As a member of the Sex Pistols, singer Johnny Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) helped trailblaze punk rock in the 70s. Complete with anarchist lyrics and unruly antics, the band reached iconic status after releasing just a single album: Never Mind the Bollocks. After the Pistols’ split in 1978, Lydon kept busy with his more experimental band: Public Image Ltd (or simply, PiL). This past September saw the arrival of PiL’s 10th studio effort, What the World Needs Now, and it seems he’s still offering the unexpected.
Long Island Pulse: How was the approach on this album different?
Johnny Lydon: These last two albums [2012’s This is PiL being the other] I have been in a workplace with people that respect each other, are friends and go into [making an album] with a great sense of expectation, anticipation and joy. There have been times in the past where there were always difficult people. That’s gone. And I’m outside of large record labels trying to manipulate me and annoy me.
Pulse: What’s the hardest part about being a musician?
JL: I suppose having to deal with the daily lies and nonsenses from the wonderful world of vicious [media] gossip. I’ve got a long career of being genuine and honest, and maintaining my integrity above all else—at a great cost to me. It’s created a lot of pitfalls to stand up and be counted as an individual in an industry that would love to suck us into the mélange of blandness. But there it goes. You just have to get on with it and not wallow in self-pity about it. My mom and dad would never have allowed that. That’s how I recovered from my childhood illness [meningitis]. It was “stand up and be a man,” take it on the chin.
Pulse: Do you have any regrets?
JL: No, no, no—I don’t do that. Everything, one way or another, through time and persistence has paid off well. So there’s none of that self-pity, there’s none of that wallowing in addiction or alcohol…Although I’m prone to both as a recreational tool. But no, nothing will hold me back, except if the body just gives up. I’ve only got one chance in life to do something really truly right. Out of respect for my deceased parents and my survived brothers, family and friends, I’m not going to lead a lie of self-gratitude and greed. I’m going to tell it accurately, and hopefully make the world a better place.
Pulse: Do you ever think about punk’s impact as a movement?
JL: I have no idea if as a movement it was a good or a bad thing. I know what we did as a band. And I know an awful lot of people then became “bandwagon hoppers” and watered it down and turned it into this narrow-minded, nasty, hateful, resentful little thing. But it had much bigger ambitions when we first started. I wanted it to encompass all forms of music and share the message with all types of human beings—not reduce it to just ridiculousness of a rigid uniform. What a pity. That’s where many of the punks turned against me. They didn’t understand that this life is about progression, not digression.
Pulse: Would you consider another Sex Pistols reunion?
JL: No. That’s done. Never say never, but it wouldn’t be a reunion. We’re trying now to get to like each other outside of work and I think that’s more important to us as human beings. Because when we get back on stage,
all those old resentments just keep creeping in, and it gets foolish. I want to remember them as my friends. We did enough as a band. Can’t go back at it, don’t want to. Can’t write for it, don’t need to. That served its place in history really well. And now, I’m serving my place in history really well, in a completely different way. Welcome to progress. It doesn’t always make you popular, but I’ve never done this for popularity.
Public Image LTd will be performing at Playstation Theater on Nov. 16