question time for Rotten!
Johnny gets to Heaven...Public Image : interview

Johnny gets to Heaven...Public Image :  interview
Johnny gets to Heaven...Public Image : interview

Today, download-and-discovery service eMusic announces its next exclusive ”ËœeMusic Takeover’ with punk legend John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten who is now leading the latest incarnation of Public Image Ltd., as he releases the album “This is PiL.

The takeover will see Lydon become an honorary eMusic ”ËœContributing Editor’ for the week of 28th May. The eMusic UK site will feature an in-depth interview with the former Sex Pistol, as well as album reviews that he has selected and a “This is Your Life”-style Jukebox Jury feature.

John Lydon becomes the third artist in the eMusic Takeover series, following Bjork, whose takeover celebrated the release of her new album/iPad app project Biophilia and a takeover by one of the UK’s most respected DJs, Steve Lamacq.

“I think British punk music is under-represented by other many digital music sites. I wanted to do the takeover with eMusic and share new music from “This is PiL” because eMusic and its member community understand and support us.”

By leveraging eMusic’s close relationships with independent artists, labels and supporters, future collaborations will see the ”ËœeMusic Takeover’ programme offer members even more intimate access to their favourite music,artists and influencers.

To read John Lydon’s exclusive interviews and see his view of eMusic, visit emusic from Monday 28th May.

Q&A

Is it good to be back?

Yeah! It’s been a few years there, and people have been assuming that my voice is this, that or the other, but I think I’m multi-textural, multi-purposeful, and I could shape-shift the vocal into anything I wanted to now, without much of an effort ”“ and with no vocal training! Because I’m being really seriously truthful to myself, those are the tones and sounds and attitides that lend exactly to the emotion I’m trying to express. There’s no pop-star in it. It’s something far better. But [sniggering] I still expect young girls in the front row.”

Explain your selection process for this incarnation of PiL”¦

Lydon: “I’d known Bruce [Smith, drums] from The Pop Group, and Lu [Edmonds, guitar] from The Damned, but that isn’t how we got together. We’ve sat down and tried to remember it all, but it’s impossible ”“ there’s so many juxtapositions of events from back in those days [i.e. post-punk], that we almost accidentally fell into each other’s company. But I’m very loyal to them, and them to me. We’re proper with each other.

“They’re two enormously diverse characters, and then you add Scotty [bassist Scott Firth] ”“ he fitted into this band from Day One, right from his picture on the internet with a terrible hooligan skinhead haircut! Hahaha, it just made me laugh. His resumé was really extensive, and it showed a great sense of fun, that he could go from StevieWinwood to The Spice Girls’ touring band in a heartbeat. That’s exactly the kind of open mind that we can work with. You’re not bringing judgmental musical snobbery to the table. Because a snob would have a hard time in PiL, they wouldn’t be understanding us at all.

“So this is the happiest I’ve ever been, in the alleged career of music. I don’t want to stop this. It’s clearly set on a good foundation ”“ a really honest one, and a very open one ”“ very deep friendships. And it’s going really good places.”

‘This Is PiL’ is 64 minutes long, and has a real sense of journey about it, with lots of twists and turns and mood swings. How did you write it all?

PiL now seems to be a live-orientated band, and we all feel that that’s the best way. A lot of these songs were what you would call improvised, spontaneous. I mean, they’re thought about, but we never actually sat down with acoustic guitars and figured any of it out. Obviously, I’m loaded with thoughts running through my head, I never stop writing, but a load of stuff I’d had stockpiled for this got torched in a kitchen fire at my flat in London.

So, there we were in the middle of a tour, and we plonked ourselves straight into a barn in the Cotswolds [idyllic rural area in South-West England] for recording, with nothing prepared ”“ I mean, doomed to go wrong! And then we invited all manner of press down, not knowing if we were gonna get two bangs, a bash and a screech together. It’s kind of frightening to put yourself into that environment, but it just seemed to help, it became almost like a live gig. If any of this was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.”

What did you end up writing about? There seem to be a lot of thoughts about Britain, which obviously isn’t your main home anymore [John lives mostly in Los Angeles], but it is where you recorded”¦

They’ve always been in there. Home is where the heart is. Wherever I am geographically, this is always gonna be the way. But yes, it is about Britain, it’s about my life, my childhood here, it’s about our lives ”“ a good look back to the past, to realise where we are at the present, and that will set us up nicely with the future.

“I’m still standing up for this place. Maybe that’s what Britain needs to do about itself ”“ do what I’ve done ”“ just go away for a long holiday and come back and look at itself properly. And realise that the fine art of moaning without a constructive comclusion is arather pointless exercise, as propagated by the Tory government.”


Some songs seem very urban, with a world-y, multicultural feel, others are more based in the natural world, with a fluid, ethereal vibe. Most obviously, ”ËœDeeper Water’ is about seascaping out to sea, right?

That’s something I like doing. Me and Nora [John’s wife] go out to sea in our boat when I really can’t bear the pressures of situations around me. It totally clears my mind. You have to step back or away or aside every now and then. Then the picture becomes much more clear, and you can describe it more accurately. You can get lost in the confusion of it all, and you begin to accept the nonsense that’s being force-fed to you on a daily basis. I’m not very good at accepting.

“That song was a one-take. It started out as something totally different. I thought, ”ËœI’m not very happy with that,’ then we went back in and rewrote it on the spot, and what landed on the tape stayed on the tape ”“ there was no need to fiddle with it at all. You don’t want to start trying to contain nature! Nature, being what it is, is always trying to escape from ya!

”ËœLollipop Opera’, on the other hand, sounds much more town-y”¦

Lydon: “To me, that’s the soundtrack to my youth, the sound of Finsbury Park. It’s that juxtaposition of noise from my part of London, which I think accurately portrays the way I grew up ”“ all those influences, the sounds, the chaos of it all, yet the fun in it. It was multicultural and ultimately good-natured. We don’t always have to be angry. When the powers-that-be leave us alone, and up to our own devices, we have a very peaceful existence amongst each other. I think it’s rules and regulations that destroy all that.”


In ”ËœHuman’, you say, “I think England’s died”. How exactly do you mean?

It’s generally the social aspect. They’ve turned all the pubs into swine bars. Swine bars can be quite nice too, but there’s too much of it, and it’s all so cold and indifferent, and the modern architecture ”“ they’re destructuring buildings with all that tubing and glass. It’s really ugly to me. I don’t feel that that’s offering me any spirit of generosity. I think it’s been put up in such a cold, indifferent fuck-you way, it makes people feel they’re not part of something in this country any longer. All I’m getting is a reflection of myself in a front door that won’t open for me. You’re looking in mirrored glass, and there you are, out on the street, and that’s where you’re gonna stay. Well, no, no, no, let me in!


In ”ËœOne Drop’, you sing ”Ëœwe come from chaos, you cannot change us’ ”“ a clear nod to your punk beginnings. But does it get frustrating being judged forever on the basis of The Sex Pistols, which, reunions aside, only lasted for a couple of years when you were barely out of your teens? What do you feel about that band now?

It got me everything. It got me out of the doldrums of self-pity, of growing up working-class and poor. It set me up beautifully to be an independent thinker, and to think outside of the box, as indeed I probably always did. I’m justified for the way I think, and I don’t think badly or wrongly or stupidly ”“ these are not glib throwaway lines I put out there, there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. I want to get it right in life, I want to be accurate about it, and I want life to improve, not only for myself, but for everyone.

That’s what those Pistols songs were about, whatever people may think. They were from the point of view of the disenfranchised. No matter what benefits I’ve collected along the way, it doesn’t alter the perspective ”“ you don’t forget what went wrong in your childhood. You don’t forget the rules and regulations that wrote you off as a misfit, or erroneously judged you.

The aftermath of the Pistols was pretty grim, with heroin overdoses, court cases and much animosity. Do you manage to think about it these days for the great stuff that came out of it?

Well, it obviously did because I’m here. So it hasn’t been negative in any way at all. The fact is, I’m alive. Thank you, world! I’ve got through so far, and I’m planning on a happy fifty from here on in again. Life is worth living.

2 COMMENTS

  1. […] cast for a punk history series since the 10 part punk TV series I worked on a few years ago. From John Lydon to the normally more secretive Siouxsie Sioux and Paul Wellar as well as an eloquent Adam Ant and […]

  2. […] his successful partnerships such luminaries as David Bowie, U2, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello and John Lydon, Arcade Fire more recently enlisted his services in creating images for them. Bono waxes lyrical […]

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