Nardwuar: Who are you?
John Lydon: [Laughs] I’m John Lydon. I’m half a century young and looking good at it.
And John, PiL (Public Image Ltd.) are back on the road. Who’s in PiL these days?
Bruce Smith on drums, Lu Edmonds on various sorted of instruments from the Middle East, including a guitar for those who like western twangs, and Scott (Firth) on bass.
John, I thought it’s really interesting that Bruce Smith is back in the band because he also played with The Pop Group and The Slits.
Have you heard the new Slits LP?
No, this has nothing to do with it.
But have you heard the new Slits?
No, I haven’t.
I thought it’s really cool that Paul Cook’s daughter is playing in The Slits.
Oh, that’s been quite some time, that.
Hollie Cook is in The Slits.
Yeah, that’s been quite some time. My wife is Ariana’s (stage name Ari Up), the lead singer’s, mother of The Slits. We’re all interrelated.
John Lydon, do you know that Soo Catwoman’s kids have a band too?
No, I don’t know. Gosh, I must be out of date. Did you find all this out on Twitter? [laughs]
Exactly. They’re called Good Weather Girl and it made me think, when was the last time you saw Soo?
Oh, I remember The Weather Girls [laughs]
No, not The Weather Girls — although they were good.
I used to love The Weather Girls. They were hilarious. [laughs]
When did you last see The Weather Girls?
That’s ages back now. But me, I like all kinds of music.
When was the last time you saw Soo Catwoman, John Lydon?
A long time ago. Why do you insist on adopting that “John Lydon” moniker?
Should I just call you Johnny then, or John?
Yeah, John. John please. It sounds a bit too formal and it’s rather like being interrogated by Norwegian police [laughs].
OK, I guess it’s just to help identify you to the radio listeners out there.
Oh OK, gotcha. So I understand what the format is.
In case people are wondering who I am talking to, but they will recognize your voice from many years of rockin’ and also, John, you are a Gooner, aren’t you? You are a Gooner.
I’ve supported Arsenal since I was four years old, yes. I would be very careful of the term “Gooner,” though, because that’s a term in which in its original format, was applied to the Arsenal football hooligans and not the regular fans.
I was phoning you here from Vancouver, B. C. and we once had an NASL (North American Soccer League) team called the Vancouver Whitecaps and there were some connections between the Whitecaps and Arsenal. I was wondering if you could tell the people about Alan Ball. He used to play for the Whitecaps.
Oh, Alan Ball of Arsenal fame?
Yes, he played for the Whitecaps.
Most wonderful player. Love that man’s skill and style on the ball. His career really was made in Everton, but he kind of finished up at Arsenal. But you know, we love him still. A legend.
He played for the Vancouver Whitecaps and helped them win—
I doubt he does that now. I mean, he must be nearly 60 [laughing].
Well, he did in 1979 and he helped win the Soccer Bowl for the Whitecaps, but I was just thinking there’s—
That’s fantastic. Go on, I’m really pleased you brought that up. I love to hear of old players doing well, you know, in their retirement years. Because far too many of them are, I don’t know, sent to the knackers yard. You know, like poor old horses for dog food.
John, another player that played on the Whitecaps from Arsenal was Jon Sammels. Do you remember?
Oh yes, Jonny Sammels.
What can you tell the people about Johnny Sammels?
Well, he was an odd player. Some didn’t like him at all because he could be fairly inconsistent. But for me he wore the red and white of Arsenal. Therefore, perfect. I’m very loyal to my Arsenal. In fact, I’m a loyal person generally, except to the Royal Family [laughs].
Well, thank you for answering these Arsenal questions because I have one last one here about Arsenal. We had Pierce O’Leary play for the Whitecaps.
Pierce O’Leary, who is David O’Leary’s brother.
Oh, that’s fun.
David O’Leary, isn’t he the classic Arsenal player? Isn’t he one of the most famous Arsenal players ever?
Yeah, then he went on to be an unclassic manager for such teams as Leeds United [laughs]. David O’Leary used to drink at a pub I used to drink in, around the back of Finsbury Park. He comes from a time when Arsenal players actually used to socialize with the locals.
Was that the Sir George Robey Pub?
Nope, it was The Moray Arms.
What was the Sir George Robey Pub like? That was quite a famous pub, wasn’t it?
It was alright, for local. It was a pub that used to celebrate the comedian George Robey, so it was a very good atmosphere to be growing up in, surrounded by reminiscences of comedy. For me, a perfect backdrop to my career.
John Lydon, it’s an honour to speak to you and I’ve been trying to speak to you since, believe it or not, October 14, 1984 when PiL played in Vancouver at the War Memorial Gymnasium with punk rock band D.O.A. Do you remember that gig at all? 1984, Vancouver. You were wearing pajamas and were covered in spit.
I remember not many gigs because as you must understand, I’ve performed almost continuously for nearly 30 years now. But I always have fond memories of Canada — particularly Toronto because I have family there.
You will always run into these idiots that just love to spit at you because they’ve read it in the newspapers and have been ill informed that that’s the done thing. It should not be the done thing. You’re spreading your disease.
I had, when I was young, a very, very serious illness called meningitis, which put me in a coma for three months. When I came out of that coma, apart from losing my memory, some of the side issues I’ve had to live with all my life is very, very bad sinus problems. So when I’m onstage, every now and again I have to clear either my nostril or my throat from phlegm. I overproduce those two issues.
I do not spit at an audience and I do not expect them to spit at me. I always have a bucket neatly placed. So if spitting be your proclivity in life, bring your own bucket.
John, has the spitting stopped? Do people still spit?
Of course, of course. Ages ago and I’m touring now with Public Image, which is a very different kind of audience, really. Where people don’t feel the need to try to be ignorant, which was an unfortunate side issue of the Pistols. Many of our audience got it wrong. We have to progress the human spirit, not degress it.
I remember, though I didn’t make it to the gig, of just hearing reports—
And those weren’t pajamas, that was my idea of style [laughs]. Black and white stripes, yes?
Maybe I was confused because there’s also a keyboard player for the Boomtown Rats, Johnny Fingers.
Oh, very different. He didn’t have elasticated cuffs on the ankles or the waist [laughs].
There be the style issue.
John, Jim Walker, the first PiL drummer, was from Vancouver. I once asked Paul Cook about Jim Walker and he said, “You’ll have to ask John about that.” What can you tell the people about Jim Walker from Vancouver?
Well, they wouldn’t have known each other, so Paul was dead right. Jim Walker was a really strange character. He seemed open and friendly enough until he joined PiL, and I didn’t quite understand the reasons for it, but he went very dark and somber there for a while, which was a shame and he didn’t last very long.
It’s pretty incredible, though — a guy from Vancouver moving to England and then ending up in a band with you, John, ex- Sex Pistols-
If you’re good enough, that’s what happens.
Was that all through Melody Maker or an ad? How did he end up in the actual band?
I think I spotted an ad in the paper and kind of unwittingly thought, well “Why not?” But it paid off. I mean, he was an excellent drummer.
It was great, too, he was from Vancouver, B.C.—
He introduced a very nice free-flowing drum style, which definitely gave wind to the theme tune to Public Image being Public Image. Miss him dearly. Apparently he’s, at the moment, working in film.
Oh, really? He also later formed the band The Pack, didn’t he?
He also moved to Israel to work in a kibbutz for some unearthly reason [laughs]. Jim’s a strange one, but fair play to him.
Very near Vancouver is Seattle, Washington. PiL have a song called “Seattle.” Was that song inspired by a La-Z-Boy chair that was stolen by the band Green River, who opened up for you when PiL played in Seattle?
Pardon? I didn’t understand any of that. You talked too much and too slurry.
OK, John Lydon. Here it is: You have the song “Seattle” by the band PiL.
Firstly, I’ll tell you how “Seattle” was written. It’s because we had a week off in the middle of the tour and were stuck in Seattle and so, we coined the song’s title, “Seattle.” It wasn’t, at the time, very relevant to the song, really, but then years and years and years later, with those riots you had in Seattle over the World Trade Order?
If you check out some of the refrains in the song about palaces, barricades, threats made promises. It shows a great deal of foresight on my part.
I had heard, John Lydon, that the song “Seattle” was inspired also by a La-Z-Boy chair that had been stolen from you by the band that opened for you, Green River.
A chair had been stolen.
[Laughing] I’m sure if that were the case, a chair would have been mentioned.
Because apparently, it was about a band that—
[Laughing] Listen, when I write songs, they’re not obtuse. If it was about a deck chair, I would have said so. So yhat’s nonsense.
John, when you did the reality show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, did you think about the movie Carry On Camping at all?
I suppose it was in my psychology somewhat, being British and being that that’s a fun-loving approach to such events, but no. Mostly I did that to raise money for charities I was affiliated with, and I raised a substantial amount. That was my only reason for doing it.
Carry On Camping is probably the best Carry On movie, isn’t it?
It’s kind of like how the English really are. We’re very, very good at taking things seriously when we need to, but when we don’t need to, we’re very good at having fun.
John Lydon, did you like being on Judge Judy?
No. Let me deal with the Judge Judy issue. That was a false accusation, and the man who made it clearly went for fame and fortune. Rather than dealing with any said accusation in a proper law court, he went to the TV. Judge Judy had seen the falseness in his claim and indeed, I won hands down.
I didn’t enjoy the environment at all, and the prospect of being judged by a TV company utterly appalled me. There’s a worry I have about that kind of show; that they just might lead in to trial by TV as indeed the O.J. (Simpson) fiasco showed how a sensible judgment was not reached because of the TV aspect of it.
I guess that’s what I was wondering. Should all rock disputes be handled with Judge Judy?
No, and indeed I don’t think you should judge the law as entertainment.
Would you yourself ever consider going back to school and try to become Judge Johnny?
John Lydon, Time Zone with Afrika Bambaataa was probably the first rock record with hip-hop. How did you hook up with—
Not probably, it was.
How did you hook up with Afrika Bambaataa?
Mutual respect is the same kind of music. In the early days of what we call hip-hop — which later turned into rap — people had much more open minds about music. You could be involving all genres of music and basically balancing them into a jolly good evening of dance with some social awareness lyrics.
And so I took great joy in working with Afrika Bambaataa, and I think we made a really excellent record. Unfortunately, of course it didn’t grab the mainstream headlines that later pieces of work with AC/DC — or, no, Aerosmith — and I can’t remember his name now… Run D.M.C. They followed on our heels.
How did you get together with the band Leftfield, John?
Through mutual acquaintances. I used to work in play centres for problem children before the Sex Pistols. My job was the keep them off the streets and keep them safe and teach them a little thing or two about life.
Indeed, one of Leftfield, Neil (Barnes), did the same job. Through a mutual friend who also did the same job, we got together and it took just a little over a year until we fine-tuned it down to a proper rhythm and the lyrics flowed naturally.
Unfortunately for us — and for me in particular because I live in Los Angeles, you see — the record was done some three months before its release. On the day of release in Los Angeles, we had those dreadful forest fires. So on the refrain of a song, “burn, Hollywood, burn” it was automatically presumed I was celebrating the forest fires of L.A. I live in L.A. I would never celebrate the burning of my house or anybody else’s. Wrongly judged.
But I think you are doing that song on this current tour, aren’t you?
I enjoy doing it, yeah. In a more seriously different way because for that song, in the studio we used a lot of programming and it was computer led. When I play live with PiL, we like to play it analog. We like to play it on instruments. Although Public Image is well known for its use of technology, it’s not the only thing we can do.
John, I have the Sex Pistols on 8-track, believe it or not.
That’s showing your age.
I bought it a couple of years ago for $25, which actually, was a bargain. I heard it was going for a hundred, but I’ve researched this and I found out that PiL—
Have you found a deck to play this 8-track?
Yes, you can find them everywhere.
Very good. I’ve still got some very old Roy Orbison [laughs].
What I was wondering was that PiL’s Second Edition, Metal Box in America came out on 8-track. Do you have one?
I don’t think it came out on 8-track, but it’s definitely been re-released — I think three or four years ago. I did this small deal with this very small label where we re-released it on vinyl.
Apparently, according to the internet, it’s actually on 8-track. PiL’s Second Edition—
Somebody might actually have it on 8-track. I don’t know how it got there. It was never part of any arrangement I had with the record company.
Did you think that when you doing album, you might have had 8-track? Like album, cassette, t-shirt, 8-track? Did that ever come into discussion?
No, because the technology was already out of date.
John Lydon, do you like Devo?
I had heard that Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo was asked to be your replacement in the Sex Pistols. Did you ever hear that?
John, what’s good about Samsonite travel pants?
I don’t suppose very much at all. They’re uncomfortable and they cause terrible crease marks on your trousers. Although Samsonite — they make fairly decent suitcases.
They made a brilliant line of travel pants some years ago, which I still have to this day. What I liked most about them was they had zips from the ankle all the way up to the hip on each leg. You could open it up and there was a nylon mesh, which would let your legs breathe more easily in hotter climates. Very, very excellent. They looked very smart. I could not understand why they never took off as an idea.
Samsonite travel pants. Did you use those when you went to South Africa because you did some shark cage diving. That was incredible.
No, I think it’d be rather insane in nylon mesh and thin, thin linen [laughs]. To be climbing up and down mountains in South Africa because I met many a gorilla pack there and you certainly can’t be wearing them while diving for great whites.
When you were in Africa, did you visit Ginger Baker at all?
No. He’s in a completely different part of the continent. Africa is a very large country.
I just thought maybe, because you had done some stuff with him before.
Yeah, no. When you do these kinds of filming, you’re on a very tight budget and you don’t get any time really to go off wandering.
What was it like with the sharks? When you were down with the sharks in a cage?
Thrilling, because I’d studied marine biology. I’ve had an interest in sharks, I suppose ever since I’d seen Jaws and naturally followed it through.
They’re much more magnificent in the flesh, I should say, than they are dead or stuffed in museums. They’re a thrilling creature and I totally respect them, as indeed I do all walks of life, all frames of life.
Iggy Pop, John, did an ad in the U.K. for insurance. Noddy Holder from Slade did a great fish and chips ad and you did an amazing one for butter.
Yeah, well, that was a product I actually believed in, backed and supported because British products in Britain are getting a hard shift of it. Foreign exports are killing what is British commerce and so I was quite happy to back that.
It had one of the best NME headlines ever. The New Music Express had the headline “John Lydon Revives Country Life Butter Sales.” That was a great headline.
Yes, apparently by some 87 per cent. It was a successful campaign all around. The point being, at the time, there was a lot of negativity that was slung at me. That I was somehow “selling out” and becoming “commercial.” I will always be commercial when it’s backing British products. Indeed, I am a British product myself.
And you are John Lydon. And John, when shooting that ad I noticed a whole bunch of cows chasing after you. What was that like?
Well, there was something like a script, but the people that picked me for this campaign had the common sense to let me play with that. It was a lot of improvising, which is why it worked so well. That’s the real John, having fun.
Preparing for this PiL tour, John, what sort of food do you eat? My friend Ronnie—
Country Life Butter [laughs].
What sort of other food or drinks do you have, because my friend Ronnie (Barnett) from the band The Muffs saw you in Venice, California one time having a smoothie. Do you like smoothies?
No, he’s telling a lie. I don’t drink smoothies.
What do you drink, then, to prepare for a tour?
Uh…brussels sprout juice.
John, at one time you gave a special sandwich with salty tasting mayonnaise —
Yeah, we’ll let’s not go there, thank you.
OK. How about Quadrophenia? Phil Daniels recently said you, John Lydon, were almost Jimmy in Quadrophenia.
Yes, I was. I went for that role because Pete Townshend had asked me to, but I had somewhat of a disagreement with The Who’s manager. It never came about, which is a shame. Although Phil Daniels did a fantastic job, I gotta say, I could have added something to that.
What did you think, John, about the mod revival bands, like The Purple Hearts or The Chords, or The Merton Parkas?
I was never really interested in revivalism in that way because I have a better term for it. I call it “genre hopping.”
It’s too easy for you to pick up what somebody else has done. It’s like stealing someone’s coat and claming it as your own when you really should be spending your time creating something completely new from your own sense of individuality. Understand?
I do indeed. Is that what the Public Image Ltd. song “Memories” was about?
John, I was also curious about Hawkwind. Over the years, people have wondered what exactly was your role, like, were you their LSD supplier—
Or were you their roadie? Were you another “hairy” in the crowd? What was your role, John?
[Laughs] Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a suitable refrain for the letters LSD but no, that was not my role.
They were a band that were great fun live, and I used to love at an early age to travel off to the rock festivals, usually on my own. Hawkwind would always be playing those kinds of events, and I love that sense of community you could get from the very early festivals.
These days, those kinds of festivals are too orchestrated, you feel manipulated and you can’t even go to the toilet without a credit card. It’s taken on a different role for me. It’s not really community-run or community appreciated. It’s more constructed and contrived.
But at the same time, good bands do play them and I do them myself from time to time because you have to or otherwise you’ll starve. That’s the business we live in.
John, when you’re going through customs, you’ve seen an awful lot. Did you actually—
No, I’d put it a better way than that. The customs have seen an awful lot of me [laughs].
Ba-boom! Yes they have, indeed. I was curious—
I don’t know what it is they’re looking for but honestly, it’s back to brussels sprout juice, and baked beans and cabbage. I’ will eat these things before I take a long flight because I’m aware of what customs may be trying to pull on me at the other end. Or pull off me to be more accurate.
Didn’t you once encounter a customs guy that had an actual mohawk? That must have made you feel at ease.
It’s like, the times they are a changing. I found it deeply hilarious and heartwarming in an odd way. You know, “Welcome to Britain. Yes, we’re going to strip search you… with mohawks [laughs], just to make you fit in!” [laughs] It’s odd that a hairdo that’s actually the symbol of against repression has been incorporated into repression.
But on the other hand, I do kind of understand airport security because as I’ve let it be known, once me and wife were booked on that Lockerbie flight, that Pan Am special. We missed that flight because my wife was slow at packing, so we changed it to the next day. If we were on that plane, we would have been blown up.
So I do understand airport security because I don’t think anyone innocent should have to suffer that way. It’s not so much you being blown to smithereens; it’s what it did to my family members who had all presumed I had caught the flight and seen that on the news that it had been blown up in the sky. It’s quite unnerving. My view on terrorism and indeed all acts of violence is negative.
John, how about The Exploited and Crass? You’ve expressed an interest in liking those bands. Have you seen The Exploited? They’re still on the circuit out there, playing.
Oh, they are what they are. They stick to their guns. It’s a limited range, but that’s fine for them. They do what they enjoy and they do it really well, so more power to them. People who do this because they like what they’re doing are the people that interest me.
For instance, The Vibrators are still going. The Vibrators are still playing.
So they should. With a battery change, anything is possible.
Ba-boom! They’re still rocking and we’re still rocking with John Lydon, live from his place in Los Angeles, California. I’m Nardwuar The Human Serviette. PiL are coming up on tour very soon and will be hitting all the stages across North America. And John, I was wondering, did The Ruts play better reggae than The Clash?
The Ruts. Did The Ruts play better reggae than The Clash?
Neither of them and they shouldn’t have bothered to try and mess with a musical format that neither of them understood too well.
Apart from my many things in life, I was DJing reggae in reggae clubs at 15 years old. Because, for me, where I come from, Finsbury Park, was a very working class, mixed culture neighbourhood. So reggae, to me, was a very naturally part of my backdrop. I didn’t think it was with those two outfits, and I think it showed. Also The Police, when they went into that “Roxanne” vibe. They were on the wrong side of the hoof.
John, what about the band Magma? They are amazing.
Truly, truly masterful. Stunning work.
They had their own language. What can you tell the people about Magma and their own language?
Well, there were several of those bands and there was a term for it. Europa something or the other, I can’t remember now off the top of my head. I found that new language part a little intellectual, a little contrived and conceited.
But as the European community has been evolving over the decades, there is a kind of Franc-Italian-Deutsch Englishness that’s creeping in. It’s quite a good thing to be multi-languaged and indeed, open to multiculturalism. It means no more war, you understand?
And that’s what we want.
And we start to celebrate our differences rather than bitterly oppose them — something the Republicans in this country could do well to learn from.
John, the Can remix record was called Sacrilege. Was that named—
I don’t know the remix. For me, Can was as it was originally, as I used to see them live.
I heard that they named the record Sacrilege because you wouldn’t do a remix. In other words, it would be “sacrilegious” to mess with Can material and that’s why they called it Sacrilege.
Who did the remix?
I thought that you were asked to do a remix.
Oh, I was asked. Yes, this is true. My gosh, this is so long back now.
I wouldn’t do it. I see no reason to, because why do I need to stick my name on their hard-earned work? If they want to remix their own material, that’s well and fine and they have every right to.
But the last thing a band that good needs is a bunch of outsiders hobnobbing with their material. Kind of destructive, really. When record companies allow what took so much effort to be so original in the first place to be just thrown out there to a bunch of preposterous, new young brats on the block. It’s not a good thing.
Do you, yourself, have any Can bootlegs?
No, no. I have never, ever, ever have bought a bootleg in my life. I never will. It’s thievery.
What do you remember about playing with Screaming Lord Sutch?
How funny he was. Not much else. He actually did understand reggae and he did it extremely well. He was bang on the money because he was brought up in that environment. It wasn’t him jumping on the bandwagon. Screaming Lord Sutch was pure good, jolly, decent reggae, actually.
Here is a letter from June 18, 1976 from the New Musical Express, and it says, “I’d love to see the Pistols make it. Maybe they’ll be able to afford some clothes which don’t look like they’ve been slept in.”
[Laughs] How sweet. The point being, yes, many of my clothes on tour I do sleep in because you can’t be lugging huge suitcases of stuff around with you. It slows you down. When you have to leave very early in the morning from one hotel to the other and travel great distances, the last thing you want to be doing is remembering where all your different accruements are.
And so you know, it’s nice, but unless you’re volunteering to carry my suitcases around for me, I’m going to look like I’ve slept in my clothes and that’s it, period, the end.
And do you know who wrote that letter? Steven Morrissey. He was the one that wrote that letter, Steven Morrissey.
Oh, him with the flowers?
Yes, he wrote on June 18, 1976.
How sweet. He’d do anything to get famous [laughs]. Send that man a dandelion. [laughs].
Did you ever see him around L.A. at all?
He came to a Pistols gig I did here, at the Greek Theatre.
He didn’t mention the letter that he wrote, then, from 1976?
No, that would be utterly ridiculous. It’s very, very difficult to meet people backstage because you’re full of angst and care about your own gig and you can’t be getting involved in distracting conversations. I’ve never found it easy to socialize at my own venues. I’d much rather leave, you know, as soon as I come off the stage because it’s too hard. You’re not in any fit frame of mind to debate anything at any serious level because you’re exhausted.
How about some of your old friends from Britain? Have you had them over? Has Billy Idol ever been to your house? Have you ever talked to him very much in L.A.?
He turned up here years ago with (Sex Pistols guitarist) Steve Jones and a bunch of Harley Davidsons. I think The Clash bass player (Paul Simonon) was with them. I told them to go away because the noise was appalling. [laughs]
Billy Idol was recently asked to be the singer of Aerosmith. Do you think you would be a good choice as the singer of Aerosmith?
Well, what’s wrong with the current bloke?
I think there was some sort of issue going on for a while and they needed a replacement, temporarily.
That’s sad. No, you shouldn’t do that. Billy wouldn’t be into that, would he? Do you know what I mean? When you do that, you’re taking something away. You’re not making it better although Paul Rodgers singing Queen songs kind of works.
Yes, and of course, Paul Rodgers lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Does he, now? [laughs] Have I put my psychic left foot in it?
Yes, you have indeed. Another Vancouver connection.
Paul Rodgers is stunning. I’ve seen him recently and it was fantastic. There’s something good about that bloke, but then I loved Free very, very much when I was young. They were the festival band of all time.
In the new movie The Runaways, we see Joan Jett making her own Sex Pistols T-shirt.
You’ve seen that now? Is it out?
Yes, it is.
Right, I’ve got a song in it.
What do you think about The Runaways?
They were a fun band at the time and it was good to see from America that girls could take on the men. We were used to that in England through punk because there were many girl bands who held their own with men bands. We viewed each other as equals, so it was kind of neat that Americans were offering the same perspective, but it wasn’t really. It was still girl’s day out.
Well, speaking of Vancouver and movies, did you ever see the movie Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains that had Paul Cook and Steve Jones in it, that was filmed in Vancouver?
Yeah, there were some strange themes in that. [laughs]
Which ones did you think were strange?
Oh, I’m not going to go into it, you know [laughs], but it kind of backfired on poor Paul Cook [laughs]. And I use the word “backfire” quite deliberately. Paul will get it and anyone who’s seen the film will. [laughs] But go on.
What was the last DVD that you rented?
I tend not to. If it’s not available on cable, then I’m not really interested. I don’t enjoy going to cinemas because too many people want to talk to me. I’m not allowed to be myself. It’s very difficult when you’ve become a public figure and you’re known. You get very little time out. As indeed, as you told me, someone spotted me drinking a smoothie. How irrelevant is that?
I think that might have been the highlight of Ronnie’s week, to see you drinking a smoothie.
That’s so not right and so misunderstanding me. I view myself as a regular human being, and I don’t like people to interrupt my regular processes.
John, the band The Desperate Bicycles, they were one of the first DIY punk bands. They had that guitarist, Dan Electro. Do you remember The Desperate Bicycles, at all?
How about Alternative TV? What did you think of Alternative TV?
Quite interesting. This is going back, way back, and there’s been a hundred thousand bands since, but these were great bands, really.
The difference that punk was offering… there were so many variations. It’s a shame that punk, over the years, has become ill-defined by nonsense like Courtney Love to one extreme, celebrating drugs and vapid stupidity. And the other, Green Day, celebrating spiky hair and studded leather jackets.
Neither of those two statements really have managed to come up with anything valid, verbal-wise. They’re not for the improvement of the human race; they’re just there to mimic and are, quite frankly, mock us.
One of my favourite bands from that era, as well as The Sex Pistols, was The Boys. They are still going with The Vibrators, too. Do you remember The Boys at all?
Yeah, I met them a few times. They could be alright. But again, it’s that backstage scenario.
AC/DC, too. Judas Priest. All these bands. I’d love to say hello, but it’s when you come off stage, there’s not much more you can be offering in terms of conversation.
For me, it’s not nice to hear “Great show, Johnny.” It’s kind of irritating. So, myself, when I go to see other bands, I don’t like to go backstage because I realize what a challenging, compromising situation that can be to both sides. It’s a real pressure, but I suppose it’s the only way really that fellow musicians can get to meet because we don’t really have any social network outside of that. At least, I don’t.
Have you had a chance to meet many of the heroes in American punk rock,? Or Canadian punk rock? Jello Biafra? Have you met Jello, from The Dead Kennedys?
Yes, I have. I met him backstage in San Francisco once, and I met him also another time doing an interview in Boston with a deejay then at the time, who’s name was Oedipus.
Both times, I thought he talked too much and over-intellectualized everything. And he seemed kind of humourless. Whatever his personal agenda was, I thought it was too predominant for me. There was no, you know, give it a break, lay off the showbiz and just be a human. He was too busy selling himself and deliberately trying to be outrageous, which is always nauseating.
He’s done quite a bit of music and he’s still doing it. So at least he is still doing it-
He’d be better off letting that talk for him because it can be stifling trying to having a conversation with him. You know, everything has to be explained instantly and I disagree.
There are times that, as human beings, we just need to socialize in a more friendly way. Indeed, you can learn far more from humour than you can deadpan seriousness. It’s not a war all the time. You don’t have to walk around wearing your angst.
Who do you think was your favourite American punk band? Did you like The Avengers, who played with the Pistols?
I never viewed it that way, and I’ve always bitterly disagreed with those kinds of definitions. I’ve never really accepted the term “punk” or any category. Anything that labels us, lessens us.
I, myself, have tried to help spread the word of PiL quite a bit when I’ve been interviewing bands. I interviewed a Canadian band called Simple Plan. I don’t know if you’ve heard about them. They are like a pop-punk band and they were wearing some T-shirts that were really generic and I thought I would give them a PiL shirt to wear during the interview. So I gave them a PiL shirt to wear during the interview, so I’ve tried to give PiL shirts to bands that I think should wear PiL shirts.
I would find that a little compromising to my personal philosophy because I don’t insist that anyone should wear anything that I’ve dictated to them.
They didn’t keep the shirt on that long.
Although I do understand your sense of fun. But the fact that they put it on at all shows a weakness of personality [laughs]. Or they’d be more than happy for the gift. It’s a fine line between the two, isn’t it?
Yes, and they took the shirt right off after that.
Oh, well, at least they put it on. What a mug [laughs].
Yes, Simple Plan.
I think you scored kudos there. [laughs] You showed a basic inadequacy in his psychology.
Thanks so much, John Lydon. Anything else you’d like to add to the people out there, at all?
Yes. Public Image is a band that really, really has changed the landscape of music. We’ve created so many different genres in unto ourselves, and there’s so many bands out there that are currently hugely popular and they have given more of a nod than a wink to our forms of music. And they’ve claimed it as their own.
Well, hello, come and have a listen to granddad because I’m the one that taught them what was safe [laughs]. And indeed, those musical formats I’m talking about were not safe for me to be inventing at the time. I don’t deliberately go out of my way to be different; it just seems to happen.
Because the subject matter I’m dealing with matters so much to me on a personal level. I’m singing from the heart and the soul. I am a folk musician at heart, and I do not give a nod and a wink to others when I’m writing songs. They’re about what I think matter. I’m not imitating, I’m not faking. Public Image is a valid, valid operation and always will be. That’s not bad from a man who’s 50 years young.
Thanks so much, John. Keep on rocking in the free world and doot doola doot doo…
Doot doot! [laughs]. Come on, you Gooners! [laughs]
Great. Thanks so much for your time.
If Arsenal can be of any more assistance to Canadian soccer, I’m more than happy.
Long live the Vancouver Whitecaps, right?
That’s a brilliant combination. I must get their shirt.
We’ll have to get one to you.
[Laughs] I’m sure I can procure one on my own.
We’ll also get you an 8-track too, from Second Edition. If people are listening, maybe they can send you an 8-track.
I’ve never seen it. I pay no attention to what’s available on eBay, you understand? [laughs]
Maybe somebody from their personal collection?
I don’t know. I’m not one for collecting memorabilia. Least of all, of myself.
Well, I want to say, your bandmate Paul was really nice because when I talked to him—
Oh, Paul Cook?
He’s just a genuinely nice bloke.
When I talked to him in 1996, when you played in Vancouver, I told him about the Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains movie and he didn’t have a copy. I offered to bring a copy to the gig and he put me on the guest list and I went backstage and met him.
Yeah, he’s a nice person.
It’s really great that now his daughter is playing in The Slits.
Yeah, it’s very good. Little Hollie.
And now you have a member of The Slits in your band, Johnny, on the PiL tour.
[Laughs] Listen, my stepdaughter is the lead singer of The Slits. [laughs] I don’t need anymore Slits members. [laughs]
Thanks so much again, John, and keep on rocking in the free world.
May the road rise and the enemies always be behind you.
OK, talk to you later.
To hear this interview hop to https://www.serviette.ca/nardwuar-com/vs/john_lydon/