Smash Hits magazine, July 19th, 1984
Transcribed by Karsten Roekens
© 1984 Smash Hits
"I'VE CHANGED THE WORLD!"
But has it changed him? John Lydon, film actor and singer with Public Image Ltd., reckons he's still the same as he was back in the days of the Sex Pistols. PETER MARTIN wonders what he's doing living in a big rented house with a swimming pool.
John Lydon has crammed an awful lot into his 28 years. Born in North London, he says he was employed by infamous gangsters the Kray Twins at the age of five. His adolescence centred around street gangs, or "runners" as he calls them. They were basically football hooligans (his team being Arsenal) who fought around the decayed region of Kings Cross – the very same place we're chatting in today. He talks with relish of the whole gangland scene, reckoning that the "runners are the only true anarchists in Britain today."
In 1976 he launched headfirst into the music business and turned everything on its head with the Sex Pistols, the archetypal punk group. Leaving in 1978, moving to New York in the process, he formed Public Image Ltd. To this day they deal in a form of erratic, extreme music that annoys as many people as it entertains. He's also recently starred in his first feature film, 'Order Of Death', receiving his usual widespread critical acclaim.
Not surprisingly, along the way he's got himself a bit of a bad reputation with his carefully calculated disregard for things like manners, values, rules and boring stuff like that. He still plays up to it – every time he sups his can of lager, he spits in mock disgust. Whiling away the afternoon with his close friend Nora (mother of Ari Up, the onetime singer with punk band The Slits). John Lydon struck me as quite charming and thoroughly fascinating. He seems to have an opinion about everything, and with his piercing blue eyes (he never blinks), subdued manic stare and fiery red hair, he holds a strange power that makes you take everything he says as gospel. Then again he doesn't spout a load of hogwash, he talks a great deal of sense. See what you make of him.
PETER MARTIN: "Why are you living in Los Angeles at the moment?"
JOHN LYDON: "It seemed to be the most awkward thing I could do to myself. It's not a glamorous city, it's a real hellhole. Incredibly violent, unbelievably chaotic. I tell you, if you really, really spouted the anarchistic philosophy, you'd live in L.A. But you don't have to notice the violent side."
PETER MARTIN: "What sort of place have you got there?"
JOHN LYDON: "A huge place in the Mojave desert. Swimming pool, massive garage, loads of palm trees, and for 1000 dollars a month! It's a joke, I'd pay that for a bedsit here. It's just so easy to live incredible poshly there, right, but it wears in at you and you get to realise it isn't worth shit. I don't resent it, it's all they got. I mean, in London our boredom is brick walls, parking meters, and their boredom is swimming pools and palm trees."
PETER MARTIN: "So why stay there?"
JOHN LYDON: "It's all an education. It makes you grow up, makes you not be so petty. It also helps you see people at their best and their worst."
PETER MARTIN: "So how do you see yourself now?"
JOHN LYDON: "In the mirror, usually."
PETER MARTIN: "No, I mean how've you changed, like, right in the depths of your soul?"
JOHN LYDON: "It'd have to be a big mirror to see that. No. Have I changed? Of course I ain't, ha ha." (leering laugh) "Have I gone conservative? That's what you're getting at, ha! Am I now buying chandeliers? Leave it out! I've never had any political views and I never will. It's all down to a load of jokers. I look out for myself and always will. And I don't go out of my way to make people unhappy, so that must make me a good person."
PETER MARTIN: "What do people think of you in America?"
JOHN LYDON: "My music, I hope, will be accepted very favourably by the general public. And as for the way I look, I get no reaction. There's no such thing in America as 'being weird'. You've got to bear in mind that when you go out you're in amongst hordes of prostitutes, pimps and God knows what else, and no matter what you do you could look no worse than that lot. But the minute they cop the accent they love you, they say 'How quaint, do you know Scunthorpe? Is that a suburb of London?'"
PETER MARTIN: "Apart from getting together a new band, what have you been up to out there?"
JOHN LYDON: "I hang around with the Chicanos, who are into all that cruising around in '50s cars. I've got a '57 Caddie. I got it for 2000 dollars. V8 engine, the works. I've had it souped up, so I'm going into races now – some serious stock car stuff. I love it!"
PETER MARTIN: "Any other interests?"
JOHN LYDON: "Yeah, sharks. I'm taking aqualung lessons so I can go down in a cage and shoot a film of the great whites. It'll be just for my own pleasure. I'd be a real toilet, wouldn't I, if I released it with a disco soundtrack. A bit of body-popping in there. Now that's so old. That was old, that breakdance stuff when I was in New York four years ago. And rap, that goes beyond the dark ages. What's new? Nothing really. The Yanks are very much clinging to the British thing. Oh yeah! You know, one thing I think's brilliant, just what England needs: 'The Young Ones'! Excellent! That sense of humour, like 'Don't take things too seriously, cos it's just a load of silly hairdos after all' – brilliant. It's very much like the early Sex Pistols, I could definitely fit into that squat. A thing you must understand about me is, no matter where I go I make it my own. Take my Englishness with me. I always take teabags and Branston Pickle."
PETER MARTIN: "How influential do you think you've been?"
JOHN LYDON: "I've changed the world! I don't have the financial benefits, right, but society music-wise is a lot better now, and I must be responsible for some of that. I mean, Yes would still rule the roost and Jethro Tull would still be playing Wembley. Like Boy George – I don't like his style, but he can sing. He has humour and he's good for music, he makes people happy. And I believe Frankie are very popular at the moment. It's alright, but it's nothing I haven't heard 15 years ago from Kool & The Gang's 'Jungle Boogie', it's just gay rock. Okay, so they're gay, big deal, but there's no need to spout on about it, it's nothing astronomically outrageous. But I say good luck to 'em. The only people I hate in this business are pseuds, people who spout that this is the only way. Take The Smiths, they annoy me cos they're guilty of it, as are The Clash. They just make life seem really tedious, killing ambition, and that's bad, there's no hope in it. And as for you poor little cows who buy Duran Duran records: you need serious help cos these people are conning you. Making records for people just because you think that's what they want, to me that's fascism. And I'm the exact opposite of that."
PETER MARTIN: "And how about your plans for the future?"
JOHN LYDON: "I'll just carry on making brilliant records. Have you heard my new LP?"
PETER MARTIN: "Yes."
JOHN LYDON: "Isn't it brilliant?"
PETER MARTIN: "No."
JOHN LYDON: "You fool! I disagree with you completely, it's jolly good stuff. Alright, it's your opinion. I don't hate you for it. I just don't like you very much. Now where's the toilet, I'm dying for a wee-wee."
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