John Lydon Interview
Post Modern MTV
Summer 1989
Interviewed by Tim Sommer

(TS: Tim Sommer - JL: John Lydon)

TS: My name is Tim Sommer. Thank you very much for staying up this late. It's a special show - John Lydon is with us tonight.

JL: Yeah?

TS: You've just put out an album. "9". Your ninth album. Did you ever think you would like make it around for nine albums?

JL: Well, why not? I mean, I'm better than most people out there. At least I have diversity and talent. I really can't see very much else happening with other bands. Particularly this Cure video you're about to play. They're a band I have no time for whatsoever. I think they're a farce.

TS: Now we're gonna get all these letters, see, the letters I get for Post Modern all say that The Cure is one of their favorite bands.

JL: Well, they would do, because they're safe, they're convenient, there's no threat in what they do. They never question the "status quo". It's all very nice isn't it? You know, lipstick and mascara really isn't about decadence.

TS: Now, how do you continue to question the "status quo"? Still after nine albums?

JL: I will not be bracketed. I will not be boxed into convenient little labels. Which, I think, The Cure can be.

TS: Now the new album...

JL: (interrupting) Gothic!

(Cure video)

TS: All right. You're on tour right now?

JL: Uh, yes I am. That is decent.

TS: You like playing live? You used to have this unwillingness to promote your records.

JL: Uh, yeah, but then I got over that. That was really more like stage fright. And everybody, I think, goes through that period at one time or another in their career. And then we ended up doing these 20,000 arena things. Which was all well and fine, but you can lose yourself in that. So now, this PiL tour is really - it's more "down market". It's more smaller theaters. Which I think is much more sensible.

TS: Now, you say the 20,000 - you mean the tour you just did with New Order and The Sugarcubes?

JL: Yeah.

TS: Now, everyone said you stole that show.

JL: I didn't steal anything. It was there for the taking.

TS: Cause it's like Sugarcubes are on too early for anybody to see them and New Order...

JL: Well that's your fault you know! If you want your money's worth, turn up on time! Don't winge and moan to me!

TS: Well, did you have a good a time on that tour?

JL: Yes, I did.

TS: And the other bands? New Order, Sugarcubes?

JL: Well, I don't really like New Order too much. Sugarcubes, I think she's got a great voice. And a lousy band! (laughing)

TS: Now Inar's in that band - The Sugarcubes.

JL: Inar's a very good chap and he's a friend, so...he'll appreciate me telling him to go away and hide that silly trumpet! It's not doing anybody any good!

(commercial break)

TS: Welcome back to Post Modern MTV. I'm Tim Sommer. This is obviously Mr. John Lydon. Hello, John.

JL: Hello.

TS: Now we saw a bit before. We saw a piece of "Rise". Which is like - John Lydon is like the flaming red haired punk. Is that like - do people like expect that out of you still, do you think? I mean, now your hair's much shorter.

JL: I really couldn't care less what people expect. It's all about what I give them that counts. You can't really make demands on someone like me, because I don't follow any rules and regulations. I do what I do. And that's all there is to it! If you don't like it, well that's fine. Be nice if you did!

TS: Now, but people still come to the shows and they're - I mean, are you having a problem with like people still like spitting or stage diving or slam dancing. Anything like that?

JL: You'll always get that. I think even Barry Manilow could complain about that. There's always gonna be that element.

TS: People spit at Barry Manilow?

JL: I would.

TS: But you're not happy when people do that when you're on stage?

JL: No. It's a filthy habit. And it's something that they learned off of very bad publications. It's nothing to with reality. Particularly in these AIDS torn times. Really, I'd like to catch the sods and have them up for attempted murder. Keep your spit to yourself! Or else!

TS: Warrior. We're gonna see this video, this song.

JL: Another video! God! I hate my own videos more than anyone else's!

TS: Why do you hate this video, John?

JL: I can't stand making them. It's so time consuming and nauseating. But, I suppose you have to, if you want people to be aware that you've got a record out. It's a tragedy, but true.

TS: A necessary evil?

JL: Yes. I don't want my MTV, but I suppose I might as well use it, while it's there!

(commercial break)

TS: It's Post Modern MTV. I'm Tim. This is John Lydon. Thanks for being here, John.

JL: My pleasure, I don't think!

TS: Now, you had the luck this week to play New York the same week as The Rolling Stones.

JL: Ah-haha! You call that luck?

TS: Now, I don't imagine you went out to Shea Stadium to see them.

JL: Well, we played Long Island the other night and it was a nightmare trying to get to the place. Because there's all these Rolling Stone idiots in their cars, blocking up the highways! I don't call that luck. I call it a curse.

TS: Now, those guys are like all between the ages of 45 and 53.

JL: Good luck to them. You know, if they enjoy doing what they're doing, I'd say well and fine. But, I'm not sure that's the reason they exist. I think it's much more to do with making money.

TS: Well, when you're that age, do you think you're gonna be doing this? Do you think Public Image is gonna be playing Shea Stadium?

JL: I doubt if I'll be actually jumping up and down on the boards, but I'll be doing something entertaining. That's for sure.

TS: Do you think like, the year 2005 you're gonna see like - people are gonna like offer you like - what are they getting? They're getting 30 million dollars for this tour.

JL: Well, I'll still be alive. God knows what I'll be doing, for instance. But, uh, I doubt if I'll be making an idiot out of myself just for money.

TS: Well, if they say to you like, "Ok. We can put you in Shea Stadium and make you 30 million dollars if you - here - get back together with Steve Jones and Glen Matlock and Paul Cook?"

JL: The answer would be no. Absolutely, no.

TS: No matter what the money?

JL: No matter what the money.

TS: Now what if The Stones were to offer you like, say, "John, will you come on the road and open for us?"

JL: No, no. No. Full stop. You don't even need to finish the sentence. No! No, no, no!

TS: So, Shea Stadium is not an aspiration?

JL: It definitely is not. Unless it's me on my own. With the "Sally Army" behind me. Salvation Army to you.

TS: What is your relation to Salvation Army? Suits? Or...

JL: Yeah. They wear nice clothes.

TS: Now, we're gonna see a video from a band called Toad the Wet Sprocket. Who I don't imagine you've heard of.

JL: Oh, this should be fun then.

TS: They're American.

JL: And it's called "One Little Girl" according to this card. (points to cue card)

TS: Right. And I guess that's what we're gonna see right now, on Post Modern.

JL: This'll probably be rubbish!

(plays video)

TS: Well, that's Toad the Wet Sprocket. And that about wraps it up for this edition of Post Modern MTV, and for me and Mr. Lydon tonight. Tomorrow night's show: The Sugarcubes, Siouxsie and the Banshees. John, are you gonna come back tomorrow night?

JL: Ah! I don't think so! Actually, I liked that last video cause you didn't show it! So, I'll give it 10!

TS: Right. Well, John may be back tomorrow night - or he may not. But, I'll see you tomorrow night at 12:30 Eastern and Pacific time. Good night!

JL: Yippee.

(The next night's show was taped that same day with John as their guest, again.)

TS: John, you made it back!

JL: Yeah! Lucky me!

TS: Right. Stay tuned.

JL: Or go away!

(show title sequence)

TS: I'm Tim Sommer. Thank you for staying up late. Again, with me tonight, is John Lydon from Public Image, ltd.

JL: Who just won't go away, will I?! (laughing) I'm here forever! Renting an apartment!

TS: Right here.

JL: In this studio.

TS: This very space.

JL: And this is apparently leading to a Sugarcubes - "Regina".

TS: Well, that's in a little bit.

JL: Is it.

TS: Now, when we were in the "green room" before, you saw a gold record from Information Society and you were saying they're the people who made you cut your hair. Do you get that feeling from a lot of bands?

JL: Well, they were thieves, weren't they? They obviously had more than a few posters of me and stole my hairdo.

TS: Now, do you see that a lot? Do you see, like bands, and you say, "that guy just wants to be the way I was?"

JL: No. I think it shows some kind of good taste on their part. It's a shame that musically, they couldn't keep up the high quality performance.

TS: But do you think that a lot of people are like, they're just aspiring to be something that you were like a decade ago?

JL: No, not me personally. But a lot of bands, this is the trouble with music, I think, in our modern urbane society as we know it. That too many new bands want to sound specifically like other things. I hate bracketing, for instance. Bands that, like, want to be just be rap, or just want to be hip-hop, or just want to be heavy metal. I think that's too narrow. It's a record company entrapment, really. To bland everything out. It leaves no room for variety - for something new. It's too stifling, and I find it all very dangerous. So, you know, when I sit here and bitch and moan and groan and complain - really, that's what I'm trying to point out. That it is all too similar. And that is a great danger.

TS: But you use much of the same apparatus that those bands use. You use touring and you use record companies. How do you make sure that you don't get sucked into that?

JL: Well, with the song writing process for starters. I mean, make sure you've got some kind of content going on. And make sure that you're not imitating some completely set format. I mean, obviously you have to tour. That's what Public Image is - it's a touring act. Where the clichés creep in, really, is when you want to tour exactly like someone else. And you want to adopt their image. And you want to sound like a specific thing. I think that's very, very bad. You should always be truthful to yourself. Originality, surely, is what should be respected. First and foremost, I think. Musical ability, really, can take second place to that. It's always nice to have it, but with young bands - I mean, you can't expect them to be completely, totally aware of their instruments at an early age. It just isn't possible. So, it's the originality you should be focusing on.

TS: Do you think The Sugarcubes are original? We're gonna see a video from them.

JL: They're definitely strange! I couldn't say they sound like too many other things out there. And that's why I like them. I like them very much, actually. It's just "live", I got a bit bored, cause we were on such a long tour with them. Hearing them night after night, while you're getting busy to do your own stuff is a bit wearing.

TS: We're gonna see a video called "Regina". It's the latest one from The Sugarcubes on Post Modern MTV.

JL: It ain't half bad either.

(plays video)

TS: I'm Tim Sommer. John, we're gonna see a video from Siouxsie and the Banshees. Are you surprised that like - I mean, there's another band from like - well, Siouxsie's from, like ages ago and she's still working...

JL: Well, yeah, but their trouble is - I mean without Stephen King, really, they wouldn't have any songs. And here they are with "Prudence". It's an old Beatles monstrosity. You know, it's a bit short on ideas, isn't it?

TS: You've never been inspired to, like go and do somebody else's songs?

JL: What's the point? I hate trotting over old ground. Particularly other people's.

TS: Now, on Steve Jones' new record, he does a version of and old Sex Pistols song called "Did You No Wrong" that Axl Rose from Guns N' Roses sings on. Have you heard that?

JL: Well, he's obviously done me lots of wrong, hasn't he?! Cheap Steve, really! (laughing)

TS: Have you heard it? Have you heard Axl singing on that song?

JL: I haven't. No, I haven't. I bet it's terrible! I hope so! (laughing)

TS: Are you still in touch with Steve?

JL: Yeah. I like him a lot. Still mates.

TS: Did you see the anti-drug ads he did like, uh, 2 years ago?

JL: Well, he should know! That's expert advice!

TS: Now, anything more about "Dear Prudence" or Siouxsie?

JL: No. You know, just watch it, that's all.

TS: Right. Siouxsie and the Banshees with "Dear Prudence" on Post Modern MTV.

(plays video)

TS: We're still here on Post Modern MTV with Mr. John Lydon. I was kind of surprised before - well, I wasn't that surprised - to hear you say you like The Sugarcubes. I mean, cause like, you say a lot of negative things about bands and people.

JL: Well, most of it's just teasing. See, the trouble with a lot of these bands, is they take themselves to serious. You should be able to have poked at you and enjoy it. It's a shame a lot of people don't. I think that's because they're basically insecure and talentless! Like The Sugarcubes! (laughing) Oh, so wicked!

TS: Now, I saw a while ago, I heard you say you really like KD Lang.

JL: Oh, I love KD Lang, yeah. I think she's stunningly original. Absolutely. One of my favorite singers at the moment.

TS: Anyone else you think is stunningly original? Anyone else that you'd actually go out of your way to listen to?

JL: Uh, well there's a few. I don't mind, what's her name? Karyn White? I love her, oooo!

TS: Neneh Cherry?

JL: Well, Neneh I know too much. You know, I mean, I've known her for years. So, it's like, I just have to laugh, really. And she laughs at me.

TS: Now, there was a story I remember reading a couple years ago. I wanted to ask you if it was true. It said that you were sitting on a beach in California, and some kids like rode by in a dune buggy or whatever and they said, "Look at that jerk! He probably thinks he's Johnny Lydon!"

JL: Oh, yeah! No, but that was in Mexico.

TS: That was Mexico?

JL: Yeah. And they did! Half-watt fools! I hope they're watching now! He-he, he-he! It was me! Y'all bottoms!

TS: Do you get that a lot? Do you feel like you have something, I mean like, people like are expecting something out of you? Like they're expecting you to be what you were back then?

JL: Well, then you'll be sorely disappointed. Because, as I keep trying to point out, I will not be that particular cliché. I won't get lumbered into one particular image. If I want to wear a damn suit today, I will! And I'm quite happy to!

TS: Now, are there any particular people you see out there who are being that cliché - who are particularly annoying to you?

JL: Yeah, well, Flesh For Lulu! (laughing) You had them on just now! I hope they're still listening!

TS: You feel that they're trying to be something that you were already?

JL: Well, it's a bit unoriginal the way they look, isn't it? But, good luck to them, you know. If that's what makes them happy, then that's all well and fine. You know, it's a bit easy for me, really, to just sit here and condescend. In fact, it's so easy and it's so marvelous - I'm just gonna carry on!

TS: We're gonna see a video called "Disappointed". Which is sort of a personal lyric, I mean, "That's what friends are for?"

JL: Yeah. People letting you down. But, you know, that's what people will always do. You can't change the human race. You've just got to accept that as a fact of life. Not everybody can live up to our own perfect standards.

TS: Any other thoughts on the song or the video?

JL: No. Don't buy it. Don't hear the video. Don't have anything to with it! Go away!

TS: Now, the record company's not going to want you to say that, John. Not to buy your record.

JL: I couldn't care less about my record company. I think they know that - and I definitely know it!

(plays video)

TS: "Disappointed". That was from Public Image, ltd. And you are from Public Image, ltd. as well.

JL: Mm-hmm! And I ain't no "virgin"! And this is the end of the Wednesday show! Tatty-bye!

TS: Thanks for staying around for two days.

JL: That's all right.

TS: I appreciate it. What's next? What are you doing now? You're on tour-

JL: (sighs) Philadelphia! That haven of rock and roll.

TS: Oh, that's gonna be next week.

JL: No, actually, it's tomorrow night.

TS: Well, that's a long story. Right. John, thanks for coming by for these two shows.

JL: All right!

TS: This is Post Modern MTV. I'll see you tomorrow night at 12:30 Eastern and Pacific time.

JL: (makes Flipper noise)

TS: Good night.

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