Rotten attitude: John Lydon

As PiL prepare for their forthcoming autumn tour – which takes in the UK, Europe and North America – TeamRock sat down with John Lydon. The punk legend, as it turns out, is handy when it comes to plumbing. Ever get the feeling you’ve been heated?

How did your new self-released PiL album, What The World Needs Now…, come about?
John Lydon: “We were all gagging at the bit to get in and just enjoy each other’s company. And this is the end result. That’s not to say that we’re perfect human beings. We had arguments, but they always led to good things. There’s none of that petulance that I’ve seen with other people I’ve worked with over the years. PiL is now in a position where I’ve always wanted us to be: completely independent of outside authority.”

Were you tired of warring with record labels?
“After the Pistols, I was contractually obliged to stay with Virgin when I started PiL. Richard [Branson] is a good fella, but he does like to make his money. I remember him playing me some rough backing tracks from a band called The Professionals, which turned out to be Steve [Jones] and Paul [Cook], and asking me to put PiL on hold for that. And it’s been like that ever since. I read all this nastiness about me in the papers and they just don’t know what I’ve had to go through to maintain the integrity of this band.”

*What The World Needs Now…* opens with Double Trouble, a song about a broken loo. What happened?
“It’s about an argument I had with my missus [Nora] when I was repairing the toilet. Did I get the plumber out? In the end, yeah. It was my own fault, because about four years earlier I’d actually installed a whole toilet. I just went to The Home Depot store, bought one and learned how to do it. So that’s what Nora expected of me.”

So you’re a bit of a DIY expert around the house?
“You have to be. If there’s a hole in the roof, don’t ignore it. I like to do my own things. I don’t like strangers in the house, ever. Can I install showers and radiators? Yeah, but I’d rather delegate. Mummy Lydon didn’t raise stupid children!”

The new album has a bonus track called Turkey Tits. Explain please!
“Ha! It’s a bit of a jazz fusion thing and I improvised over it. I just delivered a whole spate of words that sums up the entire Vivienne Westwood/Malcolm McLaren era and what went on there: how the ‘adults’ looked down upon us [the Pistols]. So it deals with that in a very humorous way. I hope Vivienne has a good laugh with it, because if she doesn’t the joke really will be on her. It was an expression Sid [Vicious] coined when he first saw her: “Oh God, here comes Turkey Tits!”

What’s so great about living in America?
“I like the Californian weather and I don’t get anything like the ailments that I do in England. A lot of my childhood illnesses have haunted me. I’m very prone to respiratory diseases, so I keep away from that. I’ve become a beach bum. Salt air clears the sinuses.”

Is the TV better over there?
“There’ve been some brilliant shows in recent years, like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. They opened people’s eyes to irony in America. It was always there as an undercurrent, but it wasn’t properly understood.”

**In your recent second volume of autobiography, Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored, you reveal that you once turned down a role in the 1986 film, Critters
**“I’m glad I didn’t take that role, because if I’m going to be associated with fuzzy fur balls, they’re not the kind I’ve got in mind. Having said that, I loved doing The Order Of Death [1983 Italian crime thriller], because it was so rigorous and hardcore working with a method actor like Harvey [Keitel]. I mean, that man wouldn’t even let up. You couldn’t go out to dinner with him or anything, because he’d still be in character.”

And now he’s doing the Direct Line ads…
“I didn’t know that. Well, lucky old fella!”

Will your beloved Arsenal win the Premiership title this season?
”[Burst of laughter] Of course not! There are gaping flaws in the team and everybody knows it. I’m sorry, but you can’t play the Zen poetry nonsense anymore in modern football – you’ve got to purchase. Win, lose or draw, Arsenal will always be my team, but I’m not a fan of the modern game. It’s like watching 22 spoilt men kick a bit of leather about in brightly-coloured ballet slippers. And every now and then you get a Nicklas Bentner in pink ones.”

“Modern football is like watching 22 spoilt men kick a bit of leather about in brightly-coloured ballet slippers.”

What else would you have done if you hadn’t become a musician?
”[In conspiratorial voice] A life of crime! What else can you do if you come from the slums? There is no alternative. Very rarely, one or two of us find a way out of the barrel of crabs, so I’m doing my best to show that a life of thievery is not a wise choice. But it’s very difficult to tell that to someone who has no money. And, unfortunately, people with no money end up with very expensive habits.”

In 1979 you wrote Death Disco for your mum after she’d passed away. Was that a cathartic song to create?
“No, I felt sadder than ever. But it’s an odd cleansing thing and is very much affiliated with shout therapy, I suppose. God, I love Tears For Fears for that song [Shout, 1984]. It was most excellent. By the way, Death Disco came first [wry laughter], just in case you’re one of that lot who think I’m copying the Sleaford Mods or whoever. But how do you describe the pain and emptiness and hollowness of losing a parent like that? It’s a screaming wail of pain and I see it in the audience. So it’s a sad, but ultimately rewarding, joy to share that with them. All these memories come out when I perform songs like that.”

PiL’s new album What The World Needs Now… is out now via Cargo. The band’s UK tour kicks off on September 18. For more details, visit their official site.

John Lydon's advice for young punks

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.