The Great Punk Rock N Roll Swindle
a rotten book ho ho
The Great Punk Rock N Roll Swindle

“Rotten” – John Lydon – (Plexus).


The Plexus press release makes many claims for this reprint - but ‘nearly 3 decades after its 1st publication’ has to be the hardest one to swallow. “Rotten” was first published in Britain in 1994 – it was only copyrighted in 1993! In fact, The Sex Pistols themselves only just qualify to have existed 3 decades ago. Not a great start, then.

“Currently being adapted for the big screen”, screams the header. God help us – is nothing sacred – didn’t anyone learn the lesson of “Sid & Nancy” (apart from Lydon himself)?

A cursory comparison with the original print confirms that little has intrinsically changed - & by that I mean that it hasn’t been re-written - if that’s what you were hoping.

“Rotten” is a page-turner – there’s no denying that. Once you get past Lydon’s early obsessions (class system, poverty, Irish citizenship, intelligence) & move onto the meat of his later obsessions (class system, poverty, Irish citizenship, intelligence) you get the feeling he’s either still scamming his way through on a wing & a prayer – or he possibly isn’t quite as bright as he’d like to imply (or that much of the book is actually being narrated by the alter-ego Rotten & not Lydon himself). As the man freely admits in Segment 21 of “Rotten”, contradiction is one of his major life skills:

“Am I a walking contradiction? Yes, I am not!”

A lot of the prose employed is simply awful – but Lydon would probably cite that as deliberate if challenged. The aforementioned contradiction, chronological issues, repetition & pure flights of fancy tend to get in the way of the narrative flow. Many of the supportive quotes are woefully out of context - & the whole book often has that feel of being thrown together at random & spurted out of a printer at haste. Ah ha, you can almost imagine Lydon saying, that is exactly the way it was meant to be. As so many contributors continually attest – you’re hardly ever going to get one over on John Lydon.

Reading between the lines of the sworn affidavits from the Lydon v Glitterbest court battle of Segment 20 you begin to understand the bigger picture. Everyone has their own part to play in this soap opera of an urban myth & only an amalgamation of these versions of events will give the reader any insight into the true reality of the swindle. As with any myth, the truth is any construct you want it to be - a cocktail blended to suit your own particular pallet. There are too many vested interests at stake - & there always will be.

The story of the Sex Pistols is best illustrated by the immortal words of Mr Rick Mayall:

“Theatre, theatre – what are you? Theatre. I don’t know. Ask Vanessa Redgrave. But I don’t know Vanessa Redgrave - & neither do you. Theatre!”

As Penny Rimbaud (Crass) so rightly points out: how does one intellectualise the anti-intellectual? And therein lies the problem: Punk Rock was a direct reaction against the liberal intellectualism of the hippie ideal & will therefore always struggle to be anything more than the sum of it’s parts according to whoever is on the soap box at the time.

“Rotten” is intrinsically an enigma wrapped in a Turin Shroud of self-worth: The Gospel According To St Johnny. Blatant liberties are repeatedly taken with regard to the reputations of The Clash, The Damned & anyone else anywhere near the sharp end. Richard Hell is rather too easily dismissed on more than one occasion. The New York Dolls are not afforded the musical respect they deserve (considering the Pistols actual sound owed a huge debt to theirs). No credit is given to Ian Dury for his origination of the cult of the safety pin (slavishly studied by a young Lydon at many Kilburn & The Highroads shows).

‘The ultimate inside story of punk’ – is another press release claim. I suppose that depends of your definition of Punk Rock. I’d imagine that if Lydon really did lift the lid off the tub marked ‘real truth behind the Sex Pistols’ - he’d never be able to show his face in public again. By the time I’d reached the pivotal Segment 21 I was firmly back on his side. This chapter alone says more about the man than the rest of the book put together - & is ultimately his saving grace. Love him or hate him – the truth is undeniable: the music of the Sex Pistols changed the lives of a generation & ensured that nothing would be quite the same ever again. The Sex Pistols came to destroy rock n roll - & in many senses they achieved their goal. No group will ever be able to sound so furious again & mean it – maaaan. No haircut is ever going to launch a million clones. No image will ever be so slavishly copied. No attitude will ever scare the perceived ‘establishment’ quite so effectively as the Sex Pistols did.

The proof of the pudding is in the listening interface between the noise/ears/brain. Go & listen to “Never Mind The Bollocks” as soon as you’ve finished this book & expose yourself to the true power of the Sex Pistols all over again.

In terms of historical significance, “Rotten” is the story of a man who still thinks he’s owed a living by a public he originally purported to be saving from all that malarkey - & in that sense the swindle continues. The rub is that there is absolutely no way anyone who was dramatically affected by the Sex Pistols can ultimately deny the man – a fact I’m convinced he knows better than anyone else

These days, John Lydon makes more money from real-estate deals, Sex Pistols residuals & Nora’s inheritance on any given day than you & I could ever imagine making in an entire lifetime (even if we pooled our resources).

Cash from chaos – sadly so. I guess at the end of the day you have to ask yourself: does he need any more of yours?

Jean Encoule – tMx 12 – 11/03
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