Johhny's back in the Public eye
With PiL set to play their first ever Dublin gig at Tripod in June, John Lyndon tells Chris Wasser about why it's taken more than 33 years for him and his band to get a booking in the city
It's 9.58am in Los Angeles and the man formerly known as Johnny Rotten is growling. It's all because I thought it would be nice to wish the guy a belated happy birthday (he turned 55 two days before our interview). As it turns out, he doesn't do birthdays. He does, however, enjoy life.
But where do we begin with a punk legend of John Joseph Lydon's status? How about his three-year stint as frontman of the Sex Pistols? Then again, we could talk about the Catholic Church. Or his favourite Jamaican beer. Or that butter advert featuring Lydon eating toast in his pyjamas.
Why don't we kick things off with Public Image Ltd. Come June 10, PiL play their first ever Dublin show, 33 years after originally forming. So, what took you so long, John?
"It's been horrible, hopeless hell trying to get gigs in Ireland," he replies, "and for some 18 years there I've had a record company that wouldn't back me one way or the other. In fact, they strived to keep me constantly in debt to the point where I couldn't really pick up a microphone without landing in deep financial trouble.
"But luckily for me, British butter managed to have the good common sense and courtesy to send enough money into my coffers to be able to re-finance PiL and get us up and running.
"It was a fantastic piece of work," he continues. "Totally enjoyable. Not overly well paid but, you know, adequate funds to get PiL up and running."
These days, John insists that all four members of PiL are "good friends". It only took three decades, he jokes (not to mention a change in line-up) but at least everyone gets on and enjoys playing together.
They were also one of the highlights of last year's Electric Picnic. Still, it's 19 years since they last released a record. Is there a new one on the way?
"Yeah, there is," he says. "And I apologise to the whole world, because when my stepdaughter Arianna died last year, that was a very, very dismal occasion -- there was no way that I could go into a recording studio because it would be the selfish thing. So that, of course, put us in a financial problem, but you know, you have to have empathy with the dead -- we're back at them again."
That last comment is an eerie reminder of how often our conversation returns to the subject of death. Certainly, he's lucky to have survived childhood meningitis when he lay in a coma for nearly four months. Lydon also discusses why he didn't attend the funeral of former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who died in April last year: "The whole process of parading the coffin up and down Camden Town just seemed ludicrous to me . . . I don't really think [Malcolm] would have liked that very much."
But less about death, and more about John's career. Didn't PiL travel to Israel for a gig last year?
"I went there because I don't support the Israeli government, but I do support Israeli people's rights to hear Public Image Ltd," says John.
"If you start limiting people as to what they should and shouldn't be listening to, which is a form of censorship, you really are then supporting those crooked governments. And I don't think Johnny boy here has supported any government ever. And never will."
He goes on: "No man is my enemy, but every government is. And in fact, every institution, really, starting with the Catholic Church. And I'm not pleased to say, but I think it's about time that the Catholic Church is unravelling, because of its corrupt attitude.
"I remember being an altar boy," he recalls, "and I remember how terrifying that was. In fact, it was the Catholic Church, really, that made me learn how not to sing. You were terrified of being put in the choir, because you knew then the priest would have a bloody good hand up your pants."
Indeed, he may be laughing now, but his serious tone of voice says it all.
That his parents were Irish meant that, as a child, the "inner-city dweller" would spend many summers in Cork, desperately trying to adapt to "the slow pace of an Irish farm".
"When I look back on my childhood, I love those moments, you know, just enjoyable little scenes where you can remember asking for an ice-lolly in a shop, and the shopkeeper just would not understand a London accent from a five-year-old. It's quite brilliant!"
"May the road rise and your enemies always be behind you," he says, as we part.
Same to you, John. See you in June.
Public Image Ltd play Tripod, Friday, June 10