Pauses. Picks up his fork again and resumes eating. Then he throws the fork to the table.
"Do you really wanna know something? This whole thing, Public Image and all, it means absolutely nothing to me, nothing! It … they put me away, y'know, put me in a psychiatric ward for cutting up a copper, said I went a bit mad they did. Truth is, they're waiting. Always waiting, waiting for months, years, ready to pounce when you crack. Then they're on you like vultures, then you're in the hospital, and that's only like being on the outside, but more acute. Then they calm you down, that means they stick electrodes on your brain and drugs in your arms. I shit myself, I really shit myself. I quietened down, I conformed. You always lose. Nobody, nobody's gonna stick up for you. So I said 'I had too much to drink, Sir.' If I hadn't they would have certified me and I'd have been in there for the rest of my life. I stuck my neck out – I lost. Johnny Rotten is gonna lose. Keith Levene is gonna lose. Jim Walker is gonna lose. And all the kids are gonna watch us get our heads kicked in."
Wobble is a 20-year-old Whitechapel waif well into reggae. He acts as unofficial minder of Public Image and has a solo single 'Dreadlock Don't Deal In Wedlock', which in its perfect parody of OD dub is cleverfunny.
"Put this down." He picks up my pen, which I put down to eat my little baby veal, and pushes it into my hand.
"All these people in the restaurant," he frantically rubs the top of his head and looks around with psycho killer eyes, "are never gonna stick their necks out. They're all following their little set patterns. Look at them, looks at their stupid fucking grins and their despicable foursomes. They've watched me bang my head against the wall. All through school – I hope some of those ex-pupils are reading this! – all my life. But I will be nullified, I will be made impotent. My spirit is gone. Please, please never let them kill your spirit! Keep stoking the fire in your hatred, that's all you've got left. Let me make myself a martyr, let me try to break down their huge, indescribable rubber wall, the one that everyone bounces off. See, the rest of the band think they are going to break it. I know they won't. They'll try, try, try, but they'll fail because the wall is 360 degrees."
I paid the bill and we left. There's no way he's a new Sid in town.
It's all becoming a game. Public Image will obviously succeed, but just exactly how long they will last is entirely up to them. The public don't really matter much anymore.
Like Jah said earlier: "You can sell people bags of shit and they'll be happy."
Public Image ain't crap as their tapes confirm. It's just that it doesn't really matter anymore. Wobble's paranoia (and I don't doubt a word he said) doesn't really matter. It's up to him whether he enjoys himself or not.
Eighteen months ago it was a different world. Now we're back to the same old shit. And it really doesn't matter.
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