John Lydon:
Trouser Press #38, May 1979

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1979 Trouser Press / Charlotte Wylie


John Lydon defends his Public Image, by Charlotte Wylie

was able to find the Hotel Rotten almost without thinking. The building could only have been occupied by him. Despite a somewhat slightly worn and derelict appearance, its walls were suitably adorned with anti McLaren graffiti, anti-establishment slogans and the sort of paraphernalia you'd naturally associate with an ex-Pistol and public figure of some standing – in this part of the world, at any rate.

Yet, despite John Lydon's lingering celebrity, the Sex Pistols era has been and gone. Public Image Ltd. (or PIL) is a new band with a new image and a new debut LP. Both the album ('Public Image') and its single ('Public Image') jumped into the top 20 over here upon their individual releases (the single came first), a success obviously attributable, in part at least, to the former notoriety of Johnny Rotten, despite the fact that the music inside bears as little resemblance to the Pistols as the bevaselined Valentinos that grace its sleeve.

"It's not the same anymore ... Wish I could die ... Now I understand ... It's not the same anymore ... Another leap in the dark and I wish I could die"

"You never listened to a word that I said ... I'm not the same as when it began ... Public image – you got what you wanted"

Lydon and a few friends lounge comfortably in front of a large TV. John is reticient to speak specifically about the LP or its songs, preferring to talk about the band in general and his own reaction to PIL's situation at this early stage in their existence.

"All the words mean something," he says of the band's lyrics, a few of which are quoted above. "It's very easy to be honest. You don't think about it, you just say what you feel and it's always the most articulate thing you can come up with."

For doing just that, Lydon and PIL have received almost uniformly negative reviews in the press, especially in England, with the major thrust being that the album is too self-indulgent. To that charge, Lydon countered:

"It's as simple as this: I had the cheek and the audacity to do my own thing. They lost control of me, I couldn't be manipulated anymore.They bolster your ego and keep pandering to you, saying how wonderful you are. Take The Clash for example – they'll review it as the best rock 'n' roll album since God knows when. But if The Clash decide to do something slightly different or off the wall with their next album, they'll be condemned forever. One reviewer didn't even mention the fucking record, it was all about the clothes I wear, and who do I think I am – pure personal bitching. The music press is run by old woman! I want as many people as possible to get the chance to listen to the album and decide for themselves, not be dictated to by a lot of arseholes who know no better."

What sort of questions, I wondered, was he being asked by the press at the moment?

"Totally irrelevant things. They always steer clear of the issues, and if I say something particularly heavy it's never printed. Ever."

[Apparently Mr. Lydon has not heard of libel laws, one reason papers may be forced to edit his statements. The name of the promoter in question in Lydon's next diatribe has been omitted to protect the innocent, namely, us. – Ed.]

"They won't print things like the fact that we refuse to use promoters like [...] and shit-wanks like that, who don't do anybody a favour except collect 25% of the money. We refuse to have producers, because surely who's better to get the sound you want on your own songs than yourself? Just cut out all those middlemen. Don't use them. Every time we do anything, people say 'You should have a manager.' Why should we? We don't need one. Look at it this way – we got fleeced something awful with the last lot, so I decided that in the future I'd sign my own cheques. You might as well just give it all to charity otherwise. That would be better, in fact."

As can easily be ascertained from this last statement, Public Image Ltd. is a self-managed, self-produced, self-booking, democratically-run band in which John Lydon comprises one equal quarter with guitarist Keith Levene, bassist Jah Wobble and Canadian drummer Jim Walker. Such a setup is uncommon if not unprecedented in the music business, a business Lydon would dearly like to change.

"Record companies should not have ultimate power like governments. The way it is now, the bands work for the manager, who works for the record company. It should be the band who hires the manager to do work that they can't do because it's too tiring. He shouldn't be any more than a hireling, and the record company should be hired by the group, not the other way around. Like using a supermarket to sell your butter in, or something."

Change though, he insists, must come from the inside.

"Am I not on the inside now? You watch, you observe, you mean what you say, and you do it. But forgetting about us, what about new bands who don't have our kind of image around them already? What chance do they stand if they're not played on the radio or given a few bum reviews in prejudiced magazines? Since the punk thing it's become very, very hard."

What about bands like The Clash, who have refused to do 'Top Of The Pops' (the English television show that is usually the first step toward British single success) because of their policy against allowing live performances on the show? PIL did 'Top Of The Pops' to push their debut single. [1]

"We did it because it's the only available thing at the moment and we felt we should use it. The only way to fight is from the inside. All these bands complain about everything but do nothing to change it. Look at The Boomtown Rats or Sham 69 – if they had a good review, it was like 'Fucking hell, we've made it, we're stars! Where's the limo?' That's the stupidity and shortsightedness of them."

They were satisfied with what the system offered them and indeed gave them, i.e. hit singles and mass adulation – which is, of course, what the Pistols got, but without the privilege of hearing their material on the radio.

"The radio," Lydon offers, "is a social service and as such should cater to as many tastes as possible. So whatever people like or want to hear should be put on."

Speaking of being put on, has John had any contact with Malcolm McLaren lately?

"I haven't received any money out of the Pistols, that's why it's going to court. I literally had to steal money out of the office to buy this place! They just left me in America after the tour, I had to borrow the money to get back to England. Paul and Steve want me to go on the road with them – yeah, a Sex Pistols reunion. Just like the Beatles. It would be very good for the record company as well, but I told them to fuck off in no uncertain terms. That's what Malcolm's film would like for promotion. They must think I'm a fool! These people, who are asking me to go on the road with them, are the same people who are prepared to go into a court of law and say that I broke up the band, was hard to get along with and was unreasonable – there's a clash somewhere! For instance, in America we'd decided to do the tour by coach. I'd never been to America before. Well, Steve and Paul went with Malcolm on a plane to get everywhere, passing up a chance to drive to the Grand Canyon and places like that. That's interesting, to see America as it really is, meet people in transport cafes and stuff. That's worth it, that's how you judge a country. Not by what a town looks like."

After returning to England from America, John went for a vacation in Jamaica. Given his feelings on touring America by coach and considering his taste for reggae music, he must have enjoyed that holiday immensely.

"Yes I did," he replies. "Except for the Glitterbest cameramen who were hiding in the bushes. I had to have one of them physically removed from the island, he was given thirty minutes to get out of Jamaica. He conned Big Youth and went into the shop saying that I'd given permission for him to talk about me. Mr. Youth believed him and started talking away. When I found out I went straight to the shop and told him he'd been conned. That was it – out came the guns and knives!"

I wondered what the current situation was regarding his part in McLaren's 'Rock 'n' Roll Swindle' film, the album of which is scheduled for March release on Virgin.

"I'd like to know how McLaren's going to explain my lack of presence on the album and in the film," he sneers. "Apparently they've got an actor to take my part. That's highly illegal."

Has he seen the actor?

"Yeah. A wanker, a professional actor. Spiky-haired wig, torn jacket ..."

There have been rumours circulating of late that Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, wants Lydon to star as a New Wave Travolta figure in a film to be set in Jamaica. Would he be interested in such a film?

"No. Not unless it was totally sensible."

What sort of film might he be interested in doing?

"To do one I'd need money or financial backing, which I wouldn't get. Usually you depend on your record company for that kind of stuff, but they won't help us. Malcolm and Virgin are very close, and as far as Virgin is concerned, if I were to succeed in a huge way it would mean that their 'Rock 'n' Roll Swindle' album would be nothing. It would dwindle. They've already started promoting it, and in doing so they've cut right down on us. They only spent 3000 measly pounds promoting it – our single 'Public Image', that is – and the promotional film was made and paid for by ourselves out of our advance. Virgin weren't interested, they wouldn't push it for more than a week. They're not even aware up north that the album exists. I was told last week at Virgin not to use the phones. I was evicted and asked to use the public telephone box!"

The controversial PIL debut album should be out in America by the time you read this. [2]

"We'll probably go there," offers Lydon, "but we want to tour England first. The idea is, when we do a gig there'll be about four bands, no stars" (he snarls) "of the night. It'll be an entire show, like going to a dance, not where you sit down and munch on your chocolate ice."

About the LP – prior to its release there was much speculation that it would be a reggae album. It didn't turn out that way.

"No, it definitely isn't that. It's just another way of looking at rock. None of us in this band get any pleasure out of screaming, blaring guitars. You can't dance to it and there's no logical pattern you can follow in it. I find 12-bar rock songs like the Ramones very boring, just bish-bash-wallop – you can't dance to it. Do you know how pogo dancing started off? We were playing at the 100 Club and Sid couldn't see the band, so he jumped up to get a better view – that was it. Mass imitation, that's what people are like, sheep. They can't do it themselves, you have to show them, always. We did one straight, raunchy rock 'n' roll album, and one is enough. I don't want to stay in that category, it's too limited. We couldn't have gone any further. And the audiences now have become more bigoted than the fuckers they were supposed to replace. They turned what I thought was a piss-take of clothes into uniform which hasn't changed. Just like Teddy boys they're stuck in one style and that's it. It's not my job to direct them, else I'd be a dictator. It's also not my job to supply their needs or pander to their tastes, that's up to them. You get what you get and make the best of it. And if you don't like what's offered – then do it yourself!"

Although John and the rest of PIL have very strong feelings about record companies, they stay clear of that subject on the PIL album. Would he be writing more songs about the music business in the future?

"No, I did 'EMI' and that was enough. That sums up all the record companies. The reason I'm on Virgin is that I'm obligated for the last lot – eight albums. [3] That's an eternity. It's as simple as this: if you don't like it you don't have to buy it. It's just there, as yet another alternative. Surely there should be thousands of alternatives. It's only fucking music, notes put together to make a pleasant sound ... a noise."


(from the 'Fax 'n' Rumours' section of the same issue)

"Jim Walker, drummer for Public Image Ltd. (see article elsewhere in this ish) is no longer with the band. [4] He split to Israel in February and was replaced by Vivian Jackson ... Lydon, Jones, Cook and McLaren faced each other in court in London for several days recently in an effort to straighten out the intricate legal/financial tangle remaing from the Pistols' abortive career – results not in yet ..."


[1] Only the promotion video to 'Public Image' was shown on 'Top Of The Pops' (19 October 1978).
[2] PIL's US label, Warner Bros., only manufactured a test pressing of the record, dated 9 February 1979. It has not been released in the USA to this day.
[3] In 1989 Lydon named the 9th PIL release on Virgin Records "9".
[4] Jim Walker eventually resigned as a director of PIL (the company) in January 1980.


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