Scores are settled, myths busted and records seriously straightened in John Lydon' new Anger Is An Energy autobiography.
“Aw, no, she didn’t? Viv, whyyyyyyyy?”
It normally takes a sledgehammer to knock John Lydon off his stride, but today I’ve managed it by informing the ex-Pistol of Viv Albertine’s, ahem, blow-by-blow account of giving him punk-era head in her Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys memoir.
“He gets his willy out,” she wrote. “He smells of stale piss. I’m not squeamish about bodily smells, I’ve grown up with them. I expect it to smell different down there and to be dark and hairy. Maybe even a bit crispy if…”
“Stop, stop… you’ll put me off my lunch!” Lydon splutters with indignation that’s mostly mock. His own newly published Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored autobiography glosses over that particular incident – “Well, you would, wouldn’t you?” he says – but generally spares no blushes with, for instance, his former Public Image bandmate Keith Levine described simply as “a cunt.”
“A fair and accurate assessment,” John insists. “I got a writer in – Andrew Perry – because with me life is more like a conversation and pen to paper allows people to wallow in self-defeat. I’m not like David Bowie; I remember every decade of my life although, for me, memories don’t come with specific dates, they come with incidences.
“Can I just say before we discuss my favourite subject – me! – that I’m really upset about the death of Mr. Young from Primal Scream who’ve always been very open and decent with PiL. Throb’s a riff merchant, bar-none. That’s a serious loss, that is. Have they said what he died from yet?”
No, but he’d had a long-running battle with addiction.
“Oh, for pity’s sake!” he exclaims. “Let’s hope it’s not another stupid rock death. I’ve been through it myself with Sid and other people. I know what it’s like. It’s very, very difficult.
“I’m no saint when it comes to drugs, that’s for shit sure. I go into things fully; I wouldn’t do just one line. I’d be doing very, very many very, very seriously quickly. No half-measures, Thankfully, I don’t have the capacity for addiction because I get bored doing the same thing.”
Older readers will enjoy John recalling the time when notoriously boozy ‘70s newsreader Reginald Bosanquet – there really is no modern day equivalent – purchased a latex body-suit from Malcolm McLaren’s Sex emporium.
“It was an adorable sight!” he chuckles. “What I admire about him was that he had the bollocks to turn up and try it on in the shop, which I was working in at the time. There was this guy who was on News At Ten every night not giving a fuck what people thought. Now, with camera-phones and the internet, it’s so much harder for TV personalities to indulge their sexual fetish of choice.
“You know who the dirtiest fuckers were? The so-called ‘caretakers’ of moral values who were so quick to damn the Sex Pistols. Seriously, those years were like an assault course. If I was invited on to a TV show it was so the compere could attack me. I’d never seen myself as doing anything particular wrong, but had to be in constant defence mode. The violence directed towards us came from those stupid ‘The Filth & The Fury’-style headlines. They fuelled and they fuelled it. The one bit of The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle which was bang on was the burning effigies at the start. Not meaning to be paranoid about it – and, obviously, Malcolm was paranoid – but that’s how it became. There were large numbers of people who genuinely wanted us dead.”
The chances then of Johnny Rotten going on to become a primetime reality TV star and fronting butter commercials were none and fuck all.
“It’s taken until recently for the media to forget its utter resentment towards me for being so damn continuously original and not succumbing to their bullying,” John resumes. “They’re starting to understand I have a very good sense of humour. I don’t do this for spiteful reasons. I do it because I feel I was born for it.”
Although PiL were happy to join the likes of Slaughter And The Dogs, Buzzcocks, Penetration and UK Subs at the 2012 Rebellion punkfest in Blackpool, Lydon has little time for dewy-eyed nostalgia and copycatism.
“From the early days of the Pistols I got to resent the audience who were identikit Johnny Rotten wannabes. That was just not where I wanted this to be going. If I preach anything at all it’s ‘be an individual’. Like what’s come before, sure, but don’t slavishly follow it.”
As well as talking about blowies, Viv Albertine made the point in her book that punk was as much about maverick one-offs like Ian Dury and Elvis Costello as it was the Pistols and the Clash.
“‘I’m Billericay Dickie and I ain’t no bleeding thickie’,” he says quoting one of Mr. Dury’s most famous songs. “The wit and attitude of that! Once the doors were wrenched open, lots of different types of people charged through them.”
Whilst unequivocal about other people – I’m still wincing on Keith Levine’s behalf – Anger Is An Energy hedges its bets somewhat when it comes to Richard Branson who signed the Pistols to Virgin after their services had been dispensed with by EMI and A&M.
“We’re not what you’d in any way call close,” John says when pressed today. “Our wives are, funnily enough, but we’re very, very different people. Richard, fair play, did try but he was always getting my hunchback up by doing daft things like ballooning. I’m not one for this daredevil nonsense, I have a complete and utter fear of heights. To this day, nothing over the fourth floor in a hotel.
“I don’t think he understood reggae at all, which is why he sent me and my friends to Jamaica in 1980 to sign the best talent there for Virgin. Which for us was the more extreme end of it, like Dr. Alimantado, rather than the ‘popstylely’ that was getting in the charts. We weren’t into Bob Marley’s ‘Punky Reggae Party’ neither. It was a bit cheesy, weren’t it? Reggae didn’t need to piggyback on anything else.
“Getting back to Branson; post-Pistols he sent me some of the music Steve and Paul had written for their new band The Professionals and said, ‘Just put some words to it’, which was plain fucking insulting. If I don’t see no respect in it, then I’m not interested.”
Talking of respect, John has none, zilch, nada for Tony Blair.
“He should be in the fucking Hague along with the Serbian blokes,” he spits venomously. “The Human Rights Court is the only place for him. It makes my blood boil. It’s probably not a good thing to get yourself wound up, but just look at the smug bastard! He took a Labour government to war; well done! Blair turned me off Britain completely. I’m no Tory but I couldn’t believe he was voted in.”
Punk purists accused him of selling-out when he appeared on I’m A Celebrity, but John is adamant that, “I’ve never done anything for the earning of large amounts of money. It’s just never been my way. Quite frankly, the Pistols being in any way popular was an accident not a game plan. This is where poor Malcy got it so wrong.”
Might the Mk. 1 Pistols have avoided imploding in January 1978 if they’d have given Malcolm his marching orders?
“No, none of us would have been happy with a change of management,” he concludes. “That’s it. Knock it on the head. It’s over… and worthy of the occasional reunion, very much so, because it’s fucking great work. But we can’t think about writing new songs in that scenario.”
Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored is published by Simon & Schuster.
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