Music News

He may no longer be Rotten, but John Lydon is still quite the PiL

The same year the Sex Pistols broke up, John Lydon dropped the stage name of Johnny Rotten and formed what was arguably the most influential band of the post-punk era with Public Image Ltd. The band's second album, 1979's Metal Box, still seems brilliantly out of place and out of time with its mélange of dub, kraut rock and ambient soundscapes. The followup, Flowers of Romance, went even further into experimental territory.

Never one content to repeat a formula, Lydon un-ironically explored dance music and the crafting of innovative pop songs on his later albums with PiL. The act disbanded in 1992 after having to front the money for a tour in support of That What Is Not.

Since then, Lydon has released a solo album and worked in film and television. In 2009, his appearance in an ad for Country Life butter seemed surreal, but it provided the funds for the re-formation of the band. We had the pleasure of chatting with the charming and thoughtful Lydon before the start of the current U.S. tour.

Westword: Your autobiography was strikingly candid.

John Lydon: You mean [No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs]? You know, I was called a racist for that title.

Do you mean people didn't get that that was a sign that used to appear in the windows of businesses? Or that you're Irish?

Yeah, no. It's so twisted, the world. They just want to put a bad label on you. Freedom of thought is seen as disruptive by very many, particularly by those who don't know how to think. That book — of course it's candid. That's me. That's my life. And there it is, warts and all, and there are people in there contradicting me. Which I think is essential. That should be considered part of human nature. If you put three people in a room with one situation developing, all three of them will have a different interpretation, each one equally valid and every possibility of being widely different.

You have a fantastic sense of humor. What sorts of things amuse you the most these days?

Well I've learned to laugh at funerals, haven't I? That's the Irish way. My dad died last year. That kind of helped push me into reforming PiL, because I wrote the song "Death Disco," which is about my mother's death. How is this about laughter? I'm sure my dad would laugh like mad to see me crying my heart out on stage. And hopefully my mother, too.

What can we expect out of the shows on this PiL tour?

Live, we're going to be playing the full range of PiL — every area and every aspect of it. And I might put in a few songs off of Psycho's Path, my solo album, because we've been messing about with them and they sound great live. Leads it into all kinds of terrain and texture and wonderful fun.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.