Lydon the Pistol goes off on one again

Some things can be re-Lydon: Public Image Limited, from the left, Bruce Smith (drums), John Lydon, Scott Firth (bass) and Lu Edmonds (guitar).
Some things can be re-Lydon: Public Image Limited, from the left, Bruce Smith (drums), John Lydon, Scott Firth (bass) and Lu Edmonds (guitar).
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HE grabs the phone instantly when we dial his LA home.

“It’s this psychic thing I have,” comes the unmistakable voice. “It’s probably my only talent.”

Flashback: The Sex Pistols in Sheffield, December 1976

Flashback: The Sex Pistols in Sheffield, December 1976

The self-deprecation makes the man also once known as Johnny Rotten instantly more approachable as we launch into an interview that swiftly becomes the thoughts of Chairman Lydon.

It prompts us to ask whether he’s been a misunderstood fellow down the years.

“From time to time, I hope so. Generally speaking I think that happens with anyone who is in the public eye because you leave yourself open every time you try to communicate with the media. You become the victim of their attitudes and their aspirations towards you and that can be negative.

“A lot of journalists aren’t qualified in the psychology department and particularly music journalists – they can be the savage pencil so you have to deal with a lot of spite.

John Lydon with Public Image Limited

John Lydon with Public Image Limited

“But that’s life; that’s the road I chose and for all those alleged pitfalls I’m doing all right. I believe in and like what I’m doing. It hasn’t got me wallowing in the money or anything like that but I’m kind of pleased because it means I’m not corrupt so to some extent I’m as innocent as the day I was born and I intend to stay that way. My missus loves my innocence and she’s going to have it in bucketloads until the day we kick it.”

Even so, many slammed Lydon when he agreed to do a butter commercial on TV, complete with country tweeds.

“How else am I suppose to raise the money in order to get PiL back on the road?” he responds immediately.

“I’ve been arguing with the record company for 18 years and all they kept doing was getting me in greater debt.

“The same with the Sex Pistols, my other band who I suppose are worthy of note. We’d go out and tour but all we were really doing was covering a debt.

“Is that bad management of business on their part or shrewd business? The record industry is very corrupt and when you stand up for something it goes against the grain.

“It would have been very easy at any point in my life if I just went with the flow, but I’m not too interested in that, it wouldn’t be right.

“I’m proud of the songs I write, the content, the point and the purpose. Ultimately I want the world to be a better place. I don’t see that as utopian or far fetched and you can only achieve that not by lecturing but by example.”

Whatever the reason, that ad had a few querying Lydon’s ‘legend’ status. Then he’s not entirely comfortable with the tag anyway.

“A legend to me would be Churchill during the war, or Nelson, I don’t know if I fit in that company.

“I don’t view it like that because my life is far from over. I haven’t done anywhere near enough. I’m only 50 years young and I don’t view myself as a legend or an icon. You’ve just seen some early skirmishes from me.

“I want to live as long as possible. All that religion like the fluffy clouds and hark the herald angels, that’s nonsense, heaven is on this earth, hence the passive resistance philosophy I learnt from Gandhi.”

Not that many would cite the Sex Pistols as passive. They used the power of frantic new music and often provocative lyrics to get points across and instigate debate at the highest levels.

“It’s much more powerful than a gun. I don’t mean to be corny, but my words are my bullets and they’ve done enough good for this world. There are those out there who wouldn’t like to admit that but I dare anyone to point out what bad I’ve done.

“I’ve done all right, looking after problem children, being one myself, and then straight into the Sex Pistols and PiL, I think that’s leaps and bounds.

“In the head department my mind is fully loaded because I’m open to learning. I love reading, writing, studying, but then I’ve gone and plonked myself into having to learn to sing.

“I quickly realised ‘I’ve got my own voice, because I’ve got my own thoughts’ all I needed to do was find a voice inside me that accurately translates the sentiments I’m writing and that’s what I did and it came out in this inimitable way, which is a pattern followed by the likes of Oasis etc.”

Sheffield got one of the earliest tastes of the young Rotten’s efforts in the ’70s when Sex Pistols and The Clash played The Black Swan, later to become the The Mucky Duck and The Boardwalk.

While he doesn’t remember the show, memory of the struggles associated with punk are vivid.

“It was hard enough just to get gigs and being lumbered on the road with any other band from London was never a good thing because we did just not like each other for all the obvious reasons. You’d eye up the competition.

“Strictly speaking there was no real punk movement, although there were many people who wanted there to be one. I just wanted to get on with what I was doing and not be dragged down into somebody else’s interpretation of what I was doing.

“The idea that all punk bands should be rigidly similar and stand behind this one very dull flag didn’t appeal to me at all. If I wanted to join the army I’d join a really good, serious one. I don’t like uniform thinking. The art of the individual is the be all and end all. Our differences are what make us superb as a species.

“Most of my friends disagree with me bitterly and likewise me with them yet we really like each other’s company. It’s essential you have that constant give and that. I’ve always said, there’s many roads leading to the same place.”

Hence, the one-time controversial youth is these days as likely to be presenting a wildlife show – as he did for Discovery Channel – as he is sneering into a microphone.

“It took me many a year to realise that me and nature...we’re on the same path. I was really quite pleased about that. I love the pulse of life in every living thing, I could just stare at an insect all day long. And no I’m not a vegetarian. I’m smart enough to realise I’ve got two sets of teeth in my mouth and I want to use both.

“Actually I have very few real teeth left. That’s something my parents didn’t pass on to me. They passed many good things on, but dental health wasn’t one of them.

“I have to keep having them done and they keep getting infections. I’m just recovering from a double abscess. I’ve had eight stitches in the front of my mouth so my top lip is sewn over the top gum so I’m talking a little strange. Every time I laugh the stitches pull.”

And we do many times as we discuss modern youth, Malcolm McLaren, Mrs Rotten, and not being allowed to stand up at Arsenal games.

Finally he promises Monday’s show will be a “joyous agnostic experience” as he signs off, before adding in a jovial voice: “Let’s hope we advance civilisation with this interview.”

See The Star tomorrow for your chance to win tickets to see Public Image Limited.