Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong on the Sex Pistols: "They proved that punk rock was not meant for the masses"

BJA + Johnny Rotten
(Image credit: Billie Joe Armstrong: Rich Fury/Getty Images for SiriusXM / Johnny Rotten: Jorgen Angel/Redferns)

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has shared his thoughts on his punk rock forefathers the Sex Pistols, and declared that the London punk quartet "proved that punk rock was not meant for the masses."

With award-winning film director Danny Boyle's much-talked-about six-part Sex Pistols mini-series Pistol set to air on Disney+ from May 31, the impact and influence of Johnny Rotten's iconic punk band is once more under discussion, and Green Day's frontman has spoken to Rolling Stone to offer his personal view on the group.

"Never Mind the Bollocks was one of the first punk records I ever heard," Armstrong tells Rolling Stone. "For me, it just had a huge impact. Everything about it, from the lyrics to the guitar sounds to the songs, I thought was just perfect."

Going on to discuss the quartet's legacy, Armstrong says, "The Sex Pistols killed punk before it had the opportunity to go mainstream back then. What they had proved is that punk rock was not meant for the masses. If you’re picking up the guitar to play punk rock music, it’s not for fame. You do this because it’s something that matters to you and it’s something that’s underground, and that was my early experience of being in a punk band with Green Day. And obviously with Green Day it was a different trajectory altogether, but I gotta say I didn’t predict that for us [laughs].

"So when you get all of these pockets of kids all over the globe that are making music that has that Sex Pistols influence, who want to create their own underground form of anarchy, it gives you faith that music is not just there to be manufactured and corporate and consumerist," Armstrong continues. "It’s there because people are investing into their lives and reflecting the way that they feel about the world and the way they feel about themselves. And that’s been the long legacy that the Sex Pistols left behind."

Pistol is based upon Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones’ acclaimed 2018 memoir Lonely Boy, and has been adapted for television by writers Craig Pearce (Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby) and Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People), who also worked with Boyle on the staging of the theatrical opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. 

“Imagine breaking into the world of The Crown and Downtown Abbey with your mates and screaming your songs and your fury at all they represent,” Boyle said when the series was first announced. “This is the moment that British society and culture changed for ever.  It is the detonation point for British street culture… where ordinary young people had the stage and vented their fury and their fashion… and everyone had to watch and listen.....and everyone feared them or followed them. The Sex Pistols. 

“At its centre was a young charming illiterate kleptomaniac, a hero for the times, Steve Jones, who became in his own words, the 94th greatest guitarist of all time. This is how he got there.” 

Former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has voiced his opposition to the series, calling it "disrespectful shit." 

“It is so destructive to what the band is,” Lydon said last year, during an unsuccessful court bid to stop the band's music featuring in the series, “and so I fear that the whole project might be extremely negative.”

 Lydon has also dubbed the series a “middle class fantasy” that “bears little resemblance to the truth” after claiming in 2021 that it was given the go-ahead without his permission. 

Lydon was equally caustic when speaking about his former bandmates, Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock. 

“None of these fucks would have a career but for me," he said. "They did nothing before, they’ve done nothing since.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.