John Lydon interview

When The ‘Filth And The Fury’ film was released in 2000, Lydon agreed to do three press interviews, of which Melody Maker, for some inexplicable reason, was one. Melodious Mucker he called it repeatedly. The resulting feature was a typical Maker piece for the time – essentially a list, bite-sized chunks. It looked good, but didn’t offer much insight.

At the time we had regular feature called Psychobabble where we’d ask Smash Hits biscuit tin type questions… with a psychological bent. Unsurprisingly, Lydon’s was more interesting than most. I like the flow of the conversation, which I put down to my skill as an interviewer, natch. This extract wasn’t published in its entirety.

pistols

How do you rate you physical attractiveness?
“Zero. I don’t know, fucking hell, do you think I care? I know there’s people who love me and I love them and that’s it.”

How many times a day do you look in a mirror?
“Very rarely, unless it’s a photo shoot and then vanity takes over. I’m as conceited as anybody else when it comes down to it. You know, we all like to look our best, even the grunge idiots, they perfect their trashy look too. It’s part and parcel of being a human being. Conceit is a wonderful thing if you can use it properly. I must say, one of the greatest moments is Sid declaring himself as handsome. I love that. That’s exactly bang on Sidney. He-he-he-he-he. He might not of actually known how funny what he said is, but it’s also true… It’s not true that he’s handsome, but true that he believed it.

Was he a funny bloke?
“Very. Very. Very, very funny.”

Knowingly?
“Most of the time. He had a great sense of humour, he was very easy to get along with. The drugs made it all sardonic. The drugs took the wit right out of him.”

What did he do that made you laugh?
“He was a very good mimic, very good at pointing out inadequacies in others. He-he-he-he.”

Have you ever hated anyone?
“From time to time, but only very, very briefly. Anger is an energy, but hate is not. It’s like this, I don’t hate the person, I hate the idea of someone trying to tell me they’re better than me. I hate repression. I hate thought patterns that are inaccurate and wrong, but I don’t hate the actual person. I don’t hate The Queen, I hate the institution she’s the figurehead of.”

But “God Save The Queen”…
“Well it’s true that the Sex Pistols made attacking institutions personal, but we were not attacking one person, but the institution itself. There is a difference. She’s as trapped as the rest of us and from time to time actually shows it really well. I loved her moody look when we were going down that silly advertising bus going down The Thames. She shows her displeasure no end.”

Do you believe in ghosts?
“Used to, but I think that might have been the amphetamines.”

Ever seen one?
“Instances, but I think those are self delusionary. I have no great holding for the afterlife, it’s hard enough to get through what we have already without trying to plan one for after.”

What’s your biggest insecurity?
“Letting people down. That’s why I’m always so sick before I do gigs. I get very, very nervous. I used to try and hide in alcohol, but I stopped that. I want to do the best that I can because I don’t write these lyrics trivially and I don’t put these songs together with some kind of sense of piss take, it isn’t like that. There’s comedy and humour, but it’s not piss take. I’m not vindictive and I’m not spiteful.”

Do you feel like you’ve done the best you can?
“Yes.”

Do you feel like there was there more to come from the Sex Pistols?
“I don’t know. I don’t know because hindsight is something I refuse to have. There’s no point in looking back and saying I wish. Although I would have liked to help Sid out more. There’s very many people I would have liked to have helped out more… but I don’t think I had the tools at the time.”

In your position, most people would wish that wouldn’t they?
“And for it to be the truth. You know, you cannot deny the truth. I’ve never run away from helping people. I’m basically good natured, shock horror.”

That’s not a big surprise is it?
“I don’t know, how can I say that? Isn’t he the one who spat and vomited at airports? Dur, you can still be good natured and do that dear.”

Can you urinate in front of another person?
“Nah… well, have to sometimes, desperation. He-he-he-he. I don’t see the need for it. I don’t see it as a privilege. I’m not into golden showers. I don’t have much shyness about me, I used to when I was younger, but I just don’t care, I just don’t care how people view me at all, my body, it’s of no importance to me or what I wear or the shape of me or anything about me. I have given up completely the idea of having to make excuses for myself. I did that from quite an early age.”

Why?
“I suppose it’s just sheer laziness.”

Did you ever piss on stage?
“No. I was sick onstage and I’ve even had diarrhoea onstage, but not in the Pistols…”

When did you lose your virginity?
“Hard to remember. Something to do with a bicycle shed. Around 15, quite late. No, it was probably 16 and a half, very late. I remember being incredibly mediocre. Very disappointed with myself and the whole situation, a fiasco. Utter confusion, a complete mess and lack of information. You see, I think most unwanted pregnancies in teenagers come form a lack of information.”

There were girls at my school who thought you couldn’t get pregnant doing it standing up…
“Yes, I remember that one and sitting in a bath of gin, mother’s ruin. Load of bollocks. All disinformation, when you deny people information you get these problems.”

Talking of disinformation, how did you get the name Rotten?
“Oh, from Steve. . . ‘You’ve got rotten teeth you have’. But that stopped, it was actually at The Screen On The Green gig where I stood on the microphone stand and the microphone slammed me in the face and knocked my two front teeth out. The two green fangs that Steve used to find so disgusting were replaced. I’ve only got three real teeth left in my head. That’s lack of dental hygiene. That’s one thing the Irish weren’t very good at.”

What about the story about Sid being named after your hamster.
“That’s true? Yeah, of course. This is the art of disinformation and it comes down to does it really fucking matter?”

Was it a laugh being in the Pistols?
“In the long run, yeah.”

And at the time?
“At the time, it was very, very hard. To always want to do the right thing, but not quite knowing what that would be and being so accessible to judgment, in the slightest thing would be blown up into a real major problem, that was very, very tough… to survive that, you can survive anything.”

Do you feel like you’ve survived?
“I’m here. I’m alive. It’s made me a better person.”

Has it?
“No… yes. I don’t think any band has ever gone through it quite like that. And bearing in mind how bloody young we were… we had to make our own decisions, when it came to the crunch we had no one to run to… for help. No-one. We were left alone. Isolated from the management, isolated from the world. To survive that is quite an achievement.”

Did you ever feel in control?
“No.”

Never?
“In control of writing, yes, but not in control of the. . . is there a word for it? The paraphernalia that surrounded it.”

It seems remarkable that you couldn’t do anything about it doesn’t it?
“That’s youth isn’t it? And now I’m older. I still feel exactly the same way. The point is not to waste any energy on trying to dictate to a population, it’s just lead by example… not lead because that implies followers… just to set up the point that you are an individual and you’ve worked things out. And right or wrong prove me either way, but don’t just like try to steal that and water it down.”

You could be wrong, you could be right?
“I’ve been proved adequate, which is more than most people can say. I see no reason for being a thick cunt in the world. There’s no excuse. None at all. I had the same opportunities as everyone else. Probably less, but I will not be put down by it. At last I care. I can’t see too much of that in the world.”


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