Never mind the other bollocks: Johnny’s still got plenty of his own. More than 20 years after the publication of his first book, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, the Sex Pistols‘ Johnny Rotten (né Lydon) can still bombard with enough opinions and adventures to fill a 500-page autobiography.
Out Tuesday, Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored covers plenty of familiar ground, from the Sex Pistols’ supersonic rise to the long, twisted history of his anarchic follow-up, Public Image Ltd. But among twice-told tales about Malcolm McLaren’s fecklessness, Sid Vicious’s tragic cluelessness and Lydon’s own poor eyesight (it gave him his psychotic glare) and meningitis (he contracted it from rat urine in the puddles where he played as kid), the book features plenty of morbidly fascinating tidbits from one of England’s least likely national treasures. Here are our 10 favorites.
Lydon doesn’t actually listen to much punk music. The Buzzcocks, Magazine, X-Ray Spex, the Adverts, the Raincoats: “Those, I liked. They were skirmishing on the outside of it rather than the typical slam-dunk bands that drove me nuts, because they all sounded the same.”
Flowers of Romance
He’s heard the rumor that he and Sid Vicious had a gay affair, and he flatly denies it. “Just, NO!!!” he writes, emphasis his. Though he does admit that he sometimes wondered about his bandmate’s sexuality: “I don’t know if Sid ever worked out what he was.”
Richard Branson wanted to get Lydon to become the lead singer of Devo. Mark Mothersbaugh has told this story before, but in his version, Branson pins the idea on the former Sex Pistol. Lydon claims he had nothing to do with it: “I certainly don’t think he ever asked me.” It would have been “an absolute no-no to me” – not because he didn’t like Devo but because he believed it wouldn’t be his place to impose himself on another band.
Anarchy in the U.K.
Lydon was no fan of the Clash. To him, their songs “didn’t have any content, and they really didn’t seem to stand for very much at all other than this abstract socialism.” As a band, “they had nothing to offer, character-development wise.” He liked Joe Strummer just fine as a person, he claims, but he didn’t exactly respect him musically or ideologically. It was “infuriating” when Strummer declared in Melody Maker that the group would be bigger than the Sex Pistols: “He began to lack a sense of humor about himself. He. . .was definitely out to grab himself a crown.”
Holidays in the Sun
Like the Clash, Lydon tried to record with Jamaican dub savant Lee “Scratch” Perry. Shortly after the Sex Pistols broke up, he traveled to Jamaica as a talent scout for Virgin Records. He went to Black Ark, Perry’s infamous studio, and took a stab at a reggae version of the Pistols’ “Submission” – “but I couldn’t get to grips with him. Too many distractions, too nervous and too stoned.”
Lydon knew about the sexual abuse allegations against the late BBC host Jimmy Savile long before they were disclosed. In an interview from 1978, he even suggested that it had become common knowledge that the Top of the Pops presenter was a child molester. “I was speaking dangerously out of hand,” he writes, “way before all of this became public knowledge.”
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
He’s got an improbable comparison for Steve Jones’ guitar style: “Neil Young on Zuma, where the song is just teetering on the edge of total collapse and that’s a most dynamic point.”
Lydon claims Mick Jagger quietly helped assemble Sid Vicious’s defense team after Nancy Spungen was killed. The Stones singer didn’t come across so well in Lydon’s previous book, which ripped Jagger for claiming the Sex Pistols couldn’t play: “The Stones were one of the most notoriously inept bands in music, and here was this old coke hag pointing fingers,” he wrote. Now, however, Lydon has been expressing his admiration for Jagger’s apparent intervention on Sid’s behalf.
As for Nancy’s death, he fingers the mob, claiming Sid might have owed them drug money: “Nancy was killed, and that poor foolish boy was left holding the knife. . .To me there’s no mystery in it at all. You owe money, that’s what you’re gonna get.”
The Great Rock & Roll Swindle
Lydon says Harvey Keitel had no idea who he was when they starred together in the 1983 Italian thriller Copkiller (also known as “Corrupt” and “Order of Death”). It was Lydon’s only starring role in a movie, coming after he’d unsuccessfully auditioned for the part of Jimmy in the film version of the Who’s Quadrophenia. As it turned out, the Quadrophenia auditions paid off in an unlikely way when the film canisters he received inspired Public Image’s Metal Box concept.
The Great Rock & Roll Mix Up
Lydon gets his jazz masters confused. While recording Album with producer Bill Laswell in the mid-Eighties, Public Image Ltd. had become a studio band featuring Cream drummer Ginger Baker and metal virtuoso Steve Vai. An all-star guest list included Ryuichi Sakamoto and jazz drummer Tony Williams. For years Lydon reported that another drop-in visitor was Miles Davis, “but I recently heard it may have been Ornette Coleman.” Oops.