IMPULSE – The Magazine Of Art And Culture, May 1980
Transcribed by Karsten Roekens
© 1980 Impulse
JAH WOBBLE OF PIL
Interview and Photo by Peter Noble
PETER NOBLE: "Is PIL the ultimate anti-image?"
JAH WOBBLE: "We came up with that particular name because we wanted to go all the way. We call ourselves Public Image because we don't have one, attack is the best form of defense. We're attacking by going all the way with it. As you've already noticed, we're very difficult when it comes to dealing with the record company executives. When we walked off the stage at the Palladium gig in New York we felt really tensed up. Warner Brothers were saying 'Look, we've got some people who want to talk to you,' and like, we just don't want to know and they couldn't understand why we felt that way. When we played in Boston they brought down The Cars to meet us. Christ, it's got nothing to do with me! 'So-and-so is in a band,' big deal. I won't even talk to people in punk groups just for the sake of it, so why should I talk to The Cars? When they entered the room we said 'Hello' and then we left the building. It's an unrealistic situation – just because I play in a group doesn't mean I'm going to hang out with that particular social set.
"I've got no interest what new bass guitar is on the market. The one I've got is functionable and it does the job, that's enough for me. I'm into talking about other things, and music is a reflection of the other things that I'm passionately into. I've always been into theories, concepts and abstracts – why do people conduct themselves the way they do? I've always been fascinated with people and how they shape their own mental conditions."
PETER NOBLE: "When you undertake a lengthy tour, do you feel there is enough room for self-expression?"
JAH WOBBLE: "I don't think it's healthy to tour for long periods of time. When the band is in England we don't see each other. We only get together if we have recording work to pursue, or if we have some live gigs lined up. The entire PIL thing is really quite weird. We're not a rock 'n' roll band because we feel that kind of music cannot progress, instead it's a regressive institution which manufactures variations of the same musical styles and structures that have already been accomplished in the past. "Out of all the new groups I'd have to say that I admire Fad Gadget, it's good synthetic music that's got some soul. I guess I'm into soulful things. I like people who can portray in a very unpretentious manner what they're taking in and giving out. I don't think there's anything called self-expresion. The media and one's environment – everything is an influence!"
PETER NOBLE: "Asking John about the songs on the 'Metal Box' album is like talking to a wall, you can't get a straight answer out of him. I'm extremely curious about the contents of 'Careering' in particular."
JAH WOBBLE: "People ask John what some of the songs are about, but he's notorious for not explaining it as it really is. 'Careering' is basically about Northern Ireland, a gunman who is careering as a professional businessman in London. Careering – isn't it amazing how one word can have more magic than an entire opera? It's such a beautiful word that sums up so many people who are, y'know, careering. It's really strange, because we'd be playing it on stage and I'd look towards the side and I'd see somebody from the record company, and like, he or she would be careering!"
PETER NOBLE: "I was quite surprised about PIL's performance at the Palladium. I'm specifically talking about John's idea of having a good time, I was shocked at the crowd's positive reaction ... Wobble, do you know what I'm getting at?"
JAH WOBBLE: "John likes to get some of the people on stage to sing and dance around, y'know, that's kind of nice in a way. But last night he even left part way during the show and went back to the hotel with our guitarist Keith. Martin Atkins and I were left on stage and we couldn't leave, because people had paid good money to see a full performance. Martin and I played for the remaining twenty minutes by improvising and jamming rhythms, we couldn't cover it up and say 'Oh yeah, John had a headache!' I mean, he's just the way he is and there's nothing you can do to change him. It's a bit unfortunate at times! There we were, trying to get this serious musical thing together, and he just makes it into a pantomime. John's got this worked-out formula for absurdity, disappointment and disillusionment. If I would have been one of those people in the audience, I would have said 'Why the fuck are they doing this, it's not funny!' Inviting people on stage is nice in a certain way, but most of those people go up so that they can be noticed by their friends. I usually identify with the people who are sitting at the back of the venue, because they're the ones who are totally into the music."
PETER NOBLE: "I once read somewhere in the British press that PIL would never attempt to do a North American tour, but now I'm talking with you in New York and you're in the midst of that very tour you said you'd never do!"
JAH WOBBLE: "We did say that, but what can you do? We are signed to Warner Brothers in America, and they want us to tour in support of the 'Second Edition' album. When we said that, at the time none of our work had been released in North America, our debut album 'First Issue' was considered unsuitable for an American release, so we didn't feel it was necessary to tour. Anyways, I want to get back to London as soon as possible. It's not that I hate touring but I'm tired of PIL being the centre of attention. Everybody's making such a fuss and we can't even go for a walk without being hassled. Knowing the fact that I'm going back to the hotel and people are going to be waiting in the lobby ... well, you know what I mean."
PETER NOBLE: "Don't you think PIL would be less exploitable, commercially speaking, if it had control over its own independent recording label?"
JAH WOBBLE: "I've been asked a lot about the independent labels in England, and people tend to say 'What do you think of Rough Trade Records?' I don't want to keep knocking them but I don't really agree with their amateurish attitude, they've always had this guilt complex over making money. Why bother making silly records? It's so non-essential, and I've got no interest in it. Those people get taken very seriously in England, but it doesn't make any sense to me.
"There are some independents that I have some respect for, and Factory Records is one of them. I'm really into this entire independent thing and that's where I differ from the rest of PIL. I'd like to have us our own label, but they don't want to have anything to do with it. I don't think an artist has that much control over his work if he's signed to a major company. If an independent does become successful and slowly grows into a major company then there's nothing wrong with that. It's bullshit to resent the money aspect of it because it's an inevitable reality. The main objective is to have control over bringing new sounds to an interested audience.
"I live for the benefit of turning people on to something that's real and interesting. I guess I'm a corny entertainer, I enjoy being on stage and playing. That's why I get upset if the show isn't as good as it could be. I just want to play the songs with feeling, change people's lives a little. Maybe if they get into PIL they'll start to pick up on some of the other groups that deserve the attention. Music is a strong force, a necessary function. Maybe it could change their attitudes?"
PETER NOBLE: "One of the things I admire about PIL is that it is a limited company. You are your own managers and you have no need for any well-known producers. As a company I realise that PIL is prepared for undertaking a variety of business ventures, but I sense that you are much more interested in the music itself."
JAH WOBBLE: "PIL talks about being involved in various business ventures, such as video, but I think it's bullshit really. This video geezer comes up to us in Boston and says 'In this day and age we should not neglect the eyes from the senses!' Well, look, I'm watching these trees and I'm not neglecting that sense, and my ears are hearing the music that's around me now. I just think video discs are complete and utter bullshit, I don't want to see moving pictures of the band. I do enjoy looking at photographs of bands, but when I'm subjected to watching them on video I think it's so sterile. I told that video guy that it would take your imagination away, he said 'No, you can always turn the vision off.' I just looked at him and said 'That's bullshit, people won't.' It's the same with the whole television syndrome, people don't want to turn their televisions off. People should learn to see the pictures in their fucking minds, in abstract terms, but they're like sheep. It's sad."
PETER NOBLE: "I think everybody wants to be so modern. There's never a time when people can remain satisfied where they are, people feel the need for constant change and advancement."
JAH WOBBLE: "It's possible in the musical climate to do something in a small way and make a living off of it, if you organize. You don't have to have some bullshit manager ripping you off, you can go to some small label like Factory and get by. People say I purposely go out of my way to attract a sense of status but it's not true. I'd rather attract a small group of people who understand and appreciate what I do. Big audiences have to have everything spelt out for them, and I don't think I'd be able to adapt to other people's expectations.
"We manage ourselves and do our own producing, we have no need for parasites. That's why I don't agree with blindly saying 'Yeah, all producers are shit!' There are some producers who can bring out certain aspects of your music that you couldn't do."
PETER NOBLE: "Do people go to a PIL concert expecting to hear the Sex Pistols?"
JAH WOBBLE: "We've been playing hard as we always do and people have been getting off on the rhythm of it, and they're not shouting out for Sex Pistols numbers. All of these kids are totally into it, listening to Public Image. At our concerts we never work out set lists, we just go out on stage and see what happens. I'd like to have an organized set list just once for a laugh! You've got to understand that we're not a rock band. PIL is a limited company, and somehow in this crazy day and age we manage to get by, and we do it without playing rock music.
"I think a lot of the time we underachieve what we're really capable of. PIL underachieved during last night's performance at the Palladium! The thing that got me was all of these people saying 'Oh wow, Wobble, that was a great show!' I mean, we fucked up, and they thought it was hip to like it because they felt it had been all planned – it's crazy! All of these people were coming up to us and saying 'Great ending, good idea!'"
PETER NOBLE: "I'm surprised the audience didn't lynch you!"
JAH WOBBLE: "Our music isn't the hardest to play anyway. I just find it easy playing loads of rhythms, ummm ... there's no reason why we should ever do a bad gig. I hope everybody in the band stays on stage without walking out tomorrow night, it would be nice! I don't like to see people who have forked out ten to fifteen dollars for a ticket and then become cheated. The way Keith and John conduct themselves is sometimes dubious in a way, I mean, they don't go around picking up groupies, taking heroin and bullshitting. And they will call spade to spade, y'know, they'll say the truth straight out. "I'll tell you one thing though, John's whining for attention is really going to do me in on this American tour, it's getting to me already. When we're on the airplane all you can hear from the back is" (in a baby's voice) "'I want a cup of coffee!'"
JOHN LYDON GETS HIS PALM READ
The date is Monday, April 21, 1980, and somewhere in New York City Public Image Ltd. have agreed to talk to IMPULSE. It's lunchtime and John Lydon wants to eat some curry food. Warner Brothers publicity representative, Stacey Green, decides to make reservations at Gaylord's, a fashionable restaurant specializing in Indian cuisine.
Throughout the meal Lydon makes various comments about the food such as a) "I don't know what that is." b) "I'm fucking not trying it." c) "What the hell is that?" d) "You know what that looks like..." As we make our way to the serving of desert and tea, a polite Indian host introduces himself to our party and it goes something like this:
PALM READER: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have probably not met you before. I am a palm reader and I read the hands of many people. I wonder if you would be interested in having a thought of concentration and diversement, insight and wisdom? And I promise you definitely a palatably revealing journey into the subconscious mind!"
JOHN LYDON: "How much does it cost?"
PALM READER: "Oh, you've asked me a very interesting question!"
JOHN LYDON: "Can I go first?"
PALM READER: "What is your date of birth?"
JOHN LYDON: "January 31st 1956."
PALM READER: "My dear, you do have a long life, you will definitely live to be over 89 years of age. You will never have any kind of serious sickness or ailments. Your trouble will be mainly mental rather than physical. You are very ingenious, versatile and a very talented young man, but remember, every man of this nature is a little bit crazy. Your greatest trouble in life is that you cannot fit in exactly with the plans and ideals of other people. You run your life in a very independent direction. You will always try to introduce a new system of government, a new way of life, at work, at home and everywhere you go. You are very domineering and dictatorial. You have a lot of people and friends that are close to you, but at heart you feel lonely.
"I do have a feeling, my dear, that you are a very crafty type of person. If somebody shows you how to do something at one time, the next minute you'll do the same thing with precision and accuracy in a much better sense of judgement. Excuse me, but you are such a crafty person, just like a monkey. I find here that you have the wonderful gift of the gab. Everything to do with the artistic world, presentation, communication, and the people around will have you coming out on top with flying colours.
"I do believe, my dear, that you are going to come into two opportunities very soon from now. You are going to take the first opportunity, not the second one. However, the second one will seem to be very tempting. I also see you getting a very important document.
"I do have a feeling from 1975 to 1977, a period of two years that have been very struggling for you. Yet you managed to stand up on your own feet. Your face looks like your mother's, but she's a very conservative woman. You'll find it difficult to get along with this woman again."
JOHN LYDON: "Seeing that she died last year, yeah."
PALM READER: "I do have a feeling that you are a very calculating man. You had a very difficult time last year. However, you had been picked up as a man of choice by some powerful and influential people who had proved very helpful to you. "Last year you experienced a time of disgrace, disloyalty and complications. People had promises that they did not keep. You suffered on account of that. Fortunately 1980 is the year that will be a most prosperous one. You definitely and positively have been a silent sufferer for a while. "Excuse me, but you are a very crafty type of gentleman, very improvising and ingenious. You are going to compromise some relationship with some people that you would not have done in the past. You used your tongue to negative means last year. As a result, you lost some friends and suffered into secret jealousy from that, but you're going to compromise this year, which is going to give you the success that you are looking for. I am through with the reading. Thank you."
JOHN LYDON: "God, that was some speech!"
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
© Peter Noble