Lydon & Keith Levene:
Record Mirror, March 29th 1980
Transcribed (and additional
info) by Karsten Roekens,
with thanks to Tom Berglund
© 1980 Record Mirror / Mark Cooper
LYDON THE EXORCIST
John Lydon's back in America, as cynical as ever. He wants to forget the memories, do away with the past and rock'n'roll. MARK COOPER listens to Lydon and Keith Levene.
The last gig the Pistols ever played was here in San Francisco at the legendary Winterland. Both band and venue are now terminated. The Pistols were in tatters that night and aroused a curious hatred in the audience.
Yet John Rotten was in total control – utterly cynical. His last line on leaving the stage, the band and the whole US record promoting debacle was: "Have you ever felt cheated then? Goodnight."
Two years later and the man is back, along with Keith Levene, to promote PIL's second album 'Second Edition', just released here by Warner Brothers, and not in a metal box. So it's a quick promo job to set up gigs in various cities, in particular New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Not Texas this time around.
This here's the only press conference  – and the duo are faced with about 150 professional and amateur journalists, a couple of video machines  and a huge buzz of interest in The City, a new wave disco that is exactly that.
Picking their way towards the stage through cables and pens come Lydon and Levene, resembling street tramps who've just crawled out of bed. In fact there's a limousine outside. It must bring back memories.
John Lydon has too many memories and he's doing his best to exorcise them. He's doing away with rock'n'roll, with managers, with the whole sordid past.
He's here instead to talk about PIL while people want to talk about the Pistols, a band Americans hardly saw. The myth hangs around like an albatross – small wonder he's doing his best to forget and destroy it.
On the stand the two look very young, very arrogant and very cynical. As far as they're concerned: "This is a farce. We look like fools."
Lydon looks his usual disgruntled self, his eyes sweeping the audience, occasionally stopping to pierce right through the selected target. Both have a gift for seeing right through pretension, eyes that make you wither on the spot. Lydon, when asked, explains he believes in nothing and he has the ability to reduce everything to nothingness, pointlessness, which is both cleansing, depressing and exhilarating.
His humour and contempt and the cartoon quality the Pistols image has now assumed make him in part a figure of fun, a fact which he resents and occasionally exploits. Throughout the questioning there's an undercurrent of cynical purity to everything he says, damaged or charged he remains a moral man without beliefs, who is intensely moral.
Moral but still a manipulator as he said in 'Anarchy': "I use the best. I use the enemy."
The night before at the Fox-Warfield The Clash, the other survivors of 1977, played a gig that was as devastating as it was conservative . The Clash have assumed responsibility for 25 years of authentic rock and roll. They dress fifties, have Lee Dorsey or Bo Diddley to back them, and explore rock'n'roll forms. They're a fever band, keeping the fire alive.
The problem, as far as Lydon is concerned, is the fire myth itself. Asked to explain the connection between the Pistols and PIL he asserts: "There is no connection. The Pistols finished rock'n'roll. That was the last rock'n'roll band. It is all over. It's the past. Would you like to talk about Chuck Berry, Russ Conway, Mantovani? We don't consider ourselves rock and roll at all. Rock and roll is shit and it has to be cancelled. It's vile, it's gone on for 25 years, it's dismal. A grandad dance, and I'm not interested in it."
If the Pistols ever were the ultimate extension of rock and roll style, John has been there and he doesn't want a repeat. Goodbye to the politics of the Pistols. "There was no politics in the Pistols," he says. "It was a fiasco, a force with no direction, nothing. We all hated each other. I don't believe in politics. Only fools get involved in politics."
The emphasis now apparently is on the music. "Rather than buy our records just because we wear nice clothes and have funny hairdos, what about the sound? We'd like to get well out of that crap. That's poison. That's what's been going on for far too long."
It's the same with drugs and anyone who asks about them. "We've definitely experienced them, but that was in the past," Lydon sneers. "We don't do them anymore. That was rock and roll leisure time. It's such an old path."
If the Pistols celebrated anarchy while retaining an old style – rock and roll – PIL are more individual, more explanatory. Levene and Lydon's confidence in the band is arrogant but calm. "It's not rock and roll, it's certainly not disco, it defies any category," they claim. "It's PIL. And it will continue to be that. It's PIL... nothing else."
Their contempt for other contemporary beat music (Lydon explains sardonically that Joe Strummer is his favourite comedian) is evident. "We're influenced a lot by what not to be like," says Levene. "The Rolling Stones – I can't even think of them. They're just a distraction whoever they are."
And Lydon adds with disgust: "I think music at the moment has reached an all time low. We'll probably fail dismally. But let's face it, that's a lot better than any of the competition. At least we're trying."
Lydon's hatred of rock music stems not only from his past, but his sense that rock and roll is a futile, repressive routine. In a word, boring. Thus their anti-touring policy. "The last tour destroyed the Pistols. Night after night just running through routines, it's pointless. We're not gonna tour America. We'll be doing occasional gigs according to our whims and fancies."
As for the lack of dates in England, Levene explains: "There's no places in England to play that are worth playing. Do you want to stand in three inches of piss to watch us play? As for the last gig, we did a shit gig to a shit audience in a shit place. We all had a horrible time."
Disruption not routine is the name of the game, and Lydon's high-minded arrogance is nihilistic rather than elitist. He reduces the routine to rubble. Yet here he is doing a press conference for Warner Brothers. Both of them obviously despise record companies while acknowledging that they need them.
"No one can make us sound like anything. This is one band nobody dictates to ever," they assert. "We do what we want to. This suits us, and we're getting away with it. We nearly walked out of here, but we're just being polite. We need to promote our records. There is no point in hiding in closets and being arty. It is essential that everybody is aware that this band exists, because there is no competition. And I'd like that to be made very clear."
Lydon is not at all happy with Warners' attitude to the band. As he explains: "They don't trust us."
So PIL don't exactly have freedom with Warners. No metal boxes for instance. "Bear in mind I was lumbered with a contract from Pistols days," he says. "We did the best we could out of that situation. Apparently Warners only want to press 50.000 of our album for the entire US. I think that's a very low number. There's more than 50.000 towns in America. It's only common sense for the record company to make as much of this record as possible and promote it as much as possible. By limiting the product they're going to lose money."
Warners and Lydon seem to be an unhappy marriage. And still PIL have no manager. "We manage ourselves, we do our own videos, we own our own cameras, we're building our own studio. We pay in advance for the recording and then we sell the finished tapes to the record companies," they claim. "We don't run through the normal business channels. PIL's a limited company, we're not a group. We manage ourselves, we don't need any middlemen. That's what it's all about."
For PIL to do what they want requires struggle. "We don't expect a life of total ease and leisure," they say. And they expect the same from whoever chooses to listen to them: "If you want our stuff, you're going to have to fight for it."
Lydon's aim is still true to the original Pistols ethic: "To annoy and to irritate." What he rejects is the myth, the albatross. He's operating on his own terms and his aim is deconstruction, to turn his eyes on what's going on and show it up for rubble.
Anarchy is never static – so we've left out the music while Lydon and Levene disappear in a limousine, due back to play in a couple of weeks. For that question, well, it's up to you, Rudy. They've done their part.
 the press conference took place on Monday, 3.3.1980
 the press conference is filmed by Target Video from San Francisco. A few clips later show up on 'Target Video 82' VHS cassette
 The Clash played two concerts at the Fox Warfield Theatre (Saturday, 1.3.1980 and a second show on Sunday, 2.3.1980)
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