photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
by the time the SEX PISTOLS imploded on DOOMED stateside tour in early 1978, singer JOHN LYDON had long since established himself as a BRITISH cultural ICON for the ages. even to an AMERICAN audience over several generations since, his name and image is synonymous with the PUNK ROCK movement writ large. it is absolutely staggering to think of the fact that he was still in his early 20s when he started what is possibly one of the great second acts in ROCK AND ROLL history, his INFLUENTIAL POST PUNK outfit PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.
unfortunately the story of LYDON's post SEX PISTOLS career has long been overshadowed (how could it not) and not well understood by the public. thus the recent documentary THE PUBLIC IMAGE IS ROTTEN (VERISIMILITUDE, 2017) is well situated to address this omission and provide context on one of the great artistic and PERSONA TRANSFORMATIONS. participants include past managers, collaborators (including GINGER BAKER) and members of the band as well as notable acolytes in THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), ADAM HOROWITZ (BEASTIE BOYS), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) and MOBY. what is well apparent is the intelligence of LYDON's lyrics and his deep involvement of curating a DECONSTRUCTED IDIOSYNCRATIC sound that incorporated DISPARATE elements including FUNK, REGGAE, SOUTH AFRICAN MUSIC, early ELECTRONIC MUSIC and beyond.
i remember TOM MORELLO in an interview once said that he wanted his sound to be as REVOLUTIONARY as the lyrics being generated by his bandmate ZACK DE LA ROCHA. that intent spawned INNOVATION and transformed how he saw his instrument and its role in RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. decades before, LYDON had a very similar approach in that he was unafraid of including sounds that could be described as ATONAL, DISSONANT, DRONING or REPETITIVE. his intent was to move beyond the rehashing of CHUCK BERRY guitar licks (again) and move forward sonically into uncharted territory. it is that INTENTION and ABILITY to deliver challenging work long after what many consider his predetermined artistic and cultural shelf-life post-SEX PISTOLS is quite a legacy.
you also get the sense from listening to current and former members of PUBLIC IMAGE LTD that he is/was a GENEROUS collaborator and TRUSTWORTHY leader. i think where everything career-wise gets tripped up is how LYDON deals with the media and the necessary evil of debasing himself just enough publicly to promote his projects without giving away his INTELLIGENT, SUBVERSIVE nature. television interviews by definition are conducted by and for squares, so it makes sense that he took the piss out of it on most every possible opportunity. the unfortunate downside is that his PUBLIC PERSONA doesnt mesh with the private LYDON who is loyal to his wife and family and a STEADFAST ally with his bandmates.
i found THE PUBLIC IMAGE IS ROTTEN to be quite refreshing a lesson in maintaining one's AUTHENTICITY in a world (especially now with the internet) that seeks to consume and dispose of art with equal vigor. LYDON, his LEGACY and his PERSONA will endure through the ages.
dude is an icon.