Friday - May 23rd, 1997
(TS: Tom Snyder - JL: John Lydon)

TS: Now, let me talk to you here a little bit about John Lydon and the history that he and I have together. I'm gonna show you a little videotape here from the old "Tomorrow Show" on NBC that was on the air on June the 27th of 1980, in which he and I appeared. And for whatever the reason, we just didn't get along at all. And I remember this as one of the worst moments in the history of the "Tomorrow Show". And we thought it might be a great idea, since a lot of time has passed, for him to come on here and we'll just check back - two guys who were caught up in one dumb moment of television a long time ago, and see how our lives have gone since that time. But let me take you back here - and I really don't want to show this because I had the big hair back then. You know, there's a time for big hair and there's a time for small hair. This being a time for small hair. But let me take you back to June 27th, 1980. This has not been seen on television since then. And now, we'll find out why...

(Shows clip from the "Tomorrow Show" interview with Snyder, Lydon and Levine.)

... With him was Keith Levine, and it truly was fun. As a matter of fact, in an issue of TV Guide that appeared some years back, they listed this interview, this moment on television, as one of the 10 greatest rock and roll moments in the history of television. And you have to remember that this would include the legendary appearance of The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show". By the way, this was not John Lydon's only appearance on the top ten things that happened in the history of rock and roll on television. He also was cited for his appearance on "American Bandstand" in which he began shoving members of the audience and the performance wound up in near chaos. So, this will be fun tonight and I hope entertaining.

(Snyder discusses other unrelated things to do with the show.)

Back with John Lydon. It's been a long, long time...

(commercial break)

TS: My first guest tonight is John Lydon, who created a rock and roll revolution in the late 1970's. He was known then as Johnny Rotten - the head singer and founder of the Sex Pistols. He continued creating inventive music in the 1980's with his band Public Image Limited. And now he's on his own, at least for the time being. His first solo CD is called "Psycho's Path". And after nearly 17 years, since first we met, we're back together again tonight for the second time. John, welcome and thank you for joining us here at CBS. I don't know what happened 17 years ago tonight. If I made some-

JL: (laughing) Yes you do! You just showed it!

TS: But I mean, I don't know where I was or you were then. But if I did something to offend you, I apologize for it.

JL: It was all right. I mean, it's just entertainment, isn't it? You know, TV.

TS: Right, it's only television. I sometimes forget that. When we approached you to come on here, what did you think after all these years?

JL: I thought 'set up'. And I could not resist! (laughing) Because, I mean, you know, you do think these things. You know, somebody's out for 'part 2' - vengeance and all that. But, I gather that's not the case. So, we'll be decent with each other.

TS: In reading about out first encounter back at NBC in 80, I read that you were upset because I was going on and on with a guest named Nina Hagen.

JL: Yeah.

TS: And my notes, my recollection is that the guy that we had on the air before you-

JL: Oh! You thought that was a geezer?! No, that was a woman! (laughing)

TS: No, no. But my recollection is that Alan Carr was on before you.

JL: Uh, I remember it slightly differently.

TS: Ok. (laughing) In any event-

JL: You're off, aren't ya'?

TS: Yeah. The Sex Pistols had a reunion tour last year. Which, in itself, is not unusual. Because a lot of bands, you know Kiss and others have had reunion tours.

JL: Yeah, but we did it for slightly different reasons.

TS: Which was?

JL: Wanted to just finally and forever put an end to the myth that's grown up around the Sex Pistols. To just call it 'full stop', the end, finish. Then nobody can blabber on 'ad infinitum' and exaggerate and mythologize about a band that wasn't too brilliant in the first place. I mean, I know where all the talent lay... me! So I thought it would be fun to bring the other three out and show them up for the fools they are.

TS: And the other three being?

JL: Paul, Glen and Steve. You see, some people have been bemoaning the fact that Sid wasn't there. Well, he couldn't be, because he's dead!

TS: True.

JL: But, uh, we wrote the songs with Glen Matlock. So, he was the rightful person to be there. Actually we got on all right and I'm just teasing. I like them a lot and they like me... not.

TS: And the music for the Sex Pistols? You've sold that music?

JL: I've gotten rid of everything! Publishing, the lot. I don't want anything more to do with it ever again.

TS: You really hated it that much, huh?

JL: No. I just think that 'enough is enough'. And you cannot keep on living in the shadow of your past. It's not healthy. And I think I've done far more better work since. It was a good beginning for me and I enjoyed it. It was also very nerve-racking. I mean, I made a lot of enemies. You stand up and have an opinion in this world, you become a classic victim.

TS: 'Course, you're wearing an opinion on your T-shirt tonight, aren't you? I don't know if they can read that - now they can!

(Lydon opens his blazer to show the T-shirt he's wearing that depicts two men with their arms around each other. The caption says "Politically Erect".)

JL: From 'politically correct' to 'erect'!

TS: (laughing) You have not been bashful about voicing your opinions on public figures. I remember something-

JL: Now, now, listen! Years ago in school they called me opinionated. And I thought that was the best compliment I'd ever been paid. And I was determined to keep that way for the rest of my life. You have to have opinions on things. You can't just accept everything blindly. It's not going to get you anywhere.

TS: What about the time when you got yourself in a little bit of a jam with your comment on Fergie? And this was long before-

JL: Oh! The tart in the tent?!

TS: The tart in the tent, right.

JL: Yeah, but now that's bog-standard journalism in England about the Royal Family, isn't it? Somebody's got to be the forerunner. Might as well be me.

TS: But at the time, you got yourself into some trouble with that comment. And now considering Fergie's behavior and Fergie's image-

JL: Yeah. It was brought up in Parliament that I should be tied to "Traitor's Gate" and drowned. That's one of the comments from some MP. Wouldn't have been such a bad idea, really. It'd sell records.

TS: Let me take you back to something you said here about the myths that follow bands, that surround bands and there's been mythology about every band that I can remember.

JL: Yeah.

TS: Do the bands care about these myths?

JL: Yes.

TS: Or are these more the vices for the fans of the bands and the followers of the bands?

JL: Well, with the Pistols, there was a lot of books that came out by people who weren't there, didn't know us and exaggerated the whole thing into being some political movement. Which it wasn't. This was a bunch of people who had opinions on things. Very important opinions, it turns out. But nothing more than that. And all covered up in pop music. I have to be a realist.

TS: Let me talk to you about John Lydon. Your parents were Irish, but you grew up in England.

JL: Yeah, London.

TS: Did your parents come to London or go to London before you were born, or were you-

JL: Uh, they moved to London because my father had some trouble with the Garda. That's Irish for police! It runs in the family.

TS: (laughing) So they moved when you were alive or they moved before you were born?

JL: I was apparently alive.

TS: Ok.

JL: There was some mystery about my birth certificate. Where I was actually born. But, at the moment it says Highgate. Which is a cemetery near the hospital.

TS: And I've read as you were growing up, you were at some distance from your father. In fact I've read of-

JL: Yeah, I never understood him. Uh, he had a wicked sarcastic sense of humor. Which I've no doubt imitated since. But it did keep me alert. We never ever spoke, really, seriously at all until the day I left home. And from then on in, it's been friendship total. Now he respects me, because I'm standing up and doing things for myself. In a way that was right of him, because it stopped me being a 'mummy's-boy'.

TS: I was going to ask you about your mom. You just used the term 'mommy's-boy'. Were you?

JL: No. But that was the fatherly-figure fear, wasn't it? My mum was, uh, quite insane in her own way. Her favorite music at the time was Alice Cooper. Which I kind of shared with her. And Gary Glitter too.

TS: You would spend summers, I've read, in Ireland. Your mom and dad would take you back there or they would send you back there. I don't know which.

JL: Yeah. A bit of both sometimes.

TS: And how did you find Ireland when you'd go back to it for the summer?

JL: Well, you're brought up in England with people telling you you're Irish. You go to Ireland and they call you English. So, you're very confused as to what your nationality is. And you end up, quite rightly, not believing in any nationality. I think national pride leads to nothing but wars and hates. Planet Earth, period. You know, not to love one place. In a way it's made me a bit of a Gypsy. That's why I move about all the time.

TS: But, what was it like in Ireland. You know, I've had this man Frank McCourt here several times who's written this book about growing up in Ireland very, very poor and very Catholic.

JL: Well, we grew up very poor in London and very poor in Ireland. But the poverty in Ireland was far worse. Far worse.

TS: How so?

JL: There was no electricity in the house. There was no running water. They built the kitchen over a running stream out back. If you wanted water, you'd just stick a bucket in a hole in the ground. But, the trouble with that was there was a cow field at the top of the hill. So, it would be cow-slurry that would be frequenting the kitchen! The insects, spiders, just the sheer dirt of it all!

TS: (laughing) Lots of bugs, huh?

JL: Oh yeah. Insect-ridden. I've never got on with insects. It was like sleeping on haystacks, really. Because, that's what the mattresses were stuffed with.

TS: And how was the poverty as you grew up in council flats? The London equivalent of projects, I would suppose, in this country.

JL: Well, to my Irish relatives that would be luxury. But, by English standards it was as low as you can get. We didn't have an indoor toilet till I was twelve. And we lived in two rooms and there was six of us. Not pleasing.

TS: I'm just curious as to the day the indoor toilet arrived.

JL: Well no, they moved us out because the house quite literally fell down around us! It was condemned. As indeed, most buildings I live in are.

TS: And when did you begin having the awareness of the Royalty. And when you knew-

JL: Well, in England, from birth! It's thrown at you!

TS: And when you knew, what were your thoughts about the whole concept of a royal family? Of a queen or a king, princes and princesses.

JL: Uh, that my father worked very hard and had a lot of tax taken off to support what I'd seen as a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing inbreds. And I think time has proved me right. The British now completely agree with me on that. So, my attitude would be, about them now, to sell them off to Disneyland. I think that they would be wonderful next to the Epcot Center! And that would solve a lot of Britain's economic problems.

TS: (laughing) The royalties from royalty.

JL: Yeah!

TS: There you go. We are talking here with Johnny Lydon. His new CD is called "Psycho's Path". It's a solo effort. We'll be right back with Johnny and you on the 'toll-free' at 800-952-2788 as time permits after these messages.

(commercial break)

TS: We're back with John Lydon. And here is Paul on the 'toll-free' in New York City. Hi, Paul. Welcome to CBS Late Night.

Paul: Hi, John.

TS: (Snyder answers) Hi, Paul.

Paul: John, I agree with you that your PiL stuff is better than your old stuff. I like the old stuff too, but your PiL stuff's the best. I'd like to ask you, can you tell me what happens when a guy like you and Pete Townshend - who's someone from the old guard, I don't find him as honest as you- I was wondering, what do you guys talk about when you run into each other? Because I've heard about you guys running into each other. And one other thing, can you tell me what are your politics basically? Are you familiar with people like (voice is cut off from the broadcast) - are parallel with - (voice is cut off from the broadcast)?

JL: (laughing) Oh, God! First out of the pack, huh?! All right, look, yeah I know Pete Townshend really well. I think he's all right. He's just confused. And his major problem is that he wrote a song called, "hope I die before I get old", remember it? 'My Generation'? Well, that's been his downfall ever since. Because he's constantly fighting against that. But he's all right. He's not a liar, not by any means. So, people like him I get on really well with. What are my political views? I believe in the art of the individual. I could never join any political group, because there would always be the one or two things about it that I couldn't be in total agreement with.

TS: And what about your personal view of the recent elections in Great Britain in which the Conservatives lost-

JL: What? Did they? I don't think they did at all! I mean that's just Margaret Thatcher politics under a Labor Party guise. Nothing's really changed. It's just uh, it's like third rate versions of Margaret Thatcher. If they wanted to really change the situation they should have come up with something far more drastic and original.

TS: And would your main complaint be that they ought to pay more attention to the 'working class' and not be so concerned with 'middle' or 'upper class'?

JL: Absolutely. Yes. That's right. That's the majority. But the way the voting system works, the majority has less say. Because of the way the constituencies are divided. It's all very corrupt. It seems to be the same here.

TS: Really.

JL: Well, I can't tell much of a difference between Republican and Democrat to be honest.

TS: True, true.

JL: They're all out for the same greed. And it's all about power and position, isn't it?

TS: And do you think it'll ever change, John?

JL: Possibly not. If you ignore it, it won't solve very much. If you start looking for alternatives, things might improve. But I don't mean Ross Perot! (laughing) There is a limit! But I like his insanity.

TS: When you and the Sex Pistols first came to America, what did you think of America, John?

JL: That it wasn't like the John Wayne movies I was impressed with when I was young. But, I did like it. I liked the energy and sheer size and beauty of the country. And the difference between one state and another. And a lot of that's changed since. Texas - it's just all shopping malls exactly like Los Angeles. Like anywhere. The difference is gone. And it's the difference that makes us better.

TS: And what about living in Southern California as you do now? Do you like living in Southern California?

JL: A lot.

TS: What about it?

JL: That I could just be myself. I'm not pestered and bothered when I walk around the streets here. People just tend to leave you alone. I think they're worn out with fame. And that's perfect for me! And I'm not infamous here like I am in Britain. So there's less violence involved in that.

TS: And if there were one misconception that the people who have listened to your band, gone to your concerts, bought your records - if there were one misconception they had about John, what would it be?

JL: That I do this as some big kind of superfluous joke. That seems to be the way journalists would have you believe I run my life. And that's far from the truth. I work damn hard doing what I do. And I know it's important and it's often imitated - but never surpassed. There's precious few people as honest as me in this industry. Oh, I think you know that, Tom!

TS: I've, uh, learned a little bit more about it tonight. Yes, I have. And I've read that you consider yourself, you say of yourself, "I'm a likable guy."

JL: Well, I like me. My wife likes me.

TS: Yeah, well, if you don't like yourself - nobody else will.

JL: My family likes me. My friends like me. And that's good enough. I'm really not out to impress the whole world. That would be a waste of my time. I'm not going to commercialize me.

TS: And what is it in John Lydon that produces the American Bandstand scene some years back, you know, where allegedly you were shoving people and the program ended in chaos?

JL: Yes, well, the truth about that is this: I forgot the words to the song. (laughing) And I was miming really badly, so I had to act quick. And did. Perfect! And created brilliant TV. Which is what it's all about ultimately.

TS: I watched you the other night on "Politically Incorrect" with Lynn Redgrave and the scene that there was a little bit of sparks there.

JL: No, I feel sorry for Ms. Redgrave. If she doesn't like the clothes I wear, she should keep her mouth shut firmly. Because I will respond. And told her what a silly bitch she was for it. No big deal.

TS: And people who listen to "Psycho's Path", who buy the CD which is out now, what will they hear from John that they haven't heard before?

JL: Well, I've done it all myself this time. With the Pistols, Public Image, it was always working with bands. This time out, it's completely all me. And if you don't like it, there's no one else to blame but pretentious 'moi'! (laughing)

TS: In other words, your-

JL: Well, I put my head on the chopping block. And you can go and like it, or you can lump it. Either way, I'm perfectly content because I'm quite proud of it. I think it's a fine piece of work.

TS: And when you and the "Mrs." crank up the old CD in the Lydon household, what kind of music do you like to listen to, John?

JL: Oh, God, everything. Everything. I'm not limited by musical tastes. I'm just like that term 'catholic' in my tastes.

TS: Universal. Catholic, small "c", yeah.

JL: Everything.

TS: Classical?

JL: Bits and pieces, yes. The lot. I won't limit myself. It's all done there to entertain me. Why would I be so stupid as to wear blinkers and cut off that sense of fun? That's too narrow. Far too many people do that. They don't read for the same reasons. 'Cause it doesn't fit in to like the lifestyle they're trying to imitate. Be your own man.

TS: I hope it isn't 17 years before our paths cross again. Thanks for coming on tonight, Johnny.

JL: That's up to you, isn't it? (laughing)

TS: Yeah, well... yeah, it is. (laughing) We can both be brutally honest. I enjoyed seeing you again.

(shaking hands)

JL: Cheers, Tom.

TS: Cheers, John. Thanks for coming on.

JL: All right. May the road rise.

TS: Have a good weekend, sir.

JL: All right.

TS: John Lydon is the guest. The new CD is called "Psycho's Path". It's in the stores now. Back with Keith Olbermann from the big show on ESPN, after this short break.

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