• John Lydon

The Last Word: John Lydon talks PiL, politics and the re-packaging of punk

Gary Kaill | 10 Oct 2013

With his attention now fully on a rejuvenated Public Image Ltd, John Lydon explains why he’s happier than ever making music, and why he’s done with the Sex Pistols

“Hello? Hello? HELLO? Oh for fuck’s sake…” A dodgy transatlantic phone line gets us off to a less than ideal start. Somewhere on the end of that line is John Lydon. The man who used to be Johnny Rotten. The man who sounds far from amused as the re-dial gods smirk down on his hapless interrogator. Lydon’s most recent public travails are small beer next to the excesses of his formative years but he keeps himself in the headlines with the odd bit of (alleged) fisticuffs, advertising and reality TV.

But his real work, his real love, remains Public Image Ltd, the band he formed in 1978 after the break-up of the Sex Pistols. With 2012’s This Is PiL, the band’s first album in twenty years, receiving positive notices, his hunger for live performance is unabated. Still, he remains beautifully and dutifully irascible. “Hurry up, man!” he offers by way of encouragement. “Get on with it. Come on! Let’s hear what you’ve got to say!” Or, in Lydon parlance, let’s hear what John’s got to say. And for nearly an hour, he sets about interviewing himself. Pinning him down becomes the conversational equivalent of plaiting sawdust.

Still, by his own admission, he just loves to talk. “All I want is a conversation,” he says. “Yes, of course it helps these rags if they can continue to paint me as this monster but that’s not who I am. Music is a conversation. And, let me be clear on this, I still have a lot to say.” Indeed. Ramble on.


"That bastard Cameron, I’ve got plenty to tell him" – John Lydon


ON NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS
I’m not averse to bragging about my work occasionally. It’s a fine piece of work and it set me off onto an amazing, honest and beautiful career. Yeah, I’m well proud. Sadly, it didn’t make me rich by the time the lawyers, accountants and band in-fighting had ended.

ON THE RE-PACKAGING OF PUNK…
I think that shows very good taste. Who needs a Ramones t-shirt when you can have a Sex Pistols one? Or a PiL one? As long as they’re not bootlegs, of course. If they’re official then it’s money well spent. Those people are investing in something that is true, as opposed to the rest of pop culture, which is very fabricated and very false. Hey! We’re the Pistols! We specialise in sizing for fat and socially awkward people, but we make room for the thin ones, too. No, it’s a statement to wear a Pistols t-shirt – not going along with the general shit-dom of popular culture.

ON RECORD LABELS…
Well the Pistols started me off on a long and rocky road with record labels and guess what – I’m still here and they’re not. Or at least not in the way they would hope to be. I’ve had quite a significant influence on the downfall of record labels. I don’t really take any joy from that. I quite liked the idea of a record label being a home from home but of course they didn’t see it quite that way. It’s all warm and cosy until you run into the accounts department and then things change.

ON THE CURRENT MUSIC SCENE...
I don’t even know if it is a scene. I watched the VMA awards and it’s the same acts now, year in, year out. The same bunch. Nothing ever changes. There’s no room for anything new unless it’s easily sucked up. It’s hollow, it’s a dead end, it’s a trap and none of the people involved seem particularly interested in helping artists have a future for themselves. It’s a very greedy, selfish structure. But then it always has been. I opened some doors but the lot that ran in closed those doors firmly behind them.

ON PUBLIC IMAGE LTD...
Public Image suffered a great deal due to the backlash against the Pistols. All that buying into the Malcolm thing about it being a great rock ‘n’ roll swindle and I had to endure all of that shit. But look, I’m still here and people do now realise that I’m a figure of some respect because I mean what I say. PiL don’t put out rubbish. We’ve never kowtowed to the industry and with PiL I manage to make damn fine records that are actually about something and that relate not just to my life and my lifestyle but to the audience’s as well. We all get on very well with each other. I always thought that being in a band was about managing the animosity but it doesn’t have to be that way, as I’ve found. We tour together, we’re all on the same bus and that’s where ideas are formed and shared. It’s a really healthy friends zone. It’s the best musical situation I’ve ever been in. Ever. Ever.

ON FINDING A NEW AUDIENCE…
The crowds, they turn up and a good time is had by all. Our crowds are very varied these days so that’s a good indicator that we’re on the right track. We get young kids, kids who are bored with the way they’re being manipulated. We get college professors. We get the lot these days. We make room for everyone. Light shows, lasers and whoop-dee-do fireworks – it’s very underwhelming, that stuff, for me and, I think, for a great many people. We get onstage and we get on with it. I’m doing this these days with my audience.” 

ON GLASTONBURY…
They only gave us 50 minutes! What a shame. We did well but we could have done ever so much better. I would have loved to have done two hours at Glastonbury. That would have been in the spirit of the piece. We opened a great many minds that day. The people who went along seeing us as that Sex Pistols sell-out commercial thing were hugely ignorant but as soon as they heard us play, they knew it was something else.

ON I'M A CELEBRITY…
I provided £275,000 to charity from that show. Hell, I could have done with that money! It could have got PiL out of a hole. I didn’t like it. It was blood money, that’s why I gave it away. Most the celebrities were pocketing it for themselves. I’m a Celebrity… is hand in glove with publications like News of the World. They’re looking for these scandal angles and missing the opportunity to make a potentially interesting programme. Everyone in there was so lazy. There was a presumption there would be showers and five course luncheons. I loved it! But all they wanted to do was sit around moaning: ‘Oh, I’m so hot, I’m so tired.’ That was all very indicative of what’s wrong with Britain. Nobody gets up and does anything. But, you know, it was most definitely, properly wild. It’s the jungle. Some of the beasties in them there woods were most definitely not to be fucked with.

ON HATE…
I can’t hold onto hatred and resentment or else it becomes a waste of my life, and it eats me up rather than someone else. So I stopped it. You just do. Actually, I let all that go before the Pistols ended. If there’s bitterness and bad feeling around me, I just walk away or else you’re fucked, mate, and that’s that. I’m quite good at making negative feelings positive. As Mr Shakespeare once said, ‘I smile in the face of adversity’. That’s a credo I have, a value.

ON GETTING OLD…
Unlike Pete Townsend, I don’t hope I die before I get old – I wanna get old. I hope I live to a hundred and if it’s the arthritis that keeps me offstage, so be it. But it won’t. Whenever you hear the phrase 'act your age’, you know it’s someone jealous because you’re enjoying your life or you’re doing something. There’s a terrible morose inclination in the English to just sit back and give up – it happens at about 40. People just give up. Living in California has been an amazing eye opener for me. Everybody is very active. Yes, of course there’s fat ones, and the newspapers are full of them, but let’s face it – when you’re that big, you’re gonna grab the headlines.

ON TRAVEL…
Every nation I’ve ever been to, and there are a hell of a lot of them, I’ve learnt something from. Music has led me towards the unravelling of prejudice as I’ve travelled. The more you see of the world, the more you want to see, the more you love. I don’t want a Lamborghini. I want a conversation with mad monks in Tibet. I managed to get PiL into China and they’re very good at banning people over there or digging into the political persuasions of the people coming in. Yet they found me very wholesome indeed. I think that bodes very well for China in the future.

ON POLITICS…
No government will be my friend. Ever. But they do realise I am one of the people and if you want the people to function properly in any political situation, you’d better be listening to me. That bastard Cameron, I’ve got plenty to tell him. I’d happily help him out and talk to him. I’d talk to the devil. I have done many a time, actually. You don’t view your fellow humans as your enemy. You can view their politics as your enemy. Open discussion is the key, the cure. If you want a scab to heal, don’t put a bandage over it.

ON PART TWO OF THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY...
There will be a part two but right now I’m finding my life fully occupied. So I need to find the time. There’s plenty of stuff still to divulge but for a thing like that, you need a good three to four months where you can focus on that and that alone. There’s no rush. There’s no rush in life. This thing where you race to put out your life story at 21, it’s damn foolish. You gotta have a life first. Otherwise it ends up being like the Naomi Campbell book – a pamphlet.

ON REFORMING THE PISTOLS…
It would be pointless. The last conversation I had about this was with Paul Cook, our drummer, and we came to the same conclusion: that that band was making us enemies. So now we can get on with each other as human beings. Too many negatives always crept into it. I can’t go back and imitate that time period and I don’t want to anymore. I can’t write new material for the Pistols and I haven’t been able to for a long, long time. Nah. Enough. Done.

Playing Liverpool O2 Academy on 16 Oct and Glasgow O2 ABC on 18 Oct. http://www.pilofficial.com