On the road last week I finished the second book I have read by John Lydon (Johnny Rotten). This book was called Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored. A couple weeks ago I read his first book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. The first book dealt explicitly with his younger years and especially his time in the Sex Pistols. His newer book dealt with his entire life story. Out of the two books I felt that Rotten, the one on the Sex Pistols, was essential reading if you are interested in the topic of popular music, where the newer one was more for the completist or fan. I read the second one because I am a huge Public Image Ltd. fan, which was Lydon’s second band after the Sex Pistols.
Those books are the reason I have been posting a large amount of John Lydon stuff in recent weeks. As well as reading those books I have been checking out interviews and videos on YouTube. Lydon is admittedly very shy. The Johnny Rotten persona was a way of dealing with that shyness. He was able to go into the media world and speak truth to power while being able to protect himself with a persona. Somehow, while utilizing this persona, he was able to be more authentic and real than just about anyone he was paired with. If you watch him on film as much as I have the last few days, you start to notice some interesting things with the way he deals with the media.
If you were to only catch one clip of him you might just come away feeling he is egotistical or rude. However, if you watch a multitude of clips you start to realize that he is getting at the truth through his behavior. He exposes the fake politeness that not only is prevalent in the media, but also keeps the media from doing their job. He says the things that many people are thinking, but are afraid to actually say. When you watch a lot of these interview shows there are unwritten rules as to how people should behave. The hosts and the guests kiss each others’ asses for lack of a better term. The host gets people to come on their show and the guest gets to promote whatever product they are there for. It’s such a normal thing that we don’t even question it. However, in real life, people rarely act this way, like best friends, if they don’t know each other. The reason why this can be bad is that, as a viewer, it can make it hard to know what you are being sold. If it is entertainment this might be OK, but if it is politics, this can actually be dangerous. Lydon goes on various forms of television and through his disruptive behavior exposes the facade that the viewer is being sold. An example would be when he went on American Bandstand and refused to mime the words. Another example is when he was supposed to go on the Rosanne Show and he refused make an agreement with her producer that he wouldn’t be rude. Unfortunately for the producer, he had already made a legal agreement that he could film backstage with his own crew. He captured her asking him not to be rude and how he was thrown off of the show once he wouldn’t make a verbal agreement to behave a certain way.
I’ve realized in reading his books and watching footage of him, just how many barriers he has broken down. We are lucky that there is someone as fearless as him out there. He was harassed by the police forces of England, Ireland, and The United States for the political and personal stances that he made. He was thrown in Mountjoy prison in Ireland and he was often harassed in airports traveling between England and our country. His fearlessness came at a price.
Anyway, if you are looking for some entertainment it is worth seeking out John Lydon footage on YouTube. there are plenty of pieces of film worth watching. If you are at all interested in pop music, his first book is really worth checking out. If you are interested in him, but don’t have the time to devote to reading a whole book on him, the above interview with The Quietus is an excellent overview. For those of you that only know him through his work in the Sex Pistols, his other work is really worth investigating.