Talking Politics, and Almost No Music, With Punk Legend John Lydon
Photos by Paul Heartfield
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.
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.
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"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.
RO: I would have thought that you guys would have tons of money on merch and licensing...
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.
RO: How did you feel when Obama was elected in 2008? Hope?
JL: I still do have hope, the poor fellow. Look what he took on. You expect him to make headway within the first year? He was lopsided. How do you repair eight years of lunacy? It's very easy to break something, but takes longer to repair it. I don't think anyone gave Obama a fair crack, and that looks ugly abroad.
RO: What would be the solution to all of this madness?
JL: Kick them all out. Vote them out. There must be some way of doing that. I have always loved the Italians, because when they vote someone in, they get rid of them after a month if they dare introduce a policy of any kind. We keep expecting people to be voted in that have some sort of kind of moral values or principles. Don't be looking for perfection all the time.
I would like to see a third party. The idea is novel, but because the American system demands big money....you have to remove the money. It should be capped. Over a certain amount you shouldn't be allowed to practice this nonsense. Super PACs. That's poison. Deliberately illegal right under the nose of the general public. Shame on Obama for falling into that, too.
I don't like the political two-horse race and I never will.
RO: There is so much money spent to look cool...
JL: If you need to spend that much money, you really aren't that worth voting for. We need more transparency, and we need to start viewing these fraudulent characters in a much more accurate way.
RO: I had a list of music questions, but I was having more fun talking with you about politics...
JL: I agree. But you know, it is all part and parcel of the same thing, because I am writing all these songs in this current climate. I'm not insensitive to what is happening in the world. These situations cannot help but influence your writing in one way or another.
Public Image Ltd. plays with Dykes on Bikes and the Abyss 8 p.m. Friday at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Blvd., Clear Lake, www.scoutbar.com.
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