CASH FOR QUESTIONS: JOHN LYDON
The punk icon puts down his 10x magnifying mirror and bogey-extracting tweezers to talk butter ads, wasp stings and more.
The ex-Sex Pistol has strong opinions on everything from bogeys to Prince Harry.
“Anything that has a pulse fascinates me. My favourite insect is the praying mantis.”
John Lydon doesn’t have a morning routine, the Sex Pistols singer and PiL leader being unable to keep to any kind of plan. But chaos of a different kind has reigned in his Malibu home this morning. “Diarrhoea!” he blurts out. “It’s got really cold here really quick and caught me and my little beach shorts by surprise. What’s happened now is my bottom is traumatised.” He lets out a shrieking, Joker-ish cackle. Lydon will fall in line to a regimented schedule over the next few months as Public Image Ltd embark on a UK tour to mark their 40th anniversary, a boxset and the release of The Public Image Is Rotten, a documentary profiling the band’s career. “We tour to raise money in order to manufacture and produce the next record,” says Lydon. “That’s what we have to do because we live outside of the ‘shitstem’. There’s no easy money and we’re not being pampered or blackmailed. It’s called freedom. Freedom to pay your own bills is the irony of it!” Another ear-rumbling cackle arrives, and then he’s ready to face your questions. “Let the agony begin!” What do you dislike most about living in Malibu? Pete McMahon, via Q Mail The way the paparazzi don’t treat me with any respect at all and seem to find it endlessly amusing that I do my own shopping. The English tabloids love to pick up on these things, too. There’s always pictures of me putting shopping bags in the boot of a car or walking with a trolley. How bizarre! If I’d have known when I was 17 that all I had to do was go shopping, I’d have saved myself a lot of effort.
Where in the world does the best breakfast? John Morrison, Portsmouth Anywhere where it arrives on time, meaning room service. But unfortunately room service is always shit, so it’s a one half-dozen of the other and, quite frankly, all down to personal taste. “How do you like your eggs? Cold, I hope!”
The Sex Pistols’ show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976 has gone down as a pivotal gig in rock history. Do you actually believe people when they say they were there? Mark Mitchell, Newcastle There was that film about Tony Wilson 2002’ s 24 Hour Party People], which implied everybody in Manchester was there. I hope so, because that would be telling me what a small community the Manchester music business was! A hundred thousand people must have gone to the 100 Club gig in London in 1976]. We only did one. Everybody and their pet dog was there, and good for them. Everybody needs a fantasy, that’s as good as any. My fantasies, I could definitely be locked up for. I’m all in support of that!
You’ve presented documentaries on bugs, apes and sharks. What animal do you most identify with? @migrainejones, via Twitter All of them. Anything that has a pulse fascinates me. My favourite insect is the praying mantis. There’s something about the shape that seems awfully familiar to me, I can’t explain it. Ants are the same. And wasps. There’s something about the shape of their heads that I find very attractive. I was stung by a wasp recently, on the beach. I trod on it. In the cold months they’re attracted to the salt water for some reason and so the sand can be full of them. You don’t always notice them among the pebbles.
What’s your biggest regret? Keith Warren, Stevenage I suppose, not being my fault, but having meningitis at the age of seven] and as a result] forgetting who my mother and father were, let alone forgetting who I was. But not being able to make up for that in the years that came later. They’re both dead and it hits you from time to time. I have a great deal of sadness that I never made up for it and told them just how much I appreciate them just giving me life at all.
When was the last time you visited Finsbury Park and what do you make of the gentrification of London? Donna McLaughlin, Islington Well, they might be gentrifying certain streets but the estates are as violent and rough as ever. I go down there, yeah; I don’t have any relatives there any more, but I still have friends there. It’s annoying to see those pubs we grew up in filled with, shall we say, fake working-class. Which is an absurdity! Who wants to pretend to have nothing, when genuine working-class people are desperately trying to pretend they have something? Somewhere in-between, I’m sitting.
What’s the closest you’ve ever come to quitting music completely? Ted Wellard, Blackpool When I had serious trouble for nearly two decades with the labels. On one hand they had me in debt, and to get out of debt I had to do things like touring but they wouldn’t finance the tour and if I raised the money independently, then that would go back towards the debt and I’d be in this Catch- 22. They were very despondent times for me. I had to raise interest by doing other things. I’ve got to say, thank you Dairy Crest, you definitely helped me out of that doldrum. It wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was enough of one lump sum to go against the debt and to help me] think about re-forming PiL. At that point, I thought, “Right, the only people I want to work with again from the entire PiL catalogue are the personalities that are not abrasive and nasty.” All of us in the band are outsiders. I still feel like one now. At least I’m on the outside looking in. I’ve got a window.
The first Public Image album is 40 years old this year. What are your main memories of making it? Michelle Waters, Chelmsford Forty, wow, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun and having arguments with record contractors? The memories flood back in when I play it to myself. Because I was ill when I was young, memories like that are vital to me. It’s nice to re-experience them, the pain and the torment of putting them songs together is, oddly enough, an enjoyable experience to reintroduce yourself to.
When was the last time you got in an argument with someone? Brenda Ambrose, Wycombe It was probably the plumber! Once you’ve installed your own toilet, even though you don’t ever wanna do it again, the poor chap that comes around to do it the next time is gonna get your world of experience thrown at them. I realised I was doing it too, but you know when you enjoy being insane? A moment of madness where you don’t bother to rein it in. The plumber was my mate, so he knew what I was doing, and just teased me back. Have you kept in touch with anyone you met on I’m A Celebrity…? Hayley Sampson, Brighton No, I haven’t kept in touch. I suppose, generally speaking, I wish all of them the best. The wildlife is definitely for real. The snakes are not messing about. I remember reading negative rubbish saying it was all done in the car park of a hotel with potted plants, this is the stuff I’d be hearing before I went in. Nope! I can assure you it’s not! It’s real, grotty camping without a tent. The ants bite. But then everything in Australia does. I found it different from anything I’d done before. I’d never challenged myself physically that way. The boredom got to me, and listening to people moaning about not having hot showers was absurd to my way of thinking. There’s a perfectly freezing pond there full of leeches, what are you moaning about?!
Will you be watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding next month? Vicky Clark, via Q Mail Yeah, course. I love all that feudalism and flag-waving and aeroplanes flying overhead. Pageantry, I’m up for that – but] I’m not up for paying for it!
What’s your favourite smell? Liv Walker, Swansea It would probably be one of them Eau de Colognes. Anything with wood in it. I love sandalwood. So any excuse to smell sandalwood or cedar is fantastic to me. Actually, the smell of herbs. I love thyme.
“My ambition when we first started punk was that I wouldn’t be led by rules. Have I stuck to the rule I won’t follow rules? Yes and no!”
Who does Christmas dinner round yours? Andy North, Ingatestone No one. Occasionally we go to others, but if it was left up to John’s wife] Nora and me, no, we wouldn’t bother. It’s too much of a fuss, the organisational skills required for what is basically a greedfest. I’d much rather do drink and drugs, please, fuck the chicken!
Which lyric are you most proud of? Bill Oldham, Tamworth Rise, Disappointed, God Save The Queen… I could go on. I feel that way about any set of lyrics I put together, otherwise I wouldn’t commit them to music. Most times the words come first and then I’ll be desperately in the studio trying to grab on to anything that sounds like a melody in order to fit them in.
What do you consider is the most punk rock thing you’ve ever done? Anthony Brookes, Chichester When they approached me for the butter campaign, it was so anarchistic to all of my principles. I got over that and realised, “These guys are game for this! They want me to take this serious!” I liked the way they badgered me into it – and good on ’em for it – cos I could’ve been snotty and turned it down, but they turned my life around.
What’s your policy on bogeys? Roll and flick or eat? Ronnie G, via Q Mail Never eat, oh God, no! I lost the lining in my nostrils years ago and so I’m very prone to crustations up there. What I’ve got is a 10x magnifying mirror, a really long pair of tweezers and a halogen torch and I go poking up there every morning for the crusties.
Does the term “sell-out” mean anything any more? David Crooks, Glasgow It never should have. If you fill a concert hall, is that selling out? It’s no big deal. Some people pander in life and there’s room for all of us. There are those that don’t and those that do. As a species we can’t survive without both options, I’ve learned that over the years.
Do you watch many Arsenal games living out in LA? Elliot Mason, via Q Mail I don’t miss a single one. I don’t mind the excuse to get up at 4am to watch an early kick-off]. It’s hard to feel too enthusiastic these days, to be honest, I barely know half the team. I suppose I’m following it from a much more traditional and proper support point of view. The modern fan seems very superficial and the demand for success on a constant level is absurd.
Do you feel that punk’s work has been undone when you see how beige and sanitised everything is these days? James Crowder, Wickford Each to his own determination in life, and you can’t rely on a genre or a movement to give you a safety valve. Everything in life is self-determination. Never take all of one concept completely, because there’s bits and pieces that might be flawed. I suggest to anybody out there, have an open mind. My ambition when we first started punk was that I wouldn’t be led by rules. Have I stuck to the rule I won’t follow rules? Yes and no!
The Public Image Is Rotten boxset is out 29 June. For tickets and info on the band’s tour, visit www.pilofficial.com.
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A praying mantis: “awfully familiar” to John.
Sex Pistols at the Lesser 1976. Free Trade Hall in John Lydon “hopes” that everyone in Manchester was there...
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s forthcoming wedding. Lydon will be watching…
“The wildlife is definitely for real.” Lydon with fellow I’m A Celebrity contestant Katie Price in 2004.
Bread and butter: John Lydon’s 2008 Country Life advert “turned my life around.”
John Lydon: still punk enough to flout any smoking bans.