John (Rotten) Lydon
Born, 31 January 1956, London, England
Born to Irish parents, and the eldest of three brothers,
John Lydon grew up in a tiny council flat in Finsbury Park, North
London. A melting pot of English, Irish, Scottish, West Indian,
Turkish and Greek immigrants.
Aged seven he contracted a serious bout of meningitis
which put him in and out of coma’s for almost a year. Wiping
most of his early memories and affecting his eyesight. On returning
to school he was painfully shy and labelled a “dummy”.
The experience only made him stronger and more determined.
Before John could complete his O Levels he was expelled from Catholic
secondary school for daring to question teachers and refusing to
toe the line. He attended Hackney & Stoke Newington College
of Further Education, then later Kingsway College, to finish his
exams. Where he met Sid Vicious.
It is a well-worn story that John was spotted wearing a "I
Hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt and invited to audition as singer
for a fledgling band that had been pestering Malcolm McLaren to
manage them. If John hadn't joined the Sex Pistols back in 1975
they would have been a very, very different band. Things just wouldn't
be the same at all…
Although John had no previous musical involvement, less than
six months later the Sex Pistols made their live debut at St Martins
College of Art, November 6th 1975.
On account of his decaying teeth John was re-christened “Johnny
Rotten”. His scintillating vocal delivery and forthright
lyrics – matched with the band’s power and energy – soon
saw the Pistols build up a word-of-mouth following. Despite John
vehemently rejecting the term, the Sex Pistols found themselves
at the forefront of what would later become known as “Punk”.
While appearing on The ‘Today’ TV show in December
1976 John was goaded into swearing by presenter Bill Grundy. Not
for the first or last time, John didn’t back down.
After signing to Virgin Records in 1977 (their third
label in less than nine months) the Pistols released John’s
alternative National Anthem 'God Save The Queen' during the Queen's
Silver Jubilee celebrations. John was attacked in the street and
slashed several times.
When the Sex Pistols split in January 1978 John quickly moved
onto Public Image Limited (PiL). McLaren legally prevented him
using the name "Rotten" (which he later won back) - but
regardless - this was a new beginning. Lydon's unique vocal style
and perceptive lyrics remained, however, PiL were nothing like
the Sex Pistols.
PiL went onto blend a variety of different musical styles; there
were no rules. The change of direction would frustrate many Sex
Pistols fans, but equally open up a variety of people to more eclectic
tastes. PiL continued in one form or another through three decades,
releasing numerous albums, and scoring some unlikely hits along
the way. Always chameleons, bar Lydon, the line-up would constantly
change; as would the style and content of the music.
Outside of PiL John has released several solo collaborations;
most notably the groundbreaking rock/rap crossover 'World Destruction'
with Africa Bambaataa in 1984, and the pioneering 'Open Up' with
dance duo Leftfield in 1993.
In more recent years John has brought quality TV to the masses.
He launched his own 'Rotten TV' for VH1 in 2000, and made a show-stealing
apperance on the 2005 ITV reality show ‘I’m a Celebrity
Get Me Out Of Here’.
He fronted the series 'John Lydon's Megabugs' for Discovery Channel
in 2005/6; and two nature specials for Channel 5: ‘John Lydon’s
Shark Attack’ and ‘John Lydon Goes Ape’. Over
the years he has made various travel, nature, music and documentary
shows for networks in the UK, Europe and USA. He has also appeared
in films such as 'Order of Death' with Harvey Keitel. And hosted
his own radio series' 'Rotten Day' and 'Rotten Radio'.
After a drawn-out legal case against Malcolm McLaren, 1986 finally
saw John reclaim the name “Rotten” and win a deal which
gave control of the Sex Pistols assets back to the band themselves.
He went onto publish his best-selling Sex Pistols autobiography
'Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs' in 1994. The book featured
contributions from Paul Cook and Steve Jones; together with various
friends, family and associates including John Rambo Stevens, Julien
Temple, Chrissy Hynde, Billy Idol, and many more...
The autobiography would help prompt a change of heart. Since 1978
- despite countless offers - John always swore he would never reunite
with the Sex Pistols. However, after meeting on their own terms
the original Sex Pistols - Lydon, Jones, Cook and Matlock - decided
to return for the hugely successful 'Filthy Lucre World Tour' in
John enjoyed playing with the Pistols so much he has been tempted
to return several times since. And while he acknowledges the Pistols
are a big part of his life it's worth remembering that the majority
of his career has been spent separate to the Sex Pistols.
With PiL on temporary hiatus after 1992 John continued to make his own records. "Solo" records
in the real sense. He plays, writes and produces all tracks himself.
The album 'Psycho's Path' was released in 1997 - and in-between
other commitments - he is sporadically working on new material
for a follow up. 'The Rabbit Song' a brief taster for the project
was released in 2005 as part of the 'Best of British £1 Notes'
career encompassing compilation.
While being a judge on Bodog TV’s 2007 ‘Battle of
the Bands’ contest – where unsigned bands performed
their own material – John simultaneously filmed his
own series ‘Johnny Rotten Loves America’. The content
of which proved too hot to handle for US TV. Hurricane Katrina,
Gun Control and Black Confederate soldiers…
December 2009 saw the long awaited return of Public Image Limited (PiL) for 7 monumental live dates in the UK. Their first shows in 17 years. The band continued into 2010 and 2011 and are currently working on a new studio album.
John Lydon is often accused of “self-parody”, that
his whole persona and career are nothing more than an elaborate
joke. It would take a smarter man than Lydon to have planned the
way his life has worked out. Is humour self parody? Lydon is as
capable of intelligent discussion as he is of making light of himself,
but he knows there is more truth and honesty in humour than in
being a pompous intellectual. People might actually listen.
John lives in LA with Nora. Mrs Rotten for nearly 30 years.