“They’ve murdered it, they’ve torn it to shreds”: John Lydon on how Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock have ruined the Sex Pistols’ legacy

Sex Pistols in 1976
(Image credit: Express/Express/Getty Images)

John Lydon has not been shy – has he ever? – on giving his thoughts about Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols TV show Pistol. The six-part series, which aired on Disney+ in the UK, was based on guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol and in a recent interview with The New Cue, Lydon doubled down on his disdain for the project, declaring that it had done serious damage for the Sex Pistols name.

 “They’ve murdered it,” he told The New Cue's Chris Catchpole. “They’ve just absolutely torn it to shreds and taken anything of value and purpose out of it and turned it into a commercial farce. It was very sad to have seen that documentary… I expected better from Boyle.”

When asked if he’d watched it, Lydon said he had. “Yeah, it was painful,” he continued. “Painful, misguided and mis-directed. Openly abusing something that was truly real - and terrifying at that time - into some kind of middle-class schoolboy fantasy. It felt like it was a script for Grange Hill. The advance publicity of it was incredibly difficult for me.”

The divisions between the ex-members of the punk icons go deeper than Pistol, he reveals later in the interview, slamming their behaviour at a time when his late wife Nora was seriously ill.

“There was some pretty damn insulting things done about Nora around that time-frame from them,” Lydon states. “I could not take that. There were things implied that were really hurtful. They knew Nora was ill, Paul Cook definitely knew, and they showed no care in the world and just marched me into court and basically cost me a lot of money which I could have done helping Nora. They left me in a pretty shit financial state, thank you very much, and then put that out there. Ridiculous nonsense. I don’t mean to mock it, but it does upset me what they’ve done. They’ve killed the energy of it.”

Rotten has been nothing but dismissive of his former bandmates since news of the project was first mooted.

Last year he told The Sun, None of these fucks would have a career but for me. They did nothing before, they’ve done nothing since. They can all fuck off. I supported them for years and years and years, knowing they were dead wood.”

Earlier this week, Midge Ure revealed that he was originally offered the chance to front the Sex Pistols, and explained why he turned down the position that was later offered to Lydon.

"To me it would have been like joining a slightly edgier Bay City Rollers," the former Ultravox man said. "The Sex Pistols were like the One Direction of their time. Malcolm was just looking for four clothes horses to wear Vivienne Westwood’s clothes. It was all manu­factured and put together and that’s not what I wanted."

Steve Jones and Paul Cook played a number of shows this past summer as Generation Sex, playing Sex Pistols songs alongside Billy Idol and Tony James from Generation X.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.