Musik Express, March, 1980 (Germany
Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens
© 1980 Musik Express
PiL - BEYOND MUSIC AND LANGUAGE
Interview and pictures by Harald in Hülsen.
There are people who still haven't realized that the Sex Pistols
era is over. Even innovators have to move on. One of the first to notice
and to demonstrate it with his work is John Lydon. If you still call
the head of Public Image Ltd. Johnny Rotten then you are wasting your
breath. You have lost contact.
''We must not forget our duty to be free… Cornegidouille! We won't have destroyed anything unless we destroy the ruins too.'' (Alfred Jarry, ''Ubu Bound'', 1900)
We must shake our heads. We must break with the past, with the habitual normality that eats us up. With everything that steals our experiences/hopes/dreams. We need sounds/images that don't spoon-feed us with familiarities. No. We don't want to be adjusted to our environment. We need sounds / images that cause confusion. That permanently refuse to be understood / grasped by our heads/bodies. We need… Public Image Ltd. We need the 'Metal Box'… We are waiting for more! Because they are radical, challenging, self-undermining.
There's unrest in my thoughts and feelings. Turmoil. Systematic search in my brainwaves after the inaccessible, the intangible.
I try to grasp a piece. To get nearer. And I know I won't grasp it. Because I don't want to. Because I don't need to. Because I want to keep up the search!
I'm crossing the city. The car takes me to John Lydon's house, PiL's headquarter. Behind the windscreen that separates me from the outside world is only darkness. White neon lights break the image. I see no sun. I see no stars. The night is deep. The throbbing gristle of the soundtrack to Carpenter's film 'Assault on Precinct 13' hangs in my ears. I watched the film twice last night. Young outlaws running amok against the law, against society. With a sound that drives the liquid out of your intestines. I'm ready… for PiL. And the wetness comes from outside, it's raining.
We reach the house. The girl at Virgin's instructed me to hammer against the door with full force, because they have always loud music inside! I put my ear to the door. No music. I hammer against the door with feet and fists. Because outside cars make noise, lorries let the road vibrate - they do what's supposed to be happening inside.
John Lydon opens the door. Friendly, human, communicative. In trousers/shirt/shoes/jacket. Inside it is quiet. Just the colour TV emits sounds/images - from Margaret's England. First gymnastics championships. Then news about telephone tapping. All secrecy no privacy! John is sitting down on his favourite spot - a blue leather couch. He has got a plan: for the next PiL concert he wants to take the couch with him, plus a special microphone-cum-TV screen to watch telly.
John has manufactured an object. It hangs on the wall: a woman's torso combined with a Jimmy Carter mask. I feel comfortable in this ambience. I switch off the tape recorder. It's redundant. Because a conversation/exchange of ideas - spoken words and periods of silence - takes place between two (later five) persons. Just like meeting an old friend who lives around the corner.
PiL operate outside the confines of the music business. Hence they are in the position to experiment. PiL demand a new approach.
John has turned 24 years old. Today. Eventually the two non-musical PiL members Jeannette Lee and Dave Crowe arrive. Both were out shopping, birthday presents for John. Dave drops down several record boxes for John to store his records which lie scattered around the house. Jeannette gives him a Margaret Thatcher poster, an Andy Warhol imitation of the famous Monroe colour print. Margaret in a Marilyn dress. Shortly afterwards lean blond Keith Levene appears, a PiL instrumentalist. Keith drops some boxes and sets up an illuminated sign from the Western culture next to the TV - 'Neon' it says in glaring yellow light.
From time to time the two telephones are ringing. Jeannette answers the phones. Best wishes or questions for John from people he doesn't know. Polly from Yorkshire wants to know if he still hates punks. John laughs: ''What gave her that idea? Who the hell has ever claimed I hate punks! They just bore me with their dreariness, they can't accept any progression! So they fall behind - like all the others who turned bitter.'' The door bell rings. John returns with a shirt in his hand, which he shows around bored: ''Some idiots send them every day. I think they come from an asylum.'' The torn shirt pictures Johnny Rotten. A remnant from different world gone by. For some it is still present.
John has learned from the past. PiL is a democratic organization. Their kind of management means: self-awareness, to know what you want, to put it into practice yourself. It's an ongoing effort. Which if it succeeds could break practices and structures of the music business. PiL don't use producers. No contracts with promoters/agencies. No tours. Just a singular concert if they feel like it. If it's fun.
John: ''Otherwise it becomes a routine, cheap theatre. You lose a
lot of money and pack up! Either PiL will be a complete failure, or
we will succeed. But we'll try anyway - which is a success in itself!
We are experimenting with technologies in the musical area and in film
and video.'' (Jeannette and Dave use a Beaulieu Super 8 camera with
sound recording ability) ''Even if you don't master the electronics,
I tell you: these machines exist for me to use, not to intimidate me!''
PiL spend much time in the studio, because they enjoy it. Keith produces noises with his guitar, not melodies, he uses it like spray paint with which you spray garbled forms onto a wall. Ditto the synthesizer - he scrawls beyond any clichés. Keith was once back in the year '76 for three Clash gigs their third guitarist. John: ''None of us is a musician - but we all have ideas for sounds and noises. Our approach is: can we have fun with this sound? We don't operate after a fixed schedule in the studio, which we book and pay ourselves, and we don't have any intellectual arguments while we piece together a song, so we need a lot more time, and it does not always work out - but in the end we pull it off because it's just us four people who have a say!'' Jah Wobble ploughs deep warm furrows with his bass, Martin Atkins is after Jim Walker (who played on PiL album no.1) and Richard Dudanski the current PiL drummer.
John: ''I have big respect for The Doors!'' Lydon's voice/singing (he writes the lyrics) lies way beyond language, he stretches syllables to the limit, he grinds deep in the sewer. Listen to 'Albatross' (on 'Metal Box') and you empathize with John.
PiL sounds can evoke images in your head, individual associations. In the 1920s the sound to the movie was invented. Today a reverted development takes place: music is turning visual. And PiL are playing a crucial role. The record company dissented, when they handed over the finished tapes. It wanted to cut the band's advance in half (the 'Metal Box' estimated to £27,000 of which PiL had to raise £20,000 for the tin can out of their own pockets).
John: ''Hahaha! Then we'll just leave them and find another way!''
''The public image belongs to me, it's my entrance, my own creation, my grand finale, my goodbye'' ('Public Image')
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
© Harald in Hülsen