‘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

No future: 40 years since Sex Pistols stuck two fingers up at the British establishment


For almost a year, the Sex Pistols had been the focus of sensationalist media coverage. The on Thames Television’s tea-time Today programme stoked a moral panic at the end of 1976, precipitating the cancellation of gigs, the band’s expulsion from their EMI record deal, and lurid tabloid tales of punk’s ‘.

The release of God Save the Queen in May 1977, issued to and wrapped in a Jamie Reid-designed sleeve that defaced the Queen, further upped the ante. Faux-moral outrage now gave way to faux-patriotic outrage, as the record nevertheless pushed towards the top of the charts. So the story goes, it was only prevented from reaching the number one spot by the .

In its wake, the band’s promotional jaunt up the Thames was stopped by police, while Johnny Rotten and Reid were attacked in the street. In punk and the Pistols, the media had found a cultural expression that seemingly embodied the language of crisis and decline that was shaping perceptions of the 1970s. The ‘no future’ that Rotten warned of at the end of God Save the Queen as he surveyed the ‘mad parade’ of jubilee pomp amid ongoing fears of economic collapse and social decay, had the air of prophecy.

And yet, just a few months later, the Sex Pistols in the US and punk’s cultural form – always a jumble of clashing symbols and contested meanings – would splinter into various subsects.

Shock! Horror! Outrage!

Left behind, in the case of the Pistols, were just four singles and an album, before the processes of commodification were revealed and exploited in the post-Pistols packaging of what became ‘. Looking back, therefore, Never Mind the Bollocks perhaps serves best as a testament: an artefact that affirms the Sex Pistols existence and the cultural ruptures they provoked. Continue reading

Criterion Discovery: Sid and Nancy

Background: After a long hiatus of being out of print, Alex Cox’s punk-rock cult hit Sid & Nancy (Spine #20) returns to the Criterion Collection. The film was Cox’s first to be included in the main collection, preceding Walker (Spine #423) and Repo Man (Spine #654).Story: After a fateful meeting, Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and American junkie Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) begin a star-crossed, mutually destructive romance [ . . . ]

Read full review: Criterion Discovery: Sid and Nancy