Posted September 10, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

What the World Needs Now? More Johnny “Rotten” Lydon

Public Image Ltd., photo by Paul Heartfield
Public Image Ltd., photo by Paul Heartfield

Formed in the wake of the dissolution of the Sex Pistols, the UK group Public Image Ltd reformed in 2008 and went back to the studio to issue This is PiL in 2012. The follow-up album, What the World Needs Now…, features more snarling vocals from singer Johnny “Rotten” Lydon who rants and raves in songs such as the blistering “Double Trouble.” But Lydon also shows a softer side in songs such as the shimmering C’est La Vie” and “The One.” The group returns to North America for its first show in three years, a performance at the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in New Orleans on Halloween night.  Following that appearance, Public Image Ltd. kicks off a North American tour that continues through November. Lydon phoned us to talk about the album and took a FedEx delivery during the middle of our conversation: “Copies of my new album,” he says. “I can’t wait to hear it. I bet it’s fantastic.”

You regularly do press to talk about your latest albums and tours. What’s it like to interact with the media? Is it something you enjoy?
Well rather than let biased opinion rule the day, I find it much better and more rewarding to do these one-on-one phone interviews and sometimes do the interviews up close and personal. As much of that I can do as possible, the better. It’s a learning curve to me. It’s out of respect. For two decades, just a few years ago I wasn’t capable of releasing records because of the situations I was in with labels. It’s like an uphill struggle. I have had to confront this directly. We don’t’ have any major labels backing us or supporting us so the basic principle is doing it yourself.

I heard that when you played Cleveland in the early ’80s, you came out for what fans hoped was an encore and spilled the deli tray on them. Do you have any recollection of having done that?
No. That’s a load of bollocks. What I do and have done is autograph bananas and throw them out. Those are gifts. That works particularly well in Japan where bananas are expensive. It’s amazing how people twist things into whatever they want them to be. The rumor mongering is such a living nightmare. The internet is covered with that. There’s a song on the album called “Culprit” that actually deals with it. It deals with many things, that song does. I really hate and despise and loathe the way people can say the most outrageous negative lies about others and get away with it. Often their names are hidden. You should be held accountable for that stuff because it can lead to all manner of trouble. Just looking at teenagers committing suicide because of this stuff. Is that, as a species, what we rate ourselves as? The Internet started out as the “information highway.” Now, it’s completely disinformation and it’s a u-turn. What a pity. There you go. Majority rule is usually foolish, but by no means am I advocating minority rule. I do ask the question with the album cover, “What does the world need now?” I think the answer is transparency in all things. And education and medicine for all.

I think in particular, education. Then, you wouldn’t be having these problems. Uninformed people vote for idiots.

I just saw Mötley Crüe, and they’ve been playing a version of “Anarchy in the U.K.” Were you aware of that?
Well done. I know the record and I can have a laugh about that. They’re doing that for all the right reasons, as an act of support. I appreciate that very much. Very few bands have come out and shown respect for what I’ve done over the years. Very few. Pearl Jam is one of the good ones. Most bands have blatantly imitated or ripped off obviously and not shown a word of thanks for it. That is difficult to endure. And then there’s the bands that accuse me of ripping them off. Wow! Now, that is audacity for you. It’s amazing what human beings are capable. They always resort to this personal aggrandizement through lying and fraudulence. A few go, “Thanks, John, great record.” I agree.

Why do you think the Pistols music continues to resonate with bands and fans?
We never went for the easy slogan or jumped on the trends of the moment. From my point of view, it’ll always be pertinent because it’s the truth and the truth that very few people have the balls and audacity to stand up and say.

I know you explained your feelings in a letter but can you talk a little more about why were you so pissed off when the band was inducted into the Rock Hall?
The record industry has not done much to help me. When I’ve been in real financial trouble, I’ve gotten even more problems from them. It’s consistently cast me aside and negated and ignored me and yet supported bands. No way am I going to accept that. A secret ballot? What a cheat. Stand up and be counted, I say. And not discounted. The even worse insult of it all was asking us to pay for the privilege of attending. There you go. And hello, I’m very much alive. I don’t know about the other members. I don’t view myself or the others as museum pieces. When you get the bigger picture of it, it’s quite insulting. They’re packaging us away as their special thing. We’re not their special thing. We resent the system very seriously. Always have and always will and have no connection with that.

I think the expectation is that the label will pick up the tab.
I’ve never had that privilege and wouldn’t see it as a privilege either. It’s appalling. I don’t know what they’re trying to turn it into. It’s one step away from tuxedos and dickie bows, isn’t it?

Talk about the early days of with Public Image Ltd. What were you originally going for with the band? What types of sounds did you want to explore?
I was fighting corporations by presenting as a corporation and being able to do everything internally without outside vested interest taking over. The trouble was that internally there were all manner of egotistical battles going on. I ended up footing all the bills, with nobody helping me in that respect so certain heads had to roll. The way I look at PiL is that we’ve had some 49 members over the years and that’s 49 careers I’ve launched. I would like at least a “thanks, John” for it. You find that doesn’t happen when you take people on, and some of them are serious, alleged friends. They see themselves as the center of attention. That’s absolutely wrong. Public Image doesn’t have a superstar. It’s a consortium of events. It’s a free-for-all in that respect with as much sharing as is possible.

Back in 2009, the group reconvened to play its first show in 17 years. What motivated that reunion?
Once I fought myself out of the contractual obligations stifling me, it was an easy and obvious move from there. The wonderful world of advertising helped me. Thank God for British butter, I say. Nobody helped me at all. Nobody lifted a finger, so it was back to the drawing board and doing it yourself which is the Public Image manifesto. You do need money sometimes and you have to earn it. Everything I earned with the nature programs was thrown into starting Public Image up again.  It’s my life experience. As a writer, I never liked to see the bare words on the page. My way of writing works best with musical accompaniment. We can reach far greater heights and can describe the situations in the songs much more accurately this way. That’s what we do. We study emotions and transfer that into what is laughingly called music.

Talk about the recording sessions for What the World Needs Now... You recorded at Wincraft Studios in the UK. What was the experience like?
Some would call it world-class. It’s fantastic. It has very high stone walls which are open on both sides. It literally has the wind blowing through and it has the most phenomenal sound. It’s very cathedral-like. The natural reverb lends itself to making what is essentially a live-sounding album. We love it so much there. We’ve recorded two albums there now. Finally we’re getting the hang of the place. That’s where we’re going to rehearse for. We’re taking everything we’ve learned there and focusing on it. The new tour will be very important to us. Hopefully an audience will understand and agree with us.

“Bettie Page” isn’t just about the pin-up, it’s also about the United States. Talk about the song’s meaning.
Hello! I have female heroes too. She happens to be one of them. She opened the door to many, many things. Many people, of course got it wrong. She stood up and had herself counted. I absolutely love that. She meant no harm to no one. There’s nothing wrong with the human body. Back then, it was even more of a battle. The morality of the religious right wingers coupled in with mafia corruption — it’s quite an amazing tight rope she walked. For me, that’s very inspiring. Mae West is in there as someone I just love and adore. Her masterful use of innuendo was very, very inspiring.  

What about “C’est La Vie?” To whom is that song directed?
It’s about disappointment. Some of the characters have come and go in my life. They leave a stain in your heart and you’re let down. It had to be dealt with and it had to be dealt with in that way. I’ve never gone into that area in my life. When I was doing the book, it opened my mind more and I’m able to share all manner of things.

I’m doing what I should do as a singer – I’m progressing.

“The One” is a really beautiful ballad. Talk about what inspired it.
That’s about teenage inadequacy around girls and not being very good with the chat up line. It’s an embarrassing song but it’s something I had to come to grips with. Now, it seems less embarrassing because I’m sharing it. I’m laughing at myself and my own awkwardness. Hello. Been there, done that. I love that song. It’s sweet innocence with a very filthy mind. Unrequited. Oh the awfulness. I was so ridiculed and mocked but some good comes out of it. You learn not to take other people for granted. It’s a healthy song.

Someone recently told me that kids with trust funds who are the only ones who can afford to put out records these days. What do you think of that?
Thank God for trust funds for them. But it’s like that. It’s live music. If we don’t continue this touring thing, it will soon cease to be an option. And then the wonderful rebellion in music will cease to exist. We need live venues and we need people to be in live venues. There’s nothing more rewarding in this world than that up close and personal contact. You don’t get that with a DJ who’s 200-feet up in the air with a light show. Someone makes these songs and melodies and tunes originally and all the rewards are going to someone who’s in between the band and the people.  It’s thievery in an odd way. I can say that because I used to be a DJ myself. I know. I was never doing that to deny people access to the original artist but I think that’s what’s going on now. It’s going to reduce music to this one beat scenario. World beat is doing that. It’s a stifling of creativity. Everything will eventually become elevator music if we’re not careful and don’t stand up against that. It’s just one of the many ruses I’m fighting against. Yes, I’m full on with the weed killer.

Upcoming 2015 Shows 





















New Orleans, LA – Voodoo Music + Arts Experience Festival

Memphis, TN – New Daisy Theatre

Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre

Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room

St. Petersburg, FL – The State Theatre

Orlando, FL – The Plaza Live

Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall

Philadelphia, PA – The Trocadero Theatre

Pittsburgh, PA – The Altar Bar

Montreal, Québec – La Tulipe

Toronto, Ontario – The Opera House

New York, NY – Best Buy Theatre

Chicago, IL – Concord Music Hall

Denver, CO – Gothic Theatre

Vancouver, British Columbia – Vogue Theatre

Seattle, WA – The Showbox

Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl

San Francisco, CA – The Chapel

Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades

Los Angeles, CA – The Fonda Theatre


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at