When Sex Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren coined the phrase "cash from chaos," he may have been describing his own filthy lucre, but for the members of rock's most explosive group, the fiduciary comeuppance was and has been eternally forthcoming. Pistols mouthpiece Johnny Rotten, though, never really cared for the big paycheck, or the easy route, reverting post-Pistols to his birth name, John Lydon, and putting together the musical post-punk collective, Public Image Ltd. Lydon remains a loose cannon intent on telling his truth, bugger the cost. It has made him obnoxious, a joke, and one of rock's most pivotal and recognizable voices. He's never feared plumbing the depths for his art, whether laying his soul bare in song or (shudder) doing a UK advert for Country Life butter to finance the most recent PiL reunion, in support of their excellent new (self-released) record, This Is PiL.
It seems like people love the stuff you did when you were miserable, but this new record was clearly not made that way. Look, I’m a human being, I’m capable of every emotion every other human being is capable of. And there’s an enormous diversity in my tastes and my attitudes to things; it’s all part-and-parcel of being human. I’m by no means a perfect person, but at least I work at it!
People look to a musician because they want this one thing, and you’ve, in a way, refused to do that. Well, I’m not a cartoon, and all I’ve ever known in life is variety and diversity. I’ve never thought narrow, I’m not judgmental, I’m very open-minded. To some that you would call a fanbase, that can be a problem, because they only want to deal with one aspect of my character. Tough! You know? Because I’m a human being and I’ve got a lot of problems to solve. Not only mine, but apparently the world’s!
Do you feel misunderstood, as a musician? I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but over the last 30 years I’ve had such an enormous influence on everything that you call modern music, and yet it amazes me that people pretend not to know what it is I do. Everybody is out there with a version of it! And am I bitter? Far from it! It’s like this, mate: I’m uncontaminated by the industry, they’ll never ever ever be able to bring me down. I come from a very pure place. I write from the heart! Every time I put pen to paper, I’m aware that my mother and father need to be proud of what it is their son is doing, that John doesn’t tell a lie. There’s the difference, that I’m not doing this for the money, I’m doing this for the pure love of it.
Was this purity there at the start of your career? It was accidental that I joined the Pistols. They thought I was the worst hooligan that they’d ever seen in their life — and they were right! I started writing straight away and I found instantly that songwriting was the one thing I was made for. Right? I’m probably not a nice human being, probably not a nice person, but I’m a damn fine songwriter. And not too bad a singer, I’m finding.
: Music Features
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