Anti-Christs, Anarcheists and Arsenal Hooligans

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Anger is an Energy - The John Lydon autobiography

Reviewed by John Kerrens

 

Unless you have been living on Chiron or IO the last few decades (or are just very young) you would be aware of the past existence of the Sex Pistols and their evil spawn, Punk Rock.

Anger Is An Energy is the just-released autobiog of John Lydon, commonly known to the world as “Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols”and the “Godfather of Punk”. Oh, and the Anti-Christ.

The pathogenesis of Punk was unassuming: John Joseph Lydon wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt with “I Hate”scrawled over it. He would likewise rip up a shirt –slashing it to ribbons – then stick it back together again with staples, safety pins etc.

From such perverse, personal protest came a worldwide cultural revolution, affecting the Arts, media, literature and everything in between. All of it originally the product of a pissed-off North London teenager.

When the Pistols appeared live on Thames Television’s ‘Today’ show and unleashed a swearword or two, their fame was guaranteed. One viewer allegedly kicked in the screen of his TV set in anger: “I can swear as well as anyone but I don’t want this kind of muck coming into my home at tea time,”he said. You can’t buypublicity like that.

During a disastrous tour of the US, the Sex Pistols imploded.

Disillusioned with the music business (but not with music itself), Lydon formed Public Image Limited, with Jah Wobble (John Wardle) on Bass, guitarist Keith Levene and Canadian drummer Jim Walker.

This lineup, more or less, went on to record the astonishing ‘Metal Box’ –regarded by many as one of the great Rock albums of our time. Everything, musically-speaking, fell into place: Wobble’s monstrous Mega-bass, Levene’s spidery, jagged guitar lines and Lydon’s surprisingly astute lyrics and vocals.

Various line-ups followed over the years, including collaborations with New York Avant-noise-terrorist John Zorn and Ginger Baker (drummer with 60′s power trio, Cream).

These days Lydon lives in Los Angeles and like many Brit refugees [1], prefers it to England. Probably the weather. Venice Beach is a far cry from Finsbury Park, Arsenal hooligans and dodgy Kebab joints.

Lydon also deserves credit for his genuine openness to music of all kinds –everything from the Monkees to ‘Trout Mask Replica’. Lydon was also highly supportive of women forming bands –not the usual Svengali-driven fluff, but women making the kind of music they want, on their own terms.

In her excellent recent autobiog, Slits guitarist Viv Albertine briefly describes a meeting with Paul Weller of The Jam. When she told him that she was also a guitarist, he responded “Great. We could do with some crumpet in our band”

Weller went on to be more politically correct but Lydon never misstepped when it came to encouraging women like Albertine. He has more recently been supportive of Pussy Riot, who are part of “the lineage”(while managing to insult them at the same time).

The main impression AIAE gives is of a man who has had everything go his way –including the many conflicts which he mostly started. Eventually, his egocentric ways become wearying, but at the very least AIAE is an entertaining trawl through the life of a talented, flawed individual (another one!).

 

[1] Just kidding.

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