Talking Politics, and Almost No Music, With Punk Legend John Lydon
A few weeks back I had the pleasure of speaking with John Lydon, iconic lead singer of the Sex Pistols, currently touring and recording with Public Image Ltd. That group has been Lydon's main squeeze since the Pistols' 1978 implosion, and released their First Issue later that year.
Photos by Paul Heartfield
The band hits Scout Bar in Clear Lake on Friday night before going west to Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, touring behind This is PiL, their new album that picks up where the PiL story left off two decades ago.
"Those are 12 songs that I am very proud of, and they got held up for two decades because the record company held us up," says Lydon from his London home. While label mergers and fads came and went, he kept writing songs, even though he wasn't sure when -- or even if -- they would see the light of day.
"Songwriting was a thing I discovered when I first joined the Pistols, and it's what I enjoy the most, and where I am the most honest. I can paint pictures with words," he adds.
In 2008, Lydon appeared in a commercial for British dairy company Dairy Crest's Country Life butter brand. Lydon isn't sorry for the advert, even as fans screamed that he was somehow selling out. The funds in part helped bankroll PiL's 2009 reunion.
"Thank God for British butter, and wanting to have the anarchic sense of wanting to have me as a spokesperson," says Lydon.
Rocks Off: If someone would have told you 35 years ago that you would be seen shilling butter, what would you have said, or spat?
John Lydon: They would have had to tell me the tale accurately, and tell me that there are corporations out there that can break the mold and that aren't all boring old farts, and can see wit and humor. Beyond the product. To let a chap like me loose in a field with no script and a herd of cows is something.
RO: Any plans for a commercial encore?
JL: Can you sell crocodile cheese?
RO: What about Apple?
JL: I did that (butter ad) because I needed to, and thought that I could put PiL back on the road and put some money towards the outstanding record debt. Buy my way out. That was a problem for me, a hangover from the Sex Pistols days. Constant extensions, which meant I would be permanently trapped. Every time I tried to release something in the past, there was a wall of animosity.
JL: No! The last 20 years have just been lawyers and accountants and shenanigans trying to sort it all out. All that money goes to pay that debt. Shot on both sides. There is no animosity on my part because there is no people, it's headless chickens. An accounting department. Numbers.
RO: When will you be out from under it?
JL: Anytime soon, frankly. I have been able to form my own label and make a record, based on live earnings, and that is a good sign. We really are up against it here, but looking good, because we have freedom, and this kind of freedom doesn't come cheap.
RO: Being on tour this past month, you have seen the worst of the presidential campaign. What is your take on it all?
JL: I don't like the way it is going at all, and I am disappointed. The rest of the world is looking at it with utter, laughable contempt. America has lost its place as leader of the world. You are looking so bad. And when I say "you," I really mean me, because I view myself as a Californian because I have lived there so long.
I don't know how to defend it anymore, or if it is even worth defending. America should start throwing rocks at it all. It looks really silly, childish, spiteful, hateful, racial, confusing, and there are no real issues here.