You Say It's Your Birthday: PiL/The Sex Pistols' John Lydon

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.