Music + Books: Rotten by John Lydon

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There’s nothing easy about punk music. It’s hard to define what punk even is, especially when the word “punk” has meant everything from “a prostitute” to “a young circus animal.” People argue about punk music’s origins (The Ramones in New York or The Sex Pistols in London?) and who is the best punk band (some say famously that The Clash is the only band that matters). But no one has as much to say about punk, and what it means to him, than John Lydon- known as Johnny Rotten during his days as The Sex Pistols frontman.

Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs is the first book penned by Lydon, with help from Keith and Kent Zimmerman, about his experiences heading the seventies punk subculture in Great Britain. For a book named after anti-minority chants that Lydon grew up hearing, the stories it tells are easy to understand, if not laced with Lydon’s own brand of snarling subjectivity. Several other contributors- notably Chrissie Hynde, Billy Idol, Paul Cook, and others- round out Lydon’s entertaining but unreliable narration.

Below are some of the best quotes gathered from a book more about family and class politics than pure anarchy…although there’s always room for some Anarchy in the U.K.

I have no time for lies or fantasy, and neither should you. Enjoy or die…. – John Lydon, as an introduction

Slowly but surely I thought about what being shy meant. I thought, for God’s sake, so what if I’m the ugliest thing that walks the planet. Does it matter? Who to? So I gave that notion up, and from there on in things got better.- Lydon

I like crazy people, especially those who don’t see the risk. – Lydon

The beauty of the punk thing was that from January to June of 1977, nondiscrimination was what it was all about. – Chrissie Hynde

There’s so much exaggeration and intellectualizing going on about what was basically real human beings trying to come to grips with each other and somehow or another actually writing songs that mean something. – Lydon

I fell in love with John because he surprised me. He was pictured really bad, but he had a really sweet attitude. We both had a Catholic upbringing; he had to go to church all the time, I went to the convent school. He was more innocent and not like the rest of the group. – Nora Lydon [wife of John Lydon]

If we could visualize the rock band of the mid-seventies, there it was in front of us. The Sex Pistols. We all wanted to do music, and here was the prototype. In a way, it was like being in heaven. All our lives we read about other scenes. We wanted one of our own. – Billy Idol

We weren’t being paid well for these concerts…I shared the cover of Rolling Stone with Willie Nelson, and here I am broke, hungry, stuck on a bus, dehydrated- with a junkie. – Lydon

Destroy everything. That’s well and fine, but you don’t destroy things offhand and flippantly. You’ve got to offer something in its place. – Lydon

If you stormed into my room and looked through my closets, you would’t find any of the old Pistols clothes. I don’t even have photos. It’s all somewhere in the jungle I call a brain. I couldn’t be a sentimental Sex Pistol, now could I? – Lydon

 

For further reading on The Sex Pistols and/or the original punk movement:

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