I interviewed John Lydon 2 days before he kicked off his US tour for Public Image Ltd (PiL), a tour that was set to begin in Orlando. “I don’t like Orlando, there is nothing to do,” he told me, “And Disneyland is hardly my universe.” Well that’s for sure, especially after he told me his Goofy-assaulting story from 25 years ago. “He was was being pushy to the kids and I said ‘get your hand off them’ and then the next thing fists were flying! I got thrown out with my family because we ran into an aggressive cartoon character.” On the plus he said of his time this month in Orlando, the epicenter of Disney characters: “Maybe I can be seen in all the right places,” he jested. “It might pump up ticket sales!”
Currently, Lydon feels like he is in the right place in his life, having finally broken free from record label ties which he claims restricted, exploited and stifled him for nearly two decades. “I feel completely clean. I’m clean of the shit-stem.” In recent years he has been able to “raise enough money to stop paying off the outstanding debt that the record labels had kept me in. We [Public Image Ltd] formed our own record label, our own record.” Their new album, This Is PiL, is their first album released since 1992. “We produced it ourselves, we perform it ourselves, we write it ourselves and we tour ourselves. We are responsible for everything. No one can tell us what to do and it’s a wonderful experience. It’s the kind of world I have always been looking for, but unfortunately when I first started Public Image I was bound and hogtied really, because of the [Sex] Pistols. The contract deals..they were an ongoing process. It was a form of entrapment.”
The name behind Public Image Ltd, was taken from a book by Muriel Spark called The Public Image, a book about “how the public persona of a movie star ultimately corrupted and I view myself as a recovering Sex Pistol.” When Public Image Ltd was created in 1978, the name itself was indicative of its intentions to limit the public image, unlike Lydon’s life as singer Johnny Rotten. “I wanted to limit the public side of things, where the lies and rumor mongering and the basic Scalawag journalism was removed from my life, where I could just be honest and get on with it.”
He reflected on Sex Pistols Manager, Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren, an example of the kind of person Lydon wanted to distance himself from with the birth of PiL. “We had a manager who was just inventing things, just wanting desperately to be popular and scandalous. It was a real shame because I feel the songwriting of The Sex Pistols is really what mattered. Those were damn excellent forward-thinking songs, and I don’t think we should have ever been remembered for vomiting at an airport.”
I asked if he channeled any past frustration into the creation of the new record and he told me no, that he “got away from [the frustration] and focused on who I am as a person. I used some of the songs from childhood experiences to get back to the age of innocence really, rather than being negative.” One such song in which he returns to his childhood is Lollipop Opera which was inspired by all the multicultural music he was exposed to in the area in which he grew up, all the “wonderful noise when we used to be allowed to have street markets.” He would hear a mixture of Irish, Arabic, and Reggae while walking around on a Saturday afternoon and this track is a reflection and celebration of that.
Another song, Out Of The Woods is a song written from a black volunteer confederate’s point of view in the American Civil War. Lydon became fascinated with the Civil War years ago when he attended a Civil War Re-enactment. “I got to talk to people in various tents and they were telling me things about the Civil War that the history books don’t tell you.” This not only prompted the song Out Of The Woods, but also inspired Lydon to begin working on multiple documentaries about the Civil War. “As you can imagine the subject matter is highly contentious, according to some,” he told me of his documentary endeavors. “No country likes its history to be rewritten correctly.” Lydon says he feels that black culture has not been properly represented in our history in terms of the Civil War, and that the mainstream history lessons these days lacks honesty. Lydon recently viewed the parody film Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. “It’s hilarious, and I think that’s possibly more accurate than the current curriculum in schools.”
Despite Lydon’s often-aggressive persona depicted in the media, I found him extremely pleasant. His manner of going about conversation could be perceived as abrupt, but he is a witty straight shooter, one that genuinely values honestly. “There’s no aggression in me. This is again the politics of the media, they will lead you astray on that. I don’t attack people, I attack institutions…..I’ve got no time for bullshit, not from anyone. I don’t want to tell a lie to no one because I know what it feels like to receive a lie. “
This Is PiL is inspired by “all kinds of music, anything that is from human experience, anything done by a human being… The songs go to universes that many people who make music can’t even conceive of. We know of the rules and regulations of making music and we ignore every single one of them.”
And for those who attend the live shows of PiL can expect “a celebration of life, really! It may sound a bit corny, but its a mixture of an irish shindig, a rave, a blues dance, a reggae party, anything you care to mention as long as its people being happy together.”
PiL will be performing at The Music Hall of Williamsburg next Tuesday, October 9th in Brooklyn and on Saturday, October 13th at Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan.