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      John Lydon

      John Lydon

      John Lydon was only in the Sex Pistols for 3 years, and though he went on to form the – arguably better - band Public Image Limited, that short-lived stint remains what he is best known for. The association dies hard – as evidenced by the fact that when transcribing this interview I absentmindedly titled the file on my desktop ‘Johnny Rotten’.

      It’s a persona he’s clearly happy to cling on to – see a mid 2000s reformation of the Pistols, reality TV appearances and those infamous advertisements. But that’s not what we’re phoning Lydon at his LA home to speak about today. We’re talking about the return of PIL – after a decade between records, the band released the triumphant ‘This is PIL’ last year and are currently touring the UK.


      YOU’VE LIVED IN AMERICA FOR A WHILE NOW. HAS THAT FACT HAD AN EFFECT ON THIS NEW RECORD?
      No. Because basically I’ve reflected back on my childhood in England, which I thought would be a wise thing to do because I’d been away for so long from the music making and I didn’t want people to think I began as Johnny Rotten, and nothing before ever existed. Rotten is a very important part of my personality but it’s not all there is. A lot of conversations that we had went into the lyrics, and the emotions that we were dealing with. From childhood onwards.

      BUT DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE EXPRESSED YOURSELF THROUGH MUSIC REGARDLESS?
      I don’t know – I might have turned criminal! I might have done many, many things. There weren’t many opportunities in the council flats in them days. And there’s even less now, I know. It was a lucky break, let’s put it that way. And I’ve never looked back. I went at it running and fully loaded. Because you know I read everything, I liked everything musically, so it was yippee ay yo. I got on that 3-legged horse and whipped it to the curb.

      YOU’VE HAD WELL DOCUMENTED TROUBLES WITH RECORD LABELS, AND HAVE GONE INDEPENDENT FOR THE LATEST RECORD. IS THERE A MIDDLE GROUND DO YOU THINK?
      Well unless I run out and grab a pair of rich parents, it’s very difficult indeed! The only real money to be made is doing advertisements – hence butter! I mean that resolved some serious issues there financially for me. I got out of a record deal with the funds from that, and funded PIL.

      SO THAT WAS A MEANS TO AN END THEN. IS THERE ANY PRODUCT YOU WOULD SAY NO TO LENDING YOUR NAME TO?
      Well I’m not going to be selling sanitary napkins am I? It has to be something I directly relate to, and I’ve got to say the British dairy industry I seriously relate to. I was sick of seeing Lurpak and New Zealand butter on the shelves. That was a very poor indictment of joining the EU, that was. We don’t look out for our own in England, and that’s a shame. That old ethos of eat locally, that was a rarity in Britain. Luckily that’s coming back somewhat. And that’s me. I’m not just flogging butter, I had to take the whole agenda and agree with every aspect of it before I would commit to such a thing.

      DOES IT SURPRISE YOU WHEN PEOPLE EXPECT YOU TO BE A FRIGHTENING OR CONFRONTATIONAL PERSON?
      Well if somebody attacks me verbally I’m going to come right back at them, it’s as simple as that. My words are my bullets. I’ve been misrepresented in the media for so long now it’s become...for many journalists it’s become acceptable to believe their own rubbish. It’s a bit unbearable from time to time.

      DO YOU THINK YOU’RE MISUNDERSTOOD?
      Ha. One thing I know about the human race is we’re all misunderstood, constantly.

      DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A CONTRARIAN?
      No. Very far from it. Irony, that would be my major tour de force. Say one thing to mean another. That’s a most excellent form of wisdom I think. And a great sense of fun in that too – but that’s how it is. I’m determined to enjoy my life – this is all I know. If there’s a heaven – well that’d be nice and I can wait for that as long as possible, but I intend to be around until at least 100.

      DO PUNK AND ANARCHY HAVE ANY MEANING?
      Anarchy is for the middle classes, it always has been. It doesn’t offer an answer, and therefore it doesn’t interest me. I mean people mis-assume, erroneously, that I’m an anarchist.
      Because I used it in a song. In some ways you’re still used as a shorthand for anarchy. Oh but oddly enough, I find that for these alleged anarchists – I am the one person they hate the most.

      BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT ANARCHIC ENOUGH?
      Well no, because I came up with it first.

      PUNK WAS SEEN AS A YOUTHFUL MOVEMENT - DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE YOUNGER GENERATION NOW ARE QUESTIONING THINGS?
      Some are, but not all. I mean what were those last riots about? I know there was a great deal of tensions, and police brutality being there and all of that – but to end up being all about Samsung TV and designer sneakers....that’s quite a pathetic riot. Unfortunately people died. But it was all about products; advertising, you know. That’s the repercussions of advertising. Luckily not my kind of advertising. I don’t think anywhere was raided for its butter.

      YOU SEEM LIKE A VERY FORWARD LOOKING PERSON.
      I’m not one to wallow in past miseries, am I? Where does that get ya? And I don’t have anything like self pity going on. It’s one of the major lessons my Mum and Dad taught me, that I appreciate very much. No self pity. Will not be tolerated. It’s very very useful and healthy to not wallow in such nonsenses. Because ultimately that’s an act of selfishness. You’ve just got to get on with it. The cards you were dealt with at birth, that’s it. Get on with it.

      PIL LIVE IS A VERY POWERFUL EXPERIENCE - I CAN’T IMAGINE YOU DOING THAT UNLESS YOUR HEART WAS REALLY IN IT.
      No no no. If the longing isn’t there then I won’t be there. It requires a lot of push in me to get on that stage, because I’m nervous like hell before a gig. The stage fright is sometimes almost overwhelming, but once on – phwar. That’s the reason I’m alive. And I know that, and I know I belong there. That’s when I’m completely in sync with the universe. 


      PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED WILL PLAY AT THE O2 ACADEMY ON OCTOBER 16



      JENNIFER PERKIN ||


      All photos by Paul Heartfield


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