Thursday, 13 August 2015
One of the books I got through on holiday in France was John Lydon's autobiography Anger Is An Energy. It was in parts entertaining and infuriating (like the man himself), but eventually became a bit boring. I'll come back to it in a bit.
John Lydon willed himself into becoming Johnny Rotten in his late teens, a complete one-off, unique, an utterly new frontman for a rock 'n' roll band. The three men he joined were essentially a sped up pub rock band using stolen gear until John found his voice and wrote lyrics that did more than describe boredom, they actually took on the British establishment. Their recorded legacy is out of all proportion to their influence and importance- four astonishing singles, one breathtaking album (containing all four astonishing singles) and a B-side (The Stooges cover No Fun). Lydon freely admits in his book that he had no idea how to sing when he joined the band, had never thought of joining a group or singing. His vocal style is perfect for those songs and had to be found quickly, in rehearsal rooms and then on stage. His lyrics on Anarchy In The UK and God Save The Queen are supreme, his delivery on Pretty Vacant is hair raising, not to mention Bodies or Submission. Rotten wasn't just about the words, he knew image and presentation were important, stamps of identity and markers. The visual sense of Rotten and the Pistols and their entourage is as important as their sound.
In 1976 Tony Wilson put them on Granada TV at tea time (Lydon slags Wilson off in his book, calling him smug and sarcastic, which is a bit silly).
The Sex Pistols were, given the personalities involved, always living on borrowed time and their split can't have surprised anyone. The Winterland gig in 1978 contains the greatest onstage comment ever (at 6.39).
Lydon's book is good on the Pistols years, his upbringing and his dirt poor childhood of North London in the 1960s, the Irish and Jamaican diaspora, his illness and recovery (meningitis, not nice) and the rise from nothing to pioneering punk band and public enemy number one. This is all good stuff and well told. But, and you knew there was a but, eventually it all gets very wearing. The book is written in Lydon's voice which gives it authenticity I suppose, but after a while all the phwooaars and wowzers and BITS-IN-CAPITAL-LETTERS get irritating. Not to mention constantly referring to himself in the third person. He also slags off almost everyone except his wife and family- Malcolm McClaren (no surprise there), Vivienne Westwood, all his fellow Sex Pistols, most of the other punk bands, Joe Strummer, everyone in PiL especially Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, his live audience (who can't keep up with him apparently), the record buying audience, Britain, journalists (he's never had any good press apparently), Jon Savage... and so on. He claims to have invented almost everything that's happened since the mid 70s from punk (fair enough) and social comment in songs, to house music and hip hop, even David Beckham's haircuts... Everything he's done was always the right decision (including inviting Sid in to join the Pistols, which partly led to the demise of both the band and Sid). He sees himself as a walking version of the Millwall FC song- no one likes him, he doesn't care. On top of this he is wildly contradictory. He claims Sid was both clever and stupid within a few pages. He claims to abhor violence, lives the life of a Gandhi loving pacifist yet gets a massive kick repeatedly out of hanging around with Arsenal's top boys, drinking in pubs used by London's gangsters, and using his minder/manager Rambo to cause trouble and crack heads. On and on he goes, circling around, falling out with everyone he's ever worked with, most of whom are portrayed as money grabbing parasites while his motives are always pure and artistic. He does admit he must be hard to work with. The chapter on the 1996 Sex Pistols re-union is a joke- Jones, Matlock and Cook were all this, while he was that, it wasn't about the money, he doesn't have any money, he did it for the art unlike the others, they insulted him with a demo for a new song etc etc. It wore me out to be honest and by the last few chapters detailing his television work I'd pretty much lost interest. Which is a shame because he was one of the true, stand alone giants in music.
It may be of course that the whole book is just a wind up. In which case, pffft.
I'll get to PiL later.