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Q&A: John Lydon

Former Sex Pistol discusses his new autobiography

John Lydon

John Lydon performing at Roseland in New York City on April 24th, 1992.

David Corio/Redferns/Getty

John Lydon doesn’t particularly care if you’re comfy during your little chat. Walk into his hotel room and he does not rise from his perch on the couch nor does he shake your hand. No matter: A conversation with Lydon is a hell of a lot of fun. Lydon is in town shilling his new book, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, a loving look backward at his early life and those who peopled it, from Malcolm McLaren (“I never ever liked Malcolm as a friend”) to David Bowie (“What a pompous prat!”) to Sid Vicious (“My mum thought he was a bit retarded”). The book aims to puncture the ever-swelling myth that is the Sex Pistols. “Bare your soul,” Lydon sighs, “and all you get is a spanked bottom.”

I hate your mag.

Now hold on a minute! We just gave you a great book review.

It astounded me. Absolutely left me speechless. Which is the only reason you’re here now! [Giggles unsettlingly]

You mean you would have refused to do this otherwise?


Was there a specific incident that prompted you to write your book?

No, there was no final straw, just 17 years of ranting and raving by idiots, basically, rewriting my history and telling me what I am and what I’m not.

I found the passages about your father to be the most affecting.

Well, he loved his bits! He hasn’t got ’round to anything else! You think I’m a snarly git, you should try him for an afternoon!

No, not painful. Agonizing, really – deciding, ‘Should I tell that?’ People can tend to use things against you in a most spiteful way.

What about feedback from others that you wrote about?

Oh, I couldn’t give a damn. I talked to Paul [Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook], he came to the book party in London, and he thinks it’s all a good laugh. There’s no viciousness in what I do.

But you said Vivienne Westwood had a turkey neck.

It’s not even an opinion, it’s actually a fact. She does have a turkey neck. She can’t help it. Take off the feather boa around her neck and you’ll see what I mean. Gobble, gobble, gobble.

Have you read any book reviews?

I haven’t seen any yet, but apparently they’re fab and swish and delish.

You must have chosen to leave some memories out.

Well, you’ve got to curtail your excesses at some point. I left out the Public Image years, for instance, because I think that that deserves a completely separate book. It probably would be the more fascinating story of the two.

What do people say to you when they hand the book to you to sign?

Oh, lots of people were shaking like a leaf. That astounds me. I don’t see myself as godlike at all. I’m a bit of a rogue, I’m a devil, I can see that. But I can’t understand people vibrating or wetting their knickers.

Fess up: Is it really true that you would clean your fingernails with Nancy Spungen’s heroin needles in hopes that she would get infected and die?

Yes, yes. [Grins broadly] Does that count as murder?

Anything that you’ve looked back on as you’ve been excavating this stuff that you can’t believe you did?

Excavating? Is that what I’m doing? [Laughs] That’s a good word. As I sat around and think about what I do, it amuses me greatly. I can’t believe the cheek I have sometimes. I don’t regret doing anything. Well, maybe I would have changed my clothes more often.

You have notoriously … strong feelings for Pink Floyd. Isn’t it a bit ironic that they’ve not only survived, but with their current tour, there’s a frenzy to get tickets?

I’ve always said it’s really self-indulgent, pompous. But it doesn’t mean I hate the people that manufacture such gunk. Quite the opposite. Too many people in this industry are so damn precious about themselves!

What do you think of rap?

Oh, I’m fed up with it. Enough, all right? Change the damn beat. Please. It’s just too many people all saying the same thing to the same backbeat.

Is there a modern band that you like?

Probably. Probably.

Feel free to name names.

No, that would spoil it. I make my day, not theirs!

It’s not only me they didn’t contact. They didn’t contact Malcolm, Steve or Paul or Glen or anybody that was connected. Deeply weird. And having the nerve to support that it’s some kind of documentary alluding to a truth. It caused me a lot of annoyance at the time, people coming up to me and saying, “Oh, you’re Sid Vicious, aren’t you dead?” That’s the kind of audience it attracted. Now they can read the truth.

In Rolling Stone.

Well, I wouldn’t recommend that. They must have other outlets!

Why does it annoy you that so many bands claim the Pistols as an influence?

It doesn’t annoy me at all. I just wonder what exactly was it that was influencing them, because they seemed to get it quite wrong. I’ve been completely – all my life – thoroughly anti drug culture, anti doom and gloom. I think everything I’ve done has been constructive and there to help people, not destroy them. I’m well pissed off with the negativity that people seem to think the Sex Pistols or the Public Image are a part of. To be quite frank, when Sid died of his heroin overdose, that was a pretty damn hard thing to try to counteract. People only tend to remember your last, worst move. 


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