Book Title: "Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs: The Authorized Autobiography Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols" By John Lydon.
Interview 1994.
(Q)-As a young boy, did you personally know the Kray brothers? (In the 1960s,Ronnie Kray and Reggie Kray were London's most notorious gangsters from the East End.)
John Lydon-No.
(Q)-Did you ever see them in person?
John Lydon-I'd see them on TV. They were notorious and in a way they were quite charming Cockney gangsters. At least that's the way they were presented. What I didn't realize until later was that they were just savage all-out killers. In much of the same way as Al Capone is celebrated here (USA).
(Q)-I want to clarify a couple of issues here.
John Lydon-Yes.
(Q)-Do you consider literary works such as Greil Marcus' book "Lipstick Traces" and "England's Dreaming" by Jon Savage, which contain lengthy depictions of your work and music with the Sex Pistols, to be a lot of nonsense written for the authors benefit?
John Lydon-Well, certainly for their own benefit. You see, my point about those two books in particular and indeed all of them really, is that they come with an agenda and they just fit everything around that preposition and the result is no relation at all whatsoever to the truth. It's just fantasy or just historical inaccuracy.
(Q)-In "Lipstick Traces", author Greil Marcus, attempts to trace some of the Sex Pistols music to the left-wing French Situationists of the 1960s, as influences for some of the Sex Pistols music and some of the promotional material. Is this book, in your opinion accurate in regards to your influences as a vocalist and recording artist, at all?
John Lydon-Nothing at all. No way at all. I've been trying to say this now for seventeen years. There's no way I'm connected with a bunch of French lazy ass intellectuals, sitting on the West Bank pontificating. What I am saying is he (Greil Marcus) had his agenda and he merely fitted us into that agenda. And the language indeed that he uses, just makes the whole thing utterly impossible.
(Q)- "Lipstick Traces" contained, in some of the original printings of the book, on the outside cover on the back of the jacket, some quotes attributed to you, that could create the impression, that the contents of the book were perhaps approved by you. Is that accurate, in that, did you endorse the book at all?
John Lydon-I never said any such thing. It seems that I get sued left right and center, but when people misquote me there doesn't seem to be very much I can do about it legally. You see when you're in the public eye, you're fair game.
(Q)- I interviewed the author of "Lipstick Traces" once and he admitted to me at that time, he'd never met you. I thought he perhaps knew you somewhat to write so extensively about your music and work with the Sex Pistols.
John Lydon-You see that's allowed to go out. Because you must understand that the media is sort of helps that situation along rather nicely. And, anyone who challenges that situation, such as myself and I would like to discuss my own life thank you, but I haven't had the opportunity. I've been suppressed. They are the middle class who I moan about. Instead of constantly trying to do interviews with people, I just put (John Lydon's life story) in a book.
(Q)-So in your opinion, you've been suppressed for others gain?.
John Lydon- I think so yes. They're all written themselves a larger part than they actually played in history and they do all support each other because there's a vested interest there.
(Q)-In your book titled,"Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs: The Authorized Autobiography Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols" a pattern emerges. It seems as if you sometimes tend to write song lyrics about events which occurred to you, either as a young lad or during your early years as an adult. Do your life experiences, seem to somehow find their way into the songs you've written and recorded with let's say PiL?
John Lydon-Not deliberately so, but you're right when you say that things that happen in early childhood are later reflected in songs because I think that's just the way it always will be. The things I write about are from real experiences. I don't sit down and fantasize a situation.
(Q)-When you wrote and recorded many of the songs with PiL, especially, the first three album releases, songs such as," Albatross" and "Graveyard", it seems, after reading your book, that your writing about real life experiences is simply the only natural thing for you to do. Is that observation accurate to some extent?
John Lydon-Yes. To attack yes.(He laughs.) It isn't me just picking on things for the sake of it. As I did with all of my targets, if I'd be attacking them, they'd be because of experience. I don't like and I never have done for instance, say a band like the Clash, they merely sloganeer. And all their songs are about situations that they are not directly relevant to. So it's a far more important thing of personal politics and if you can sort yourself out, then you can start with this massive sweeping statements and gestures.
(Q)-Throughout your book, your book you have always seemed to have zero tolerance for liars and lies. Does this have anything to do with the way you were raised by your family?
John Lydon-You know, we tell no lies because we've got no time for it. And, when people disrespect us, by behaving badly, then they will get what they deserve. I don't lie and I don't expect others to. Life's too short.
(Q)-Do you realize how rare that tends to be in our day and age?
John Lydon-Probably is, but that doesn't make me no saint either. It should not be no special thing at all. It should be the standard way!
(Q)- Oftentimes, some of the biggest lies are that which are presented to the public, by the music business today. Like the whole Seattle Scene, the whole grunge rock scene and some of the top band's from that region, who act as if they are the second generation on punk rockers. Many of them are nothing more then poseurs. They're so false, so corporate. In too many cases, it has become nothing more then something created to steal money out of young people's pockets.
John Lydon-As I say, they can get the music side sort of worked out, but when it comes to lyrical content, I'm afraid you're dealing with zero. And is very indicative of that entire scene, it's too selfish and is too structured and it's too organized.
(Q)-Do you find yourself having difficulty being signed to recording contracts now, because you want to record music that is a true artistic expression of what you have to say as a recording artist and an individual?
John Lydon-I find that difficult and indeed that's why I go through so many record labels. They want me there for street credibility but they don't do me any favors either. It's a constant battle, I'm constantly being asked to conform. And, indeed, people must know by now it's never going to happen!
(Q)-Why don't the individuals who are working to sign you into a recording contract, to record your music, for a record label, get the fact, which is, that you will never compromise?
John Lydon-Well, it sort of is my problem but it really isn't. it makes life difficult, but I can't go around preaching. If they don't get it then, they just don't get it and I just have to just ignore that.
(Q)-You will continue with PiL?
John Lydon-Absolutely. At this moment(1994) Public Image is taking a year off, because we've got a lot to sort out with each other. We found out that we were becoming too cozy and too comfortable. We starting positioning. And I fell into the role of the "lead singer of a rock and roll band" and I said, "Ouch! this has to stop."
(Q)-Was boredom setting it?
John Lydon- Yes. But not terminal boredom, because we do this for the right reasons. If something is not working, then we look at it accurately. And, it did stop. To many bands, that would be committing financial suicide, but so what? I think you have to take those gambles. I'm doing a solo album right now, because I need to. I need to get back into playing instruments again which I haven't done for a long time.
(Q)-What do you think about when you are on a tour bus, traveling across the USA, whenever you're on a concert tour?
John Lydon-I never sleep when I tour this country(USA), because I'm fascinated by the sheer size of it.
(Q)-Where do you currently live?
John Lydon-I have a home in London and a home in California.
(Q)-In your book you admit to being shy. And, once you became a, "public person", with the sudden rise in popularity and notoriety due to the Sex Pistols, you depict several very violent confrontations, in which some British citizens were even attacking you, in public, right on the streets. You also state in your book that your manager Malcolm McLaren, did not even hire bodyguards for any members of the Sex Pistols while in the United Kingdom. Yet, at times, while you were the leader of the Sex Pistols, you were one of the most publicized figures in rock music, throughout the entire world. Yet, you had to fend for yourself, with virtually no one to defend you, just like you did when you were growing up as a child.
John Lydon-Yes. It's self-preservation. It was nothing new. By that point, I'd begun to expect nothing more from people. I really thought as a management, they should have shielded us somewhat from those excesses. But you know we were left up to our own devices. And, that's why to this day I get very angry when people credit Malcolm for doing anything at all because in fact he did nothing! He's a charming guy, he's good company, you'd have a real laugh with him. But just don't trust him!
(Q)-The way the media has treated your close friend, Sid Vicious, has been absolutely horrible. It has to be very insulting to see the way the media has treated your once very close friend Sid, after he passed away and is now totally unable to defend himself.
John Lydon-Everything you said is true.
(Q)-Why do we still have this inaccurate picture of who Sid Vicious was, long after he passed way?
John Lydon-I think a great amount of jealousy came into play with Sid. And, I can say this because he was my friend. I know that when I got him to join the band, he really started to view himself in a different kind of way and he found it necessary to compete with me. But, on what he thought, were my terms. And, you don't out Rotten (Johnny) Rotten. And it was unnecessary. He was doing that really because he knew he couldn't play bass. So he was overcompensating and I think what he was doing was throwing up smoke screens but it got too far out of hand. He could not tell the fact from the fiction any longer.
(Q)- What was it like for you, shortly after the Sex Pistols split up and then suddenly you came to learn that Sid was in trouble?
John Lydon- At that time, I had no contact with Sid, because they would be too many people in the way.
(Q)-Perhaps,the saddest aspect of Sid's death at a young age,that surrounded in such controversy is that the he proved the media who were following him around, right. Is that accurate in a sense?
John Lydon-Yes. Because he did what they wanted him to do, self destruct.
(Q)-Now, when you sang the song, "Albatross" on the album "Second Edition" a metaphorical song for you attempting to escape the false image of Johnny Riotten? Was that song, ever a cathartic experience for you?
John Lydon-No. it was that spirit of rebellion, the Sixties had and how all that energy seemed to have gone nowhere. And, indeed it all turned into a nasty, horrible hippy-ness that was completely negative and lazy.
(Q)-PiL just seemed to be at the time a completely logical extension of what you began with the Sex Pistols in that, you metaphorically destroyed rock and roll. Then, with PiL you began to build an almost entirely new world of possibilities for popular music. You know, there are stories in the media in archives of how messed up on drugs and strong drink, some of the members of PiL were during the most productive times of the band's history. How on earth was PiL so productive, if any of these stories of drug and alcohol abuse by the members were true?
John Lydon-It was(Keith) Levene who was into the drugs. I was into anything I could get a hold of.(He laughs.)I was pretty close to mad.
(Q)-Could you describe the real John Lydon today?
John Lydon- I'm not arrogant. I can be, but I use that as a self defense really to protect myself. What I am, is absolutely assured in my own value, so I have no problem about taking risks. I'm assured that I won't let myself down, so indeed it's all out there for me, it's all there for the taking. Now I'm not taking about financial gain here, I'm talking about other things.
(Q)-You have had such a long and faithful relationship with your wife Nora Forster.
John Lydon- if you want to know anything about my life, the truth is this. I made a commitment fifteen years ago to Nora and it still stands. And, I did not make that commitment lightly as indeed I never do. But once in, I'm in forever. That's an absolute faith in my decisions. I weigh up the odds and then I go forward. I never go into things, least of all with human beings. I think people only tend to focus on what they want to see, rather then what really is there. The trouble with a lot of people is that they don't accept the bad side of somebody else and I think that's the very first thing you should be in on. Once you know how bad it can be, then you know everything else is an improvement from there on end.
You always worked hard all of your life even as a child, you were never a lay about were you?
John Lydon-No I never was.
(Q)-Your mother supported your work with the Sex Pistols and that was never explained by the media now was it?
John Lydon- You're right. You see just because we're working class doesn't mean that we don't care about each other. Which is another common myth now isn't it?
(Q)-What do you carry from all of those years you spent growing up poor, yet with a strong family unit?
John Lydon-Integrity. And all of the rest is just trimmings, isn't it? I never have been fooled by the pop star lifestyle. So if I could be a millionaire by the morning or a peasant by the afternoon, none of it changes what goes on inside my head. I am not affected by success.
John Lydon- I've seen too many assholes, to want to follow them in their footsteps. That's why I don't make records for commercial reasons, I make records for purely enjoyable purposes. You reap what you so and if you're leading a totally awful life you're making it so.
(Q)-So your book," "Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs: The Authorized Autobiography Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols" by John Lydon, is the only accurate account of your life in print?
John Lydon-Yes.
(Q)-Do you still follow Arsenal (football team)?
John Lydon-Yes. In the USA, I watch them on pay per view.(he laughs.)
(Q)- You have always focused upon possibilities for your music and not permitted anyone to limit your work as a recording artist.
John Lydon-What most people don't seem to realize is that it's not the music in itself that matters, it's the silence inside of every note, that's where your brain should be. And, how it all triggers off thought. Not stuck in some awful trivial little ditty, playing the same notes. Boring.
(Q)-You've really battled the British media, haven't you?.
John Lydon-Indeed. But then again I expect to. There's some terrible bullshit going on in Britain right now. Very negative. Because indeed I threaten their cozy little class structure. So, they can't be tolerating me. I mean, one article about my book ran along the lines of my book being, "The Death Of The Novel". (He laughs.) it was even in a reasonably intelligent paper. At least I thought it was a reasonably intelligent paper.
(Q)-Did you grant a lot of interviews with the press during the days when the Sex Pistols were popular worldwide?
John Lydon-Yes I did. I did very many interviews but all of them turned into sabotage jobs and hatchet jobs. I wasn't quoted straight. You'd (the reader) get disjointed sentences with editorial comment in-between. To get someone to give you their trust and then, to hack them up in that spiteful, cowardly way, I think is so evil and so self-righteous.