Smash Hits, February 2nd, 1986
Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens
© 1986 Smash Hits / Tom Hibbert
THE MAN WHO INVENTED PUNK
Ten years ago he was Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. He swore on telly, sang songs like 'Anarchy In The U.K.', insisted sex was ''boring'' and almost single-handedly abolished long hair and flared trousers. These days he's John Lydon of Public Image Ltd. He lives in Los Angeles with his German wife, wants to write a book about sharks and makes the occasional brilliant record (like 'Rise'). And he's rich. But apart from that, he assures TOM HIBBERT, he hasn't changed very much at all… Photos by SHEILA ROCK.
Knock knock knock…
Knock knock knock knock knock...
''Who is it?!''
It's us, John.
''You bastards! You're EARLY!!''
The door of the decaying Fulham housette swings open and there in the hallway is a figure grinning wickedly with strands of orange hair snaking and spiralling akimbo to the heavens. What a sight! Yus, it is John Lydon - Johnny Rotten of yesteryear - 'welcoming' us to his humble (very) London residence. What a state! Inside the 'living' room, old nicotine-stained PIL posters flop off the peeling walls, an unnamed kitten snuffles about amongst a clutter of empty beer cans and a colour TV flutters in the corner, showing out-of-focus horse racing from Chepstow…
''The socket on the back of the telly's gone and there's no hot water in the bathroom,'' says John, snickering proudly. ''This place is where they got the inspiration for 'The Young Ones', you know. You'd never think I was a millionaire, would you?''
No, I wouldn't.
''Well, I'm not - hahahahaha!''
It is almost ten years ago exactly that Johnny Rotten emerged with the Sex Pistols, spitting on carpets, enraging 'decent society', tearing up the hit parade with fine tunes like 'Anarchy In The U.K.' and 'God Save The Queen', and inventing punk rock in general. The punks were going to kick out all the old rock music 'dinosaurs', they said. They were going to change the industry, they said. They weren't going to become tax exiles and live in L.A. (man), they said. So the big question now can only be… has John Rotten Lydon SOLD OUT?
He's living in America for the past four years - first in the remote wilderness near Pasadena where he got chased by a gigantic, nibbling racoon and found lizards in his bed, so he
decided to move to his present home in much more 'civilised'… L.A. (man).
And on his new Public Image Ltd. LP, 'Album', he's used old rock music 'dinosaurs' (including Ginger Baker, who used to drum for Eric Clapton's 'progressive' troupe Cream twenty years ago) as his backing musicians. Not very 'punk' all this, is it, eh, John?
Lydon cracks open another can of lager, lights up another fag, fixes me with those piercing blue eyes and prepares to answer the charges. Sell out? He's having none of it…
''Nobody has any right to accuse or to say ANYTHING to me,'' he testifies. ''I am the
instigator of punk - of that whole situation - so I am the one that surely should comment.
I cannot be commented on. I know that might sound egotistical,'' he concedes, ''but it's TRUE. I haven't changed at all philosophy-wise. I don't give a damn if the musicians I'm working with are old and got beards and long hair - that's nothing to do with it and never has been. It just goes to show how narrow-minded people can be. I don't give a damn - it works.
It's well thunderous, the album, it's very intense, that's for sure. So if you're out for
mellowness'' (he spits the word out slowly with maximum contempt) ''or mood music,'' (ditto)
''look elsewhere, hahahahahaha…''
Point taken. But what of the glossy pop star tax exile existence in L.A. (man)?
''It's not what you think. It's not one of those awful big huge sprawling swimming pool estates up in Beverly Hills. It's a nice small little house near the beach where me and Nora get on with our domestic bliss - hahaha - completely unbothered by anybody.''
Domestic bliss? What is this? Yes, John Lydon - former punk shocker, now going on 30, the boy who once claimed to despise sex as a futile activity and to believe that love is something one can only feel ''for puppies'' - is a happily married man! Gasp! And his wife Nora Forster, a German some 15 years his senior, seems to have had something of a - ahem - 'mellowing' effect on the rascally nontoff.
''One very valuable lesson my loved one has taught me is to enjoy life and have fun and not to worry about money. The brass monkey is now off my back so let's not save for a rainy day, because it doesn't matter. I used to be so stingy, such a mean old skinflint tight-fist - it was a working class thing, I think - but now I just spend money because it's such a wonderful
feeling… or rather my darling spends it on my behalf… in the most charming manner…''
But as for 'mellowing' in the head, rather than in the wallet…
''I'd like to mellow out in my old age but I'm finding it increasingly impossible. If anything I'm becoming much more tense. Times they just seem to be getting worse - hahaha - so that's why I have as much fun as I can, because I honestly can't see myself enjoying life in the
future - what there will be of it.''
Oh dear. Grim gloom and despond. As John says on 'Album', he sees mushroom clouds just over the horizon, so prepare to duck and cover, pop kids.
''I can definitely see nuclear war coming. I can't see anybody doing very much to stop it. Both those camps - Russia and America - despise each other so much, and that malignancy will not go away overnight. They are not going to put their bombs and bullets away. You can't get rid of all that. You can't. It's there. How are you going to dismantle all that… danger?''
Elsewhere - on the 'Rise' single - John turns his attentions to equally disquieting topics,
singing about ''hot wires'' being strapped to his head…
''You can't keep pumping out happy-go-lucky records and completely avoid reality. I read this manual on South African interrogation techniques, and 'Rise' is quotes from some of the
victims. I put them together because I thought it fitted in aptly with my own feelings about daily existence.''
So where's all the fun John Lydon's supposed to be having? The daily enjoyment of life's rich tapestry? Eh? Well, there's, er, there's, er, there's, er… there's sharks. He loves 'em. Sort of…
''I've become almost a university lecturer on the subject of sharks. I'm an expert. I'm thinking of writing my own shark book because the ones I have are not detailed enough, not for me.
I've always wanted to go out in one of those shark cages and meet one eye to eye, but, well, living in L.A. we went out in a boat and - oooh - when I see them in the water it's Nooo! I'm not going anywhere near that! Shear FEAR! Recently they caught a 20-footer - a Great White - about two miles out from where we live. That is frightening stuff! 20 foot of, like, killing machine, you know, in the sea… where Nora goes swimming every morning!!! Ooooooh - I don't need that!''
So, one takes it, John Lydon is not a great one for paddling in the ocean. Not even the
occasional dip? He fixes me with another steely blue-eyed gaze that says ''What? Are you mad?''
''Swimming? Not in the sea! NO!!! I got so fascinated with all the bad things that live in it that it became like a total paranoia. Now I'm just into dolphins and nice things. I watch endless
repeats of 'Flipper'…'' (useless old US TV show about a sandy-haired boy and his dolphin 'pal') ''Hahaha…''
Which brings us on to that global source of 'fun' and 'enjoyment'… the telly…
''That's the worst thing about American television - the endless repeats. But bad as it is, the telly here is appalling. It's disgraceful. No imagination at all. That 'EastEnders' is the worst thing I've ever seen in my life. It really is. And 'Coronation Street' is still the same old fogeys doing exactly the same thing… It's a four year gap since the last episode I saw and I came back and I could follow it quite easily. I saw Ken Barlow's punch  which was great - it's very difficult to get Ken Barlow across as a dashing young hunk - and Deidre… Gawd… There was a documentary on that John Cleese BBC TV licence advertisement the other night. Un-be-LIVE-able! They had a bloody documentary on that with Bob Geldof of course''
(maximum sneer) ''right in the middle of it - as if that makes any bloody difference...''
…and this is England…
''You're being fed nothing here but this small little narrow-minded attitude about 'This is the centre of the universe and the rest of the world stinks'. As if this little island, this 'sanctuary',
is the only sane place on earth… Well, it isn't. It's very twee here. I mean, those wallies that did that record 'Hop Off You Frogs'  - those lyrics, 'up your Eiffel' - oh yeah, well literature-
wise. It's pathetic! It's desperate! No, I do not miss England at all. It's pretty dreary here. isn't it? So bland! Don't be bland! Don't be bland, Susan and Norman, you dreary couple with the Ford Cortina and your names on the windscreen. There's actually a Susan and Norman out there right now, driving around in a blue Ford Cortina feeling well proud of themselves for being utterly dull…''
And of course he's absolutely right. There go Susan And Norman right now, listening to their Lionel Richie tapes - but doesn't the 'good old' U.S. of A. have its fill of Susans and Normans too?
''Of course it does. There's millions and millions of them out there. But in L.A. they're much more open - it's a very rich mixture of cultures. They have much more fun out there, you know. I can walk around quite happily and fit in with all the other loonies and blend into the background. Which is bloody difficult to do here. Just walking to the end of the street here
I get yelled at by truck drivers who grind their lorries to a halt and come out and give me ver-bal abuse for ten minutes. Still, it doesn't turn vicious and nasty like it used to. Time seems to have healed the wounds. I now seem more like a folk hero than a demon. But what do
people expect of me? To be their guiding light or whatever? The role some people want me to adopt - that of everybody's hero - is one I find offensive. Wrong, wrong, wrong! And when I don't adopt that role, when I use musicians who can actually play their instruments, well… how awful of me! What a disease! Does that make me like the gout!''
Well, we've covered that territory already, actually, so let's get back to having fun. There's sharks and there's 'Flipper' and there's, er… friends?
''Well, I don't go out much so I don't have very many friends in L.A.... apart from the
occasional lawyer, hahaha. I don't hang around with musicians, I don't like those cliques.
If I was a plumber, I would see no reason on earth to want to meet loads of other plumbers, so why should it be different in this industry? I like Chrissie Hynde and Jim Kerr, they're nice people. I think Annie Lennox is a really nice person. And there's Heaven 17 of course, dear chaps. But I'm not particularly in love with the idea of being a pop star and leading that stupid existence. A lot of these new pop stars have very little in the brain department. They like to be manipulated and they seek something as vague as fame, which is ludicrous. I was
recording in New York when Duran Duran were there , and they'd keep seeing me in places and their noses would go up in the air about four miles, which was a hoot. Perfect stuff. Sheer joy. That saved an hour of insults, hahaha.''
John Lydon cracks open another can of lager, lights up another fag and snickers another wicked snicker…
''Don't you want to ask why I don't have kids? Everybody wants to know why I don't have kids. That's an odd one, don't you think? Utterly irrelevant, surely?''
Tell me, John - why don't you have kids? John Lydon opens his arms in mock embrace and adopts his very most sarcastic nasal drawl…
''My fans are my children… hahaha...''
''…and if the current trend continues it's going to be a well small-sized family...''
Feelin' good 'n' lookin' great - the John Lydon way:
"I decided to start not combing my hair and it formed this whacking great lump, and so I tried to break the bits up - and that's what the pointy bits are. It's just lumps of matted hair with bits of wire in the bottom to make them stand up. If you just keep leaving it, it stays like this, and
I like dying it when it's all knotted and matted. That's the killer because the dye goes in and it forms a solid rock base. It's like taking a clump of hair and painting it with emulsion. It doesn't hurt."
 Ken Barlow hits Mike Baldwin to the floor - episode aired on 22.1.1986
 by The Bizarre Boys (1985)
 John and Andy Taylor recorded the 'Power Station' album in New York in winter 1984/85
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
© Shelia Rock