Keep on taking the Pil
ARTHUR JANOV, the Californian psychologist and psychotherapist, made something of a global impact in 1970 with his book, The Primal Scream. He advocated an innovative and sometimes violent new form of therapy whereby patients (Janov's most famous clients included John Lennon) suffering from long-repressed pain and childhood trauma reverberating on lower brain levels were encouraged to literally scream it all out.
John Joseph Lydon (known once upon a time as Johnny Rotten when he was frontman of the seminal and iconic Sex Pistols) has probably spent his entire life screaming it all out.
"Anger is an energy," he sang on his band PiL's song Rise, adding, "May the road rise with you."
He wrote the lyrics to the incendiary God Save The Queen at his Irish parents' table, waiting, as he remembers it, for his beans on toast. He grew up in a tenement with an outside lav in Finsbury Park.
The song, released during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977, which included the lines 'God save the queen, She ain't no human being/There is no future, In England's dreaming'.
John Lydon has never been one for diplomacy. He called Damon Albarn's band Gorillaz "shit. I'm the originator", he quipped with his de rigueur Oscar Wilde-on-crack splendour.
"I think there's less original talent now than 30 years ago. It's much more manufactured.
"And the shame is I opened so many doors for so many people and they've all foolishly slammed it behind them. So what you get now is a melange of shit." I have met John a few times and he is actually quite a gentle, sensitive soul. Far from the mad-eyed Beelzebub of punk that a newspaper in England once adjudged "the worst threat to our kids since Hitler".
One of my abiding memories of John is watching him bawl his eyes out at the death of his friend Sid Vicious on Julien Temple's spellbinding The Filth and The Fury documentary. He wrote PiL's dark classic Death Disco when his mother, Eileen, was dying "excruciatingly" of cancer in 1979:
Watch her slowly die
Saw it in her eyes
Choking on a bed
Flowers rotting dead
seen it in her eyes
Ending in a day
Silence was a way...
His father died in 2008. I spent two hours with Lydon at his house in Fulham in the summer of 2010, where he played the song for me and reflected on the reality that both his beloved mum and dad were gone now (they emigrated to England from Galway when they were young).
"I won't forget the memory of that song. There are certain things that get burnt into your memory and they stay," John told me, almost crying, that late summer afternoon in London.
Public Image Limited , the group Lydon formed when he quit/was kicked out of the Sex Pistols by manager Malcolm McLaren in 1978, are coming to Dublin next month. Those with even a cursory knowledge of modern music with a certain edge might be able to tell you that Lydon's post-punk PiL influenced everyone from The Virgin Prunes, early U2, Massive Attack, Primal Scream, The Prodigy, Leftfield, New Order, Radiohead, to perhaps even, Gorillaz.
"PiL wasn't closing the door on the Pistols," he said. "It was just opening a new one and showing where I stood in terms of the world. Above all else, it needed to feel honest. It needed to have integrity, which I found sadly lacking in the management [Malcolm McLaren] of my first band. PiL was a clearing house for me. It's always meant absolute freedom. And with freedom comes responsibility. That's why my songwriting is all about the truth, all about trying to find out what emotions really are, and how not to be misled by them.''
Almost as exciting as PiL's imminent arrival on these shores is that they have a new album, This Is Pil, their first studio album since 1992. It isn't as good as their hugely influential and timeless 1979 post-punk masterpiece Metal Box, but no one really expected that. This Is Pil is well worth investigating to hear what is going on inside Lydon's mind in 2012.
"I miss those English roses," the 56-year-old caterwauls -- "cotton dresses skipping across the lawn/ Happy faces when football was not a yawn/ Playing on bombsites, all the days were long." On Deeper Water, he is screeching thus: "I head for deeper water!" On One Drop, he is bellowing like the Johnny Rotten of old: "You cannot change us!"
And all this in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
POD presents PiL (Public Image Limited) Sunday July 29 The Button Factory -- Curved Street, Temple Bar -- Dublin 2 Doors 7.30pm Tickets €29.50 standing, €33.50 seated from www.ticketmaster.ie and usual outlets
Sunday Indo Living