John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, is celebrating his 42nd birthday today.
As the singer, songwriter and mouthpiece for the Sex Pistols, Lydon
basically defined the punk revolution of the late '70s, singing on such
genre classics as "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen" and
reintroducing a rebellious spirit into rock 'n' roll that was being
drowned out by art-rock and disco. The Sex Pistols' Never Mind the
Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols has been hailed by many critics as one
of rock 'n' roll's most important albums, and artists from Siouxsie and the
Banshees to Motley Crue to Green Day to Joy Division, among others, have
cited the band as a major influence. John Joseph Lydon was born into extreme
poverty in London and was diagnosed with meningitis at the age of
7. Lydon had perfected his sarcastic snarl by his teen years and caught
the attention of rock promoter Malcolm McLaren in 1975, when McLaren was
looking for a singer for a band that consisted of Glen Matlock on bass,
Paul Cook on drums and Steve Jones on guitar. Lydon had made himself known
by hanging around McLaren's fashion shop, Sex, not because he was any
kind of great singer. Renamed "Rotten" due to his alleged lack of attention
to hygiene, the new singer took an instant liking to writing songs that were
guaranteed to piss off the establishment. A loud buzz about the group
started due to the careful manipulation of McLaren, and a signing battle
among the record labels began in earnest in the summer of 1976.
And oh what a battle it was. Most record companies that thought of the Sex Pistols as
a hot act usually found them too hot to handle after a while. The
continually controversial statements in the press by bandmembers always
landed the band in hot water, something McLaren and Rotten cultivated,
knowing it meant more sales. By the beginning of 1977, they had been dropped
by EMI and A&M, had a hit single with "Anarchy in the U.K." and had lost
Matlock but picked up the completely nonmusically trained John Ritchie,
better known by the name Sid Vicious. Eventually
picked up by Virgin, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols
was released in 1977 and caused an explosion of interest in the punk scene.
The group cultivated as much publicity as possible but disbanded after an
infamously disastrous tour in North America.
Lydon picked up the pieces, forming Public Image, Ltd., in 1978. Taking
the anti-rock-'n'-roll and anti-establishment creed of the Sex Pistols to
the logical musical conclusion, PiL bounced between dance-rock, punk and
avant-garde noodling throughout the '80s, remaining fan favorites on the
college charts throughout the decade. Against all odds, the Sex Pistols,
with original bassist Matlock, reunited and toured in 1996 to a modestly
responsive crowd. Lydon released a solo album last year, Psycho's
Path, which was met with indifference from fans and critics.
Other birthdays: Chuck Willis, 70; Philip Glass, 61; Phil Collins, 47;
Harry Wayne Casey (KC and the Sunshine Band), 47; Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music),
47; Lloyd Cole, 37; Jeff Hanneman (Slayer), 34; and Alan Jaworski (Jesus Jones), 32.