John Lydon's advice for young punks

Thinking of planning a career in the music industry? Here’s Uncle Johnny with some sage advice

Don’t Become A Cliché

The condition of pop stardom says that you become a commercial success arsehole. It’s a route clearly defined and laid out for you and they’ll do everything – they’ll fill the trail with sweeties! – to draw you into it. But I didn’t want any of that, so I turned my back on being a cliché. The court battle with the rest of the Pistols wasn’t their fault, it was all management shenanigans. It just made me feel so sick about the whole industry. There was no support for me. I had to win that case by clutching at straws at a certain point, because it felt like the entire industry was just waiting to see me collapse.

Never Compromise Your Identity

At one point I was thinking of turning my first book [1993’s Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs] into a film, but I ended up walking well away from that. It seemed like a great idea at first, then in came the money bags. And the money bags come with accounting, which means the script gets changed. Things shape-shift dramatically and you find yourself in the position where they’re really telling the David Cassidy story but they’ve just substituted your name into it. They suggested that I should say I’m from Camden Town instead of Finsbury Park, which led to a big argument. People might think I’m being picky, but it matters a lot to me where I come from.

Watch Out For The Vultures

For anyone starting out in a band today, listen really intently to what everybody is telling you. And as a human being, make sure you’re fully formed before you even consider joining a band. Don’t think you can learn quickly. It’s a savage old world out there and the adults are like vultures. They pick the little children apart. Believe me, I watched it happen. Don’t let management, lawyers, accountants or record labels divide you as a band. Keep your loyalties. It’s the only thing that really matters, but it’s the hardest thing of all to maintain. And if you spot a greedy one in your group, get ‘em out quick!

Anger Really Can Be A Creative Energy

Anger might be vastly understood and underrated, but it’s a terrific emotion to have. It rescued me. Without it, I might have lost my personality completely. When I came out of hospital as a kid [at seven years old, Lydon contracted spinal meningitis and was hospitalised for a year, after which he suffered severe memory loss] I wouldn’t have made any effort to retrieve my memories if the anger hadn’t spurred me on. That was my energy. For me, that’s the greatest thing that ever happened, the sense of self-achievement in recovering who I was. And at the same time it was the saddest thing of all.

Roll With The Punches

I went through a fucking serious bunch of problems when I was young. My physical health was an endurance course, but I think that kids are better equipped to handle it. The least you know about the outside world, the more time you can focus on the inner self. The secret to getting on in life is resilience. You’ve got to take the punches and roll with them. And there’s no time for self-pity in this world. Just get on with it and ignore the bitterness and the twistedness. Because if you end up in a position of defending all the time, it can eat you alive.

Ignore The Two-Bob Fucks In The Music Press

The other day some journalist – some naïve fool – mentioned [new PiL song] Big Blue Sky and said: “I see you’re delving into progressive rock.” Public Image has always been progressive! It’s very difficult putting an album out, because you have to deal with the child-like mentality of some of the alleged music press, who are nothing more than two-bob fucks, really. Does it bother me? If the song is good enough then it’s irrelevant.

Appreciate Your Parents While They’re Still Here

I was envisaging my dad when I wrote the words to [expletive-laden new PiL song] Shoom. I loved his dry humour and I really miss him now. I wish I’d spent longer with him, to really analyse just how clever he was with his humour. He had great timing. He’d sit next to a jukebox in a pub and go: “Listen to that, it’s bollocks!” He’d wait for the right moment in a song to deliver the line and it would crack you up.

Stay True To Yourself, No Matter What

In the Pistols days I’d often go into defensive mode whenever there were journalists around. I don’t do that any more, because experience has taught me I can let my guard down now and I’m more than capable of handling myself. I always liked to do the opposite of what they expected of me. I knew they wanted me to be the ignorant, dumb lout, but I wasn’t tolerating that. I don’t like to be downgraded or denigrated. If I ever got any TV work in those early days, it would be with some smart-arsed, semi-intellectual, half-witted comedian, trying to humiliate me. Good luck on that one!

Do Whatever It Takes To Keep Afloat

I got so much flak for those TV ads [Lydon advertised Country Life butter in 2008]. None of these chaps, including Iggy [Pop], get the criticism that I do. I was hated. Sell-out! Well, fuck off. Who else was fucking helping me, money-wise? Quite frankly, take a look at my body size. I think you can tell I eat a lot of butter. It’s not like I was advertising sanitary napkins.

Being A Musician Makes You Feel Less Alone

I found myself in this business by happenstance really, joining a band based on something as silly as an ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt. But look at the benefits of a musician’s life: I don’t work nine to five and I get to deal with the things inside me that are so complex and problematic. I get to air them openly and find out that I’m not alone in the world, because an audience is sharing it all back with me. That really does help. Music takes the isolation away.

John Lydon's State Of The Union Address

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.