“The king is gone but he’s not forgotten,” Neil Young once sang, “This is the story of a Johnny Rotten…” Well, here are 500 pages in Johnny’s own words. John Joseph Lydon’s new autobiography isn’t just about his incarnation as Johnny Rotten, but his upbringing, youth and, later, Public Image Limited and further intrigues. It’s not the first time the 58-year-old has looked back in anger – in 1993 his first memoir Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs hit shelves (it was later called “a nihilistic, gross-out masterpiece” by this magazine). A cynic might argue that Lydon hasn’t exactly gilded his reputation in the intervening two decades – there was his 2004 appearance on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, and then those cringe-worthy Country Life adverts – but there are still plenty of fresh incidents and anecdotes here that make this new volume worth tracking down.
Lydon has made a career out of steadfastly refusing to do what’s expected of him, and it turns out this even applies to English grammar. The book opens with a Publisher’s Note pointing out the various liberties that Lydon takes with spelling and grammar, adding that it’s simply “Lydon’s lingo”. (As he puts it: “Don’t let tiffles cause fraction.”) Largely, his inventive prose and wildly unpredictable tangents and digressions – he compares Malcolm McLaren’s management style to that of Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger – are a delight, but occasionally his ego becomes a bulldozer. His claim to be “so much” on the side of Pussy Riot is rather undermined when he refers to the Russian group as “Pussy Farts”. When he spends several pages justifying the infamous butter commercials – perhaps to himself more than anyone – and calls them “the most anarchistic thing I’ve ever been presented with”, your eyeballs will roll.
Still, you don’t pick up a John Lydon book expecting safe, careful prose. This punk rock icon possesses a vast, self-justifying ego – but you wouldn’t want him any other way. His passion and his intellect remain an inspiration. Neil Young also sang: “It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away”. Lydon’s still burning.
- Release date: 20 Oct, 2014