John Lydon talks to ShortList about his new autobiography, apathy in the UK, and butter...
Your new book’s title is Anger Is An Energy. How important a mantra to you is that?
Anger’s always been there. I coined the phrase years back, then I adopted it into my songs. I used my anger in the Sex Pistols, then I used the phrase in Rise with Public Image Limited, about a South African interrogation technique and the calamity going on there. Anger is an energy, it’s always been around me, but – unlike most idiots out there – I don’t turn anger into violence, I use it positively. I use it for words – words are my bullets.
Do you wish bands today sung more about politics?
I think the internet is the road to idiocy and has made a lot of young people incredibly stupid and more involved with mindless gossip and nonsense. It’s spineless, faceless, there’s no face-to-face confrontation. You’ve lost the power of emotion and dialogue; it’s just flimsy catchphrases. It’s complacency. Facebook and Twitter are my arch enemies.
Your lyrics aren’t really political any more – what changed?
In the early days I was attacking the institutions and conglomerates that tortured me as a young fella. From there, Public Image was a lot of personal politics and internal thinking, sorting out what might be wrong with myself. I’ve never considered myself perfect by any means. In many ways I’m my own worst enemy, but at least I’m trying. I’m only 58 years young, I’ve got another 50 years to get it right. So bear with me – I’m worth the ride!
You say in your book that reading saved your life – should younger generations be reading more?
Words bear a semblance of truth. To get a book published you have to go through many laws, whereas on the internet there’s no guarantee what you’re being told [is true]. Wikipedia – we’ve had constant rows with them about putting up inaccurate information. They corrected it begrudgingly, then said the wrong stuff again. It was a blatant lie. That makes me wonder – does everybody just roll over and go, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter I suppose?’ But of course it matters. Every little detail about your existence matters.
What do you make of the current political scene?
The decline of libraries is disgraceful – you’re killing education. The decline of the school system, hospitals, the NHS – these shouldn’t be things that are falling apart, these should be pillars on which we build a society. If we’re not capable of looking after our young and elderly then what the hell are we good for? Is it really just a nation of a greedy one per cent dictating to everyone else?
It’s appalling, disgusting. This is what I say: get up and vote. People who tell you not to vote, ignore them; they’re the nuisances. The Tories never change their spots, ever. Labour are hideously dull, stupid, indolent and a complete let down. Their leader seems to wear posh suits above his station.
What’s the answer?
To change this world you’ve got to start getting into town halls. That’s the place to demonstrate, remonstrate and be involved. You change politics from grassroots upwards. It’s a bit late, when they’ve presented the leader of the party, for you to moan about your sorry lot when you go to vote. Most people go to Ukip as their alternative. Most people are lazy. I know that, you know that. Eventually we’ll catch on that laziness gets us nowhere.
Are you still angry – does the fire still rage?
When it needs to. When I need to stand up for the disenfranchised, I’ll be very angry. Anger is just one of many emotions I have in my repertoire. Whenever I feel it’s appropriate, that’ll be the tool I use. But you mustn’t get the impression that I run around angry all the time – far from it. I’m quite a pleasant, easy-going person, actually.
There’s a chapter in your book dedicated to football – are you still a big Arsenal fan?
Win, lose or draw, I’m Arsenal. I hate the Emirates Stadium, but it doesn’t mean I hate the team. It looks like Dagenham bus depot. I find it impersonal and alien to my way of thinking. It’s destroyed the social magnet it once was. It was a fantastic environment, and they’ve thrown that away for a mob of Range Rovers. It’s quite disgusting they did that so blatantly, so casually, so instantaneously. And, of course, it’s priced-out everyone – there’s no hope of young neighbourhood kids getting in. I’m not happy about the Wenger years, not at all. But being a proper Arsenal man, I can out-wait him. Eventually, everyone will catch on that he’s not good news.
You also talk in your book about that Country Life butter advert you did, and the criticism...
I couldn’t give a tuppence f*ck what arseholes have to say. I needed to raise some money to get Public Image back together and, having the good sensibility to have eaten a lot of butter in my life, I thought it was appropriate. Every penny I earned from that went into reforming Public Image. Music lovers should rejoice at that... and have some buttered toast on me.
Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored by John Lydon is available now