Lydon - Stories Of Johnny. A Compendium Of Thoughts On The Icon Of an Era NEW
by Rob Johnston (foreward by Alan McGee)
Chrome Dreams £12.99
Is Not A Biography, to paraphrase a PiL moment. This is exactly what it says it
is: a collection of pieces written by a number of top journalists, examining various
aspects of John's career and persona, albeit in a haphazard fashion, from his
origins in the Pistols right through to the Hall Of Fame controversy and the AngloMania
event in 2006. The authors have a clear admiration and understanding of John,
so the many recollections and considerations are relayed in a positive fashion.
There is no John bashing on show here.
known musicologist and author Greil Marcus weighs in with a brand new essay tying
together more recent Lydon moments such as "the Pistols in Baghdad"
and the aforementioned AngloMania held in New York. Although I've always believed
Greil's books say more about the author than his subjects, it's a fresh thought-provoking
start to the proceedings. Likewise, vocalist Barb Jungr examines John's vocal
style and delivery and what it represents. Perhaps Barb looks a little too
deeply, however, her interview with Tona De Brett more than justifies its inclusion.
up is a superb chapter based on six encounters over the years between Kris Needs
and John, from 1977 through to 2002. It acts like a 7Up review, as it skips through
time. One minute John is sitting with Keith Levene and Jeanette Lee discussing
the ground breaking Flowers Of Romance, next it's 5 years further on in time,
Levene is history and John is enthusing over World Destruction and Rise. It's
an insightful and enlightening random crash course through the evolution of John.
Highly recommended as a starting point for those wanting to get a flavour of Lydon.
Clayson's look at how the Pistols sit in amongst their rock and pop predecessors
and contemporaries is intriguing, raising a number of interesting hypotheses,
although I don't agree with all of the connections made - surely some things just
happen? Even so, it got me thinking. It is packed full of nuggets of oft overlooked
Pistols related information, and comes complete with a stark conclusion.
Nylon's piece is very much a tale of her time in and around punk and the Pistols.
It's a warm and personal view, and, as an American, she steps back and gives a
view from outside the UK. Notably, she views early PiL as John's finest hour.
famous appearance on Tommy Vance's show on Capital Radio in July 1977 follows.
In addition to a transcription of the show and a list of the songs chosen by John,
the broadcast is put in its historical context with supplementary notes explaining
why it was considered so controversial.
McNeil gives us another American perspective. As editor of New York based Punk
magazine, the magazine's 1976 interview with John gets an airing. The most compelling
part of Legs' essay is his reflection on the Pistols US tour in 1978.
Gilbert brings the proceedings right up to date. He cites Lydon's renaissance
with the UK media and public beginning with the Q Awards in 2001 and cementing
itself with I'm A Celebrity in 2004. Pat's interview with John in December
2005 is included covering all the recent bases.
is a highlight that justifies the price of the book on its own; The Wrecking
Ball written by Clinton Heylin. There was an intensity surrounding PiL that
lent an almost mythical menace to the band that no one could seemingly get a handle
on. When products like Metal Box and Flowers Of Romance emerged out of this haze,
they only reinforced this elusiveness. The Wrecking Ball covers this period, 1978
- 1983, and does so superbly. The origins of PiL are revisited using contemporary
interviews to supplement the text, followed by First Issue, Metal Box, TV appearances
(Check it Out, TOTP, The Old Grey Whistle Test), Flowers Of Romance, the Ritz
riot, right up to the split with Levene. PiL were a major force during this period,
yet bizarrely, they are now largely overlooked. This study replays the period
vividly and serves as a detailed précis of PiL at their most innovative
Williamson brings the Compendium Of Thoughts to a controversial conclusion
with a colourful piece inspired by a feature he'd written for the Guardian in
2002 titled, Face It: Punk Was Rubbish. It transpires he witnessed one
of the first Pistols gigs in December 1975. He wasn't impressed. Like the subject
matter of the book itself, he sticks to his guns.
Quotes by John Lydon is a neat way to draw the book to a close, save for the
Afterward by Rob Johnstone in which he concludes, "John Lydon is impossible
to categorise, but that seems to be the way he likes it: he's the ultimate punk
only because there's no other word fit to describe him."
of Johnny is, by its very nature, a bit hit and miss. Different essays will
appeal to different people, depending upon individual tastes and interests; a
bit like PiL. And, like PiL, there is a slew of tremendous material on offer,
no matter where your interest in John may lie. And, importantly, it will appeal
to both old aficionados and new converts. The Best Of British? A sterling effort.
by Phil Singleton (October 2006)
Lydon - The Sex Pistols, PiL, & Anti-Celebrity
Music Press £12.99
on from John's profile-lifting jaunt on I'm a Celebrity, it comes as no
surprise to find this latest book in the stores. Ignore the 'Sex Pistols' reference
in the title, it focuses on John's post-Pistols (reformations apart) career, covering
in detail his varied fortunes in PiL and his solo output and collaborations. It's
a competent account, without offering any new insight into John's character.
author has underpinned his account using quotations from press cuttings and TV
appearances. This approach offers a trip down memory lane for those who recall
much of the information presented, and allows for an informative if straightforward
tale, without much of the baggage that comes hand-in-hand with a "benefit
of hindsight" account.
odd strange inaccuracy does however occur, such as passing off Belsen as
a song "written by (just) Steve Jones and Paul Cook
", that John
allegedly included in PiL's early shows to give fans "a bad rendition of
one of their (Pistols) worst songs". The latter point may be open to debate,
the first is simply incorrect.
'Celebrity' fans of John will find the book a useful companion to CDs they may
have bought, and it will help them put the music into an historical (and career)
context. Young fans will learn much, older ones less so, although there is interesting
interview material with Keith Levene who is in reflective mode.
coverage of the mid-80s period was particularly interesting as John found himself
without a 'group' for the first time, the end result being the brilliant LP, Album.
The brief reminiscences by Steve Vai of the recording of Album are an excellent
inclusion. Reading the book reminded me of the many great innovative records John
has produced, and the enjoyment of hearing them for the first time; Public Image,
Metal Box (surely JR's best ever work), Flowers Of Romance, Love Song, World Destruction,
Rise, Open Up, all of which sound fresh today.
author's own opinions follow pretty much the established view of John's highs
and lows, with no radical deviations. The 250 pages seem, if anything, not enough
as there really is so much to cover. The narrative therefore moves quickly, and
gives fairly equal amounts of coverage to the different points in PiL's history.
not grounding breaking, John Lydon - The Sex Pistols, PiL, & Anti-Celebrity,
is a thorough, entertaining precis of John's career post-1977.
by Phil Singleton (January 2005)
ROTTEN: No Irish, No Blacks,
Authorised autobiography by John Lydon with
Keith and Kent Zimmerman
Even now, a decade and a half after everything felt apart, the story of the Sex
Pistols is well worth telling as a corrective to anyone who fancies the pop animal
to be a docile and malleable beast. The outlines are these. Two working class
delinquents (Steve Jones and Paul Cook) and an art student Glen Matlock) hook
up with a maniacal north London teenager named John Lydon, soon rechristened
Rotten. Under the tutelage of a canny entrepreneur (Malcolm McLaren),
who has read the biographies of famous pop impresarios form Larry Parnes down,
they form a band.
- add notoriety - come in a matter of months, fuelled by yellow-press hysteria,
televised profanity and the stirrings of a noisome youth movement, but it is an
odd kind of success. Propelled by McLarens unflinching aptitude for annoying
people, the Pistols acquire their reputation by failing to do most of the things
that conventional pop groups do, ie, by not touring (by any 1977 scarcely a municipality
in England would let them through the town gates), and by being paid huge sums
of money not to make records. Those that do creep out are attended by maximum
controversy and maximum sales. Almost immediately, though, the Pistols blow it.
They make the fatal mistake of firing the one person who knows anything much about
music (Matlock) and replace him with someone who merely looks the part (Lydons
chum, Sid Vicious). McLaren, by this time is more interested in film-making (what
will eventually crawl out of the can as The Great Rock N Roll Swindle),
is storing up trouble by diverting most of the bands advances into celluloid.
Finally, after a catastrophic US tour early in 1978, everything falls apart. Sid,
having apparently murdered his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen, kills himself.
Jones and Cook go off to be ex-rock stars. Lydon returns, eight years later, to
take McLaren to the high court and the cleaners: McLaren settled out of court
for nigh-on £1m in back royalties.
this late stage in the proceedings, nearly everyone involved in this breathless
two-year flurry of noise, death and outrage has had his or her say. Hangers-on
and managerial accomplices have written up the tour atrocities in their usual
affectless way. Matlock, with the aid of a nimble ghostwriter, has produced his
own account of injured innocence, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, and there have been
a number of attempts, notably Jon Savages somewhat overwrought Englands
Dreaming, to weld the Pistols brief career into an apocalyptic social and
political context. The least that can be said of Lydons version - and it
would be stretching things to call this collection of transcribed tapes, affidavits
and sidekicks testimonies a book - is that it is no more self-serving than
no less. The themes of Rotten have a convenient unity: it was me; I did it; they
were my ideas; Malcolm and Vivienne (Westwood) ripped me off; never trust a hippy
(Richard Branson), and so on. Now in his mid-thirties, the old boy hasnt
mellowed an inch. For the second time in 17 years. Matlock is told that he can
drop dead, the mention of McLarens name inspires an almost audible grinding
of teeth, and the finished product shows every sign of having stalled for months
on the desk of Hodders legal adviser.
is another agenda here, though, aside from self-justification and denigration.
We were teenagers making teenage music, Lydon suggests at one
point, which is a welcome response to the egghead theorising about situationism.
At the same time, much of the controversy surrounding the Sex Pistols grew out
of Lydons confrontational lyrics. The social and even personal hatred that
seemed to stare out of their live shows was unprecedented - and Rottens
first TV appearance - unblinking, detached face caught up in a rictus of loathing
- quite horrifying. There is a lot more of this in this book - musings about Her
Majesty and public schoolboys - and the effect is just awful, like listening to
Lennon on God, or Morrissey on practically anything.
or perhaps not so oddly, the best part of this authorised autobiography
(was there ever an unauthorised autobiography?) has nothing to do with the Sex
Pistols or even with Lydons strictures on the Establishment. If Lydon has
anything to say about anything, it is about a priest-haunted Catholic childhood
ground out in the tenements of North London. Lydons early life in a brooding,
cantankerous Irish family in Finsbury Park was clearly a Gehenna of deprivation,
if leavened by human warmth: friends attest to the squalor of the Lydon domicile,
but also to the genuine affection of the Lydon parents. When Eileen Lydon lay
dying, her son sat at her bedside for 10 weeks. School, education, the entire
mainstream world in fact, was no more than a kind of hopeless chimera. The message,
consequently, is the familiar message about channels of working-class advancement,
and the failure of the state educational system to stir any kind of response in
most of the people under its care. The parallels with a performer of a slightly
later vintage, such as Morrissey, whose early career was sedulously exposed in
Johnny Rogans 'Morrissey And Marr: A Severed Alliance', are striking: the
Irishness, the strange, fractured intelligence, the same interest in writers such
as Oscar Wilde, the same absorption in the iconography of the state. Both men
are fascinated by the royal family, and the connection between Lydons
sneering God Save The Queen and The Smiths The Queen Is Dead scarcely needs
to be stressed. Lydon is allowed to call Her Majesty a fing hard bitch,
by the by, which is ironic in a book that discourses so knowledgeably on English
repressiveness and the denial of free speech.
rest, inevitably, is score-settling of a peculiarly rapt and obsessive kind: he
digs at Matlock (for wanting to write pop songs and for fearing that his mother
would be upset by Lydons lyrics); Alex Cox (for the Sid And Nancy biopic);
Sid (for being thick and impressionable); McLaren (for everything). Ominously,
the worst of this contempt is reserved for Nancy Spungen, Sids inamorata,
and a horribly reliable scapegoat for What Went Wrong. There cannot be many more
evil destinies than to wind up dead at the age of 20 under the sink of a seedy
New York hotel room and then, 15 years later, find yourself memorialised as vile,
worn and shagged out, a beast, or (this from
Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders), It wouldnt have surprised me if
Sid or anyone had killed her, she was that obnoxious. (Lydon, it transpires,
had already tried to pre-empt Sid by rubbing dirt on the end of Nancys needles.)
may perhaps have become apparent by now, this is a vain, idle and only obliquely
revealing book, full of wonderful printing errors, contradicting itself from page
to page, and apparently aimed at the type of mid-Atlantic purchaser who needs
to be told that Heathrow Airport is in London, and that you travel into Oxford
Street on the subway. Lydon makes huge claims for his music (and his father is
brought in to assert that my Johnny changed the world) without submitting
them to any kind of sustained scrutiny. The Sex Pistols legacy, apart from
about seven classic songs - their recorded output is pitifully sparse - was to
create the market conditions in which a new breed of pop performers, few of whom
had much to do with punk, could succeed. However, as Lydon seems to loathe virtually
all living musicians, this is not a point he is ever likely to concede. In the
end, the unanswered questions are not musical or cultural (the distinctions between
various late 1970s youth groupings are painstakingly set out), but personal. What
does Lydon really think of Sid Vicious, whom he formed in his own image and then
abandoned to Malcolm, Nancy and heroin? What was his real relationship with McLaren,
who has plausibly suggested that Lydons fury proceeded out of pique at being
paid insufficient attention. As Lydon himself put it in one of his best songs,
Theres no point in asking: youll get no reply.
Review, D J Taylor The Sunday Times. 10th April 1994
man who said Christ was a sausage'
LIPSTICK TRACES A Secret History of theTwentieth
Century by Greil Marcus
There has never been a pop musical phenomenon more interesting to the sociologists
and cultural theorists than punk rock. The Sex Pistols first single, Anarchy
In The UK, had scarcely been out a month in November 1976 before that erratic
guide to rock and roll, New Society magazine, was running excited articles
on the emergence of a new working-class protest dole-queue rock.
The punk attitude -
the sneering, the swearing on TV, the strident je m en foutisme -
soon got hyped to the point where it was widely and quite wrongly accepted that
punk bands in general and the Sex Pistols in particular didnt really play
music at all but just made a frantic, loud and anarchically coded racket.
were a plot, a symbol; they were anything that needed a pundit to explain them
rather than a set of unprejudiced ears to hear the artful, aggressive and
articulate three-minute songs they played. By the time the Sex Pistols recruited
an undeniably incompetent bass player, Sid Vicious, in February 1977, their
chances of being judged on their enormous musical achievement they virtually
re-invented the pop single all but vanished. Over in Berkeley, California,
a writer who had not witnessed the London punk boo-ha at first hand, the learned
American rock sociologist Greil Marcus, began sharpening his quill.
rest is his history of anarchist art movements in the 20th century. Punk
was not a musical genre. Marcus reveals 12 years later. He traces the Sex
Pistols cultural pedigree back through the French situationists and
léttrists, and through American serial killers to the Dada movement. He
also embarks on a supplementary historical trawl which nets French revolutionaries,
English millenarian Protestant sects, medieval heretics and the early Christian
has talked these characters up into an all-star, pan-global anarchist tendency
with the aid of a fireproof argument premised on the ingenious assertion
that his is a history that remains secret to those who make it, especially
to those who make it. He buttresses this presumption with an occultist disdain
for tradition as arthmetic, by which he means and dismisses
the more verifiable sort of carry-overs historians usually address.
points, such as the Sex Pistols manager and designer Malcolm McLarens
interest in the socially disruptive ploys associated with the French situationists,
are duly played down. Mind-bogglingly fanciful connections are offered up in their
place. Johnny Rottens real name, John Lydon, links him (by serendipity,
Marcus suggests) to John of Leyden, a crazed Dutch Anabaptist who briefly ruled
Munster in 1534 and turned it into an anarchist bun-fight: abolishing private
property and marriage, staging black masses in the cathedral and running naked
through the streets.
makes much of the blasphemous opening line of Anarchy In The UK I
am an Antichrist . finding in it not only echoes of the thoughts of
situationist. Guy Debord but also memories of the mad German Dadaist Johannes
Baader who in 1918 announced from the altar of Berlin Cathedral that Christ was,
among other things, a sausage. The arithmetical fact that the Sex Pistols
lyrics never referred so directly to religion again does not discourage Marcus.
In them he discerns the latest glimmerings of notions that have gone underground
into a cultural unconscious because unfulfilled desires
transmit themselves across the years in unfathomable ways.
they do. But the suspicion grows as this secret history unwinds in its jumpy,
ahistorical fashion that Marcus rather enjoys the unfathomable nature of
his subject for its own sake. His academic desire to elucidate and cross-reference
is all but cancelled out by his enthusiasm for sounding as teasingly cryptic
as an anarchist slogan.
all of this seems like a lot for a pop song to contain, Marcus concludes,
that is why this is a story, if it is. Throughout, he flaunts his
love for arcane French intellectualese, alluding whenever he can to the derive
and détournement - rare subversive species of ironic quotation
which he seems keen should not be more widely understood.
most revealing of the authors esoteric motivations are the Acknowledgements
at the end of the book. A few people did not simply help, give advice, read
drafts, or come up with documents, though they did all of that; in the words of
one of them, they were co-conspirators, They cant be thanked, only recognised.
They are, in short, a secret society; a mystical cabal of armchair revolutionists.
Lipstick Traces does not ultimately seek to explain a tradition so much as
it hankers romantically to be a part of one.
Robert Sandall The Sunday Times. 25th June 1989