‘I won’t let the bastards grind me down’: John Lydon on grief, feuds and being an unlikely optimist

Covid, court, bereavement: although the PiL man’s new album could not have been made against a worse backdrop, his glass of non-alcoholic cider remains half full

By Lee Campbell

There’s a term for people that live in Malibu – they’re called Malubians,” claims a cackling John Lydon. “It sounds like something that has to be cut off at an early age.” The artist formerly known, in his Sex Pistols days, as Johnny Rotten is speaking from his California home and seems ecstatic that we can hear and see each other on our Zoom call. “I am so fucked up with technology,” he laughs. “I’m as blind as a bat.”

Lydon, 67, is looking well, though, decked out in green specs and matching pullover, with his signature vertiginous hair teased into a quiff. The well-worn jumper was a gift from a fan “in either Bradford, Barnsley or Bolton; one of them”, who asked for it to be passed on to his late wife, Nora Forster. “It was very sweet. She can’t wear it now, so I wear it. It’s not about the monetary value, it’s the thought – that’s priceless.” His love for his fanbase feels completely genuine. On the wall behind him are a Samurai sword and an Afghan dagger given to him by diehards when his band Public Image Ltd (PiL) played behind the iron curtain decades ago.

Next month, PiL will release End of World, their first album in eight years. The promotion for it, along with preparation for an accompanying tour this autumn, has come in the midst of profound grief for Lydon after the death in April of Forster, his wife of 44 years. “It hurts so deeply,” he says. “It’s hard to get to grips with but I don’t want to let her down. That’s not healthy for me, or her, or her memories. So, I am gonna try and throw myself into working – as far as I could throw myself, considering my weight,” he adds with a laugh.“It’s an uphill climb, but I’ve got to get there. I’ve got to find myself again, because in all of this you can’t end up losing yourself.”

 John Lydon
John Lydon … ‘You never get a chance to sort yourself out before some new inflammation turns up, like a boil on the bum!’
Photograph: Dylan Coulter/The Guardian

Sadly, some online trolls, described by Lydon as “savage kittens”, have mocked his suffering. He cites one particular comment along the lines of, “Well, that’s what you get for marrying an older woman.” But this low form of viciousness just seems to bounce off him. “Funnily enough, whatever they meant by that, I found it heartwarming. That’s my nature, to make the best of a thing, not the worst.”

As much as he may be a glass-half-full type, Lydon has never been afraid of being candid about his shortcomings. Take his account of his recent struggles with alcohol. “I went through a rough time and gained some weight,” he says while nursing an alcohol-free cider. “Don’t look for clarification in claret. There isn’t any.” Continue reading

30 Years Ago: Public Image Ltd. Find Stability on ‘Happy?’

In the mid-’80s, John Lydon was a man without a band. He still carried the moniker of Public Image Ltd. – the group he had formed once the Sex Pistols imploded – but had ditched all of the band’s other members due to control issues and drug addiction. After making 1986’s Album, a solo album in all but name, Lydon started to assemble a new band to fly the PiL flag [ . . . ] More: 30 Years Ago: Public Image Ltd. Find Stability on ‘Happy?’

Rebel yell: how the Irish dominated British rock music

From The Beatles to The Pogues, Oasis and The Smiths, musicians of Irish descent played a key role in UK scene, writes Johnny Rogan.

British pop music has been celebrated around the world for decades and rightly so.  Rather less attention has been paid to an almost invisible strain of Irishness manifested in the work and characters of several of its leading proponents. A number of these icons, particularly those born of  postwar Irish parentage, shared certain characteristics. They were often angry, awkward, polemic personalities whose music or lyrics challenged and subverted. Ironically, many  were considered English to the core, but scratch deeper and a different picture emerges. Tracing their stories takes you spiralling through four decades from Merseybeat through psychedelia, punk, Britpop and beyond.

Lennon & McCartney

Back in the early ’60s, Liverpool was the centre of the pop universe. Many of the city’s beat groups boasted members of Irish descent, including the biggest of them all: The Beatles […]

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