John Lydon:
Sounds, 22nd April, 1989

Transcribed (and additional info) by M

© Sounds 1989

Public Image

The 9 Lives of John Lydon by Neil Perry

For the second time in ten minutes, the screwball zoo that is Los Angeles gives public image limited good cause for amusement.

The first was the sign, raised high over a garage forecourt on the city's sunset strip, that proudly proclaims prompt service: no matter how long it takes.

The next is the track-suited granny who, upon passing the band loitering on the pavement for a photo shoot, can't resist poking her nose in,

"ooh, look at your hair..." she complains, prodding at John Lydon with a wizened finger.  The miffed singer reacts as anyone would, if harassed in the street by a cranky old bint.

"F*** off! Mind your own business." with a friendly pat on the back from bassist Alan Dias, she trots off, smiling grateful for the excitement and doubtlessly happy that all her worst youth-of-today fears have been confirmed.

"Quick, " chuckles Lydon, "let's split before the whole blue-rinse brigade arrives."

The Release of PiL's ninth LP, "9", is imminent.  And, though they're mourning the temporary loss of keyboards player Lu Edmonds, due to tinnitus, the sense of satisfaction and achievement that the band exude is almost tangible.

Since '87's 'Happy?' LP, PiL have conquered all manner of money, management and producer problems, which were perhaps a blessing in disguise for a band whose equation is pure and simple-an all-pervading hunger to create.

As if in answer to all the crap the industry could throw at them, PiL have gone and made the total PiL record. Featuring that voice on ten songs as disparate as they are confounding, '9' is a wealth of music and ideas that will take as much listening as you can afford it.

Alan and drummer Bruce smith are the world;s most hyperactive rhythm section--the disco twins, Lydon calls them-and as Bruce talks breathlessly, Alan whirls around the hotel room, fuelling his jitters with shots of Pepsi.

"Our premise isn't to be number one, I couldn't give a fuck," stresses Bruce.

"What Rotten has carved out for himself is this situation where you make demands on the listeners, instead of going along nicely where they know what's going to happen,   You make demands on them to accept different possibilities.

"Why treat people like Dummies? Give them some credit for wanting to hear some new shit."

"We're not arty people," says Alan. "We just have an attitude about our life and this the way we want to express it. Being in a band like PiL, where there's nothing in particular expected of us, we can do what we want-which is a big position to b in as far as being songwriters is concerned.  Which we all are-this ain't no backing band.  Because of this, we've been able to put john in scenarios that he normally wouldn't be in, things that as a songwriter he wouldn't write-like disappointed' or 'Seattle from 'Happy?'."

"We give him a cassette, he'll take it away. Two months later you ask him about it, and he'll say, it's too nice, I  don't know what to do with it.  In the final hour he'll come up with something brilliant.  It's all about widening the horizons and scope of music. It's an ongoing process, and it gets more and more efficient.   We're not only surprised by what he comes up with, but inspired.  the whole thing is to challenge the boundaries of this medium we call pop music.  It's a kick in the ass, man! and kids respond to that!"

Alan speaks from experience.  Las year PiL were offered a last minute support-slot on the sell-out INXS tour  across the states, with audiences of up to 20,000.

"We were faced with the unlikeliest audiences," says Alan." Eighty percent teeny boppers, you know. Some nights they (INXS) had a difficult time coming on after us because the kids were so hyped up."

" A lot of placed were sold out before we were added to the bill," adds Bruce. "Some of the kids went fucking crazy man, berserk! We really hit hard, and most these kids, they'd never heard the sex pistols. So all that history shit wasn't;t attached anymore, and when they heard 'Rise' or something, they'd go, ah, yeah...Catching a whole new set-up which is what we're are trying to do."

"Our problem here is what we're still getting MOR resistance," says Alan, "because there's a message in our music and because of John's history as a hard person to deal with."

"You know, a dangerous character," Interjects Bruce dryly, "A threatening personality...You have to prove your point by just doing it," he concludes, "to make these people aware of what's happening. It;s part of the way you move modern music along.  Somebody's gotta do this shit!"

Having dragged themselves up from the hotel bar (in its own inimitable style, LA was celebrating St. Patrick's Day with green balloons and abysmal Irish coffees), Lydon and guitarist John McGeoch prove the complete antithesis to their partners' vitality.

Leery and philosophical in turn, the pair are clad in hideous-but apparently very comfortable-multi-coloured designer track suits, set off by bulky money belts.  They are also pissed.

After a brief appraisal of Steptoe andSon-Lydon says that his wife, Nora, likens him to the griping father-the singer turns willfully sardonic, sounding off at a wide range of subjects centering around the ignorance and spite accorded to PiL by the press.

"I can understand that a lot of people don't like music that attacks and confronts them, and makes them think about things they shouldn't really be dealing with, because life should be much easier, ha ha ha. As far as I know there is no God, there is no heaven, this all we have! I want to live it to the full.  There are things out there that consistently tell us we should be miserable, and I won't tolerate it.

"I work with this guy because I respect his lyrics," ponders McGeoch, "and he deals with things. If you can put it into the format where people have the option of thinking twice about it..."

Lydon: "The words count for a lot of situations in a lot of people's lives. And I know I'm not extra special, I know I'm just bog-ordinary-I'm just lucky to have the opportunity to use what I've got to make that clear."

Lydon emphasizes how he has always though of PiL as'folk' music.  Does that mean music is responsible for advancing culture?

"Always. Otherwise what we're doing is foolish, and a waste of time. I want to push everything to its utmost limits and then go further, that is the point of existence. I won't imitate and I won't be led, not by anything or anybody.  That's it. period.   When the Sex Pistols started, I said, We're nothing to do with rock'n' roll. that's dead.  I meant that most insecurely and still do, I;ve it made it clear that there's a new way, a new approach, without all that old terminology."

You seem a little insecure, John.

"No, not at all.  Insecurity is when you;re too scared to question yourself.   If you do that's an achievement."

McGeoch: "He is insecure"

Lydon: "He is lying"

McGeoch: "He goes on so much about what he's done, wven when it's really good.   I think you might have peeled back a layer of Mr. Lydon's a point actually, john, you really do question..."

"Ok!" sniggers Lydon, exasperated. "However, leave me alone.  I 'm not paranoid!"

"be serious..." begins McGeoch.

"I won't! I refuse! This is too close to something I really don;t want to admit! Look I question everybody, everything, totally, all the time.  I have to , it's part and parcel of being a human being.  otherwise it's all irrelevant.  I accept no cheap shots from anyone in this band, least of all from me.  These people are the same, they are my friends because of  this. This is the best organization I've ever been in, and I can't see it falling apart, because we tear each other apart in the writing process so intensely that it makes it so valid, Bloody 'urts' though."

At the mention of the INXS gigs McGeogh lights up. " The very first gig, right, there was 20,000 people, and in the first ten minutes Lydon had them.  And he was the most nervous of all of us, we were all wearing our brown trousers."


"Honesty," suggests Lydon. "What else can you call it? I don't Fucks about. I die a death backstage before I'm on-but when I'm on, that's different, it's now, on, deliver.  I love music and for all the right reasons. Not for ego, or any of that crap.  It was a bloody frightening thing after so long, to go out in front of 20,000 people, supporting this band that really have no right to even clean our toenails.   They had no idea where we were coming from. Completely ideal-you must always do the unexpected.  Look, I'm desperate for this fucking bar..."

Before we leave Lydon comes clean.

"I'm so sick of it, all this explaining, explaining everything.  That;s what nauseated you , and quite rightly so. I'm used to being defensive, that;s become the format! Nobody every talks t me like a human being any more, apart from my friends in the band.  john was getting onto that, and we almost had a bloody good row.  Which helps, so fucking much!"

Lydon is well aware of the fragility of a concept such as music advancing culture, especially when the next morning's TV news reveals that 13 people were shit dead in La's suburbs.  That night, as he slopes into a horribly chic eatery in the trendy Melrose area, Lydon's s both the picture of sobriety and a perfect host.

" One of the few people who does anything worthwhile around here is David Lee Roth," he reveals. "He puts up money for warehouse parties. Also ona good night here you can hear the machine gun fire in the distance." He smiles and tucksint an evilly-spiced dish with relish, oblivious to the glances the clientele flash at him.

The following day, well-fed and rested, Lydon has an afternoon to kill before heading off to his occasional home (once inhabited by Mae West) at Las Venice Beach.  He is still based in London but also spends time at Nora's home in Germany.

"I don't believe any one country is worst staying in for too long.  I get really bored with it.  I never want to know who my neighbors are.  They always want to know your business, and you must never allow anyone that."

"Like the sort that call the police at night when you got your record player on, then smile at you in the morning.  I'd rather be at war with them right from the start!"

From the rich commercial treat that is the new single, 'Disappointed', to the sinister shudder of 'USLS 1' (Concerning the US president's jet, USAF 1), '9' features some of the most uplifting work PiL have produced so far, as well as continuing the 'Happy' theme-the title of the first track.

"I bloody hope so. It;s a different approach to happy. The 'Happy?' LP did have a doom, death and destruction feel about it, very crunchy, tanks rolling, very military in its approach.  This is another way.  I'll say it outright, I don't want to see no Goths in our audience.  Oh, I'm having such a miserable time, great innit...silly sods! Why wallow in fake misery?"

This leads Lydon onto one of this favourite subjects.  His love/hate relationship with good old blighty.

"in America they encourage you to be successful, and England is the exact opposite, it's very grotty and spiteful at the moment.  It;s a shame that the downtrodden social worker principle seems to be dominating at the moment, where everybody wants to be dismal.  That's it, class war and rock against the rich! Their thing cannot possibly every succeed.  There isn't a single kid in a council flat that doesn't want to get out and improve his or her life.  Nobody wants to stay there for ever, let alone inflict that on the rest of the world.  That dull grayness they;re aiming for is really stupid.  Do something constructive! Don't just hurl insults and act like jealous yabbos! They should be so lucky that the so-called democracy which they live in, and are trying to destroy, allows them to do that.  Its kind of righteous, actually, that Morrissey is so popular (coincidentally, a recent Morrissey b-side was entitled Disappointed) that's exactly whet you need, you need another Oscar Wilde to wake you up! That's how absurd you've become, where he can talk about a daisy growing in a garden and you all love it!  He's a musical joke, vaudeville with a tinge of gay burlesque.  Some of his lyrics are very witty but I don't want  Britain to become his horrible little pinewood studios thing.  Ealing Comedies, Carry on Camping, yeeucch! That just closing your eyes and ears to the world."

When was PiL;s tenth birthday?

"I haven't a clue...You know the most offensive thing was the anniversary of the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club.  I wasn't even invited (laughs long and loud)!  It was all set up by those fuckers who do the bootlegs and Glen Matlock, who wouldn't miss a free drink not for the world.  I heard he'd given up alcohol, become a born again Christian.  Glen always did have problems with Anarchy and God Save the Queen-he was convinced they were fascists and we were secretly Hitler Youth at work."

After finding Megadeths Anarchy in the UK vastly entertaining, Lydon is certain to welcome the news that Ian Astbury, W Axl Rose and ex Pistols Steve Jones are to collaborate on a bash through Did you no wrong.

:"When Guns 'n' Roses go on about it...what was that quote? Rock N Roll has sucked a big dick since the sex pistols- that band really have misunderstood us.  It was all about opening things up not closing things down, which is what they;re doing.  Its narrowness all this living rock n roll."

Ultimately with PiL the produce is all they have become highly efficient machine. and the records keep coming.

"As they must but I'm so fussy and nervy that I'm never satisfied with anything.   Once I've committed myself I do it and don't look back its got to be on to the next otherwise its madness.  The arguments can be fabulous but it gels really well/"

There are also plans for PiL to play in the UK this year-if they can find a venue.

"Its sad to say but were banned from most places.  Still. Stupid councils-and get this, left wing councils are my worst enemies.  Hammersmith wont entertain the bloody idea and I love down the road! I'm a local and they give me access to the fucking venues.  What's all that about?"

John Lydon shark fanatic(what he doesn't know about the beast isn't worth knowing) info-maniac, is just happy to be doing.

"Over my house on the beach, a few times, I've been out in a boat, The dolphins come right up close, just looking at you-sometimes you can touch them.  That really puts you in your place!"


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