In his early twenties, John Lydon was known as Johnny Rotten, leader of the highly controversial punk group Sex Pistols. He, along with Glen Matlock, Paul Cook and Steve Jones, wrote their own chapter of musical history by eschewing musicianship for aggression, and trading shallow bubblegum lyrics for biting political commentary and social criticism.
Rotten quit the band after a disastrous tour of the U.S. and went solo, his career has long been one of redefining himself and his music to suit noone but himself.
Lydon is a caustic interviewee and routinely makes mincemeat out of bad reporters when he feels he isn’t being taken seriously. It has always been difficult to pin him down for any kind of lengthy discussion of his past.
That is why his autobiographical ROTTEN tome is so valuable for fans of the genre; punk aficianados get the story of the original Pistols and beyond right from the source, and from others who were also there including fellow Pistol Paul Cook, punk filmmaker Don Letts, Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and other punk luminaries.
ROTTEN gives an account of Lydon’s formative years, from working with his father on rat-covered construction equipment to his marraige to his newspaper heiress wife Nora.
He also comes clean about a 1977 bust for what he calls “the equivalent of crushed slimming pills”. It’s true, Lydon was persecuted for being an outspoken malcontent during a time when England was at its most conservative and socially oppressive.
Many other musicians did far worse in the chemical substances department, the most notorious and highly public example being the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards’ notorious blood transfusions to clean the drugs out of his system before getting travel papers to tour America.
Lydon also tackles the subject of the original 1977 punk-rock use of the swastika. Not all punks used the controversial symbol, but Lydon states unequivocably that those he knew who did wear it were protesting the narrowmindedness of English society in 1977.
It doesn’t excuse the blatant ignorance demonstrated by those who wore it, but Lydon keeps the whole controversy in perspective. He personally did not wear Nazi regalia, Lydon was far too occupied with forming his own unique statements.
The most emotional period of the public version of John Lydon’s life was his falling out with Sex Pistol manager Malcom McLauren, whom he accused of financial mismanagement.
A lawsuit between the band and McLauren resulted in the formation of a trust organization on behalf of the band members for residual income related to the band’s many singles, compilations and new releases. McLauren lost the lawsuit but went on to have a small amount of success in his own right as a musician.
Lydon still feels acrimony to this day about the fast-and-loose dealings by his former manager. These issues are addressed in ROTTEN, for the first time we get an uncensored account of Lydon’s feelings after all the legal wrangling is over.
Purchasing ROTTEN won’t get you a lengthy discussion of the hows and whys of the punk genre, but the autobiography is the fascinating story of one of punks most influential and relevant figures. There are better books on the history of punk on the market, but none better on Lydon himself. His story is best told in his own words.