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THE ART OF THE INDIVIDUAL: An Interview with John Lydon

by John Malkin
2019 interview with John Lydon of Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited. Includes text and one hour, 10 minute audio recording.
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THE ART OF THE INDIVIDUAL: An Interview with John Lydon
By John Malkin - KZSC 88.1 FM / – Santa Cruz, California

“I think everybody needs a wall! You have to have a line. “This is my space – do not cross into it!” We do this mentally and we do need to do it physically from time to time.”
--- John Lydon (Sex Pistols / Public Image Limited)

“One of my favorite records of all time is Jolene (Dolly Parton) Just because of the tone of her voice – it’s
astounding! When that woman sings real country, real grassroots stuff, I’m with her.”
--- John Lydon

John Lydon was singer for The Sex Pistols and continues performing and recording with Public Image Limited. Lydon lives in Southern California and became an American citizen in 2013. This interview was recorded in 2019 and was originally broadcast on “Transformation Highway” on KZSC, 88.1 FM / at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I spoke with Lydon about homelessness, anarchism, doing TV commercials for British butter, individuality, Sid Vicious, political punk, the royal family, feminism, being a caretaker for his wife who has Alzheimer’s and U.S. president Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall between Mexico and the United States.


John Lydon: “It be me, hello! Hello Santa Cruz, how can I help you?”

JM: “Well, I am happy to have some time to talk to you. I’ve loved your music for so long.”

Lydon: “Loved? (laugh) Have you had a divorce?”

JM: “Still in love.”

Lydon: “There you go. The importance of words. And the extra “D” can make a dick of it all.”

JM: “I love all of it - PiL, Sex Pistols, Afrika Baambaata.”

Lydon: “Good on ‘ya, mate. Thank you. I don’t hardly know what to do with a compliment, I’ll tell you. I’m used to the insults and the hate and the jealousy.”

JM: “Your music has had political elements and yet I know you have ideas about how your music has been different than, for example, The Clash.”

Lydon: “I don’t believe in sloganeering.”

JM: “At the same time you’ve confronted racism and corporate power and tried to cultivate community. Why is that important to you?”

John Lydon (Sex Pistols): “I think to be honest and direct is one of the gifts you’re given in nature and to turn against that and fall into whatever is currently fashionable or fabulous or self-important is destructive. So, there it is. I was a man who as a child had serious illnesses that almost killed me. And put me into a coma. When I recovered from that I did not know who I was, so I had to start my life really, more or less at eight years old, all over again. (To his wife: “I’m on the phone doing an interview…”) Sorry my wife wanted something. When I finally got out of the hospital and went back to school, I didn’t know nothing. The use of a knife and fork would be a challenge to me, so I had to start all over again. But that was a blessing to me because I could re-look at myself. When little bits of memory came back, I could work out what needed to be replaced about me! A great gift really – a second chance at life. So, thank you nature.”

John Lydon: “And because of the lies that were told to me by various adults - particularly the nuns and priests, because I was at a Catholic school - I’ve never really forgiven them. It’s a terrible thing to believe a stranger and then find out they’re lying. The damage that does! For instance, being left-handed; they told me I wasn’t left -handed. But I was! And my body naturally told me that. So, I recovered and grew up expecting people to tell me the truth. That doesn’t mean I’m awkward and oblivious to the fact that most people just like to lie for no reason at all. And I believe people instantly and take them at their word. I’m constantly disappointed but I am aware that is what nature is.
So, I have to be empathetic with most people and I think they should be with me. If anybody has a complaint about the way I live my life, find the flaws. There aren’t any. I try to be as good as I can to people because I’m aware of the pain of being deceived. And so there it is. You could call that corporate, you could call that religion, you could call that politicians – they’re the biggest liars of all. Honestly, I don’t think they can help themselves. They all seem to be like headless chickens as institutions. And one lie perpetrates another. And I don’t think you can deal with this by running up and down the street waving a Leftie or a Rightie flag. I think you’re missing the bigger issue. It really is. It’s internal. The solution to the world is to sort yourself out first. And then you can point to others. So, there it is - a lifetime achievement! Confusion!”

JM: “I’ve heard you speak in interviews, and in your book “Anger is an Energy” you write, about empathy for all victims. I hate to use the word spiritual with you but…”

John Lydon: “I think you should, I think it’s true. I’ve been sussing this out about myself for a long time now. Yes, spiritual is not religious. Therefore, I will accept that.”

JM: “Tell me more about…”

Lydon: “Well, something had to be responsible for all of this. And there it is. Some thing. Some act of nature. I would put it down to nature. So, yeah, I’m highly grateful that nature gave me the opportunity to live in the first place. And in the second place, survive that. And in the third place to manage to tolerate the nature of others. (laugh) And I giggle all the way through because I think life is hilarious! Too many times people push themselves into false depressions. They’re just so willing to take extremist points of views rather than work it out themselves. That’s the great tragedy of it. Look at America at the moment; it’s so extreme in its points of view. There’s no common sense on any of it.”

Lydon: “For me personally it’s about time we had a mad man in there to sort out the rest of them. I think everybody is now showing their true colors and it’s all really a dull shade of grey. So, I take it as a momentous moment in history. Our future decides on where we go with this, but we can’t be extreme. It injures everybody to be extreme. Since I’ve become an American (2013) it’s vitally important to me that people understand that. I do appreciate the idea of Americans first because I’m living in California and I’m surrounded by homeless people. And they’re all Americans and nobody is doing nothing to help them. Tent cities are now up and down the coast, all the way to Oregon. And they were born and raised here. So, they come before you can even deal with the concept of illegal aliens. It took me a long time to get my American passport. Let me tell ‘ya. I don’t understand why; I could’ve just hopped and skipped across the desert. I quite like the desert.”

JM: “There’s a tent city in Santa Cruz with about three hundred homeless people.”

Lydon: “Is that all? Puh! Wow! I’m here down in the Marina in Los Angeles, practically on the beach, and it’s just wall to wall. The trouble with that is we don’t want people to have nowhere to stay, but the hypodermic syringes sticking out of the sand is very, very deeply unpleasant. Urine and feces everywhere. These are issues that are not being dealt with. Welcome to America! I don’t understand it. These are people born and raised here. Who’s helping them? Have they no political clout in the argument? They bloody well should be number one! That’s just my current moan.”

JM: “It’s a current moan for a lot of people who are trying to figure out how to help.”

Lydon: “What we’re trying to figure out is how to raise these issues truthfully without someone yelling racist at you! Or any other “ist.” It’s insane. The truth is what is suffering in all the current arguments. How am I going to fit that into our new PiL album?”

JM: “I think it would fit great.”

Lydon: “I’m on a roll thought-wise with it and so there that goes. It deeply upsets me to see people having to suffer like that and I will never, ever be of the opinion that that’s their lifestyle choice; it isn’t. Everybody wants home comfort. Everybody wants to be loved. These poor sods are out there all night doing nothing but wrecking their brains because they don’t have another answer. They’re yelling and screaming and fighting and stealing off each other because that’s what rats in a cage do. It’s a mental prison they’ve found themselves in and America doesn’t have any way of picking them up and helping them. Least of all if they’re in any way brain damaged.”

JM: “It seems there’s plenty of money and resources for the United States to continue multiple wars.”

Lydon: “Oh, yeah. Because they benefit the powers that be, the corporations; the ones making the arms. There’s a lot of money to be made by the sale of guns. I’m quite surprised considering the amount of guns that are in America that there’s so many of us still alive! There has to be something genuinely decent in the American psyche because there should be a lot more funerals. There’s so many short tempers though. Gosh. Wow.”

JM: “Punk rock took on a caricature in the media of being violent and some punk rock did become violent.”

Lydon: “There was politics behind that, that was necessary, because we raised too many issues they didn’t want to be answered. One of the major things of course in the early days was the royal family. There was an issue. Should that be openly discussed? I thought so. If they expect us to pay tax for it, then we have every right to either love it or hate it or be indifferent to it or question it. And that wasn’t quite acceptable by British society then. I don’t know if it is to this day. I followed that up with my fellow Sex Pistols with “Anarchy in the UK” and that got us into an open debate in the Houses of Parliament on the Traitors and Treasons Act, which of course carried a death penalty. So, there you go – the power of words. I’m well aware. I have to dance the light fantastic sometimes.”

John Lydon: “Let me just say that in England what we viewed as punk was very, very different and removed from anything out of America when we first started. Maybe as the years went by, but the early English punk was absolutely related to the society we were facing and dealing with. It was a daily basis of information that didn’t go unheeded. Hence, what it was and what we did and the changes we made in the world was because of that; because we were dealing honestly with our immediate surroundings. I don’t think anything like that came out of New York, really. So, people trying to lump us all together is unfortunate for both them and us.”

JM: “In 1979 I was attracted to Sex Pistols, The Clash, Dead Kennedys. Then when I went to shows…”

John Lydon (PiL): “The Dead Kennedys were great! Love ‘em.”

JM: “But at shows there were gang fights and kids wearing Nazi symbols and that was confusing.”

Lydon: “Yes! The violence came in and it was introduced via the media. Fake News. The Donald is only imitating something we’ve had to endure for forty years; more, longer. It was disgusting. You couldn’t do anything to stop it because a new young lot would come along and they would believe what they were reading in the daily rags. And off it went and it went very, very sour. Because they were entrenched in media manipulation, it was very difficult to get the newer lot to understand that we were trying to advance society, not denigrate it. And not reduce it to sloganeering and stupid demonstrations that solve nothing. And personal animosities and hatred; the seven deadly sins, really. Is that my prime example of when you stand up and try to do something for what you think is righteous, that it will end up that way? Maybe that’s the case – maybe I should study that social history a little better. Because I wasn’t expecting those end results.”

John Lydon: “I’ve gone from being championed as king of punk to outright animosity because I wouldn’t follow the new manifesto! For god’s sake – it was against rules! Not adhering rigidly to being ridiculous and stupid and cliché. There we have it – the studded leather jacket brigade; wow! They’re still there hanging around!”

JM: “Yes, it’s surprising that this form that was about freedom and thinking for yourself became this rigid thing where you had to look a certain way and sound a certain way.”

Lydon: “Yes. The art of the individual was ignored. I’m always for individuality. I’m not for mass consumption. Or mass copying or carbon copying anything. I don’t want to fit in, in that way. If I wanted to join an army, well I’d pick one with a better uniform!”

JM: “You mentioned that when The Pistols came out you were almost prosecuted and people were down on you in Britain. What do you think that apparently last year, for the 40th year anniversary of punk, the Department of Culture in London set up a house that you had lived in sort of like a museum?”

Lydon: (laugh) “Had they done that? I don’t know if that’s true but they definitely tried to incorporate punk. That could be a good thing and a bad thing. It was there, forty years. OK, there it is, tr-la-la. But I also had the year after, my forty years of Public Image. Let’s see if they do that and try to incorporate that. Of course, they can’t. There it goes. It’s easy to incorporate the cliché and for my mind you must stay above that sort of thing and you must never find yourself imitating yourself. That is the stain of punk. There’s this wonderful, glorious ideology of do it yourself and do it your own way but that’s not really what the masses interpreted it into. Pity. But then again, the masses. You know? I think it’s true that ninety-eight percent of people like to bleet amongst the flock.”

JM: “I have the idea that when you started with PiL some folks that liked The Pistols, they wanted you to keep doing the same thing.”

Lydon: “Yeah. And that’s just not possible. I can’t make two records that sound the same either because I’ve already dealt with that subject matter and found the landscape and music-scape appropriate for it. Why repeat it? Done it. Move onto the next bunch of issues. That’s what I do in life. I’m looking for answers, I’m not looking for Nero’s crown. I’m not going to sit there on top of a hill playing “Anarchy in the UK” on a violin while Rome burns. That’s not my ideology at all. It is to the benefit of all of us.
I try to keep as honest and level-headed as I can in everything I do and say. That’s quite a challenging concept I’ve found out over the years. But my God, the end results are just so much worth it. I wake up not feeling filthy and dirty because I’m lying to everybody! Most of the alleged successful people out there in just the music industry alone, they’re all criminally insane! They’re unhappy, they’re drug addicts and nobody likes them. They lead very lonely lives, so the victimization continues. It’s child molestation, for instance, learned. I don’t think it’s a natural thing for human beings to be into; they do tend to be molested themselves when they were younger. It’s like – repeat, repeat. My ideology in life is don’t repeat. Don’t repeat nothing. (pause) Sometimes you can’t help it if it’s a curry.”

JM: “Did you say a curry?”

Lydon: “Curry. Sometimes it can be over spicy and that would definitely repeat.” (laugh)

JM: “Tell me about The Slits and women in music. It can look like the rock and roll world has always been dominated by men and yet there’s been a lot of important women.”

Lydon: “It was one of the most brilliant aspects of early punk. Girls could go on stage and be the equals of any man. That was very, very important and we knew that at the time to be that way. It was most excellent to see girls just holding their own and, in many cases, be even better. And coming up with a complete wonderful world from a feminine point of view. Not feminist. The two things are very seriously different. It is like earning your wings rather than demanding them. Very excellent – loved those great girl bands. The Slits were fantastic, but there were loads of them. Poly Styrene and all of these wonderful people!”

JM: “Are you surprised that there’s not more political music happening? There is certainly plenty to sing about.”

Lydon: “Well, most people find it very difficult to deal with what is going on out there. Since becoming an American; you’re not spoiled for choice, are you? Between Republican and Democrat; I just really dislike both lots so much. The lies, tomfoolery. They just assume either Marxist or Right-wing philosophy so quickly without questioning it and then throw it at us and we’re all supposed to stand in line and follow. Unfortunately, as those politicians are well aware, that is what people tend to do. There’s not enough media out there to challenge what we assume to be correct. There should be a daily political program that questions every single aspect of the lies they are propagating. There is either extremist CNN or extremist FOX. Or MSNBC which is just what it is, ineffectual. I’d like to see politics ridiculed in a really appropriate way.”

JM: “In 1986 I put a backpack on and hitchhiked around Africa and Europe and found myself in West Berlin delivering newspapers to mailboxes to make a little money and I had headphones on listening to a cassette of you singing; “The Berlin Wall!”

Lydon: (laugh) “What a great life you’ve had! (laugh) It’s good to get out and about, isn’t it?”

JM: “Yes! And in my most cynical state of mind, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I thought they should not destroy it; another country will surely want to build a wall soon. They should save it and rent it out…”

Lydon: “I thought the same.”

JM: “Now, the current president of the United States is talking about doing that.” (Trump)

Lydon: “Well, I think everybody needs a wall! You have to have a line. “This is my space – do not cross into it!” We do this mentally and we do need to do it physically from time to time. Otherwise, whatever you think is yours and your safety and your sanctuary, because you’re protecting your fellows - your family or unit - you can’t have that just taken off of you. There has to be a demarcation line. I think that’s just common sense!
Do I go as far as what’s going on at the moment – it’s insane! Both sides of the argument are totally missing the point. If you can do it electronically that’s fine because the physicality of a brick wall doesn’t solve very much. Particularly in mind of all the drug tunneling. (Mexico to U.S.) It’s easy to crawl under. Just as easy to go ‘round. Economics are part and parcel of all this; if you don’t want a huge influx of desperate poor people that can’t live in their own societies, well then help those societies! Help them! Help them live in their own places. Why not? Charity begins at home and guess what? Everyone wants their own home.
There’s not a single - what do they call that here in California at the moment - a vagrant in tent city, that wants to not have their own home. That’s just an American issue that isn’t being dealt with properly. Infuriating to me! But it’s also infuriating if they climb over my gate into my property and defecate wherever they feel like it and try to break their way in, thinking that is perfectly OK. It’s not OK. It is never OK to try to steal from somebody else! And sometimes you need a barrier, whether physical or mental or electronic, to stop that!
It took me years and years to get my green card, to become an American and I have a personal resentment that you can kind of waltz in out of the desert and that’s it. (Burp!) The Democrat concept that there is no such thing as an illegal alien or an illegal immigrant (laugh) - Really? When the Clinton’s were in power I wasn’t hearing that! There’s so many issues here! This is a minefield, mate! And not much to do with music - Yes it is! It has everything to do with music. And I’m very sad to see so few Americans take this on. And the few that do, do it in such a silly way – in a Kid Rock way; play golf with Trump! What? (laugh) You’d be ashamed to mingle with anybody that powerbrokers on that level! I treat all governments as civil servants and if they’re not civil to me, I won’t serve! And the art of the individual really isn’t too much cared for in either Democrat or Republican philosophies, is it?”

JM: “Does anarchism make sense to you?

Lydon: “No. Even the words I used with a sense of humor way back then, because I’m fully aware that you cannot be an anarchist unless there is a society providing the equipment necessary – the roads, the infrastructure, the rucksacks, the Doctor Marten rebel boots, the airplanes to fly you around to go and demonstrate - all of the accouterments of society you need in order to complain. And try to drag it down into what? Rubble? I don’t want to live in a world of Mad Max! That would not be proper to me. So there has to be some kind of sense of social structure and respect for each other and you don’t get that achieved at all by turning your back or arming your enemy. And the enemy is, of course, partially yourself.”

JM: “What do you mean the enemy is partially yourself? Your own, inner…”

Lydon: “Your own phobias, your own prejudices, your own resentments. Your own sense of pressures, spite and lack of empathy for others. Our selves are filled with this! A daily battle in my own head is to sort out what is right and what is wrong. My common quest is continuously going to be what is right? And I cannot achieve that by ignoring. We all need a certain amount of barrier between us otherwise we get on each other’s nerves. The art of the individual is really as an individual and understanding that; this is my space and stay out of it! And I’ll stay out of yours. And out of that common respect, we have civilization.”

JM: “Some of the ways you talk about compassion, examining yourself and not taking extreme views reminds me of Eastern philosophies like Buddhism.”

John Lydon: “Oh, gosh! (laugh) “A lot of damage was done in the late ‘60’s in the hippie movement. Because young people hooked into that; “Yeah, you know, man, I just don’t care.” Well, you have to care because them same hippies turned into Virgin Records and corporations like that. And then I had to deal with corporate hippies! Which was; Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. They’re there to make money and if you understand that, that’s fine, you can deal with it. But the fakism of it all is what really upsets me! Poor old Buddha don’t feature well in my mind because of what he’s associated with. And why is he a he? And the current Buddha is this fat little thing. (laugh) I don’t believe it’s true! I think Buddha was probably a Viking! There’s too many lies in history.”

John Lydon (PiL): “All of these religions are too organized for me! That allows corruption on an overwhelming scale, to dominate and dictate. One of the most repulsing Republican things is to want to bring religion back into school. I’m sorry, but state and religion are two absolutely separate things. Religion is choice, isn’t it? You decide what you want to believe and that’s up to you. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to agree with that. Unfortunately, politics uses the bullying pulpit to their benefit and people just stand in line for it because it’s easier than thinking. Maybe philosophy should be taught at school from a very early age. The art of the individual is surely the prime ambition of every philosopher.”

JM: “Seems that empathy and communication should be taught in schools, too.”

Lydon: “Yes, all of it. And sex education, too. How can you deny children knowledge of their own genitals? That’s a crime waiting to happen as soon as they become adult or of an age. There’s a saucy, naughty taboo put on it all and that’s the most attractive thing in the world to a young child isn’t it? “Ah ha! That’s wrong? Can’t wait to do that!” That’s human nature and we’ve got to understand these things and be fully prepared to share the knowledge in order to stop the rot. And all rot begins with no information.”

John Lydon: “I’d love to see a more transparent society, but there’s a point to transparency that has to stop. What are these new robot things that people are introducing into their house that you talk to and it listens to you and answers you? Those things also spy on you, so now people are willingly paying good money to be spied on. There’s no privacy at all. That really is stage one in slave to the system. And they’re selling like hotcakes!”

JM: “It’s a dream come true for the surveillance apparatus.”

Lydon: “I think the precursor to that was the really horrible, awful reality TV shows. You’ve got entire young generations just wanting to be talking about themselves all the time! With cameras on them all the time. No privacy, no nothing. Just fame, for no good reason. Poor old Andy Warhol got it wrong when he said everybody wants fifteen minutes of fame. (laugh) Cut out the fifteen minutes – they just want fame! But fame as in vain, glorious. So silly. So not thought about, so not talked about, so not discussed. So not observed. Where will technology be taking us?”

JM: “Over the last ten years a concern for me has been that we don’t have collective discussions about new technology and whether or not they’re beneficial and if we want them or not.”

Lydon: “Yeah. I understood years ago that parents worried about their children and they wanted them to have a phone when they went to school, because there are crimes in schools, too. So, if ever they need help, they can ring out. But now look what that’s turned into. It’s bizarre when a ten-year-old is demanding for their Christmas present the latest Samsung. Everything attached. Wow! They’re being robotized. We don’t need the robot parts; we’ve already watched our young giving up their brains willingly, to be suckered into a machine that’s supposed to answer all your problems. It’s unhealthy. But then again, all the best things are. But this is in a much more destructive way; much more destructive than drugs. Modern technology is a very challenging problem. It makes people incredibly stupid. They don’t know how these things are using them, how these things are manufactured or why they’re manufactured and they don’t know where their information is going.
There was a TV program when I was very young called The Prisoner that starred Patrick McGoohan. It was a terrific program but at the time was viewed as being slightly paranoid about the future. It’s here – it’s right now. One of the major key lines of it is they held him a prisoner in this facility, this village, of everybody being nice to each other and, “Why aren’t you happy?” He asked the powers that be, who he wasn’t allowed to know, what they wanted and the answer was, “Information. We want information.” Low and behold, that’s now our reality. Very clever writing. Check that series out; The Prisoner. It’s very hard to take, I admit. But the idea of it, when I was very young, really impressed me! The idea of people having access to your inner-most thoughts is just not right. If that happens then you have no thoughts at all. And you don’t need armies any longer, because you’re already being controlled. Well, maybe temporarily, the way the Russians are.”

JM: “I’m curious your thoughts about two very different bands that identify as punk rock; Pussy Riot and Green Day.”

John Lydon: “Green Day I love to tease because I think everything they’ve taken has not come from themselves. They’ve quietly imposed themselves on a genre and then claimed it as their own. I’ve said this to them and they’ve been very belligerent with me about it and why not? I don’t hear anything in their songs that talks about their experiences at all. It’s all a sham in other people’s clothing. I’m kind of bored with them. I see them as pointless and really manufactured in the highest degree.
Pussy Riot. There was a good idea – I knew their manager and had close connections with them, but it’s all rather silly and a little bit fake. The things they were demonstrating against; one of the issues that really annoyed me was they went into a Catholic Church in Russia screaming whatever it is they scream. So, they’re against religion! Hello! In a country like that! Religion is the last of your worries, you know? You should be going to somewhere where it really matters, not about your men in frocks and child molesters. That’s somewhere down the line according to the bigger issues that Russia has with Putin. So, misdirected is how I’d view them. But great it’s women, isn’t it? Tough good stuff, but again kind of lost in the feminist message. There’s a huge difference between feminism and feminists. Wish there wasn’t.
The basic thing about human nature is that we’re not all equal. Some of us are better at some things than others and you have to understand that. You can’t make these block bookings of, “That’s it - we’re all equal.” It doesn’t make sense. Actually, it’s anti-nature. When you start involving Marxist ideologies into things, you’re going to get problems because you’re not actually listening to what Karl Marx said at all. His was a wonderful world of theory. But I think it’s openly declared in his writings, his theories are not to be put into practice and slavishly adhered to. There’s no flexibility in modern thinking with these kinds of things.
It’s even more appalling on the Right, but they’re locking themselves into these agendas and leading up to all manner of ferocity and combatitiveness that isn’t answering any single question that regular people want about, “How can I make life better?” There’s hatred in the background of all of these things, therefore they should be openly discussed and torn apart. If they have real value and can take open debate, then yippee! There might be something to learn there. But it’s never openly debated. It’s just thrown at you. It’s infuriating.
I doubt whether I could do a University or college tour again because of the misinformation that’s going on out there. There’s an awful lot of hatred for differences of opinions. I’m very far removed from Right-wing and yet that’s what I hear when I do those kind of gigs, from people in the audience who have no knowledge at all of the years and years and years of work I’ve put into making absolutely clear what I think equality is.”

JM: “What are people…”

Lydon: “My world doesn’t accept victimization. It accepts an understanding that some of us are better at some things than others. I don’t want to see women have to suffer on a building site carrying heavy loads. That’s not what a woman’s brain is dedicated to. I don’t want to see men pretending to be housewives. That’s not what men are supposed to be doing. I don’t want to see someone who has the capability of being a rocket scientist reducing himself to a garbage collector, and vice versa, because that’s what society would find convenient. We’re a very inconvenient species, the human race. And we’re supposed to be. And our answers are in all of those confusions. But not by dogma. Is any of that clear?”

JM: “Yes. For clarity, I would ask you, in the case of a woman who does want to work on a construction site. And a man…”

Lydon: “Great! Go forth young lady! (laugh) Have all the fun you can! But it’s a tough world. I know because I worked on building sites when I was young; the bullying system is outrageous. Not to mention outright bloody dangerous. I doubt that that’s a peculiarity to just British building sites. There’s a serious power struggle to consider there. Believe me that most people that work on building sites do not believe in passive resistance. Its outright physical. It’s a physical, physical world, that is. And be aware of the challenges you’re taking on. If you’re a knowledgeable young girl and you know all that, well done lady! One hundred percent get my backing. But I tell you, I found it a hard world. As a young man I found it very seriously, violently challenging. Don’t want to see people hurt where they don’t need to be. And sometimes physical situations require a mental physicality. We can’t all be scientists.”

JM: “I know your wife has Alzheimers.”

Lydon: “That’s killing me. It’s very hard to deal with.”

JM: “I imagine that is difficult. How is that shaping your life and your musical life?”

Lydon: “I just thank god that when I was young, I looked after my younger brothers. This was from five to seven until I got seriously ill. I had the experience of dedicating yourself to the lives of others, without finding that a problem. I meant I grew up unselfish. That’s the way it has to be. It doesn’t work any other way. I’m constantly reminded of that on a daily basis. You’re dealing with at once, multiple personalities and at the same time, a lack of personality. It’s the strangest thing but it’s an education course that nature’s presented me with and I’m not going to shy away from the responsibility. I deal with it. Self -control is vital in all of this. And knowing that inside her is that personality that I’ve always loved.”

JM: “You’ve been married for a long time.”

Lydon: “A long time.”

JM: “Completely different topic; You’ve been in TV ads for things like butter. I think you’ve consciously not used any Pistols or PiL music in commercials, but have put yourself in those and made money to produce PiL albums.”

Lydon: “Yep! Hilariously so! And under a great deal of self-analysis about whether this is the right or wrong thing to do. Ultimately it was the right thing to do because they give me a free hand. Like, “Here’s the script, John. We expect you to ignore it!” (laugh) Oh, yippee! And clowning around, I suppose. I could introduce a sense of humor. I loved early English advertising on the TV. When we first got a television back in the ‘60’s, British TV adverts would always have a sense of fun. They’d be putting themselves down in a very sly, comedic way. That was what I was trying to re-introduce rather than deadpan, aim it at the young and hope they’re submissive.
And the product being butter of all things! Well, hello, the reality is that I eat butter. And if they’re going to give me enough money to re-form Public Image and get me out of the quagmire that I found myself in with the record companies, then yippee. And that’s exactly what happened. I put every single penny back into getting Public Image back together again. I could start rehearsals, put money against the outstanding debt. And all I had to do was eat butter! And I’ve got to tell ‘ya, I wouldn’t be the fat man I am today without that free butter! (laugh) And I laugh at that, but it’s kind of true! And I don’t see that as a bad thing and in the long run it wasn’t because oddly enough by 87%, the British dairy industry was improved. Just on those commercials. Those are bizarre figures, mate. And well I don’t know. When I release records and promote them, I don’t have the money to afford TV advertisements, but glad for it. I think in music, less is best. A massive audience is a massive problem.”

JM: “I picture you having a recording studio in your house. Is that true?”

John Lydon: “Yeah. It was years in the making. My younger brother helped me with that. It’s still a bit strange to me how it works. I’ve not got the best of memories when it comes to connecting electronics. It’s the same with learning what chords were; I’m much better off not knowing. I do it instinctively. And then find pieces of equipment that promote instinct rather than turning the Casiotone on and then following religiously that specific samba. (Lydon sings a samba) Oh! It sounds like a Depeche Mode record! You know what I mean? The pre-programmed music. I love the aspect and idea of techno music, but my god, it’s all mostly pre-programmed. That’s very disappointing. But I do love a good rave.”

JM: “What other music do you like?”

Lydon: “All of it. All of it. Everything! Every – thing. I’ve even managed to open my heart to country! That’s mostly because of listening to the lyrics a little more closely rather than focusing on some Bob in a cowboy hat. And women helped me, really, to indulge in country music starting with Dolly Parton. Years back. One of my favorite records of all time is Jolene. Just because of the tone of her voice – it’s astounding! When that woman sings real country, real grassroots stuff, I’m with her. I suppose that’s the Gael in me, the Gaelic. I love what they call traditional Irish. Traditional Turkish. I love traditional anything and everything if it’s good and has a really honest heart and point and purpose to the lyrics. Then, I’m in!”

JM: “I think you saw Iggy and The Stooges perform really early in 1972 at Kings Cross.”

Lydon: “There were only two of them!”

JM: “Do you have any insights about performers who harm themselves on stage?”

Lydon: “There was one wasn’t there? I can’t remember his name; was it the Suicide bloke? The Iggy gig – when I was young, I used to love going to London to all-night concerts. There’d be one at Kings Cross, which is where I seen Iggy and the guitarist; it was a mess but it was hilarious! And that’s the point! There was great humor in it. He was running around, threatening to slash himself up. It was deeply funny! I’m trying to think of an American comedian… Kind of like Jerry Lewis.”

JM: “Like slapstick?”

Lydon: “Comedy. It really struck me that way. That’s a good thing. I loved Alice Cooper, too, because I thought there was great comedy in it. Not too deadpan serious.”

JM: “In Los Angeles, Darby Crash of The Germs was famous for cutting himself on stage, as was Iggy.”

Lydon: “Yep. We’ve all been silly.”

JM: “Did you ever make yourself bleed on stage?”

Lydon: “It was a kind of an issue I had with poor old Sid (Vicious). Because Sid was born not one of the brightest sparks on the planet. He had a penchant for copying when he’d run out of ideas. So, Sid would try to cut himself on stage. It was like; “You can’t be like that, mate. You have to have respect for what it is we’re doing here.” Animosity is what that led to, really, when I’d see Sid behave so second rate. I think he let us down in a serious way. It’s not that he could help it either, so again there’s empathy for him. The sad, sad person. It was very difficult for him because his mother was a registered heroin addict. So, you can imagine what his Christmas presents were.
All of that flagellation; oh gosh, there’s some really serious one’s out there for that! It’s somewhat screaming in agony, even if they’re faking it. These people need help! And there’s no help offered. They’re being laughed at, really. And then they seem to get addicted to being laughed at! The self-pity trail is a dreadful one. Now, what am I personally supposed to do about that? Over the years I’ve talked to many people that way inclined and I give them any advice I can. But ultimately, you’re facing resentment for daring to challenge them on their originality of slow, but deliberate, pathetic suicide. It’s a very difficult world we live in. All you can do is lead by example and not lead deliberately.”

JM: “You are going to do this concert next month in Huntington Beach…” (The Like Totally ‘80’s Festival - May, 2019 – Huntington Beach, California)

Lydon: “At last we got to it! (laugh) I don’t know who is on the bill. I know ABC are.”

JM: “Let’s see, I think also The Bangles…”

Lydon: “Oh! I knew them.”

JM: “The singer from Romeo Void.”

Lydon: “Ahhh! Well, that will be a laugh. That’s if we’re all still talking to each other! You never can tell. Some people you met years ago, you meet them again and they pull an attitude on ‘ya. Festivals are like that. It should be a laugh. ABC have never done anything to hurt anyone.”

JM: “So, you’re going to be playing mostly country music?”

Lydon: (big Laugh) “Depends what country you’re talking!”

JM: “I hope to hear a lot of Public Image.”

Lydon: “Years ago we did an Isle of Wright Festival and we rehearsed, just for giggles, to do “Pretty Vacant” in a country style. I think we could’ve pulled it off really well. But the band (Sex Pistols) backed down on stage on me! It was such an inwards collapse! Juxtaposition of fiascos. Even that kind of works in its own hilarious way. It was a novelty thing to do; proving the point to myself that you can carry any genre of music into another if you bother to really listen. You find it’s all coming from the same root cause of point and purpose. It’s just a combination of tones and accents, particularly on the words. It can spin it into genre-hopping. Or genre-admiring. (Lydon’s phone rings) Bloody phone is always ringing. It’s hard to explain, but “Pretty Vacant” (he sings with country twang) “Don’t ask us to attend ‘cause we’re not all there. I don’t pretend, ‘cause I don’t care!” (laugh) You can imagine that on a porch up in the Appalachians! And why not?”

JM: “I can see you sitting there on a porch with a banjo.”

Lydon: “Why not? We’ve all seen Deliverance! (laugh) I can’t help but laugh. (Lydon says to his wife; “I’m on the phone doing an interview.”)

JM: “How is it that Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and John Lydon all end up in southern California?”

Lydon: “Did they? I don’t know if Glen’s here – that’s a mystery to me.”

JM: “Oh! Maybe he isn’t.”

Lydon: “No. I know the drummer isn’t. And Steve Jones; no contact at all. He might as well be in outer Mongolia. I don’t know. He’s ex-directory. If ever you do get a number for him, he’s never going to answer it! (laugh) We’re two very different people. He would never understand me. That’s just the way that is. Steve is not the kind of person that likes to think very deeply. Anyone that quizzes him with any depth, he hates them instantly. He just can’t cope with it. Unless of course its answers supplied by an analyst. But that’s another issue.”

JM: “Anger is an energy – what does this line mean to you now?”

Lydon: “That refers back to meningitis when I was trying to recover my memories, to know anything about myself. My mum and dad told me that the doctors advised that they keep me angry and through that I might get my memory back quicker than just being molly-coddled. Well, it worked because my memory did come back. It took a few years to do that. That was my energy – anger. They did not pamper me at all. I wasn’t allowed to be institutionalized or pampered. Which could’ve been two very vicious weapons turned against me. And there you go. Anger is an energy. I had to learn the hard way, and on the receiving end of it. But, my god, do I not love my mum and dad for that. They found me. And that must have been very, very hard for them. Because the temptation I suppose - you see a little baby monkey injured - is to go and hug and cuddle. Well, that’s the wrong move, isn’t it? Life is a series of hard knocks and without them we wouldn’t be what we are. There’s a few hard knocks I’d like to give to a few Republicans at the moment! (laugh) Never mind!”

JM: “You said that at colleges now, people have been hearing ideas about you that aren’t true.”

Lydon: “I didn’t finish that refrain because my wife asked a question. I’m ever so sorry. Modern comedians are finding it very difficult to play the colleges and universities now because they’re instantly booed if they tell a politically incorrect joke. That’s the point! You should welcome speakers that challenge everything you believe in – those should be the ones you’re dying to get a ticket to listen to. Don’t heckle. Listen. You might learn something. Or even better, you might even be justified in your beliefs. But to just go and make a noise and disrupt – that’s utterly pointless. There you go. Colleges and campuses are no longer the bastions of free thinkers.”

JM: “What is something that people are hearing you’ve said, that you have not said?”

Lydon: “Just about everything, really. Where do I begin with that one? Bloody hell. There are specific one-liners and by the end of the day I don’t bloody recognize what the entire subject matter was. That annoys me. I’m not a nasty-minded person.”

JM: (My phone makes a strange sound) “Sorry my phone was doing something funny.”

Lydon: “Are you sure that wasn’t a Left-wing student demonstrator? That’s what Left-wing students demonstrating now sound like to me – bitter, twisted. And at the same time deeply hilarious cartoon characters of what humanity should be. You don’t listen and you ain’t got nothing to say… Alright this has been a long one, mate.”

JM: “I’m so grateful for your time.”

Lydon: “The wife is going a bit lala at the mo mo. Like I said, it’s 24/7 and the slightest bit of non- attention and “Naaww!” But I try to get out as much as I can and as accurately as I can. Warts and all, I’m just John.”

JM: “I’m going to come to the concert and if I have the possibility, I’ll come up and say hello.”

Lydon: “That would be great. I really do love to put a face to an interview and then I can store it in the library.”

JM: “I’d like to be in your library.”

Lydon: “All right, let’s share faces… Good on you. I’ll send the best to my wife. Thank you.”

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