Lydon & McGeoch:
Melody Maker, September 24th, 1988
© 1988 Melody Maker
Fodderstompf: This interview is from a two part feature on PiL's triumphant Estonian show. The original article also included pieces on the other band's, however, our edit only features Public Image ltd; and we're pretty sure it's incomplete. If anyone has the whole article – or part one – please get in touch…
PiL in Estonia - Part 2
LAST WEEK'S ROCK AROUND THE BLOC FOUND BIG COUNTRY AND PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED SUFFERING FROM EXTREME CULTURE SHOCK IN TALLINN, ESTONIA, A FAR-FLUNG OUTPOST OF THE SOVIET UNION WHOSE LOCALS WERE SURREPTITIOUSLY STAGING THE BIGGEST FESTIVAL EVER BEHINDTHE IRON CURTAIN.
THIS WEEK STEVE SUTHERLAND CONTINUES THE TALE OF HOW LYDON, ADAMSON AND CO COPED WITH EASTERN DEPRIVATION AND BROUGHT THE GLOW OF GLASNOST TO THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OFTHE REVOLUTION
SORRY TONY BENN, THIS IS NOT WHAT I want to see in my part of the world.
I don't want the Yorkshire miners inflicting this on all of us."
In the Foreign Currency Bar of Tallinn's Olympia Hotel, John Lydon is supping and sniping. He's been offered seven roubles to the quid on the black market (the official exchange rate is one) but there's no point in going for it because you can't spend roubles here. Nobody wants them. And you can't take them out of the country either. It' s like having to pay in Tescos in dollars.
McGeoch's with him, on Russian champagne. Lydon's on lager and they're both on the case.
"I feel like saying to a lot of these interviewers- – and I can't quite get my gob around a polite way of saying it - that I know absolutely f*** all about Estonia but I'm discovering things since we've been over here," says McGeoch. "I mean, you can't be expected to be a world scholar, a world economics expert, state by state, music by music, folk roots by folk roots. . ."
"Unfortunately John, this is the position we're put in," says Lydon. 'We have to qualify ourselves not only as musicians but as politicians, as geologists, geographers, world travellers. We have to be smarter than practically any other walk of life and it's really unfair. I bet they don't do this to Cliff Richards!"
How are you settling in? My first impression, I must admit, is this place is hell.
"Did you have a cry?" Lydon asks, grinning, "I did!" I tell Lydon about Russian rock writer Art Troitsky's claim that Estonia is like any other liberal European country.
"If this is liberal, sod off! I ain't going to Siberia. But hold on, look at this festival. There's no violence. The age range out there is extreme and that I really like. I see no reason why babies in prams shouldn't come to a Public Image gig and that's something to learn and use. So there are things to take out of it."
I ask Lydon what he thinks about the importing of rock culture to the East. I mean, I've seen Grateful Dead and Iron Maiden tee-shirts here. Aren't they really better off without Elton John and Status Quo? Aren't they better off playing their own stuff, untainted, instead of recreating The Ramones or the Stones?
"Yes. I can see it happening and it's very difficult for me because they're adopting this Sex Pistols, destroy, blah blah blah pantomime fiasco which was misunderstood in England and ruined that whole situation. And that's what's happening here now, yes. They're not seeing it for what it is, they're just looking for something underneath it that isn't there.
"Let's approach it from a football supporter's point of view. As an Arsenal lad, I love to chant at Tottenham 'Sing your own songs'. And that's it. I want them to sing their own songs with their own rhythms- they've got brilliant rhythms - in their own language! But the thing is, rock 'n' roll, originally, was an American art form. The British did a lot to copy it but I they now have, finally, found their own way of doing things and I think that's completely clearly understood. Well, maybe that's what's happening here so let's be fair. They're just testing the ground and they have to go through that crash course really quickly before they begin to turn around and go 'Bleedin' 'ell, I've had enough of this. Give me my balalaika baby!'."
I remember Bjork once ticking me off for not apologising to The Sugarcubes for my inability to communicate with them in their native language and I suggest to Lydon that rock 'n' roll is f***ing rude:, intruding on other people's culture's, imposing its inanities in English. Even if the youngsters do learn our language at school, I m ashamed I didn't make the effort with a phrase book.
"Well Mr Sutherland, now you know why I never considered myself part of the rock 'n' roll business because I despise its cheapness. The minute you say 'Yes, we're a rock 'n' roll band' is the minute you admit to being an absolute con merchant and facile and vacuous with it.
"I'm not being arrogant, yet I have been perceived for decades. . . well, a decade, as being so, when I say I am what rock 'n' roll should be. That's my genuine feeling. I disagree with the rest of them taking the easy ride, the rollercoaster to heaven, baby. It's nonsense. There's no thought process in it and it's moronic. It's reducing all our lives to this tedium, to this nonsense fairground."
For PiL, is being in Estonia a political act?
"Of course!" insists McGeoch. "But you shouldn't have to verbalise your politics. I mean, in the Second World War, the Nazis banned saxophone music -that hasn't even got any lyrics! They banned it because they thought it was subversive. . ."
"Yes; because it was a new instrument created by the French and it offended their sensibility about what classical music was," sneers Lydon. "There were no saxophones in Wagnerian opera!"
But maybe this is just a placebo. Maybe the Kremlin is turning a blind eye because it's a futile gesture that means nothing.
"Major point," says Lydon, "There are not exactly an abundance of Russian journalists here. In fact, there are none. There is nothing state sponsored. There is no thank you for coming. There is nothing of the sort. Not even from the Estonian government. So, what we're doing is quite weird - it's a non-political, apolitical, very political event that we're taking part in."
"I find it difficult to believe, although everyone's saying this, that we've pulled a stroke over Moscow, that they don't know about it," says McGeoch. "I think. old Gorby's up there going 'Okay, go for it!'"
I tell Lydon about the Echo & The Bunnymen incident - how all the Russian fanzine journalists remembered what I'd written better than I did. "Hello! Hello! I've had this all day! Hahaha! Apparently I'm Fascist. That's why they all caught on to The Sex Pistols, because Moscow dictated that I was an absolute big bad Fascist- that was their perception of it. Arid they locked onto that because it annoyed the Russia proletariat so much. But Fascist means something different here, it means someone who threatens the system. How peculiar that I could be a Fascist in Russia and really like that and have a different title somewhere else.
"But actually, this isn't so weird because, if you think of Italy, you're a Fascist there if you own property, you're a Communist if you rent, all right? So the subversion and the use of titles and terminology really isn't quite as odd as we think."
What the f*** do they expect PiL to sound like? I mean, they're in for a shock because you've been making music that's had absolutely nothing to do with what's been written about you for years now…
"Oh, you've noticed this! Do you know what was quoted at me today? I'm Hitler's sexy daughter! They read that, see, and that compounds the idea that I'm a Fascist. Where did that come from? Was it 'Sounds'?"
Wouldn't it have been brilliant if you could have come here completely pure? "And shame of shames, this is what we thought would be the situation."
I wonder, is there any truth in the widespread rumour of an offer to reform the Pistols for loadsamoney?
"No, that's rubbish. That's pointless. That's absolutely stupid. Six million? I can see it! It's the same lie that's spread about reforming The Beatles. These stories will always come across because the Gill Pringles of this world require this kind of garbage to substantiate and continue their careers."
There's a lull while we negotiate more drinks with the barman and then I ask if Lydon enjoys this sort of travelling thing.
"What it does to us as a band is superb. We learn a lot from this, a f***ing lot. I can't understand people turning down an opportunity like this. look, always, always go in at the deep end, then sink or swim. Life is pretty damn pointless without that, without the agony and the ecstasy."
I ask him if he fancies going to Moscow as it may be more westernised there.
"Well, they've got a heroin problem but that's easternised I suppose because that's where it comes from, eg: Afghanistan. Those troops are seriously screwed up - very much like the Yanks in Vietnam. They've got the same problem. They have learnt a serious lesson and that's the lesson of history that just keeps repeating itself. You cannot invade! You cannot! Violence achieves nothing."
Are you drawn to this sort of conflict situation, in a country struggling against a greater power.
"Hello, I'm Irish. Hello, you're English. Shall we start again? You've had your culture bastardised for the same amount of time as me. It' s not so peculiar for these people and we mustn't think of ourselves as, like, jolly old England or jolly old Ireland because it really isn't that way at all. The Normans, the Romans, the Vikings... it depends what you want to align yourself to. Which do you consider your natural bloodline? And, to be quite frank, there is no such thing as a complete pure race. It is an impossibility. And that's why things like that annoy me. It's impossible. I have everything in me. I am black, l'm Jewish, I am Muslim, I am Irish, I am Catholic, Protestant, English, North South, East and West, I'm the lot. . . and I've probably got more than a big bit of dolphin in me . . ."
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
PiL live in Estonia, August 1988 © Brian Aris