John Lydon has a lot on his mind, and he’s not afraid to share it with the world.
The outspoken frontman, who’s perhaps better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten, said he is excited for the Sex Pistols’ upcoming comeback gigs in the U.K., which will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the band’s seminal release, 1977’s Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which is slated for an expanded vinyl re-release later this month.
But according to him, this is no reunion. Prior to this recent revival, the Pistols re-formed in 1996 for a six-month tour, which included dates in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Japan.
“I don’t like words like ’reunited’ or ’reunion’ — we just come together every now and again, when we feel the time’s right,” Lydon explained. “This year, the time was right because in England, they were celebrating 30 years of punk, and we let it go all year. After listening to the bands that were putting forth a load of nonsense and getting punk wrong, we thought it was about time we went back and sorted them out, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
In addition to the band’s seven U.K. dates, a Pistols concert has been scheduled for October 25 in West Hollywood, California — the only U.S. date thus far. Lydon did indicate that, in 2008, the Pistols will remain intact for a North American tour, and are even tinkering with the idea of starting their own festival — which would feature up-and-coming punk acts, stamped with Rotten’s seal of approval — comparable to an Ozzfest or Warped Tour.
“But better than that,” he insisted, “we’re not using any model at all. It would be a typical Sex Pistols approach — from the ground up. We build our own brick sh–houses, and we make sure they’re indestructible. The work involved in any of these processes is overwhelming.”
For the first time in decades, the Sex Pistols recently returned to the studio to re-record two of its classic songs for use in the “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” video game: “Pretty Vacant” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” Lydon said the sessions weren’t much different from when the band last recorded together.
“We thought we had the masters, but the record company told us they couldn’t find them, so we had to go in and re-record ’Anarchy’ and ’Pretty Vacant,’ ” he explained. “It meant whatever money we would have made doing these games we lost re-recording — that’s what the experience is like. It’s brilliant fun. Brilliant. Brilliant fun. Really brilliant. It was just me, [guitarist] Steve [Jones] and [drummer] Paul [Cook], which is how Bollocks was recorded anyway. It was back to basics for us, and we really, really liked each other. We remembered the good times, instead of just moaning about the bad ones. They sent me ’Guitar Hero,’ and I loved it immediately. It’s great. It’s fun and then some.”
But would Lydon ever consider recording fresh material with the Pistols and possibly release an album? He’s not so sure about that.
“I’ve said for years, ’No,’ and I’m still kind of of that mind,” he said. “If I feel it’s right, we’ll do it, and we’ll do it the way we always did it. It happens instinctively and instantly. The idea of booking a recording studio to go in and specifically come up with new songs is too format for any of our tastes. That’s not the way we do things. Things happen for the right reasons, or otherwise they don’t happen at all.”
And what’s the punk’s response to fans, who might criticize the video game move as an act of — gulp — selling out? “I have certainly, in 30 years, not once ever joined the establishment, or put out anything of inferior quality, just to part fools from their money,” Lydon defended. “That’s never been the way, and it never will be. We don’t demand attention, we just do what we do. And oddly enough, that seems to be what everybody wants to copy.
“One thing people got to understand is, the Sex Pistols started as a genuine band, from a working-class background, facing serious social and economic situations,” he continued. “Massive unemployment, riots in the street, Margaret Thatcher in power — this was a serious time, so the songs relate directly to that. And lo and behold, 30 years later, it’s the same situation. But people aren’t standing up anymore. Everybody seems to be rolling over, because I think they’re bored with confrontation, and that’s ridiculous. The very fact that you have to, as a human being, express your individuality in this world, or you get sucked up into the malaise, doesn’t seem to be sinking in. You have very apathetic younger generations at the moment, and they’re turning their rage and anger in on themselves. They’re killing themselves in colleges, because there’s no focus in them. That’s a sad state of affairs.”
So what’s the answer? “Think,” he offered. “Just try thinking. Get off the video games.”
Lydon, who has been working on his own solo album for several years now, also hinted at a revival of his other band, Public Image Ltd., which went on an indefinite hiatus back in 1993.
“Public Image Ltd. is only what I want it to be, so as long as I’m in it, it’s consistent,” he said, adding that he hopes to release another album from the act in the not-so-distant future. “I’m in the middle of a solo album at the moment, which I’m putting together myself, and I can’t give you any release date because, indeed, I don’t have a label to release it on as of yet,” he said. “It’s now up to about 12 songs, and I’ve been working on it on and off for a while.”
Really, much of Lydon’s time in recent years has been taken up by television. Lydon is a regular on European nature programs, he said; he did a series for the Discovery Channel on insects and has worked on documentaries about great white sharks and gorillas in the Congo. “I’m always doing something,” he said. “It might not always be directly in the public eye, but there is a quality level for what I do.”
Lydon’s now pitching a new show, which he hopes will air on American television too. “It will be a 10-episode series called ’Rotten Loves America,’ ” the California resident said. “But we don’t know if that’s going to take off or not. I love this country very much — more so than George Bush. I can’t talk about the show, really, but it will be seriously interesting. There’s a few little bubbles to burst along the way, because America doesn’t seem to have a voice anymore, and anybody that expresses any opinion that differs from the current government seems to be claimed as un-American. I find that shocking. Have you allowed your country to be kidnapped by those right-wing idiots? They’re fools, they’re loonies, they’re bonkers, and they shouldn’t be listened to.”
Without being prompted, Lydon lashed out once again against the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted the Pistols in 2005 — an honor the original members turned down (see “Sex Pistols Respond To Rock Hall Invite With Filth And Fury” ).
“This was what they call a silent vote, by record-company executives, who voted us into their wonderful little museum,” Lydon explained. “That’s trying to suck us up into the sh–stem, but at the same time fob us off. We don’t take awards like that as a compliment; we take them as an insult. If you can’t put your name behind us, and say you truly support us, we don’t want you anywhere near us. It’s stand-up-and-be-counted time, and that might be the difference between our ideology and the current state of the nation.”
He also had some choice words for Green Day and Britney Spears. And the 2007 Video Music Awards were also targeted during Lydon’s recent conversation with MTV News.
“I love to tease that lot, because I think they’re dopey,” he said of Green Day. “They hold no promise, no future. They jumped on a bandwagon that was all clearly laid out for them, forgetting all the bands that did the groundwork, putting together a punk movement. They came in and said, ’Yes, we can wear these clothes and have our hair like this, wear those boots and play music that way, and we’ll call ourselves punk.’ Not much thought went into them. Nothing — nothing original. Therefore they smell, big time. They’re like old gorgonzola cheese in old boots.
“The current state of music is dour — it’s lifeless and listless and mediocre,” he continued. “When you look at the last Video Music Awards fiasco, when you get Kid Rock and Tommy Lee Jones [note: It was actually Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee , not the actor — although that would have rocked] fighting over that worn-out old blown-up woman. It’s insane. It’s daft. How were they let in? I’ve never been invited. Maybe they were afraid I’d cause trouble — what? Like everybody else does?”
Then, he turned his attention toward Ms. Spears’ VMA performance.
“Didn’t anybody take a look at Britney before she trotted onstage like dobbin the donkey?” he wondered. “It was like a school play by 11-year-olds — that’s what it came over as. How grim. I’d like to think it was a clever decision to let her go on like that, but sadly, it wasn’t, so the event became humorless.”