Take this PiL for some raw honesty from Rotten legend

by Alen McMahon

Public Image Ltd have come to mean more to many punks than Johnny Rotten’s scene-making, better-known other band, The Sex Pistols.

As his far more stable and long-standing outlet, the vibrant, story-telling punks are currently in arguably their sharpest form, and in frontman John Lydon’s eyes, firing on all cylinders.

“Things are running much more efficiently now,” the iconic vocalist tells us ahead of their Dublin date this week.

“We can guarantee wages. We can guarantee records that won’t be held up or analysed incorrectly. With our own label, we’re outside of the s***sdom, and it’s taught us what continuity is.

“It’s allowed our friendships to blossom.
“I’m absolutely rubbish at business,” he continues. “I couldn’t count past ten. But I work with friends.

“Our manager, Rambo, is a complete warhorse of a man, and he gave me the stamina and trust to believe in myself.

“These are songs that come from the heart and soul, and I like to share that. I like venues where I can see people’s eyes.

“It’s a church without religion, a celebration and an exploration. It’s fantastic.”

This is no nostalgia tour, however. Of his commitment to the band, Lydon proclaims: “I’ll keep going until I drop. As long as I’m alive, there’ll be a song to mention that. There has to be, really.

“I’m here to improve myself, and hopefully that has a positive effect on others. Songwriting was given to me as a gift, really.

“I accidentally walked into the Pistols and I’ve worked on it ever since. I take it really seriously.

“We’re writing constantly, but when we get together as PiL it freeforms and flows. We record more or less in the same way as we write. I can’t say what’s going to come out of us next.

“It’s been three years, though, and there’s three years of pent-up energy and anxiety. That’s a wonderful fuel to be burning.

“We are prolific; it comes from really liking the people you work with. It’s intense, and obligations become a pleasure.”

That hasn’t always been the case, of course: in the early days, Lydon’s band relationships were a notorious problem in his music, as were his management.

“I never felt like I was under the thumb with Malcolm McLaren,” Lydon jokes of an old managerial nemesis. “He’s far too ineffectual and weak to be a threat. It’s just the glory hunters that emulated the Malcolm approach.

“There’s this cottage industry that’s built up around me saying that it’s their genius and that I’m next to nothing to do with it. Well, where’s the proof of that?

“Here I am; I’m still at it; I’m not short of ideas. Then there’s that lot.
“I suppose it’s the way of the world. You stand up for what you believe in, there will always be someone there in your shadow who claims they did it first. I take it as a compliment.
“Are my ideas so good you have to fight and squabble about them? Ha!”

These days, the functional heart of Public Image LTD and Lydon’s lifestyle are located far away from his original London base, on the west coast of the US.

“LA is la-la land,” Lydon says of his long-time home. “I live down on the beach so I don’t have anything to do with what goes on in town.
“The salt air’s good for me; all those respiratory illnesses I’m prone to cease to exist while I’m here.”

Not that moving away has blunted any of the singer’s observational sharpness, which he has no issue turning on his roots in Ireland and what seems to be a fading local religious ethos.

“It’s so easy to judge in the name of religion and I think that’s what we see creeping back in now,” Lydon says, of the more extreme religious takes, in particular around abortion.
That particular call, he says, is a woman’s choice.

“I understand both perspectives. My mother could easily have aborted me, and I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be very upset about that.
“But anyone who thinks a woman would make such a choice lightly is very ignorant indeed about women.

“We’re now in the cusp of complete radical change and a break away from religion into a modern society, where people are judged for what they offer as an individual, with free thinking.

“Religion is still trying to drag us back to that medieval monstrosity we knew as underprivileged, disenfranchised slavedom,” Lydon adds.

“I hope we’ve got better at this stuff. I can see the improvements out there, but it’s a neverending cause, and one you can’t relax on, as it never stops.”

Lydon’s never been afraid to speak his minds on all sorts, of course, and the less charged causes around him get similarly witty, barbed quips.

I’m A Celebrity – the show in which he once participated, for example – is “24 hours of people sitting around moaning about not having showers or eating chocolate cake. That’s pretty damn hard to endure. I hate whingers.

“My biggest problem was when they’d sit round the corner with an acoustic guitar. I’d slip into the darkness, thinking: ‘I’m not singing Ging-Gang-Goolie with this lot!’,” he adds.

His tours, contrary to popular belief, were “never about chaos, but about connecting. A problem shared is a problem solved. Social clubs and music hall are where PiL shine”.
Arsenal, the football club he’s long supported, evoke a big sigh. “There aren’t many crying eyes at the Emirates over [former Arsenal manager Arsene] Wenger,” Lydon says.
“Sometimes people don’t take the hint. That kind of arrogance is unbearable, and it’s a shame.

“He should have parted as a legend, but he bought dodgy dopes. Any schoolboy could have seen where the problem was.”
The forthcoming show in Ireland, where Lydon traces his familial routes, are his first in five years.

“It was fantastic to play in Ireland,” Lydon said of his last show here, at Electric Picnic.
“The reception to PiL was stunning. I don’t know why, but I think it was something to do with the Sex Pistols hangover. I thought it would be negative, but it wasn’t. It’s home from home, Ireland, as it should be.

“We like the smaller, intimate gigs and Dublin offers that, though we’ve had to change the venue, as it sold out just after being announced. We’ve gotta get em while they’re young; gotta get the numbers. That’s how it is.”

Public Image LTD play Vicar Street on Sunday, August 26.

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