Saturday, June 25, 2016

John Lydon at the British Library

'The older generation made no room for us at all and I didn't want to be another car thief... no one would make room for us, everyone opposed us, and it helped... I loved being caught in a situation where there's no chance of survival. But with a couple of witty sentences, you can puzzle a mob of twenty'. The sharp observations came thick and fast, and were delivered with his usual certainty and wit.
He underlined the importance of the punks spread all over the UK: 'Suddenly, we were all in it together: we united ourselves as a species called the British. Times were bitter, bitter, bitter', and talked about the women in bands: 'Women took men on in bands; men had to become feminists very, very quickly'.
He talked about being asked to work with Kate Bush, whose vocals introduced 'a whole different tonal concept and turned hysterical into beautiful'. She wrote a song for the two of them to sing, but he couldn't find a way into it, and instead sent her a song he'd written about the parrot trade, but didn't hear back from her (now whether that was true or not...).
On imitators: 'If you're not there in the first place, go somewhere else and be there in the first place'; and on people who told him that PIL wasn't punk, 'How the f*cking hell can you tell Johnny Rotten that's not punk?'.
Suddenly he shouted 'BUTTER!' and everyone laughed. 'I'm a working class man, and working class people eat butter', he explained, and then described the way he put all the profits from that ad into PIL, and that the ad agency people were much nicer to him than anyone in the music business had been.
Lydon has a fantastically positive attitude, even praising meningitis for giving him time to think and develop inner awareness. He's also got great comic timing, and Stuart Maconie was a good interviewer because he wasn't obsequious and mostly stuck to pouring out the whisky and bringing the conversation back on track. The British Library pulled it off again, probably much to their own surprise; and I did notice Lydon's praise for libraries, which is probably why he appeared at this event. I quite agree: they are wonderful places.

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