John Lydon’s talked about making his status in the US permanent for years. Late last year, he finally received his citizenship.
“I wouldn’t have done it in any session other than Obama’s,” he says, before stating the obvious, “I’d hardly make a good republican.”
Becoming a fully fledged American has stoked the fire in his belly. All the class divides back in Blighty are back into focus. He’s just finished reading a newspaper review of Stephen Fry’s third autobiography when he picks up the phone in his Los Angeles home. Out comes that wicked sense of humour.
“Bunty of the Grange, how can I help you!”
Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, the cultural volcano who revolutionised British culture with the Sex Pistols and PiL, is miffed by “the sarcasm and cheap-backstabbing called journalism in England... Backstabbing is jealousy in reams. It’s something innate in the British psyche. We are a society which absolutely thrives on the down-falling of others.”
Lydon has been in the US for so long he might as well have an American passport to go with his British and Irish passports.
“I’m going for the full Del Monte by next Christmas. I’d quite like a Chinese passport if they’d have me.”
America has embraced the outspoken free-spirit whose mind is a whirlwind impossible to pin down. It contrasts to his identity, which is nailed on his sleeve like a pin-badge.
“I went through a lot went I was young. A lot of people around me went through similar. You mustn’t forget that. It’s what you came from. You could call that many things, underprivileged, lower class, working class. But these are not all admonishments. They are like medals. They were valuable experiences. They’ve made me what I am.”
Lydon’s passion makes him impossible and irresistible. No surprise the title of his second autobiography, released yesterday, is Anger Is An Energy, after lines of PiL song Rise.
the book goes back to the miserable overcast London streets of his youth as the son of working class Irish immigrants, through the sleazy creative zeal which produced God Save The Queen, to more recent events including the promise of a new PiL album (the band are reconvening in the Cotwolds barn where they recorded This Is PiL) and appearing on Question Time with David Dimbleby.
Recalling his youth, he says, “They were valuable experiences. They’ve made me what I am. They have given me inner strength and possibly wisdom, the sense of unity and sense of belonging I don’t see happening too well in other class structures. Indeed, I don’t believe in a class structure. I’d like to see it all dismantled. Equal opportunity please.”
Dimbleby is a man whose political point of view Lydon says is closest to his. On Question Time the duo discussed social work and social workers with politicians Alan Johnson and Louise Mensch.
“I liked being on a panel with alleged politicians. Feeling them squirm next to me was delicious. Shows like that are important because it knocks them all down a tad, you know, where they have to answer to a public. I have to explain every single thing I do and that is only right for politicians who have the audacity to misrepresent us.”
Who’d have thought the spotty teenager whose disreputable band were discussed in Parliament and banned by the BBC would one day be on a book tour.
“I have no problems with this side of it – communication I call it. It’s really interesting when it’s a room full of people firing at you. Because there are those who want to put your head in the block and drop the blade – but that is interesting in itself. You find out so much more that way, about what people really are thinking about you, what false praises are.”
For Lydon, music is communication. But some rock stars miss the point. They’re as bad as politicians.
“They like vast estates and huge stock piles of cash. You expect me to condone that. Well I don’t. There should be some kind of sensibility as to what people are allowed to make for next to nothing.
“I don’t forget what I come from and every now and again people like that remind me and that’s very healthy for me. I don’t like the idea of privileged classes.”
England viewed from afar is a messed-up place.
“People here say where are you from it’s the beginning of a conversation. If you say where are you from in England it is usually the beginning of a fight.”
But things can change, I suggest. Two things altered the island nation mentality in recent years: punk and rave. He played a major part in the first and believes it can happen again – now the record industry has managed to fold itself up and post itself off to oblivion.
He’s saddened by disappearing record stores, which he used to treat as “little bastions of revolution” like social centres.
“Now the voice of revolution is lonely bedsit b******s typing away on their computer all night long, sending each other evil nasty tweets and gossips. It’s not quite the revolution I envisioned.”
Reading books is a good place to start, he says, and it doesn’t even need to be his. He’s not the only punk hero to release a memoir this year. Former leader of The Slits Viv Albertine even gave Lydon a mention in Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. It’s a backstage tale Lydon confirms is authentic.
“I see no reason for her to lie. For me I never do kiss and tell. I don’t think that’s what Viv is doing. We are not like that. Through punk many of us worked against that kiss and tell thing. So lying and cheating and being nasty to each other is not the order of the day. We wait to do that back stage before a gig. We don’t need a public forum for it.”
JOHN LYDON IN CONVERSATION WITH ALEXIS PETRIDIS
De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill, Sunday, October 12 at 7.30pm, £24. Call 01424 229 111.