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MUSIC: Pretty Vacant by The Sex Pistols
I'm an interviewer,
and I must have interviewed hundreds of people by now.
But this one, I'm not quite sure what awaits me.
I'm interviewing John Lydon, who, as the angry frontman
for the Sex Pistols, personified punk and all it stood for.
# We're so pretty, oh so pretty... #
What about the word "punk"? It means worthless, nasty.
Johnny Rotten, are you happy with this word?
No, the press gave us it.
It's their problem, not ours.
We never called ourselves punk.
After leaving the Sex Pistols in 1978,
Lydon formed Public Image Ltd, a much more experimental band,
giving him an outlet for more personal songs.
# You never listened to a word that I said
# You only see me for the clothes that I wear... #
40 years on from his punk days, and having just turned 60,
is John Lydon still angry?
'I met John at the end of a European tour promoting PiL's latest
'album, What The World Needs Now.
'He's just off the tour bus and has terrible flu.'
Because I'm so ill today, I'm having a Garden Of Love drink.
Oh, good, and what's in it?
Well, it's tomato juice, you know, a few herbs and spices,
And vodka? OK.
I thought you'd hear that.
You turned 60 at the beginning of this year.
Was that...worrying, coming up to 60?
Did you sort of think, "I'm old"?
No. When I was 21, that was a worry.
I became very, very precious about myself that day.
And, about ten minutes later, I got over it,
and now I don't think age at all.
No, 60's fine.
I look at it as a really, really, seriously good achievement.
-To have lasted this long?
Because I wouldn't have given myself the chance at 21.
And I was sad at being 21.
Because I thought that was old.
-So, the thought of 60 was, like, "Oh, shock horrors.
"That can never happen."
But it does, and it's fantastic,
and I'm really pleased that I've outlived so many of my peers,
because life has been, the longer I go on, the more rewarding.
The more a sense of achievement,
the more to do, the more to enjoy.
Do you mean literally you sort of say,
"Oh, that one's gone, glad he died, glad he died," or...?
No, I would never think that.
Actually, I miss the death of
every human being.
I've had mortal enemies die, and I really, really miss their place.
I wondered, actually, did you sort of forgive Malcolm McLaren?
You have to, instantly, the second anybody dies. You have to.
You never carry rage on into their death, ever.
It's the most disrespectful thing I think you could ever show
-the human race is contempt for a fellow human being...
..once they've ceased to exist and can't defend themselves.
From thereon in, the rest of my life,
-I will defend their position.
That's how I see it.
But he is somebody you seemed to have
a sort of long bitterness about, or...
-Not at all.
-Obviously he was a bit weak, but he can't help that.
-That's part of his personality.
And an exciting part of it, too,
because it gets you into creative situations that...
-Because he's so, um...malleable...
-..it can lead to trouble,
because he'll run away when the trouble comes.
And then...then it became my duty to sort it out.
# Trouble is the end of the shame
# I wanted trouble
# Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble... #
'PiL's latest album, What The World Needs Now, was recorded in 2015.'
I thought that there was quite a lot of anger in this album.
Oh, I am amazed(!)
-I think a kind of brittle, volatile humour.
Not anger, not rage, not resentment.
Actually, there's a hope in it.
Because of the humour.
It's striving for a better way around all of our problems.
-Rather than continuously making enemies.
I mean, actually, the one I thought was really,
-really good was Double Trouble.
-The worst row on it.
But I will say... LAUGHTER
But also because it did, I thought,
give a really sort of...compressed but very tight picture of...
-I hope it brought clarity to domestic situations...
..that sometimes can get so out of hand,
and you have to be able to look around
-and laugh at yourself at some point.
-And that's what that song does.
And that's the actual reality of the row that we had.
And that now is Nora's favourite song on the album.
Nora, your wife. Yes.
-It makes her just scream with laughter.
-Oh, good. Yeah.
And we turned an argument about the installation of a toilet
into a song.
# What? You fucking nagging again?
# About what? What? What?
# The toilet's fucking broken again
# I repaired that, I told you
# Get the plumber in again
# And again and again and again and again and again and again... #
You're saying that you want to have a row,
-you quite like to have a row...
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
-..and she's basically saying,
-"Just mend the bloody toilet."
-Yeah, but really pushing for the argument,
and sometimes in relationships it's really healthy...
-..to go for the jugular.
Because, once you're there, you realise,
"Ooh, you might be a bit wrong in this one."
And because there's a woman involved, you're definitely wrong.
-And you gotta be fair about that,
and so you pull back, but you've learnt.
-You've learnt that all that pent-up aggression...
-Is good for you.
..isn't about the toilet at all,
-but it is good for you to release it and find a way out.
And makes for an amazing song, and I look at that song now and
I think, "I guess nobody's really used these kinds of situations."
But did the song actually start with you saying...?
Yeah, "What? Are you nagging again?"
-I mean, was that the first line you wrote.
Because I'd set the premise of the song, like, installing
a toilet single-handedly four years ago in America, and so that was it.
-If you did it then, you can do it now.
# Give me a row, right now
# We'll stir it up and clear the air
# On what is what, it's only fair
# I want the trouble, trouble, trouble
# On the double, double, double
# Give me trouble... #
-And did you then write it all sort of soon, all together?
Because it seems to have different movements in it.
If a song roughly comes together, usually very, very, quickly,
if the idea's good, it will naturally flow.
And that's one of the few songs that really, really did.
# I want the trouble, trouble, trouble
# On the double, double, double
# Give me trouble
# Oh, yeah!
# I want the trouble! #
What? What do you want now?
You still have quite an angry public image,
but you're obviously very mellow, really, aren't you?
Um, if I had a philosophical hero,
and I sort of do, it's Gandhi.
Major modern achievement.
-And you like listening to Mozart, and you get up at dawn.
And you're healthy...
But I also like listening to, you know, mad crash death metal.
How druggie were you in your youth? It was amphetamines you took, yes?
"Druggie?" No. I've never considered speed to be a drug.
It's something that helps you stay awake while you get
to drink a hell of a lot more.
Oh, I see. So, the drink is the primary thing.
So, it wasn't, like, that you had been very druggie and then
you went in rehab and then you were clean?
No, and I never understood this in the Pistols scenario either.
When I keep hearing about them all talking about the heroin in it,
I never seen it, really.
I knew Sid was messing about, because his mother messed about,
and so he stood no chance there.
When Sid Vicious died,
did you feel guilty about having introduced him into the band?
I thought he'd handle it better, and I suppose I was being a bit selfish.
I felt I needed an ally in the band.
And so I wasn't quite looking out for him fully.
Am I my brother's keeper?
I mean, we're all about the same age,
we've all had the same life experiences.
Some of us learn better than others.
# Well, c'mon everybody and let's get together tonight
# I got some money in my jeans and I'm really gonna spend it right... #
It broke me up to watch him just fall apart like that.
And it just wisped out of your hands.
# Ooh, c'mon everybody... #
Do you think if you hadn't brought him into the Sex Pistols...?
-He'd have had no life at all.
You might as well, you know, burn up...
He wouldn't be a happily married father-of-six?
-Never, ever, ever was that possible for him.
So, some track of doom he was on, whatever.
Just some people are born for the short circuit. You know.
And it's what he wanted, he wanted a life of instant gratification.
Unfortunately, that kind of lifestyle,
you have to actually work for it.
And that let him down.
And, I tell you, I mean, many people would be jealous of this,
he had no aptitude for music whatsoever.
And yet got through that.
But...that's fantastic, and, so...
I suppose, in that way, I can say,
you know, "Cor, we gave you something good there, Sid."
Yeah. Are you quite a sort of health nut?
It seems an odd thing to ask you, but...
-No, very, very far removed from that.
I've got no concept of exercise.
I wondered there if you were into, I don't know,
green diets or something healthy.
No, no, no. All of those things, you end up with diarrhoea.
-It's very unpleasant.
I read recently, though, that you're worried about your eyesight.
-Oh, yeah. You notice I'm constantly trying to focus?
-Well, are you? Yeah.
-I wondered slightly. So, what is it?
It's going very, very...bleary.
-And that's what?
Well, I don't think you can get your eyes lasered for just
And I just... They just won't function any more.
So, it's stronger and stronger glasses. And that's really
painful for me, because I love to paint, I love to write.
That's... I'm missing so much that...
But you've always had this sort of strange characteristic stare
-with sort of poppy eyes.
-It's called focus.
-Well, that's you trying to focus, is it?
That. But I mean I wondered if doing that was bad for you.
Well, it's the only way I can actually get to realise what
-it is I'm looking at.
And, in a live performance,
it's really important to me sometimes that I actually
acknowledge accurately what it is these looks that are coming at
me are all about, what they're really all about.
And so I would take that time to, like, you know, work it out.
-And sometimes people think that's frightening.
But the smarter ones realise that I'm trying to share with them
Which can be an amazingly emotional thing on a live...a live gig.
# Maybe you there
# Oh, maybe you can stroke me
# Somebody there
# Oh, maybe they awoke me
# And in the embers there
# Get up in the fire
# When the boat comes in
# Gonna be the one... #
There's a song on this album, The One, tell me about that.
What's that all about?
It's several things all put in together.
It started out as a really nice homage to... I suppose you'd
call it glitter rock.
-That period. T. Rex, Mungo Jerry...
Uh, they were making really, really nice, like, crunchy dance music in a
pop music way, and it was thrilling, the noises from them productions.
That was the backdrop really, to me, like,
trying to chat up girls at that time.
-You know? 14, 15, and very, very useless at it.
And I'd be learning how to dance at home, too,
those kind of rhythms,
and making a complete fool of myself at the local, you know, social.
But, still, I kept at it.
Eventually, girls did learn to dance with me.
Yeah, well...I mean, you probably were good at chatting them up,
-No, absolutely horribly shy and useless.
And I wanted that to be in the song.
To encapsulate the truth and honesty of just feeling like
a horribly spotty, inadequate teenager.
-A good precursor to the Sex Pistols is really what it was.
But there's other verses in there, too, that, me being me,
I feel I have to bring in, and one of them is my respect for
the British military, particularly paratroopers.
I have friends who do that.
And...what it is they face when they go abroad.
# Foreign land
# With a had full of sand
# It's in the palm of my hand
# I'll be there when I can
# Got that one... #
This is meaning quite a lot to me, because it...
They're enduring something I'm not enduring,
-and they're doing this on my behalf.
And, hopefully, for some kind of sense of world peace,
and I just want to give my respect to my fellow human beings who
unfortunately find themselves as soldiers, policing the world...
in situations they did not create.
# You're the one
# And you got that one
# One! #
'The latest incarnation of PiL was funded by John taking
'a break from the band and becoming a television personality.
Oh, what a stink! Bloody hell, I need a gas mask.
There they are. There's some real whoppers around.
There was a period when you were sort of wandering away from
the path of being a musician. JOHN LAUGHS
God, people don't give me no breaks, do they?
I was having great fun raising money for...
Well, yeah, that's what you then explained in the book,
that I hadn't realised at the time,
that you were doing it to get the money to carry on with the music.
-Yeah, that makes sense.
It was just the bravery of knowing that I would have to
face-to-face off with a lot of people accusing me
of a lot of things here.
The word "sellout",
you know, all of these things were going to be thrown at me.
Yes, well, people are always keen on calling anyone a sellout.
-People that are cable of jealousy no matter what it is you do.
-So, they're going to be jealous anyway. At least do something.
You know? There's no point in sitting back and being shy and coy
and doing nothing, cos they're still going to hate you.
-Give them a bloody good reason.
A bit of that... # Mysterious girl...#
Why do you know how to do it?
Did you used to get your derby out, used to get your derby out, did you?
-I'm not here to support a page three
I fucking ain't!
Bollocks to you.
Doing I'm A Celebrity wasn't such a happy experience?
-They did some really, really bad things to us.
The deal was that they would tell me when my wife arrived in
Australia, cos they flew out in advance for the show.
And that's very, very spiteful, because Nora and I,
we missed the Lockerbie flight...
-..just by hours.
Just because it had been slow packing bags.
And...well, from that day on, I have to know her every movement.
-Particularly through airports.
And that's not something you should hold the information back on.
-Everybody else seemed to have family connections,
cos they'd all tell us later, and I thought,
"Oh, dear, here it goes, yeah, they're trying to wind me up here."
-"And create a scene."
Me, I'm fine with it. You know?
You can't hurt me. You cannot hurt me.
You cannot stop me, you cannot beat me.
And, so, I know that and you know that.
There seems to be quite a lot about sex in this album.
Bettie Page, first and foremost.
It was, uh...one of the earliest strippers who got away with it,
really, in America.
# Stripping down to the stars and stripes
# To Bettie Page, yeah
# Well, you can take my stage... #
Was that a real person?
A real person, a very, very seriously interesting...
Because this was at the time of the Prohibition, and the Mafia
running the nightclubs, and the evangelical Right,
and she managed to survive through all of these elements
as a very, very independent-thinking woman.
And that's an incredible achievement for then.
But what got you...?
That was the worst thing to be was a woman with a free mind and spirit.
-No, she wasn't, though.
HE LAUGHS Oh, she wasn't? Oh!
-I thought that...
-Well, maybe at the time that was considered,
but I look back at it now and it's kind of... It's quaint, but people
have got to know that that quaint is what got them their freedoms today.
Do you ever sit down alone and listen to Sex Pistols?
-Yeah. HE LAUGHS
Like I do all my records. Everything I've been on.
I'll do this every couple of years, just to remind myself and be
really surprised by what I wrote, and what I did, and how I did it.
# The public image... #
# This is not a love song
# This is not a love song, this is not a love song
# This is not a love song, This is not a love song... #
# I could be right
# I could be wrong... #
What are you proudest of, which single...?
-Just the sheer body of it.
And its variety.
And it seems utterly limitless, it's...
-I seem to be able to go in any direction with any force.
And avoid cliches.
But it's not enough yet.
What, you want to go on writing...?
Oh, there's much, much more. Much, much more to do.
And you now have a group that you all get on with,
where, in the past, you were often at war with your own...
-Well, always at the beginnings, it's always great fun, isn't it?
-And then you're at war.
-Then you're at war.
No, the jealousies have stopped.
I've found a perfect blend,
and Lou and Bruce, I mean...
-I've known those fellas since I first started.
You know, I was in the Pistols, Lou was in The Damned.
Bruce is in The Pop Group.
That's three very relevant bands from them early days,
-and yet here we are still as friends.
You said in your book, "I'm a quiet, contemplative kind of soul,
"the deep thinker, and, oddly enough, very rational."
I mean, do you seriously think that? You think that you're...?
Yes, that's an important part of song-writing.
-You get the drama out the way quickly and then you can correct it.
And I believe fully that you don't get nowhere in this life
unless you involve hard, serious work with it.
And this is what the King of Punk has always, always detailed.
I do not want to remain a cliche,
I do not want to sing and do the same things year in, year out.
I want to advance this.
I've been given an opportunity, and I see that as a gift,
and I will not throw away lightly.
And the more extreme and further and different I can take it, the better.
Did you just call yourself the King of Punk?
Yeah. It's the truth.
I thought you didn't like the label, punk.
I don't, I don't, but I'm not going to give it to any old wanker.
Oh, I see, OK. LAUGHTER
-And the thing...
-I kind of had to earn it.
I had to fight for it, and...and there it is.
You'd be foolish to throw that away to some
wannabe Johnny Rotten character.
If they're to truly understand what punk is, then,
to understand it, it's advancing yourself continuously,
opening more and more doors,
making more and more messages possible.
And, so, King of Punk ain't no narrow-mind.
# What the world needs now
# Is another "Fuck off!" #
What does "shoom" mean, actually?
It's the sound that the drum machine made when it broke.
-A dying force.
-And it was hilarious.
And I kind of rallied around that and...
we turned it into a very, very interesting song,
which is...it's a requiem,
done my inimitably different way,
I must admit, a bit odd.
It's from my dad's point of view and
the dry humour he had and...
He was great company...
-From your dad's point of view?
Cos you say, "What the world needs now is another...?"
Oh, yeah, this is how my dad would be, he'd sit in the pub,
near the jukebox, always complaining about every single noise
that came out of it.
Oh, but he wouldn't...?
-With great irony, with laughter.
Humour. Very, very dry.
And that's like...
I never realised it when I was younger,
that was...that was all part of my personality, too.
But when he died, you sort of remembered...
-I remembered that side, yeah.
It was a sad time.
He died a couple of years just before we made the last album,
and I wanted something for him.
It doesn't explicitly mention your father, though, does it?
It shouldn't. Doesn't need to. It's the thought process that's there.
But isn't that the one that's sort of "sex is all bollocks,
-"music is all bollocks..."?
-Yeah. That'd be my dad.
Many disappointments in love.
# Play me
# Play bollocks
# Pay me
# Pay bollocks
# Are bollocks
# They're bollocks
# It's bollocks
# Your bollocks
# Sex box, all bollocks
# Fuck you, fuck off!... #
Your dad was a boozer, wasn't he?
My dad never drunk much. He didn't really like it.
When he was young, it was whisky, and he quickly stopped that
because he had to realise it was turning him.
And us kids didn't like to see that.
Well, you know, the hitting of the mum kind of scenario.
Yeah, and, so, he stopped, and he stopped really, really good,
and he never drank the shorts ever again.
-And he didn't like beer.
So, he'd be in the pub with us, not liking beer but one in front of him.
-Yeah. Oh, right.
-Doing his shoom.
# I'm working class
# Me, right at the start
# I'm horse and cart
# Me, right in the heart
# Fall to the floor
# Beat, droop in the heat
# I'm always complete
# I come from the street #
And that's about it, really.
You've said that you regard yourself as lucky to have
got as far as 60, is that because...?
-Well, I'm past 60 now, so...
-Well, you are 60, aren't you?
Every day is an improvement, and here I am, like,
suffering this horrible flu,
and even that's a blessing, really.
I'd much prefer this than not be alive.
It's the one greatest thing that's free.
Make it last.
Well, well done. And well done for keeping it up for 40 years.
-40 years, yeah.
My God, you think I'd have learned something by now.
# All people feel
# All people have vision
# No matter your colour
# You are family to me
# Now, put this all together
# This is community
# Even the other side of the planet
# The other side of me
# I'm here for you!
# I am here for me... #