John Lydon answers life's big questions

Close-up portrait of former Sex Pistol John Lydon
(Image credit: Rex)

John Lydon, generation-dividing iconoclast, Sex Pistol, prime mover of Public Image Ltd’s enduring definition of post-punk experimentation, is washing his hands. We can only admire his excellent hygiene, and venture that perhaps more artists should similarly ablute before embarking on the interview process. “And after,” the man who once was Rotten chuckles darkly. Poised to reissue massively expanded editions of PiL’s hugely influential Metal Box and Album, an unapologetic Lydon unleashes his infamous larynx to reveal, en chanson, no less, that even now he regrets rien.

Do you believe in God?

Spelt backwards is dog? It’s a man-made concept, very haughty and intellectual, but the end results prove no such thing could be possible.

Did your childhood illness leave you with strong feelings regarding the NHS?

It helped me to survive, so I’ve massive love and admiration for it. I’ve always thought a national health service is one of the finest attributes of any society. You have to look out for those less well off than yourself. It strengthens us rather than weakens us. If you let your fellow human beings down, your society is worthless.

What is your greatest regret?

[Sings] Je Ne Regrette Rien: a song I could have written myself. There’s no point looking back regretfully. Always look at what you do as you do it, and only look back in order to correct your mistakes. You have to know when you’ve done wrong, and you have to be able to take criticism on the chin from family and friends.

When did you first go to see Arsenal?

I was about four. My dad dragged us over there, I didn’t quite know what it was, but the pageantry and spectacle absolutely fascinated me. It’s my dad’s team, the local team, so that’s who you support and that’s it.

What was your biggest waste of money?

I’m not one for fast cars or exotic lifestyles, so probably all them Arsenal games [laughs]. Sport’s just a big hole you throw money into, but it’s enjoyable; there’s a gladiatorial side to it. I wouldn’t say it’s a complete waste of money. It’s good value because it’s pure entertainment.

What’s the secret of your success?

I tell it as it is. One thing I loved about early Pistols gigs was going up North and talking to Northerners who said: “We speak as we find here.” I love that mentality. Basically I’m a shy person, but when I feel I’m being attacked or ridiculed wrongly, look out. My words can be bullets.

Has anyone ever disappointed you more than [Sex Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren?

I don’t think he disappointed me, he disappointed himself, poor thing. He couldn’t quite reach achievement level because he always ran away when it came time for full commitment. His campaign for Lord Mayor of London comes to mind by way of example. I always remember him as a very funny bloke. He could be hilarious.

Where do you stand politically?

Common sense. Imagine that? Something absolutely and completely missing on both left and right. Somewhere in between those two heaps of arseholes comes a practical sense of values. Practically, you have to put food on the table. That’s my idea of politics. It’s not about the extremes of socialism, fascism, or any other ism in between. That’s for the fools.

What are your feelings toward US presidential hopeful Donald Trump?

Absolutely wonderful entertainment. The best clown I’ve ever seen. It’s an amazing achievement for such stupidity to rise to the surface with such effervescence. I agree with him when he says he despises politicians. I have all my life.

When did you realise you’d met your match in Nora [Foster, wife]?

Like all things in life you have to gauge your commitments properly. Don’t jump into things haphazardly and mindlessly because you’ll only destroy your, and the other person’s, life. Commitment is a long-term learning process. Once made, that’s it, no turning back. That’s how I am in all aspects of my life.

Do you ever feel nostalgic for North London?

To romanticise a specific time in life is being unfair on yourself. You just have to accept that life is bloody lonely and get on with it. You can’t make demands on people to stay the same to suit your mind-set, that would be amazingly selfish.

What will be written on your tombstone?

Something funny. I love epitaphs that pass wit and humour on to those left living as you cease to exist. But it would probably be misunderstood. And the idea of a grave is frankly horrific. I’d rather be a jar of ashes. How long can you keep a grave before someone builds council flats on it?

Limited edition box set reissues of the Public Image Ltd classics Album and Metal Box will be released on October 28. Public Image Ltd are on tour in November.

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Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.