Johnny Lydon Lashes Out

April 17, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Because few things get booking agents salivating quite as drippingly as big-name nostalgia, the concert industry seems xTC forever awash in reunion rumors. There were promoters in the mid-'80s, for instance, who swore that Paul, George and Ringo were going to join up with Julian Lennon to re-form the Beatles. A few years later, the hot gossip had it that a reconstituted Led Zeppelin -- with Jason Bonham filling in for his late father -- would tour the stadiums of America.

But the most amazing report in recent memory was one last fall that had the original members of the Sex Pistols hooking up with the surviving members of the Clash for a massive dose of punk nostalgia. Imagine: The two biggest names in English punk back together for a single tour. It was the sort of concept that makes concert promoters jump for joy.

It makes John Lydon sick.

"Uuughhhh!" moans the former Sex Pistol over the phone. "That never came to me, and I don't think anyone would dare have the cheek to say something so horrible."

Lydon -- once known to the world as Johnny Rotten -- is speaking from a hotel in Tampa, Fla., where he is about to embark on a more appropriate enterprise. Instead of taking his old band out ,, with the Clash, he and his current band, PIL (short for Public Image, Ltd.), are on the road with former Clash guitarist Mick Jones' B.A.D. (short for Big Audio Dynamite) II.

It's very much a "new music" tour, and that's much more to Lydon's liking than living in the past. Frankly, he's appalled at the notion that people would pay to see a punk nostalgia package.

"That's why I'm not reforming," he says. "I've made my position very clear on that. It's ugly and it's so obvious that it's only done for money.

"Once I've done something, I leave it, and I never repeat it. That's it."

Lydon, who'll be at Hammerjacks tomorrow night, is so adamant about moving forward, in fact, that he was initially opposed when producer Dave Jerden sampled a snippet of the Pistols' "God Save the Queen" into PIL's current single, "Acid Drops." Explains Lydon, "That was something he threw in one night -- after we'd gone home -- for a laugh. Literally, just for amusement value.

"When I heard it, I freaked. Thought it was hideous. But as the week wore on, it just seemed more and more appropriate. The song that it's on is an anti-censorship song, and really, my troubles with censorship began with the Pistols. And it's still there. So it does fit in."

Of course, there are many different kinds of censorship in the world, but Lydon finds them all equally offensive. Naturally, he has no time at all for governmental censors and self-proclaimed morality advocates, whom he describes as "religious fanatics and bored housewives."

"Who are these people to tell the rest of us what art is or isn't, and what we should and should not be seeing or listening to?" he asks. "They have no right. They have every right not to listen to it themselves, but not to inflict their view on me or anybody else.

"Are we not supposed to have opinions anymore?" he adds, sarcastically. "I can't have that. I think that that's wicked beyond belief."

But Lydon isn't only angry at overprotective parents groups or ministers against music; he also reserves a fair amount of bile for those "fans" who insist he live up to their image of who Johnny Rotten should be.

"Well, that's a form of censorship in itself," he laughs. "This is the trouble with the tag 'fan.' A fan demands that you be the same every single time -- meaning that you fit into their preconceived ideas. Now, that is a form of rule and regulation that I cannot tolerate either. All I have to say is: Go out and get your own life."

He certainly has. Indeed, after 14 years and a dozen albums, the band's music -- like its leader -- seems as daring and provocative as ever. But Lydon seems oddly embarrassed when told so.

"Ooh, well I feel humbled," he says, not quite mockingly. "I suppose you could look at it that way. There are also people who feel that it's been an arc downward, because I'm not repeating a Sex Pistols type load of nonsense.

"It's all in the eyes of the beholder, quite frankly, and that is beyond me to care about. I just know that I do what I do to the best of my ability and actually mean it. If there is a difference between me and most of what you call my peers, it's that they don't actually know what they're doing anything for -- other than some vague idea of popularity.

"Some of us think differently," he continues. "I'm not looking for playing in a bar or a stadium, so long as I mean what I do. If there's no audience whatsoever, that doesn't really affect much. I use this as much as a cleaning process of my own psyche as anything else, because that's what it's all about.

"But I'll tell you one thing," he adds. "It doesn't make me any better or worse than anyone else. That's just the way it is. There's no snobbery in it for me. I cannot look down on people. I've learned that. No matter what we do, we all end up in the same place -- some of us faster than others."

Johnny Lydon

When: April 18, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Broadway.

Tickets: Sold out.

5) Call: (410) 659-7625 for information.

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