Small talk with Johnny Rotten

John Lydon spouts wisdom on debt, violence and comedy

As PiL get set to make their Shanghai debut, John Lydon shares some pearls of wisdom with Time Out

Tours with his post-punk band, Public Image Limited, are financed by Lydon’s appearances in UK TV commercials, as the punk icon still owes his former record label millions. 
‘It looks like I’ll be in the perfect position of being in debt for my whole life. It’s Johnny Rotten on the hire-purchase! I see the fun in it, it’s not insurmountable. I’m not one for self-pity. I tried all that for about half an hour and it bored me. I’d much rather go and do something creative.’

He likes being taught a lesson.
‘I always put my arguments forward after a great deal of thought and many of my songs discuss arguments – “I could be wrong, I could be right” – you have to sum up both sides. Don’t just be opinionated for the sake of it. Opinions are a wonderful thing, but should be earned, and it’s great to be able to accept a correction and think: Yeeeess! Now I’m on it! That’s why I have friends.’

He has a history of violence (being on the receiving end).
‘I ended up in court in Ireland because my face was accused of attacking two policemen’s fists! Very puzzling. Only in Ireland could such a thing be possible. I love Ireland – they have a great way of making a mockery of law. It’s a healthy disrespect for the powers that be.’

Anger might be an energy, but humour is a power tool. 
‘I’m baffled when some journalists quiz me for being comical, like that’s to my detriment. It’s actually to my benefit. Through humour, you can solve far more problems than you could by being miserable or “serious”. Serious means you’re eliminating other possibilities, whereas comedy considers seriousness. Because comedy is a serious thing!’

He thinks the British tabloids have psychically brutalised a generation
‘I think so. I don’t like naming names, but Jordan comes to mind [Laughs]. Where you think you can climb up on somebody else’s shoulders and tear them apart, and that somehow makes you appear better. I don’t like that approach. I don’t like scandal or gossipmongering or any of them shows that deal with that, where they involve the public in nonentity situations, where they live vicariously through someone else’s existence. That’s an awful thing to do to yourself. Every single one of us as a human being is an individual: my likes, your likes, every single one of us on this earth will never be seen again. It’s the wonderful thing about us as a species, and we’re gonna throw that away?’

PiL are at MAO Livehouse on Sunday 31 March.