Q: I was just watching
YouTube footage of the Sex Pistols, and there seemed to be a great deal
of joy in your performances back in the seventies—which
most people wouldn’t say about the Pistols. They just talk about
your being pissed off.
A: Well, I’m amazed they missed that. But I don’t think our
fan base has missed that. Never has. You know, the judgment of outsiders
is always wicked at best, isn’t it? Really, the detractors—you’ve
got to be looking at them as nothing but a bunch of jealous fucks.
Q: Who are the detractors at this point?
A: Oh, probably a bunch of New Yorkers claiming they invented punk.
Q: Oh, them.
A: Oh, them! You know, that poetry-reading bunch.
Q: I actually spoke to you back in 2000 at the Sundance Film Festival
when The Filth and The Fury was there, and you described the drummer
from the Sex Pistols, Paul Cook, as “excruciatingly dull.” You
seem to have this skill for slagging on people and then getting them
to work with you again.
A: You must understand, we’ve done this with the press throughout
our entire lives—coming up with the most scathing comments we can
on each other. It’s all done with a great sense of style and fun,
and there’s no harm in it whatsoever. The fact that Paul is that
dull is neither here nor there.
Q: He doesn’t call you up and say, “John, what the fuck?”
A: No, we’re very close. We always have been. It’s a game.
All of us hate the world of gossip that just seems to surround the entertainment
business, and so what you do is you put out worse gossip than anyone
could ever imagine.
Q: How long have you been married?
A: Nearly 30 years. I never take any commitment lightly, and I certainly
don’t take my wife lightly. I never did and I never will. That’s
permanent. That’s true love.
Q: Do you ever wish that you’d had children?
A: Yes, of course. We lost one, years ago, and complications came out
of that, and so we couldn’t have children, and that upset me.
I mean, I’m not this callous clown walking around laughing at
life all the time. I’ve had some serious, serious problems in
my life. But I’ve come out with a smile. I’m not part of
the self-pity whinge brigade, so please don’t put a Radiohead
Q:Oh, you don’t like Radiohead?
A: Well, they just wallow in their own seriousness a little too much.
And I think that that’s a stance, and it’s an unhealthy
Q: How did Never Mind the Bollocks change the world?
A: I have no idea. I don’t think of it like that. There’s
no grandiose opera going on in my head about it. I mean, it’s an
album that has had some serious influence on the music industry and the
way people think. But it’s not a bible, and it’s not a manual,
you know? Sorry! It’s all about thinking for yourself.
Q: I always saw the Pistols as part of a satirical tradition that extends
all the way to Stephen Colbert.
A: I love Colbert! His presentation of an extreme right-winger is deeply
funny. You learn so much from that absurd point of view.
Q: But some of your songs—like “Belsen Was a Gas”—were
outlandishly offensive. Do you ever look back and say, “Jeez, maybe
I went a bit too far?”
A: No! No! Had to be done! Everything! You must assault all mannerisms,
all assumptions, all the things that cause us problems and cause us grief.
The unspeakable should not be unspeakable. When you bring these things
out into the open, you can tear them apart. It’s no good pretending
Nazis don’t exist. They bloody well do, and they must be stopped.
And the only way of stopping them, really, is utter, complete humiliation.
Q:How do you keep your vocal cords in shape?
A: I smoke an awful lot of cigarettes and I drink like a fish. And I
gargle brandy onstage. I find that those three things help.
Q: Why do reunion concerts cause people so much consternation?
A: I think that word reunion—it just implies, Oh, they’re
back for the money. Yeah, well, hello! Of course we’re back for
the money! And what is the shame in that? When did America suddenly become
Communist? We weren’t paid the first time out. We intend to be
Q: I read your autobiography and I remember that scene at the very last
Pistols concert in San Francisco where you’re stranded and utterly
A: Yeah. Broke. The only money I had was what was thrown onstage.
Q: “Never trust a hippie” may be the greatest line of the
punk movement. What does it mean?
A: Don’t trust ’em because all this “peace and love” and “free
love”—that was really just to turn women into whores. “Oh,
you’re not free ’cause you won’t let me shag ya.” Ha
ha! That’s clever, that is. And as soon as they came out of the
sixties they were all running corporations, and suddenly, you know, the
long-hair trip became lining their own coffers. They could be very, very
greedy people, the hippies. I come from piss-poor, working-class, lowest-that-you-can-get,
total no-hope, no-future—and none of them damn hippies came round
our way being generous. The council flats were not places where you would
hand out flowers.
Q: In spite of the name of the band, I don’t associate the Sex
Pistols with sex.
A: No. Or guns.
Q: So did the Sex Pistols have groupies?
A: There would be freak horror shows that would turn up, yeah.
Q: But was it a big part of your backstage experience?
A: Oh, I would tell the dirty women of the night, “Hands off! I
have morals!”...I won’t conform to what I think is a dodgy
precedent in the first place. Just ’cause you’re on TV don’t
mean “Bend over, missus.”
Q: Your growing up poor—how did that affect the way you view money?
A: Well, I’ve never had enough of it, really, to alter my perception
of anything. I don’t have huge bank accounts. I’d love one.
But it wouldn’t change much. I don’t have any expensive habits.
I’m not a car collector or any of that nonsense. But I’d
love to be incredibly wealthy for no reason at all.
Q: You must have some indulgences—wine or rare books or something.
A: No. None. No bad habits at all. No! No! Just not interested in it.
Anything that becomes a routine is of no interest to me.
Q: Are you a tea drinker?
A: Well, that’s just because I’m British. I mean, we drink
that stuff from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to bed. I don’t
see that as a routine, because every cup is different from the one before.
Q: Do you have a preference?
A: Anything that says “English breakfast” will do. It’s
a good kick. I like the caffeine kick in tea. Otherwise I’m just
dreary all day long.
Q: Anything else?
A: I bought this stupid juicer. Oh God, the mess I made.
Q: So, um, you make juice?
A: Yeah, well, I have to now, because I bought the damn thing. Sixty
dollars’ worth of bleedin’ nonsense! It’s impossible
to keep clean. I’ll tell you what it is—it’s a harbinger
of mold and fungus.
Q: It’s interesting that you mention this attempt at healthy eating,
because many of your contemporaries from the punk years—three of
the Ramones and Joe Strummer from the Clash—have all died in the
past few years.
A: Yeah, and I know quite a few, too. Sad. They’re all kicking
the bucket. I don’t know—is it they made themselves ill?
I’m sort of of the belief that people kill themselves from the
inside out. When they’re unhappy with what they’re doing,
or not achieving things—when your focus is off-kilter. The thing
that keeps me ticking is my values. And I maintain them, because they’re
worthy. I like to wake up and feel I’ve done no wrong. I like that
feeling. It’s a reward in itself. Whereas money would never take
that place, ever.
Q: You’re known as a very contentious person. To look back at
your biography is to see a series of disputes with people.
A: I don’t tolerate liars. When somebody lies to me, that’s
really, like, just unbearable. But there’s a definite reason for
that, and that’s the meningitis I had as a child. I came out of
a coma. I was in a coma for four months. I didn’t even know who
I was for five years after that. Because your memory is just, you know,
not there. It takes time to come back. And so I would be totally believing
everything everybody told me, and so when I found out that half of those
things were lies, it really disturbed me, because I was dependent on
the truth. And that’s stuck with me throughout my life. Even now,
I haven’t mellowed in that respect. I don’t like people lying
to me, not even about the smallest things. I find it inexcusable.
Q: What music are you listening to now?
A: Everything. But I must say, in the last three or four years, it’s
become mundane in the extreme and formatted to the hilt. And it’s
a shame. You’ve got record companies that don’t know what
they’re doing. They are clueless. Just utterly clueless. And you’ve
got thievery on a grand scale going on all over the Internet. It’s
a sad indictment, but you know what? It’s like the calm before
the storm, really. Something good will come out of all of this dullness.
It just has to.
Q: Just like the Pistols did, eh?
A: You would expect it. You should expect it. We were right. Historically
right. I don’t know if it was anything that we as individuals
did. But I think nature just insisted we exist!
Q: Well, thanks for your time, John. It’s been an honor talking
A: I don’t handle compliments well.
Q: Maybe I should say “fuck off” or something.
A: No, that’s even worse, when people do that. They try to out-punk
the punk. Don’t be so foolish. It was never like that in the first
place. There’s no excuse for rudeness. I know—I’ve
got albums full of it!
Q: That’s a quip worthy of Oscar Wilde.
A: Ha ha! Very excellent person, him. I’ll tell you one thing I
like about Oscar Wilde. On his deathbed he looked at the walls and he
went, “That wallpaper is horrendous. One of us has to go.” Then
he died. That’s fucking genius. That’s how you go out. That’s
how life should be.