The ex-Sex Pistols frontman talks about Los Angeles, his youth and the advantages of being older.
He loves California for the skiing. He hates Sting for being a "culture vulture." He can't vote until next year in America (but sure wishes he could this year). And he seems to have Minneapolis confused with Seattle. These are a few other highlights from our interview with John Lydon two weeks ago. The former Sex Pistols frontman was reached by phone in -- of all places -- Orlando, Fla., kickoff city for Public Image Limited's U.S. tour.
Q You've lived in Los Angeles for 30 years now. Any signs of you turning into another Ugly American?
A No, because I've always been ugly [laughs]. But no, I don't run around bragging or cause fights for no reason, and I don't get drunk on Budweiser, so I think I'm doing OK.
I really do love L.A. I've grown accustomed to all the lovely police harassment, of course. I've gotten to hang out on the beach, and I kind of like that. I also took up skiing, oddly enough. Not too far from L.A., there's Big Bear Mountain, and you can ski for free relatively cheaply. I did fall in love with the California experience. I became healthy. All those childhood illnesses, such as permanent nasal infections due to the weather and the climate, all ceased to exist. And I found all sorts of things to stimulate my songwriting. You know, I found access to art galleries that weren't cold and snobby, where the owners want to explain the paintings. It's a totally thrilling world out there. People share a lot more there.
Q Are you enough of a citizen now to vote in November?
A No, but it's on the way. I won't be able to vote this time, but I'll be eligible for full citizenship next year. Yippee! I can't wait. Obviously, if I could vote, my feeling is if one side took eight years to wreck it, the other side should at least get eight years to fix it.
Q Do you have any memories of performing in Minneapolis over the years?
A I'll always remember the hotel with the fishing rods. The old one out on the pier. When I first got there, everybody told me to stay there because the Beatles stayed there, but I thought it was horrible.
[We'll just call that a "no." He seemed to be talking about the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, most famous in rock lore for Led Zeppelin's mud shark incident.]
Q At the risk of making you sound sentimental, did you miss not playing music all these years?
A Yes, very much. It's the only thing in my whole life I've ever liked and been good at. The only thing! I don't know if I'm a good person [laughs]. I do know that I can write an honest song, and I know I can perform live to the utmost degree regardless of any ailments, because I believe in what I'm singing. There's not a lot of rhyming nonsense for me. This is the story of my life, and many other people's lives, and I treat that with a great deal of respect. And yes, I do this romantically, too. I do have love in my life.
Q Some of the songs on "This Is PiL" reflect on your childhood in [London's] Finsbury Park. What was that like?
A There's a rich multicultural blend in my background as a kid. There would be folk music from Greece, Turkey, Ireland, Jamaica, as well as the Swinging Sixties pop music of the era and Motown, of course, plus some exotic stuff like Arabic music. I loved that variety, and I grew up quite innocently being open to many different ways of approaching music. In later years, it has paid off very well.
For me culturally, I'm saying we should all just get on more, because you can achieve wonderful things from it. And you don't have to be like a culture vulture like Sting where you specifically go off to some foreign place to imitate them. I find that approach really condescending. For me, music has to come from the heart and soul and experience.
Q Why is the PiL reunion more valid in your mind than the Sex Pistols reunion tour?
A This one is really way more proper. There were some issues with the Pistols that needed to be resolved between each of us as human beings. There were also some promises made by the record companies when I did the Sex Pistols tour that they were going to get behind and support PiL afterward, but they never did. All the heads of the company all moved on to other labels and left me stranded. Just more lies.
This is a completely different agenda. This is my proper career, and it always has been.
Q How have the crowds reacted on the PiL tour compared to the Pistols tour?
A It'll be interesting to see how the audiences in America react now. In Europe, it went very well. The audiences came and created what we now call the PiL Zone. It's a very, very warm thing to find that in an audience. There's no negativity in it. The only enemies are outside the building. We've been able to get ourselves across whether we're in a small nightclub or theater, or at an enormous festival. I'm quite comfortable dealing with 100,000 or 10, it's people there that count. Of course, in my youth I would've been agitated by the larger numbers or disappointed by the smaller numbers [laughs].
Q How much does being older and wiser affect these things?
A When you're younger, you don't have all the accoutrements. As you progress in life, you become smarter about things and less egotistical. When you're young, your ego can be more of a problem -- but it can be good too, because it can help you write some excellent songs. But it gets better when you get older, because you realize not every band you're in has to involve hating each other, which frankly, my first band gave me that impression [laughs].
I've progressed to the point where these guys, we really do respect each other and are good friends, and I think the music shows that. We're proud of the fact that a lot of it might be considered unmusical, but it is accurate and poignant and relevant. And in three years time, somebody else will be copying what we're doing now, and they'll walk off with all the accolades. That's the story of my life.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib