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A Q&A With BMI Icon John Lydon

Posted in News on October 11, 2013 by
Photo: Paul Heartfield

Broadcast Music, Inc. is excitedly preparing for the BMI London Awards, to be held October 15 at London’s Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane. At the ceremony, which recognizes the U.K. and European songwriters and publishers of the past year’s most-performed songs on radio and television in the U.S., the Company will also present the BMI Icon Award to music legend John Lydon, whose impact extends far beyond his stellar songwriting talent displayed in both the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd (PiL).

Lydon has transformed popular culture not only through his music, but also through his influence on art and fashion. His creative work and vision have inspired countless musicians and have, more than once, changed the face of music as we know it. As the star-studded event draws near, BMI had the opportunity to chat with Lydon about what the Icon designation means to him, his perspective on the punk scene and the current “healthy” place he finds himself in - recording and touring with Public Image Ltd.

You’ve been offered many awards and recognitions, but you’ve been selective about which ones you’ve received. What does the BMI Icon designation mean to you and why have you agreed to accept it?
It means a lot because it’s the industry actually acknowledging that my presence has been an important one. And thank you very much. It couldn’t be more appropriate and timely, really, considering the body of work I’ve just had to go through and endure to get my Public Image back up again, form our own label and be completely free and independent of the large corporations. This is very, very timely for me. And I think, you know, what took you so long? (Laughter) I’m truly, truly grateful for it.

You’ve worked really hard to reunite PiL. How was it recording together last year?
Absolutely fantastic. Probably the most enjoyment I’ve ever had making music. I just always thought you would always resent the people you were with in bands; that’s how I began and I just thought that that’s the way it always would be. But these last few years when we came back together, we really thought about ourselves and realized that we respect each other very, very seriously, and that just makes for a really healthy workplace. And you can research subjects that weren’t so readily available to me before, you know, the happier side of life.

When you’re touring now, how do the audiences compare to twenty years ago?
I’ve never thought about it like that but there’s a definite bonding now. The people that stuck with me, and turn up now after such a long gap, it’s really close, it’s very family-like, and at the same time volatile and interesting. The audiences are very, very varied by age, demeanor, race, gender. It’s just about every aspect of community taken care of there, which I think is the ultimate achievement rather than in the early days, you know, the first thirty rows would be full of Johnny Rotten look-alikes, which is no achievement at all. So now as my horizons have broadened, so have the audience’s expectations. It’s a very healthy situation.

What is your favorite city to perform in?
I don’t know, probably the one I haven’t done yet. I’m in the luckiest of all positions, which is being in a band. What it does to you is it opens your horizons. You get to see places and be in countries you would never, ever have had the chance to be in before. And you’re given a specialist’s, almost privileged, point of view of those places because somehow you’re the center of attention when you go there. That’s overwhelming. Rather than being arrogant about it, that gives me a very deep bond and connection with those places and those people. And I’m just naturally curious and I love what us humans can get up to.

What kind of musical influences would you say are in Public Image now?
Well, we’re always consistently in search of the perfect tone with the perfect words to describe an emotion more accurately than you could in just written words alone or music on its own. It’s a combination of the two; it takes you to a furtherance and that’s where we are. And I don’t know if you can describe that even. Maybe if I had a flute. (Laughter) I don’t fit very easily into any genre. And I’m not a genre hopper either. I constantly want to hear new sounds, new ways of doing things, forever looking for the newer approach, which might just bring a clearer vision to things. There’s no point in me fiddling about with other people’s ideas. That won’t get me anywhere.

How do you view the state of punk music today?
Well, I’m Johnny Rotten, I’m the King of Punk and the rest of you can f*** off ‘cause you don’t know what it means. (Laughter) And, by the way, as king my first act will be there is no king! Denounce all monarchy. All that in one sentence. You know, don’t take it too serious. This is the trouble: it became a genre too quickly. And then suddenly manifestos crept up and punk is now … it’s not an alternative lifestyle; it’s a ridiculousness that comes with a rulebook and an official way of dressing. Absolutely contradictory to everything I wanted. That’s very unfortunate.

For those who may not know your music, which records would you recommend that they start with?
I would recommend you see us live and hear what this is really truly all about, and from there on in you can make your own decisions. For me it’s always been about live performance. That’s the be-all and end-all of it really. That’s the ultimate release.

Now that you have your own label, how has that changed things?
Well, I’ve only got myself to blame. (Laughter) And that’s very difficult to come to terms with. No, no, we share. It’s all pretty open-minded. There’s such a trust and a bond between us that it works very well and very efficiently. Because, you know, there’s no subterfuge, there’s no secrets, there’s no egotism, manipulating scenarios here. It’s all a very open, very, very healthy universe to be in and a good role model, really, to the rest of the world.

Will you be developing other artists through the PiL label?
I don’t think I would ever do that. You have to develop yourself. You are your own teacher. Absorb all the knowledge and information you can, but you are your own teacher ultimately.

Does PiL plan to put out a new album?
Yeah, that’s the ambition for next year. I don’t like to talk in advance of a project because I think somehow that jeopardizes it, you know? That takes away your natural instincts and it becomes premeditated and therefore unhealthy. It will be as good as we possibly can be or as bad as we want to be, let’s put it that way.

Read more from Lydon in the upcoming October edition of BMI’s digital publication, MusicWorld, which will feature part two of this interview — from Lydon’s creative process to his views on fashion and controversy, plus advice to songwriters.

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