John Lydon:
Sounds, November 5th 1983

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1983 Sounds / DAVE McCULLOUGH


Sounds, November 5th 1983JOHN LYDON faces the media, DAVE McCULLOUGH takes notes. PAUL SLATTERY takes pix

Thursday lunchtime in a swish hotel [1] in London, and John Lydon ("a.k.a. Rotten" the invite says) is lording it over a collection of unhappy, bemused, slightly aggressive journalists.

He's done it all before and he's mastered the art, if there is any, of these press conference gatherings. At intervals he gives a cruel belly laugh. Lydon rules the roost, flanked by two worried-looking Virgin people.

He looks healthy and, as far as you can tell, is enjoying living. He has a slightly more upper-class accent than I would have expected. Something grand in him fights with a knowledge of the low life.

He is plugging his new movie 'Order Of Death'. [2] It was noticeable that he perked up slightly over questions about the film rather more than he did concerning questions about PIL.

'Live In Tokyo' is a weak album graced by a superb single, 'This Is Not A Love Song'. The remainder of the record sounds uncertain, it's like Lydon backed by A Flock Of Seagulls, caught between making the 'original' musical ideas behind PIL more commercial and sticking to the guns.

Above all perhaps, the climate at present isn't right for PIL or Lydon. In Thatcherland that group's complications together with their basic gloominess don't fit - even their use of flowers to represent gloom jars with, say, The Smiths' current use of flowers as a symbol of freshness and new beginnings.

It was in this atmosphere that we all sat down on flower-shaped, liquorice-tasting lollipops with the PIL insignia inscribed. More a piece of sarcasm than a funny joke, it suited Lydon and PIL.

Q: "Have you seen the official receivers yet?"

JOHN LYDON: "No I ain't, and I don't fucking intend to."

Q: "So finances have been going well?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, they never do. All the money ends up with the lawyers, as always."

Q: "Why did you do a live album?"

JOHN LYDON: "Why not?"

Q: "How long are you staying here for?"

JOHN LYDON: "Long enough to do a few gigs that have been arranged. I'm never going to live here anymore. I think this country's finished, I think we all know that."

Q: "Will you be doing any recording here?"

JOHN LYDON: "Not yet, but I intend to. I've rung Chrysalis ..." [3]

Q: "Have you any new material?"

JOHN LYDON: "Of course."

Q: "What do you mean, of course? The live album's all old stuff!"

JOHN LYDON: "Well, what do you expect on a live album? I mean, that was no big deal, it's just a live album. You can't expect a totally new set of songs that haven't been released officially, that would be cutting your own throat. You can wait for a studio album, you've waited long enough, a few more years won't do you any harm."

Q: "I've heard Virgin have stuff in the can ..."

JOHN LYDON: "They have a few of our tracks. But it's not completed yet. It soon will be."

Q: "We've heard you've been playing 'Anarchy In The U.K.' in Japan?"

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, we did it. It went down really well, but that may be because I've never played Japan in my life before. It's quite relevant we did it there."

Q: "Why have you stayed away from Britain for so long?"

JOHN LYDON: "Ah, it's not a very healthy climate for me here, no doubts about that! I mean, my last three months in England I got raided practically every week. You know, suspicion of making bombs for the IRA, suspicion of hiding runaway juveniles, suspicion of firearms, suspicion of drugs - you name it, I've been raided for it. I mean, they completely smashed the place I had apart. I took the hint and moved."

Q: "Is there nothing left in England for you, John?"

JOHN LYDON: "Nothing at all. Except the pubs, I suppose."

Q: "What do you like about New York so much?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's a much more healthy climate to work in. You don't have to wait three months to get a phone installed, you can get things done quickly. You don't have to deal with the petty bureaucracy this country thrives on."

Q: "On the new album the crowd sings along at times. Isn't that a bit silly for you?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's alright, I don't mind people singing along. That's entertainment!"

The stiffer the question, the more it had to do with how John Rotten has laid it on the line in the past, left himself wide open to accusations of contradicting himself the easier he coped with it. He clearly feels he has nothing to prove to no one. Which to me is the right attitude.

The only bods who could be disappointed by PIL or Rotten these days, seven years after the event, are those who have the wrong attitude, namely one of thinking of rock 'n' roll as a collectible, predictable item. Seeing Lydon as a 'classic' in the fashion of Costello and Meat Loaf - whereby the artist's career features a mounting, increasing justification of the artist himself.

Lydon is complete indiscipline, he breaks all those rules. Even touring, sticking out a dodgy double album with your manager's name on the bleeding sleeve - in terms of Lydon's career it's almost a justified negativity, not a career disaster. More than anyone else you can imagine Lydon bouncing back seven albums later with something special. We shall see.

Q: "How did you get the role in this film?"

JOHN LYDON: "Through sheer talent, I hope! Ha ha ha ha ha!"

Q: "Are you having fun these days, John?"

JOHN LYDON: "A lot of fun. I'm enjoying life, believe it or not. Is that it, then?"

Q: "Have you a steady girlfriend?"

JOHN LYDON: "Probably."

Q: "Will you tell us her name?"


Q: "You haven't got a permanent band, we hear?"

JOHN LYDON: "I have got a permanent band, as permanent as anything in my life is. As permanent as me, and I fluctuate like the breeze."

Q: "A couple of years ago you said PIL would get into video. What happened to that?"

JOHN LYDON: "It was a load of mouth really. Sorry."

Q: "What's this about Malcolm McLaren saying the Sex Pistols are to play at the Carnegie Hall?"

JOHN LYDON: "Oh, come on! Alright, let's bring it down to the level of silliness. Whatever Malcolm says is bound to be a lie. I mean, the man is a pathological liar."

Q: "Has he tried to get in contact with you?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, but his manager Bernie Rhodes has, about reforming the Sex Pistols. But that's a joke, isn't it? I mean, really, how can you reform Sid?"

Q: "A few years ago you criticised the Stones and The Who for playing the same set night after night extensively. Why are you doing it now?"

JOHN LYDON: "I'd hardly call what I'm doing extensive. What I do is a holiday with musical interludes."

Q: "It's still a tour."

JOHN LYDON: "You can call it what you like, mate. I know I'm right."

Q: "What happened to Keith?"

JOHN LYDON: "He quit."

Q: "What happened to Jeannette?"

JOHN LYDON: "She quit."

Q: "How come you've had so many quitters?"

JOHN LYDON: "Dunno. There's an awful lot of weak people in this world."

Q: "Why did you bring Martin Atkins back?"

JOHN LYDON: "Because he's a bloody good drummer, and that no one can deny ... I'm filling in my spare time by doing things like this, I'm amusing myself. I'm pissing about, ain't I?"

Q: "What was the discipline like, working on the film?"

JOHN LYDON: "Bloody terrible, awful, totally against everything I've ever known. Of course I was nervous first morning on the set. It was really difficult."

Q: "You slagged off Mick Jagger for appearing in 'Ned Kelly'."

JOHN LYDON: "But have you seen 'Ned Kelly'? My God ...! He was better in 'Performance', but that was because he was stoned out of his head."

Q: "How did the other actors react to your reputation?"

JOHN LYDON: "Harvey probably thought I was going to be a right wally. I proved him wrong, I hope. I'm just declaring myself on film really. It's very difficult, because you're not in control. The end result is not totally your decision, they can edit what you do to shit afterwards. You throw yourself in at the deep end, sort of thing. It was very hard, because I'm not someone who believes in discipline. So I contradicted myself by doing it, I suppose, but I enjoyed myself."

Q: "We expect something different from you, John. Isn't this playing follow-the-leader, getting into films after Sting and Bowie?"

JOHN LYDON: "You forgot Elvis and Cliff. So? I think Bowie seems to care more about his makeup, which side's best for his face, than about the films he's in. It's ego ..."

Q: "But you're being conventional getting into film, aren't you?"

JOHN LYDON: "I hardly see the cinema as convention. This is hardly a Hollywood epic. It isn't 'The Love Boat'."

Q: "You said once you wanted to appear in 'Crossroads'?"

JOHN LYDON: "Uh, that was a joke! I would have done it if they'd have gone for it, that would have been a right scream!"

Q: "Do you find it easy walking the streets of New York?"

JOHN LYDON: "All that crap you hear about the violence in New York is nonsense. It's not true."

Q: "John Lennon went there looking for some peace and quiet ..."

JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, well, there's an oddity about his death, wasn't there? Why did he get out of the car? Usually the car goes into the building. Very strange, but we won't talk about it."

Q: "Why not?"

JOHN LYDON: "It's not worth it. It's what usually happens when rock stars die mysteriously ... I'm having trouble concentrating with all these cameras clicking!"

Q: "Is that one of the reasons you left New York?"

JOHN LYDON: "No. This is a giggle, isn't it? You're stroking my ego and I'm loving it. My favourite colour is blue. My favourite song is 'It's Hard To Be Humble When You Know You Don't Mean It'. My favourite film is 'The Lion In Winter'. I love stuff with sarcasm, irony in it. I hate Woody Allen."

Q: "What do you think of the new English pop groups, ABC, Human League?"

JOHN LYDON: "They're a bit jaded by now, aren't they? Isn't it Kajagoogooo and Boy George by now? George has a voice, you can't deny that."

Q: "Do you find it strange being in the charts with people like this?"

JOHN LYDON: "I find it pleasing the record went so high. I was surprised, I didn't think it would do shit here. We didn't even plan to release it here, that was Virgin being greedy. Oh God, they're greedy!"

Q: "Have you ever thought of giving money to those less fortunate than yourself?"

JOHN LYDON: "I don't know anyone less fortunate than myself!" (laughter rocks the hall) "Why are you laughing?"

Q: "What do you think of the state of London, John?"

JOHN LYDON: "God, it's got really suburban, hasn't it? The streets are empty by seven o'clock, everyone runs into their houses after work and that's it. But in the daytime, God, it's like a fashion catwalk. Wacky hairdos, that's the first thing you notice when you step off the plane, even the baggage attendants have these -" (mimes a Mohican in the air, more laughter)

Q: "Did you like the character you played in 'Order Of Death'?"

JOHN LYDON: "I liked him, because he was a swine. But he won through, he was so convinced he was right, he was in the end. He was positive in a negative way ... I was getting really bored with music. I took a year off, then went back, and now I like making records again. It was a brilliant break."

Q: "Was the film good for you financially?"

JOHN LYDON: "No, I did it virtually for nothing. If it sells in really large quantities then I will. I probably lost out in fact, getting drunk every night, paying for that ..."

Q: "Your musicians on the album and on the tour ..."

JOHN LYDON: "They come from the cabaret circuit, believe it or not, from Holiday Inn bands. I wanted to get as far away from trendy hairdos as possible, all that nonsense. The music counts. If you could call it music."

Q: "Virgin said -"

JOHN LYDON: "They lied. You needn't finish the sentence."

A few more Botham-like swings over the boundary and he's off, photographers chasing after in his wake. I put my lollipop in my briefcase, making sure it wouldn't get crushed. A souvenir.


[1] the press conference took place at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in Bayswater, London W2 (on 26 October 1983, which was actually a Wednesday)
[2] The film had already had its premiere in Italy under the title 'Copkiller' on 15 March 1983. The UK premiere under the title 'Order Of Death' followed on 3 November 1983.
[3] Maison Rouge Recording Studios (2 Wansdown Place, London SW6) was frequently used by Chrysalis Records artists. PIL would record their next album 'This Is What You Want This Is What You Get" there.


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