Never having interviewed a celebrity before, I was delighted to be invited to a private interview with a childhood hero on June 11, 2013, as John Lydon, better known as Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, arrived in Zagreb at the start of the European leg of the Public Image Limited (PiL) 2013 world tour, which has already covered China, Japan, Australia and the UK.
Accompanied by one other journalist and ironically - given Lydon's aversion to the establishment - a diplomat from the British embassy, the call for the interview finally came as the previous journalists left the room. Beer bottles, cigarettes and a warm welcome came from a man who had spent the afternoon talking to journalists about life as Johnny Rotten, the PiL tour and the Sex Pistols story.
"What do you think about Wayne Rooney going to your Arsenal?," opened the journalist from Cork, opening up two channels of conversation close to his heart--his favourite football team and his mother's native area.
Lydon is an infectious character, who dominates the audience with ease. The first infamous Lydon stare was reserved for the visiting diplomat, quickly replaced by a warm smile and a joke. Lydon openly answered questions on all questions with thought, intelligence and humour. The most memorable aspect of the interview was the sheer pride and enthusiasm Lydon has for what he has achieved with PiL, particularly the release of their new album last year.
Harassed by The Establishment since his infamous arrival on the world stage as lead singer of the Sex Pistols in the 1970s, Lydon's creativity has been shackled by record company contracts for many years, and he was widely derided as 'selling out' when he starred in some Country Life butter adverts. The money from that deal set Lydon free to move the PiL project forward, without reliance on record companies, and he remains very satisfied with his butter association, as it has allowed him to proceed with what he regards as his proudest achievement in his colourful career, the current PiL project. As he told the Oxford Times
“I raised the money to do this from the butter people,” he says. “That helped to cover debts, reform PiL and make us independent – which is not easy.”
“It seemed the most anachronistic thing I’d ever heard,” he confesses. “The things it did to my head! But I was intrigued, and they turned out to be the fairest people I had ever worked with. They taught me a lot.
“They gave me a completely free hand. So I went out into the field and improvised.”
His pride at achieving independence for the band is plain to see, as he told St. Petersburg Times
ahead of the band's tour of Russia:
Q: PiL’s latest album, “This is PiL,” sounds great, and it’s the first PiL album in 20 years. What’s the story there?
A: Well, because of the record contract I was under, I could not release or record or practice live for 20 years, until I paid back some of that money that they claimed I owed them. That was very, very soul-destroying at first, but then I turned that situation around and I found it to my benefit. I could approach this slowly but surely and claw my way back up — out of the dustbin or the trashcan that the record industry tried to put me in. I think I’ve done very well. I am very proud of this album, for my mind it’s the best record album that I ever, ever made. Ever!
And during that period we’ve also formed our own record label, so we rely on nobody for nothing anymore. Except of course the general public, who we need to start paying attention. Realize that one of your own can do it, so can you! You don’t all need to be sons and daughters of the ruling party. The world is ours! We have the numbers and we have the intelligence.
I am a true rebel, a complete rebel, in that I do not back down from what I say, and have been to jail for this.
The most amusing moment of a very entertaining 22 minutes in his company was the issue of the British embassy's official reception for the Queen's birthday in Zagreb today.
"Where's my invite?" he snarled at the diplomat, before breaking out into laughter. "Don't worry, there is no way I would go anyway, I would feel too uncomfortable."
A fabulous raconteur, man of the people and national treasure - the only thing rotten is the system he has opposed all his life.
PiL play in Club Tvornica in Zagreb tonight.