For Sex Pistol Lydon, world was overdue for 'shake-up'

Shaun TANDON
British singer John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, pictured in 2013, said he understood economic "desperation" of many Donald Trump supporters and shared a deep disdain for politicians

Political events lately had been unimaginable to many -- Britain is leaving the European Union and Donald Trump is president of the United States. One person less surprised is John Lydon.

For the frontman of the Sex Pistols, whose thumb-nosing punk revolution rocked the establishment in the 1970s, the tumult shows just how complacent the intervening generations had become.

"I think every now and again the world needs a shake-up. Apathetic attitudes always get what they deserve," the sneering singer formerly known as Johnny Rotten told AFP.

Trump, he said, is "kind of the kick up the arse that people needed."

The punk rocker doesn't count himself as a supporter. He has criticized Brexit and faulted Trump in particular for his opposition to legal abortion -- a subject Lydon tackled 40 years ago in the song "Bodies."

But Lydon, born in London to working-class Irish immigrants, said he understood economic "desperation" and shared a deep disdain for politicians.

"The issue of dealing with politics as usual, I think, is now dead," he said in the telephone interview.

Lydon faulted the post-Pistols music world for failing to agitate in the same way.

"We've had a couple of generations now that loved to wallow in apathy and silly beards and daft gray tea-cozy hats. They all look the same, they all talk the same," he said.

"There is no energy in it and so it ends up being incredibly negative and so it left the door open for The Donald."

- Anarchists won't build roads -

The Sex Pistols, self-trained and brutally direct, shocked Britain and were banned from the radio with blistering anthems such as "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen," which the band blared from the Thames in a mockery of Queen Elizabeth II's river procession.

But Lydon said true political anarchy was never his goal.

"I've always seen anarchy as mind-games of the middle classes -- the spoiled, privileged few who can indulge in such non-sensical philosophies," he said.

"Somebody's got to build the roads and it certainly won't be the anarchists," he said before a lengthy laugh.

Lydon was speaking before the release on March 31 of his latest book, which brings together lyrics to all 127 of his songs with the Sex Pistols and his successor band Public Image Ltd.

Entitled "Mr. Rotten's Songbook," the volume features Lydon's handwritten lyrics alongside his own drawings and is limited to 1,000 copies, a run that Lydon said was intended to ensure top-end publishing quality.

The book idea emerged after Lydon was forced to collect all of his lyrics before he played China for the first time in 2013 with Public Image Ltd.

"The government insisted that they read every single lyric I've ever written. We naturally presumed that would be a negative. It wasn't -- it was a glowing positive, which came as some surprise to me."

- The Sinophile punk -

China tightened screening of foreign stars for politically sensitive messages after Bjork at a 2008 concert shouted a slogan for Tibetan independence.

Lydon, however, hailed China as a "wonderful place" and the audience as "fantastic."

"I'm sorry, I'm not one of those left-wing student body idiots that gets myself banned for silly reasons. I get banned for very good ones," he said.

Lydon said he was constantly drawing and that his book was a sort of "jigsaw puzzle" as he paired images to words. He voiced admiration for Ezra Pound, whose poetry took on a visual dimension through symbols.

"For want of a better word, I suppose it is poetry," he said of his book when asked. "But I have problems with certain words."

"'Poet' is appalling. It reminds me of some poncy old fart. The British ruined poetry with the affectations."

He said he was not tying his book to Britain's festivities last year for the 40th anniversary of punk, saying he had no time for such celebrations.

"There was the Pistols and then there was an awful lot of rubbish. And why do I want to dwell on the rubbish?"