John Lydon is crass. At this point in his 40ish-year-old career, he’s developed a reputation for being unfriendly to press. And politicians. And, well, a lot of people. He tends to offend wherever he goes. He even made it a point to belch loudly during the middle of my interview (“practicing my jazz chords,” as he described it to me, the host of a jazz radio show, for christsakes).
This off-putting demeanor, however, belies an undeniable intelligence. Controversial positions he has long and ardently held, ranging from his omnivorous taste in music to many of his political and social beliefs, are now commonplace, while Sex Pistols’ sneer and Public Image Ltd.’s post-punk discord have long been held as prescient, influential, or both.
So where does this leave Lydon in today’s music landscape? Per John, “I’m quite happy here on the outskirts, doing what I want, and not getting dragged into cliques or categories anymore…And I think these last two albums we’ve put out are probably the best music in my entire career.” Yes, it’s easy to roll your eyes at any musician pushing 60 who claims to be putting out their best work–or really anything short of an outright cash grab (notable exceptions: Gira, Michael, and Bowie, David). And sure, some of his opinions fit quite comfortably within an irrelevant, crotchety old man archetype (rejection of technology, disinterest in any contemporary music). But given his track record, I’m willing to hear him out. The rigors of age and his smoking habit have seemingly done nothing to extinguish that singular, shrill voice that set the world on fire in ‘76, and he seems as pissed off as ever. Not to mention, the new record really isn’t half bad.
Public Image Ltd. is on tour through November. Dates are here. An excerpt from my interview with John is after the break–if it somehow isn’t long enough for you, click here for the full transcript.