Home | About Me | Writing | TV & Radio | Clubs & DJing | Gallery | FAQ | Shop | Links | Contact

John Lydon interview, September 2015 (A much-abridged version was published in Metro as a 'Sixty Seconds With...' interview, but here is the full transcript.)

John Lydon

Hello John. On the new PiL single, you demand “give me trouble on the double”. Haven't you had enough already?
No! That's actually about a domestic argument with my missus over the repair of the toilet. And I thought I really AM asking for double trouble if I use this in a song, but Nora loves it. It makes her laugh and squeal with fun. Because it shows the stupidity of domestic situations and how they could explode, if we were lesser people, into something horribly serious. It's a lesson in 'Don't take life too serious', and having the common sense to be able to laugh at it. And the result was that we got a repaired toilet, so success all round! So there you go, how uplifting could that be? Including lifting the toilet seat...”

There's a track on the new PiL album, What The World Needs Now..., which speaks of “corporate murderers”. Do you no longer think “big business is very wise” (to quote “This Is Not A Love Song”), or was that always laced with sarcasm?
I never did. That was a song of irony. And indeed, I use irony a lot in my material. You say one thing to really mean another, by example. Corporations, to me, are intellectual mind-strippers. Because they reduce us all to one line of clothing manufacturer, one attitude, one block way to vote... They're too dominant and too poisonous, and they all tend to be headless chickens apart from a few very greedy businessmen profiteering at our expense. One of the most puzzling and annoying things to me was a few years ago, in the previous election in America where Mitt Romney, one of the presidential candidates declared that 'Corporations are people, too'. And it's stuck with me ever since that that is a very frightening concept. If we're not careful, they will take away our right to vote. And we'll have gone, in the last hundred years, from voting to not voting, through corporate activity. It's back to the workhouse, mateys, innit?”

This seems to be a recurring theme. You return to it on another track, “Spice Of Choice”.
You'll find that the songs do interrelate. Again, there's Al Gore who comes to mind, who I remember saying – again, in an election – that the trouble in the modern world is that people have too much choice. Which is an equally frightening statement. I'm very wary of what politicians could turn us all into if we're not careful. So I use those situations as reference points to get to the root or the core of a bigger problem. What IS our problem? Well, I'll tell you: as a species our problem is that we have a sheep-like herd mentality and we tend to let others do the thinking and talking for us. And by the time we get to the moaning and groaning, it's too late, the damage is done. If there's any preachiness in this album, it's saying 'Let's have some foresight, please.' Cos hindsight must go out of fashion. Very very quickly.”

Do you vote in the UK or US elections?
I will be voting in the US, yes.”

What do you make of the fact that the next Labour leader is likely to be Jeremy Corbyn?
Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh. I think I've given up on all of them a long time ago. But it's like, who's the devil you vote for and the devil you definitely don't vote for? The problem with politics is that we don't involve ourselves from grass roots, local council town hall meetings upwards. And this is something that we should be doing. If you want to go and boo, and have a laugh at some really excellent stand-up comedians, a town hall meeting is the place!”

Corbyn's a fellow Arsenal supporter, of course.
That don't make him nothing to do with me, matey! I'm proper. Heh heh heh.”

Musically, who's any good right now?
I couldn't really say off the top of my head, because I'm too involved in what I'm doing. That's not me being politically shy here, but nothing strikes me as being incredibly creative. It all just seems to be run-of-the-mill.”

Have you heard Sleaford Mods?
No. Somebody sent me the album because there was some contentiously ridiculous statement made, in some radio show. I'm uninterested.”

I mention them because PiL remind me of them, or vice-versa. But there's probably a reason for that.
D'you reckon? Heh heh heh.”

You famously used to wear a Pink Floyd T-shirt with 'I HATE' scrawled across it...
Yeah! And it was the key to my success. Would you call me, therefore, a Pink Floyd parasite? Ha ha ha. I've met Dave Gilmour a few times and I think he's a really good person. There's no problems between us. None at all. I'm quite happy to say that Ummagumma is one of my favourite albums. You know, bollocks to the haters out there. I live in the real world and I like what is good, no matter who does it. If it's good, I want it. Never limit yourself.”

Whose T-shirt would you write 'I HATE' across now?
Oh... Ah... That's a good question, one I don't have an answer for. Probably the Labour Party, because the damage Tony Blair done to it, I mean my god he took the Labour Party to war. That's a crime, really, seriously. So 'I Hate Tony Blair' would be most excellent. But I don't hate him, though, that's the problem. I don't know. I tell you what I'd do: I suppose the most contentious thing would be 'I Love Margaret Thatcher'. Now she's dead and no longer a threat, it's safe to say. Ha ha. And that's the upside-down world of negative-meets-positive that you can get yourself into.”

What would you say to the royal babies, if you could talk to them when they're old enough to understand?
Oh, 'Hello babby!' They're royals. They'll never understand. Don't be silly. They're brought up to be backwards. And the poor things are brought up in a gilded cage. With all the trappings and presumptions of luxury, but unable to move and think for themselves. Now, as a couple, this new royal pair seem to be capable of moving away from that. And my recommendation is, go the whole hog and move completely outside of royalty. Dispose of it. And then we'll love you forever.”

In the light of “God save The Queen/The fascist regime”, what did you make of it when the footage emerged of the Queen and her family doing Nazi salutes?
Yes, yes. Oooh. At first I took it as 'Haha, daily affirmation!', really. Oh, me and my psychic abilities! Listen, it's not that because we've always known. There'd always been this undercurrent but nobody else had the guts to say so. And I brought that to the forefront. Personally speaking, she was what, seven years old at the time? She was just mimicking the adults. No problems with her, poor little babby. It's the rest of them what should know better. That shows some pretty damn murderous intent, doesn't it? They were just hedging their bets, securing their positions, which is unfortunate because it didn't bode well for the rest of us, did it? And this brings us back to Pink Floyd: is Prince Charles still tormenting cabbages with Ummagumma? And what's the real reason behind it – is it the Nazi party? Heh heh heh.”

In your book No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs, you suggest that the persona of Johnny Rotten was based on Richard III...
I was making a comparison. I have a hunchback from a childhood illness, which curved my spine from an operation that went wrong. And indeed I was brought up to believe I was stupid, from school, where I lost my memory and went back, and had the nuns calling me 'Dummy Dumb-Dumb', which they passed on to the other kids: that was a lot to endure. So when I first saw Laurence Olivier do Richard III, I thought 'Bloody hell, there's a place for me after all!' You know?”

Your vocal style on this new album reminds me of classic horror movie actors, particularly on the words “the savage craze of those cougar eyes, until one of us dies...”
Oh, fantastic! The Boris Karloff in me is coming to the fore. Ha ha ha. I had two great loves of my life when I was young, in terms of entertainment, apart from music: one would be Hammer Horror – I loved it – and the second, of course, would be British comedians. And I think I learned so much from those two elements. I didn't just see them as horror, or poking fun at things: they were delivering pearls of wisdom there, and insights into the gullibility and fallibility of us as a species. Yes, very nice, yippee! I'm more akin to Norman Wisdom than to, I dunno, any one of those dreadfully boring intellectuals.”

You've said that Johnny Rotten is a character. Is John Lydon a character too?
Ah, hopefully! And a very pleasant one at that. Everything you do is a character, or a characterisation of what you assume you are. We can't help that. So you might as well focus on what you think are the good and useful elements inside yourself and hopefully find yourself not misrepresenting your innermost thoughts. From the day I joined PiL, really, I had to wear my heart firmly on the outside, and allow people to throw arrows into it. And I don't mind that, at all. So, there is my character. Oh, I know, haha, I've got a theme song for it: Cockney Rebel, 'somebody called me Sebastian...' And the oddity of that is, when I did the film Copkiller, that's what I was thinking of, that song. So there you go, that's all character. And whether you like it or not, all of us are theatrical. We just can't help it.”

Some of us more so than others.
Yeah. Footballers, most definitely...”

Speaking of which, any thoughts on Arsenal's indifferent start to the season?
Gah. More 'footballina', to quote The Slits. It really is ballet now, isn't it? Bollocks ballet, at extortionate prices. And I can't believe people getting so angry over it. There's not enough going on there to be angry about. There's a vacuum there, I think, that people very very quickly are going to get very fed up with. And move onto more creative endeavours. For me, soccer isn't cutting it any longer.”

Why do you think people hold you to a different standard, when you do things like advertising butter, than they would other artists?
Resentment. When you stick your head so firmly on the chopping block, like what I have done, and then you stick your tongue out, hah! At the position of it all... Of course, there's a bit of a prankster in me. Which is resented. And the media definitely resented it, because it was the end of their cushy careers and society as they knew it, and everything suddenly became open for conjecture. And there's gonna be a fall-out from that. And why not? I'm more than happy to take it on the chin, boys and girls. It's a confrontation that's worthy of me. And those negative comments, I think, in the light of my work - because I have the endurance here, and I'm far from finished - will show me to be a completely upright person. Done no wrong to no-one. And I shouldn't be victimised or degraded in that way. I think I've done good work.”

You really got a lot of stick for that advert.
It's the same thing. The record industry starved me out of existence, almost. I needed financial backing to get Public Image back up again. And the only people who did that were the British dairy industry! And as much as I loved butter, particularly because they used to clarify it and make great curries, well, from here on in I use it as an underarm deodorant. And a laxative. And, when you're lacking in toe-cheese, a good pound can help. Just squish your toenails into it. You're gonna have plenty of toe-cheese!”

Could a working class kid from Finsbury Park make it in music now?
I would hope so. I would do as much as I could to help them along if they had any potential. But it was very very difficult. And I don't mean to be bragging or boasting or causing class division here, but it's very very hard to break the old school tie system. And roles and positions are handed down from a certain clique. And I've always wanted to break that class system, because it's unfair to all of us as a species. We've got to let the cream float on the surface. There's a reason all those mouldy bits are at the bottom of your glass.”

There's a line in “World Destruction” by Time Zone, your 1984 collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa, that goes “The Democratic-Communist relationship won't stand in the way of the Islamic force.” You really saw the future there...
Yeah, and there's many other songs where I've raised these issues. 'Four Enclosed Walls' on the Flowers Of Romance album... Listen, I pay attention to the world, and I see things coming. It amazes me that that's not noted by many many others, and it should be. I don't think that makes me extra-special. It just means I care about future problems, and I'm always constantly alert to them. I see the negatives on the horizon. Wake up, the rest of you! It's not just about the pizza delivery.”

Public Image Ltd always seemed to go out of their way to use rhythms and basslines from outside of rock'n'roll.
Well, no, from outside of cliches. We never went deliberately into any other genre to use the stylings. We created our own. And you can do that when you've been open-minded enough through all of your youth to listen to many, many different variables. Finsbury Park, North London, that's very mixed racially. So, different cultural things were there all the time. I could quite happily say I'm as closely-attuned, and view it as part of my culture, to Greek folk music as I am to Turkish, as I am Jamaican, as I am English, as I am Irish. And even a bit of Cypriot thrown in there for good fun. And bits of African. These things have always been there. They're not alien concepts to me. They've become part of my nature, and my natural instinct is to use variants. You know the death of rock'n'roll? It did die, and it died because it kept imitating itself. And unfortunately, that's what rap's become: a cesspool of the same thing, with a paler and paler shadowed version.”

One thing I've noticed at PiL gigs recently is that you turn up the bass to such an extreme level that it makes people feel physically ill.
Yes, it's a wonderful effect. We don't do it always, in every song, but there are certain songs where we want your whole body to vibrate and shake. And for us, that's when we go beyond music, and into that part of your brain that you don't use often enough, where you have to become very alert in order to not pass out or fall to the floor like a blob of jelly.”

Or butter.
Hah. No, jelly's got more of a wobble. Oh my god, what a bad pun on Wobble! But that's an important thing, because your brain becomes incredibly alert at that point. And your focuses are on the things that really matter. It's survival, and music should teach you survival principles. So, songs like 'Religion' absolutely beg for that. It's why we wrote it. It's what it's about. It's creating that. Making you feel terrified, because religion is a very terrifying prospect. It's where you give up sanity and accept ludic... ludocracy! And allow morons to dictate to you. Again, it's another headless chicken approach of our own making. We're very good as a species at creating these entrapments. And I'd like to see us get very good at unravelling them.”

Which songs on the new album, would you say, lend themselves to that kind of extreme bass?
I wouldn't. I don't think of it like that. Some songs require that, some don't. They're all different elements inside themselves. In that respect, I suppose PiL can be quite theatrical. In what I think is a fantastic way, because each song is its own world, its own universe. It's like different acts in a play, but put together they're all pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that make a very accurate picture of common sense.”

On the Bill Grundy show, when you swore and he asked you to repeat what you'd said, I've always thought you look a bit sheepish.
I'd been up for three days on amphetamine sulphate! Hahaha. 'Sheepish' isn't the word. Words are very hard to come by at that point! I looked at him and I thought 'You're goading me!' You know? 'OK, let it be YOUR career!' I didn't feel bad about having sworn on telly. Absolutely delighted for the privilege. And I don't view any such thing as a 'swear word', anyway. Any sound made by the human race, and the wonderfulness of language, to me is an achievement. Of course we're capable of misusing those words and placing them inappropriately, but that's good! That's how you sort out the wheat from the chaff, isn't it? Give everyone a fair crack of the whip, and if all you hear in three sentences is two 'fucks', five 'cunts' and a 'bollocks', you know not to be dealing with them, really, business-wise.”

While we're on the subject of multiple fucks, the Sex Pistols song “Bodies” is one of the most troubled, and troubling, songs you've written.
That was essential because of the pain, and anxiety, and decision-making, of abortion. And I needed the anger, the rage and the confusion of it. And that was the mind-frame of it.”

Is there any unresolved Catholic stuff in there, about abortion, left over from your upbringing?
Oh no, I'd say I was very un-Catholic in that respect. Which was a very major problem to me, but I learned very early on that the priests were to be avoided at all costs, unless you wanted your bottom fiddled. They were just very very corrupt, and whole imparting of guilt on you. The fucking audacity of these cunts, wearing dresses! You know? Come on, leave it out. There's only one reason they wore them long bleedin' coats, and that's cos they walked around with stiffies! You could smell it off 'em. You could! As a young kid I got memories, and they're not fond memories, of sex stains. I could smell 'em and sniff it off 'em. And I know a lot of the nuns were into self-flagellation, but they weren't whipping themselves – it was where they were inserting the whip handle that was the problem! You could pick up these scents. It's amazing how capable a young nostril is.”

Another take on “Bodies” is that it's the Pistols trying to be as unpleasant and vile as they possibly could.
Unpleasant, yeah. But unpleasant because it's a very difficult topic to deal with. But it had to be dealt with. And that's as accurate as I could ever put it. Because those are the emotions that I've seen, from people around me when I was young. It's about an incredibly fraught time. And to my mind, abortion must always be left up to the woman. It's her decision. I don't call myself 'Pro-Choice' because I don't know what any of those terms mean, because the words get so convoluted, but it's a woman's right and I back them 100%, no matter what. Saying that, I could have been aborted. And I wouldn't be too happy about that, in hindsight! But you can't bring unwanted children into the world. I've spent a lot of time over the years putting money into orphanages, and raising money by giving them product or whatever, because I know how unhappy they are. They're institutionalised and they know no love, nothing. They're like rats in a cage, totally embittered. And it's appalling. There was even situations that came up, from one woman in particular a few years ago who claimed she was the illegitimate daughter of my mother, before I came along and she married my dad. And it's very hard to accept her as such, cos we don't know her. And I don't know what to do about that. We can't pretend it's all happy families, 'Welcome in', because we've had issues with ourselves! Let alone taking all that on. And then of course, is it true or isn't it? I don't know. It makes you question really painful significant issues in your mind. So there you go, all of that goes into the songs, and sometimes it has to come out in a screaming, painful way. 'Bodies' was really the introduction for where I was going to take PiL. From 'Bodies' I went to 'Religion' and from there on in leaps and bounds, my songwriting really became something special. Rather than just yakking on about British institutions! Ha ha ha.”

When you wore a Vivienne Westwood shirt with a swastika on it, and 'DESTROY' across the top, was it done in a different spirit to, say, Siouxsie and Sid with their swastika armbands?
No no, we were all of the same mindset! They lost the war! This is the foolishness of human nature! We certainly didn't view ourselves as Nazis! It was mockery. It was taunting. Things like the National Front, it was throwing it back in their face. There was a beautiful cover, once, on a National Front magazine called Spearhead, and it had the body of a gorilla and it had my face on top. And it had the line 'Is This Man An Albino N***er? Answer: Yes'. Ha ha, I felt very well complimented. And that's not what the mainstream media were paying attention to, but that was very important. We were unprotected by the media, who quite happily wanted to tear us all down. And by doing so, really, they were allowing the rise of these fascist groups. Who were our long-standing enemy.”

A far less serious matter, but have you noticed how copies of Metal Box by PiL have all rusted in interesting and individual ways?
Yeah! Each one has become very special. Isn't nature wonderful? There's a word for it: patina. I've got two: a remake, cos we reissued it at one point, and an original. And the newer one's beginning to corrode too. Yes, it's deeply fascinating and each one, to my mind, with my artist's eye, I can just get involved in the colours and tones and textures of it. And each one becomes a special entity unto itself. And that's something we didn't create deliberately. Being a real bighead about this, it's very much like Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Hahaha. Now, imagine if you print that deadpan. You're too cruel! But it does raise an interesting issue: what is art, and should it retain the exact-same integrity as the day it was created, or does age add a flavour to something? It must do! Look at myself, for instance. I'm sixty years young, and like a fine wine, I'm maturing with age...”

Lastly, I'm meant to be interviewing Glen Matlock soon. Have you got a message to pass on to him?
Yeah! Hello Glen! Miss ya, you know? Now we don't have to work together any more, we can be friends once more. It's true, the tensions in the band drove us apart and it was very very hard, even when we got back together and toured, to get over the past. And the only way to do it, really, is to not be forced into a working relationship that's to none of our benefits.”

I'm also interviewing Viv Albertine. Anything to say to her?
Yeah. Ooh, read your book, Viv! Very interesting. I love it. She's proud of rejection. That's the punk ethos. Fantastic, Viv. Good on her. Solid, upright citizen.”

OK John, thanks for your time.
Peace. May the road rise with you, and all your enemies be behind you, and scatter, and shatter.”

Home | About Me | Writing | TV & Radio | Clubs & DJing | Gallery | FAQ | Shop | Links | Contact