Sunday, 22 February 2015

Anger Is An Energy - John Lydon


John Lydon's come out with so many good lines in His songs over the years that it's hard to choose which one might be His best. Howard Devoto once stated that what John writes is sheer poetry and I almost agree. I mean, it's not consistently sheer poetry by any means but He's had his moments. For John Himself, 'Anger is an energy' is possibly the most powerful one-liner He's ever come up with, hence using it as the title for His autobiography.
Autobiography? John Lydon? Haven't we been here before with 'Rotten - No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs'? Well, yes we have though according to John that one wasn't so much an autobiography but more of a setting the record straight following Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming'. Whatever. 
But who in 2015 would think there was anything left to say about the Sex Pistols/John Rotten/Lydon/PIL, etc, that hasn't already been said? Well, obviously John Lydon for one and you know what? He's not entirely wrong. Anger Is An Energy - My Life Uncensored contains a fair few tasty nuggets, morsels, insights and revelations that they make it a joy to read; the only problem being that it's sometimes hard to decipher the truth from the fiction, the opinion, and the revisionism. But who am I to argue because the bottom line of it is that John was there and I wasn't. Hundreds of other people have given their versions of events regarding the Pistols, Punk and the subsequent fallout and why take their versions as the truth and not His?

So what do we get? For starters we find out about John's musical influences and some of them come as a surprise, to me at least. According to John, Status Quo are "Fantastic rock. Wonderful, brilliant, beautiful stuff." He also adored Alvin Stardust, David Essex's 'Rock On', and Gary Glitter's 'Rock And Roll (Part 1 & 2)'. He also likes Arthur Brown, Can, Faust, Nico, Dr Feelgood, the Kinks, a lot of reggae, and Duran Duran. That's right, Duran Duran. In addition He loves Ted Hughes and Oscar Wilde, and has read Dostoevsky.
Apparently Mick Jones of The Clash is "a lovely person, really warm", Paul Simonon is "a posh kid, from a good background", Chrissie Hynde is "a very important person in the world", Robert Plant is "a great fella", and Keith Levene is "a cunt".
Guests who turned up at His house in Gunter Grove included Joan Armatrading, Althea and Donna, composers John Barry and Stomu Yamashta, and Les Mckewan of the Bay City Rollers.
Whilst working briefly at Sex, John sold newscaster Reginald Bosanquet a skin-tight rubber top. If you know who Reginald Bosanquet is and know what he looked like - can you imagine? The original idea for the Anarchy tour was to pair up with a circus and tour that way. Richard Branson wanted John to be the lead vocalist of Devo. Whilst involved in initial preparations for the Sex Pistols movie, John put forward Graham Chapman from Monty Python to direct it (as opposed to Malcolm McLaren's first choice of Russ Meyer). John auditioned for the lead role in Quadrophenia which in the end, of course, went to Phil Daniels. And as of 2013, John now has American citizenship.
According to Sid Vicious, Vivienne Westwood was a "turkey neck", and Paul Cook "an albino gorilla". Sid's mum would give her son devilled kidneys sprinkled with heroin; and when Nancy Spungeon was found murdered at the Chelsea Hotel, Mick Jagger got his lawyers sent in to protect Sid. And on that subject: John suggests Nancy was killed by New York drug dealers to whom Sid owed money.

Is any of this of any importance? Is anyone interested? Listen: The Sex Pistols were a bright, shining beacon of hope that offered inspiration and something a whole lot better to anyone desiring it. "I want more life, fucker." said Rutger Hauer's replicant android in the film Blade Runner. The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock offered more of everything - life included. The Pistols blew a hole in British culture and in the created space the Punk banner was raised. In towns and cities across the country whole armies of little Oliver Twists' stood up and poured into that space, all with one thing in common: They wanted more.
"We opened all the doors - and the windows." said Sid Vicious, and he wasn't wrong. By 1979, however, Sid was dead and the original Punk explosion had been accommodated, contained and diluted leaving only sparks and streamers descending from the skies and seeds drifting through the breeze. But what fires those sparks did light and what strange and brilliant fruit did those seeds yield.

Tittle-tattle regarding such things as Sid's mother putting heroin on his dinner is, of course, totally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things but the importance of the Pistols and Johnny Rotten upon Britain and indeed many other parts of the world should not be denied.
Without his fellow Sex Pistols, John would have been just another misfit roaming the streets but without John the Sex Pistols would have been just another rock'n'roll band. Without John and His Sex Pistols no band of any substance or merit over the last few decades would ever have existed, or at least not in the same form. But then without His working class origins and all the influences upon Him, John would never have been the same person, which is why it's interesting to read who and what did influence Him - including even Alvin Stardust.
"You don't write a song like 'God Save The Queen' because you hate the English race." said John "You write a song like that because you love them and you're fed up with them being mistreated." And for His troubles John suffered rebuke, hostility, condemnation, physical attacks and police raids. At times it must have felt as though the whole world was against Him.
John doesn't owe us anything but we all owe John. He's earned the right to do absolutely anything He chooses and not only does that include reforming the Pistols to make money but also going on I'm A Celebrity and doing ads for Country Life butter. Is anyone so pure and effected so much change for the good upon the world that they are in any position to criticise Him? I think not.

There are bits in Anger Is An Energy which are really good such as when John's talking about being dropped by A&M, instigated by Herb Alpert - the 'A' in A&M - who sent a communiqué from LA to the UK label's office saying he didn't want such undesirables as the Sex Pistols on his label. Years later when John's living in Malibu, who might His neighbour be? None other than Herb Alpert. "There's a difference in the size of our respective properties, let me tell you. He has half a mountain." John writes "But I know it more than bugs him that I live here. Talking with the neighbours, they've told me so. Well, that's your comeuppance, you fuck."
Some bits are really moving, particularly when He talks about the death of His father: "At dad's funeral, I was borderline passing out with tears, which I never did with my mum. I was expected to give something of a speech. I couldn't, I just couldn't. Words fail you. I walked up when I felt like it and I leant into the coffin, and I kissed my dad's dead body on the cheek. I looked down and went, 'That's me dad!' and broke apart. I missed him so bad."
And then there are bits which are the Johnny Rotten we all know and love such as when talking about the Establishment lining up against Him during the Pistols' heyday: "Why aren't you (the Establishment) supplying us with jobs and a decent lifestyle, you fucks? You're going to tell me to shut up because I'm finding the economic situation you put the country in a problem? And using that very thing that they just love to espouse in the West, democracy! Ooooh - the right to say what you have to, to stand up and be counted. Wow. Didn't I blow a hole in that bubble. And seriously, a BIG hole in that bubble. I found that to be an absolute non-truth. I wouldn't tolerate it. And still won through. So there you go, boys and girls of the world, Johnny did his bit for ya. Fucking say thanks, cunts."

Down here in Exmouth, Anger Is An Energy is not only on sale at WH Smith but is also available from the public library, and copies are even now popping up in charity shops. It's ubiquitous and I can only presume this is a good thing? But let's keep this in perspective because at the end of the day it is simply an autobiography, nothing more and nothing less. The person it's about, however, is one in a million.
John Serpico


  1. Hear, hear!
    Must read this. Did you see the interview with him about the book on Channel 4 News some time ago? Very touching and inspiring - as you say, he's one in a million. I thought then "I must get round to reading it" but I confess I haven't. I'm now newly motivated now by your excellent post here.

    1. Thanks, C. Yes, I did watch the interview on Channel 4 News that you mention (via YouTube) and after watching it didn't you just want to give him a big hug?