John Lydon offers thoughts on plumbing, mouthwash, barbershops versus clippers, and the Mekons
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John Lydon, who is profiled in Sunday’s Times, is a quote machine, and therefore pure gold for the journalists lucky enough to shove a tape recorder in his face and get him going. Pop & Hiss recently played chauffeur for the legendarily outspoken singer of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. while he was promoting his new art book, ‘Mr. Rotten’s Scrapbook,’ and during the ride (which ferried him from his home in Marina del Rey to the Times building in downtown L.A.), Lydon offered thoughts, tips, advice, and observations on his life in 2011 and his nearly 20 years spent living in Southern California.
On East Los Angeles and its many cultures and neighborhoods: ‘It used to be such a nice, quiet place, but it’s gotten to be gang-y of late, Pasadena, and into Glendale. It’s all gone very different over the years. It’s funny, I’ve watched this town change dramatically. It’s the problem with America is that you separate yourselves. You ghettoize yourselves. You have your black communities, your Mexican communities, your this, your that. You’re too separate, and you’re desperate because of it. You’re all at war, but you’re all fighting the same problem, you’ve just not come to grips with that. That ‘us and them’ mentality. That’s the boss man that wants you to believe in such nonsense. Divided we fall. United we conquer.’
On living near Venice: ‘Or as we know it locally, ‘Very-nice,’' he said. ‘I like the beach culture because it doesn’t interfere. It’s not nosy and it’s not peeping through lace curtains. It’s floppy Joes and no shoes on your feet and why give a damn about what the neighbors [are up to].
When trying to alleviate some dental pain, Lydon took a slug of Johnny Walker Black: ‘Ah, that’ll get rid of the toothache all right! Don’t waste your money on all that Listerine mouthwash. That’s really poor alcohol. If you’re going to do that, go proper. Why [mess] about?’
On his hairstyling technique: ‘I keep noticing these little barber shops, and I’ve definitely been meaning to give one a visit at some point, because I went nuts two days ago with one of those electric shavers, and somebody rang and I -- accidentally when I was using it -- turned and I went too high up the back, and I need that straightened out. It’s really, really hard to get the back of your head done proper. And who do you trust with dangerous implements at the back of your skull?’
On proper hair-care hygiene: ‘Don’t be washing it so often. In fact, stay out of the shower. Save the environment. Yes, I go for that filthy, unwashed look myself, and I’m perfectly fine. Yes, but my old teeth are still rotten.’ On what he considers when writing a Public Image Ltd. song: ‘First, a set of emotions. And then music to accommodate those emotions. That’s the proper way to write a song. It has to be about something. And the sounds have to accommodate the philosophy therein. For me, the word is more important than the tune. Sometimes I love to absolutely format and write a first chorus. I love good pop music. You can say a lot in a pop song. But I also love cacophony, and the lack of rules and principles, because sometimes there are emotions that absolutely can trigger that kind of environment. There’s many, many ways to write a song. But generally sitting down at a table and writing is not one of them.’
On his home maintenence skills: ‘One of my best plumbing activities was, I installed a toilet from start to finish on me own. I tell you, no song came out of that. I successfully installed a toilet but I didn’t write a song about it. Inspiration was lacking. Practicality won the day.’
On the importance of self-sufficiency in home maintenence: ‘You can’t just be a lazy ass and call someone and they’ll solve your life problems for you. You’ve got to play a major role in your own life. You know -- roof repair. If it’s leaking or it’s raining -- we don’t get much rain in LA, but when we do, those flat roofs abound all over this town, and every single one of them leaks. There’s no such thing as a decent building code here, as you’ll find out as the years roll by.’
On the Mekons, a band that shares a member, Lu Edmonds, with Public Image Ltd. The Mekons continue to create music nearly 35 years after they formed in Leeds, England, in the wake of the Sex Pistols. ‘Everyone’s been a member of the Mekons. I can’t quite work out what the Mekons is. Neither can Lu. He cannot explain it. But it makes him happy, and it makes a lot of people happy. It’s just not many people go to see them. In fact there’s more onstage than there is in any audience. Which is kind of like, I think, ironically, appropriate. It pays off because in the long run it’s not about money, it’s about fun.’
-- Randall Roberts