Sounds, May 24th, 1980
Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens
© 1980 Sounds
PiL IN HOLLYWOOD
by SYLVIE SIMMONS. Pix by CHRIS WALTER.
''And now, ladiesangenelmen, all the way from London England, will you welcome the very wonderful Public Image...''
Huddled round the side with a crowd of disco dancers waiting for their fifteen minutes of fame, watching a fake Doobie Brothers run through their number so note perfect that, except for the old guy who's been sent off to find Public Image (as he calls them), the television crew are sitting around betting on the horse race on the monitors.
The spandex brigade slither onto the floor for Jermaine Jackson's latest (with Mary MacGregor and the imitation Doobies making up the entire bill of this week's pop institution, Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand', and PIL's American TV debut) and smile for the camera the whole time they're going through the exaggerated contortions, in case they get noticed. It's two o'clock in the afternoon, disco fever. John Lydon has a Vicks inhaler protruding from his left nostril.
''I feel ridiculous.'' Wobble shifts uncomfortably in the wings. ''Like a bloody whore.''
We're watching the neon dance display, pretty much lost for words. Cue from the cameraman and it's their turn to go on. They stroll back to the futuristic set where they just did a token rehearsal – spiral staircases either side leading to white London Palladium balconies, doily-shaped light shows on the wall behind – while the dancers go back to the bleachers and touch up the lipstick/adjust the tight pants till they're called back again.
The band has a poor but respectable look, ill-fitting suits except for John, the inhaler secreted on his person somewhere, in summery Great White Hunter pastel pymama-ish outfit. The look on his face is one of beatific compliance (reminds me of Malcolm McDowell in 'Clockwork Orange' when the authorities came to check the good little bad boy out).
Dick Clark – a younger, more wholesome Hughie Green in a black suit and tie and most-sincerely smile – strides over on camera. He pushes his hand out in welcome, quoting our favourite critics about this band, promising the millions of viewers ''a memorable moment in rock and roll, something interesting and special'', clapping them on the back: ''You must be John.''
Ah, the hand that touched the Beatles and the Stones. He and Wobble had already met backstage. Unmade-up and without the familiar accountant's suit, Clark apparently walked in on Wobble while he was having a kip.
''I'm Wobble,'' said Wobble. ''Who are you?''
''I'm Dick Clark,'' beamed Dick Clark, the professional smile never fading in the face of such Anglo ignorance.
''Good, well fuck off now,'' said Wobble. I am told by Americans that this is akin to spitting at the Queen Mother.
The music to 'Poptones' strikes up, the band is making an effort to mime along and all is well in TV land. John even supplies some Rotten sneers, nose into the camera, Quasimodo gyrations, menacing smiles.
But other than that he makes no attempt to open his mouth and mime along, instead doing a little Wombles dance for the cameras before an idea hits him and he heads for the Fiorucci set with their powder compacts open up in the benches behind Clark. As the confused cameramen decide they'd better follow him he grabs a disco girl down onto the floor and gets her to dance to the music without benefit of Quaaludes.
He scurries up the other side and drags down another lump of spandex, then another, till finally all the hired dancers and would-be stars are dancing and daygloing everywhere like some horrible infestation, completely blocking the band who mime on straight-faced, while John is pied-pipering behind the balconies and falling over in delight.
Dick Clark looks confused but cool as ever, the cameramen give up and focus on two samey girls who've climbed up to the balcony and are shaking their tits provocatively in the direction of the nearest lens.
The dancers stay down to the latest Clash, a cinch after that, as the band retire to the dressing room and John to his sickbed. He's got flu, has had ''for 22 years. I'm allergic to air conditioning, aeroplanes induce nausea. I've got hayfever and sinus.''
Plus he's suffering from exposure, having posed for 'Playboy' magazine
just the other day. The show, just like about everything on this tour,
he terms a ''Hollywood fiasco.'' Their
L.A. gig the next night was even more of one.
For neon disco dancers substitute neon punks, stormtrooper outfits and spiked hair on people old enough not to bother anymore, spaced-out obnoxious going through all the right moves: L.A. punk's answer to the Village People. 7000 people packed into a tacky downtown stadium normally used for wrestling matches and roller derbies, seething and battling and spitting and falling over in front of the stage.
The posters for the gig – to the disgust of the band – advertised PIL starring Johnny Rotten, and what a good enough percentage to make it revolting had come to witness.
Coming on in a priest's coat and balaclava, removed with a flourish to reveal just-so spiked hair (ah, they remembered), looking down on the little clones, launching into 'Careering', dodging the missiles, unable to avoid the gobs from below, just snarling between songs that ''spitting is so original'', ''act your fucking age'', challenging them to fights after the show to pick up the cleaning bills, concluding ''of all the places we've played we've never seen more third-rate people.''
He didn't like L.A. Luckily other places on the short tour have been less of a throwback (and throw-up). The band were waxing lyrical about Chicago for one, where regular people, 45-year-old men, girls in polyester, pretty much the whole spectrum with only a small percentage of posers, actually listened to the music.
Tonight the music seemed to serve as a backdrop to some Fellini film on the new youth. 30-year-old punks for the night gawking at John like he was some violent specimen in a futuristic zoo, who can be made to go through his savage repertoire if they rattle the cages enough or chuck enough at him.
And John looking at them like they were the specimens, chucking popcorn at them from a big tum, ''time to feed the animals'', standing there and trying to ignore them, or merely playing into their clammy little hands with ''are you getting your money's worth? Your pound'' (in this case $10, around £5) ''of fucking flesh?''
Even weirder when towards the end he drags up some little skinhead, can't be more than 12 years old and four-feet-six, in a little padded anorak waistcoat his mum must have made him wear, and gets him to sing ''Don't you listen'' on 'Bad Baby', in a voice chillingly like Lydon's. When the kids runs out of words, John fetches his songbook and gives the kid the mike, the book, the limelight as the band plays eerily on, like some warped 'Opportunity Knocks'.
The night closes with a clone of the little kid coming onstage to do some crazed Madness-type dancing completely out of synch with the music, and a third bizarre lookalike joining in, while bouncers at the side, confused as to who's actually meant to be onstage by invitation of the frontman and who just wants to invite themselves, chuck off anyone who has obviously reached the age of puberty.
Tomorrow they're off to San Francisco, the last date of the tour, some Indian Cultural Center, apparently the only way they can get around dealing with S.F. Biggie promoter Bill Graham.
The interview with John – togged out in various American sports garments and topped with a baseball cap – takes place in the bar of the hotel they just got thrown out the night before. They returned to find hundreds of fancy-dressed fans sleeping in the corridors, piling up in the lobby and wrestling with police outside. They took off straight away, but were asked to find other beds for the night anyway.
Simmons: ''Last night's show was, how can I put it, casual?''
Lydon: ''Well, of course. Isn't that what we've been yapping about for the last two-and-a-half years? Free form. We decide what songs we do as we do them and as we're inspired. I couldn't bear the fucking format.''
Simmons: ''What did the L.A. audience inspire in you?''
Lydon: ''Nausea actually. There were a lot of young
kids who were great, but there was this section right out the front
there in the middle of like 25- to 30-year-old gits in their
punk outfits, just trying to be as obnoxious as possible and getting it all wrong because
it's all just pure theatre, pure Hollywood. Now that I don't like. It's dreamy. If people are going to throw metal objects at me then let it be for real. Not like, swagger, aren't I tough.''
Simmons: ''The rest of the band were raving about your gig in Chicago, like this was an audience who understood what you were all about.''
Lydon: ''No one was posing. Everyone was out to have fun. They weren't all dressed up like punks – it's a uniform. It's as boring as the Boy Scouts. I don't want to think about it.''
Simmons: ''When I talked to the band, they said around
half the audiences had come to hear the music and half to see Johnny
Rotten come to life. They also said it was good sense to have Johnny
Rotten mentioned on the poster from a business point of view.
But whenever I've seen articles on you in America they always stress the ex-Pistol and his new band bit. In 'Rolling Stone' you were the only one with the mug shot.''
Lydon: ''It's rather difficult because Keith hates his picture being taken. Wobble's off doing his solo epics. But this is defintely a four piece band. I've been very pleased with the American press cuttings so far. The gigs are being reviewed as four people, you'd be surprised, and not a superstar git with a backdrop. And if you look at the album cover you'll see we're hardly promoting our faces. I don't think you can pick out any one person, except Wobble, who always looks like that.''
Simmons: ''Why are you doing only eight or nine shows on the tour? Don't you want to do a heroic 'get the message to the kids' bit, or are you just plain idle? Keith fancied the idea of staying at home and sending videos on tour?''
Lydon: ''We've been thinking about that a bit. This is a bit like drudgery. Now I know many rock and roll superstars out there will have a heart attack if they read something like that. Those 30 dates in 30 nights tours, I think that's awful. They can't be putting any soul into what they're doing. They can't believe in it, night after night the same songs. It's pointless. We do them when we want, and at this particular time it seemed like a fun thing to do.''
Simmons: ''Did you feel it was an appropriate time to make your big splash on the American scene again now everything's become dull and uninspiring like before?''
Lydon: ''Say we did it in five years time, you might be saying the same thing. Really! Just take things as they are. There doesn't have to be the wholesale planned-out reasoning behind it. There's definitely not with us.''
Simmons: ''Do you hate America as much as you seem to?''
Lydon: ''I don't hate America. I just hate most of the people here. It's like everywhere. There's good and bad, but there's a lot of bad. Quite frankly it's the accent that puts me off. I hate being asked to repeat myself. And I hate being touched, and Americans like touching all the time. It's creepy. 'Ooh darling!' In England you pretend you don't know your friends.''
Simmons: ''You were supposed to have had a serious American girlfriend.''
heard that too! I was also supposed to be married and I was supposed
to be knocking off Rodney Bingenheimer. If all my publicity were
true I'd be quite an interesting person. Gossip's good though. It's
when you take it seriously you've got a problem. I hate this town.
I've been here so often – God, don't I sound
like the weary traveller. This town's too big. I miss England, I miss
English beer, I miss my mates, I miss the ferry over to Ireland every
weekend – ah, it's great, I get so drunk. I hate baseball, it's
I went to a match and I was bored paralytic – I thought cricket was bad! What a culture shock. The entire audience was middle-aged businessmen yapping on about contracts.
I don't like sports anyway. I hate muscles. They're disgusting and there's no need for them.''
Simmons: ''They'd have come in handy if the fat punks had taken you up on your offer of a fight after the show.''
Lydon: ''You can do that with a stick. Or if you've got enough money you can get someone else to do it for you!''
Simmons: ''Was your visit here a month ago just to check out the venues and do prestigious interviews?''
Lydon: ''That wasn't a promotional thing. It was
an argument with Warner Brothers.
Point: strange how none of Warner Brothers record company turned up last night.
Not even a hello. And we waited an hour and a half for them. They told us we were arseholes for getting that gig. They thought we were sick, they had nothing to do with it. And we made them pay for all their tickets – fucking right! It's money in my pocket.
I'm not paying for 800 people I don't know. It's simple, we want our air fare back to England. Warners gave us an allowance of $20 a day, and we've got to pay for everything out of that.''
Simmons: ''Why did you drag those little kids onstage for the 'star is born' bit – to upset the old punks?''
Lydon: ''That was positive. They were being pushed
around by those big fat oafs.
They couldn't see anything. There were all these 30-year-olds in their leather jackets squashing them. Unreasonable behaviour, I thought. I'd rather play to 11-year-olds, seriously. It would be more fun because they're more honest. Kids are much less corrupt. They don't have attitudes so they have fun. Kids decide whether they like you or not, and that's that... You know those kids that got up? We let them bash the synth. And they really got no idea what they were hearing. They'd never played one of those things. It's quite a shock to realize that most of the audience can't distinguish the guitar from the bass or the drums. They've got this vague idea of legs outstretched, guitar at a fucking 45 degree angle, hair swishing. And unfortunately that's true. They should know what they're hearing.''
Simmons: ''Why? A lot of kids are content with just that.''
Lydon: ''Well, they might as well go and turn on a hairdryer. Hoovers and hairdryers make nice sounds. If you put them on all at once, and I often have done, they make tunes all their own. If you bung that on stage, and this same audience that listens to this dreary load of hippies standing in front of it, they'll go for that. But if they've seen the machines doing it, they wouldn't go for it at all. It means the noise really has nothing to do with it. They're buying an image, a fantasy, and that's vile. It dulls the senses, because it's all controlled by big business anyway.''
Simmons: ''I'd have thought the 11-year-olds, who are pretty impressionable especially by rock stars like your good self, would be as unlikely to form opinions as the 30-year-old posers.''
Lydon: 'Yeah, well, it would be fine if they just dressed up, have fun, haha, but they're not doing it for the right reasons. It's really vile, you know, to have to look at three or four thousand people who look exactly the same. God, it's cloning. Isn't that what all this is meant to be against? You're meant to express your own personality, not be some fucking pin up poster.''
Simmons: ''Don't you realize that you're criticising and taking the piss out of something you were pretty much responsible for? Little Johnny comes to town in '78 and leaves behind a trail of spiked hairdos and snarling bands.''
Lydon: ''Isn't that what everyone does, take the piss? You take the piss out of your television but you still pay the rent for it. I'm just like everybody else. I've no doubt I'll be blamed for World War Three. I don't care. It's pointless. I think the bands should be annoyed that they're being represented as mere clones of me – our offspring.''
Simmons: ''Weren't you asking for the reaction this time, when the poster advertising the PIL gig had 'featuring the famous Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols' slashed across it?''
Lydon: ''No, I definitely did not ask for that. We had a serious, er, disagreement with the promoter over that. That was his little fucking arrangement, the dirty pervert. We were 6000 miles away at the time. Thank God someone rang us up and that was that, we stopped it, told them to shove their gig if they didn't cease that kind of shit. But everybody's a cunt, right, and it's naïve of you to expect anything else.''
Simmons: ''So what about the Johnny Rotten role? It seemed at the TV taping and last night's show that some part of you at least was playing into their hands, giving them what they expected.''
Lydon: ''Hold on. You're making me sound like an actor.''
Simmons: ''Aren't you? You looked like one in the priest's outfit and spiked hairdo.''
Lydon: ''No, that was just a pisstake of those goons
out front. This ain't no David Bowie going through his changes. The
Johnny Rotten role! And now the John Lydon character. That's just press
hype. Who's next? The Lone Ranger? I didn't change my name, I was forced
to legally because I was under court action with Malcolm McLaren who
declared that he owed the name Johnny Rotten, thus making it illegal
for me to use it until a certain period of time when I won the case,
which is like right now. That man went out of his way to destroy the
band. He wanted 25% of all our earnings before tax. He has nothing
to do with this band at all. And my hair just grows that way. I don't
like doing anything to it.
I don't care. It's nothing now. It's dead.''
Simmons: ''What did you mean when you said PIL was 'anti rock'? Anti background music for kids to dance and screw to, or anti rock business?''
Lydon: ''I think rock and roll is media manipulation
and exploitation and corruptness and bullshit. I'm anti anything to
do with it. It's a vile culture that has to slide into the sea.
And here I am dancing all over its grave. You know how the Irish celebrate funerals?
Well, here I am – wheee!!!''
Simmons: ''You seem to hate everything that goes with your job – touring, business, fans...''
Lydons: ''That's not true at all. I don't like dealing with corrupt businessmen. If it's on an open honest level business can be fun. And see how I care for the kids – the show goes on, even though I've had the flu for 22 years and I feel sick.''
Simmons: ''Do you care about people in mass? In the Pistols you seemed to care in an odd sort of way.''
Lydon: ''Some days I do and other days no.''
Simmons: ''Do you think music can change things that matter?''
Lydon: ''No, definitely not. You have to be really naïve to think a record can change your way of life. It's not going to change the government, is it, or bus fares or anything?''
Simmons: ''A lot of people thought the Pistols did.''
Lydon: ''Did they? I thought they caught on two years too late actually, when the band existed nobody wanted to know. Isn't that the truth?''
Simmons: ''Do you think the Pistols were a failure then?''
Lydon: ''It got all confused. It was pointless, tedious.''
Simmons: ''You sound bitter, like we got it all wrong all along.''
Lydon: ''There's been so much written about me it
doesn't matter one iota anymore.
I was stuck in the middle of a court case, flat broke, facing a £58,000 tax bill or prison,
and I wasn't too pleased. But the press were very one-sided about that and still haven't chosen to print halfway the truth. The press works for the industry, that's the record company and the management and all those busybody little gits, but not the bands. The bands are nothing. They come and go. Nothing anyone says can hurt me at all. You didn't understand what I was going through. I was going through malicious hate. Periods of right unreasonableness. Just like everybody else does.
Simmons: ''Why do you keep stressing that you're just like everybody else?''
Lydon: ''I think it's important to realize that any old git can get onstage. The fact that I am flowing in talent is really inconsequential. The mere fact is I am head and shoulders above 99% of the human race. Isn't that wonderful?''
Simmons: ''While you're up there, don't you want to do something for us mere mortals down below?''
Lydon: ''In other words dictate? No. I merely offer
my point of view and Wobble offers his etc etc, and you can either
appreciate it or hate it, simple, but don't slavishly idolize it.
I'm not saying I'm totally right. You should respect yourself.''
Simmons: '' Is your life going pretty well right now?''
Lydon: ''Not quite. I'd love to be a millionaire, but only on my own terms.''
Simmons: ''I did it my way...''
Lydon: ''Yes. I'm not going to drop my values or
principles just to sell a poxy record.
If it doesn't flog, that's too bad. It really doesn't bother me, so long as I get the advance.''
Simmons: ''What about PIL? Is all going well with the organisation?''
Lydon: ''Well, none of us want to go to Rio and sit
on the beach, or go dancing with
Zsa Zsa Gábor, or any of that balls. That's what happened before. They fell for the farce.''
Simmons: ''You've said that about every other band that came out the same time as you or later.''
Lydon: ''Quite rightly so and all. They're just two-faced
greedy pointless hypocrites,
who are just lost and confused. The Clash is just hideous. Because they will fit into any mould that will get their faces in the papers, right? That's all they're interested in, or their voice on the radio. They started out as the ace political band, you know, and then they had to justify their political leanings, and they didn't know the fuck what they were talking about. And then they did a very quick U-turn, went through about six managers – they don't learn. They're still trying to follow Rock and Roll History. They're still doing 30 date tours. They've still got road crews of fifty and bouncers and huge light shows and the rest of that crap. Nothing's changed for those people. No more Beatles and Rolling Stones, isn't that a line in one of their songs? And what are they? Merely part two.''
Simmons: ''Is there anyone or anything you do respect?''
Lydon: ''I like The Raincoats, they're a good band.
The Delta 5 and The Mo-dettes.
It's funny, because they're mainly girl bands. Hey're the only people doing anything.
All the geezers seem to be stuck in their leather pants. For some reasons those bands like The Clash seem to respect the system, or try to fit into it. Don't know why. They know
it stinks, they know it's wrong, so isn't all that a contradiction to what they're supposed to stand for? That's why I don't like The Clash, pure and simple. The facts speak for themselves.''
Simmons: ''You said PIL was a threat to the rock establishment.''
Lydon: ''To that kind of crap, yes. Definitely.''
Simmons: ''How can you be?''
look, snigger tee-hee, that's what we got from like just about the
universe when we did this. They said 'You'll never do it, you'll
never get anywhere, give you six weeks.' Well, we're here now, about
as blasé as you could possibly hope.
And we're doing it our way. And we're getting our
own way. If you stick to your guns you always will.
The mere fact that I'm here now must make people like Strummer look a right idiot, because that git's been running around this country for three years now, trying desperately to be a hero.''
Simmons: ''Are you saying you're a hero in spite of yourself?''
Lydon: ''I'm not trying. It's no effort. I'm just doing what I want. I'm not forcing an image down their throats, and I'm efinitely not on the overkill.''
Simmons: ''But you have got an image out here, and it's the sort you could easily cash in on. Johnny Rotten, media personality, on all the American quiz shows. You've made a start with 'American Bandstand'. Why not go the whole way and do a Bob Geldof?''
Lydon: ''He's vile. He's such a two-faced git. He owes my old man some money, when he was broke and couldn't afford a drink. You notice now he's forgotten about all that, hasn't he. They're all like that, though. As soon as they see the pound note signs things change.''
Simmons: ''But you want money too.''
Lydon: ''But I'm not going to sell myself to get
it. If I don't come by honest means then
it's just too bad.''
Simmons: ''What would you do with it if you had it?''
Lydon: ''Live. I have every intention of living.
It's incredibly unfashionable now, I know,
but I'm not into all that early death shit. So I got drunk, right, and stuck cigarettes out on my arms. Big deal. Does that mean you're going to hang yourself as soon as you step into a room?''
Simmons: ''Do you take drugs?''
Lydon: ''No. Yes. Alternate, depending on the mood I'm in. At the moment Anadins and antibiotics and vitamin C.''
Simmons: ''You don't sit on a beach like your fan Neil Young and drop acid and contemplate the universe?''
Lydon: ''What a load of balls that was! What a waste of energy. I've got better things to do with my life than feel sorry for myself. I have no pity for people that do. It's sick.''
Simmons: ''Do you think about the future?''
Lydon: ''Well, I don't know. I don't want to do anything. I'll put all my effort into doing nothing for the next few days. If I could get away with it I wouldn't even walk. I'd love a mobile bed. One thing I've never understood is people complaining about bed sores. That's a luxury, isn't it?''
Simmons: ''What about a lazy future of domestic bliss?''
Lydon: ''I'm a sexless little beast, and that's the
truth. I'm a misery to be with. I can make life utterly unbearable.
I can't bear sticking with one person in one room for more than ten
minutes, it drives me nuts. I'm definitely not for domestic bliss.
I really have no respect for anybody who wants to get hold of this
little git that I am. I think they must be sick.
I'm bored with human beings, quite frankly. Sex is definitely overrated. I think the human body's vile and I wish everyone would appreciate that. Look at people's faces. They're vile, big spotty blotches, bulbous. Withdrawn, that's what my features are. Grey and withdrawn. You see those sex symbols, if they're not faggots they're wrinkled and have face lifts every week, and there's the detachable wig and clip-on eyebrows, the old tarts. They'll have to tolerate me as myself.''
Simmons: ''You had your palm read in Philadelphia. What did they say?''
Lydon: ''It was in an Indian restaurant. I'm going to live to be 86. The heat here is killing me.''
Simmons: ''Do you ever look back?''
Lydon: ''No. Defininitely not back.''
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Sounds, May 24th, 1980 © Chris Walter