Once Rotten Always Rotten

June 11, 2022 § Leave a comment

I’ve been watching Pistol, Danny Boyle’s new TV show about the Sex Pistols. It’s apparently based on guitarist Steve Jones’ autiobiography, Lonely Boy. I have to say, it’s really compelling TV, and the music is killer, even the pre-punk music in the show. It’s well-written and well acted and the cinematography is both repelling and compelling; basically what I always figured late-70s London to be. It’s interesting to see how the Pistols came about and forged a band, at least as refracted from Jones’ memoir through the magic of TV. The running joke was always they couldn’t play their instruments, but that was never true. Both Glen Matlock (bass) and Paul Cook (drums) were actual real musicians when the band formed. Jones learned to play guitar on the fly and Johnny Rotten (née Lydon) learned to be a frontman on the fly (this is all pretty much common knowledge).

John Lydon, however, is unimpressed. He has distanced himself from the show, and used the press to attack it. The official Instagram feed of Public Image Ltd. (aka: PiL), his post-Pistols band, has told us that he wants nothing to do with the social media feeds and merchandising from the Pistols themselves. Lydon sued to keep the show from using the Pistols’ music. He lost. He has complained about damn near everything from the fact that Anson Boon, who plays him, doesn’t even look like him (in Boon’s defence, he IS Johnny Rotten on my TV screen, he has inhabited the role).

I admire Lydon. I can’t say I like his politics all the time. He was pro-Brexit, anti-marriage equality, and flirted with Trumpism (despite becoming a US citizen during the Obama years because he liked the man’s politics). But he has done it his way. He was bitter upon the dissolution of the Pistols (I often have wondered how this would’ve played out had Matlock remained in the band, had Sid Vicious not joined on bass). And it’s not hard to see how. Malcolm McLaren, their manager, was a piece of work, to put it politely. He formed PiL in the immediate aftermath and has refused throughout the long and winding road of the band (and constant line-up changes) to do it his way. He will play the game, but only on his terms. I once interviewed him back in the 90s during a stint as a music writer. His reputation suggests he’s a hard man to talk to. I found the opposite, he was loquacious, erudite, funny, and kind. It was fun to talk to him over the phone for 45 minutes. He answered questions, he expounded on his life (this was around the time he published his first memoir, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs). I liked him.

Watching Pistol, I can’t see how he’d have any issue with his portrayal. Yeah, sure, Boon plays Rotten as an asshole, but he is an asshole with a moral code and not without kindness. And, frankly, everyone in the band, plus McLaren, come off as extreme assholes.

No, his problem is he doesn’t have control. In fact, the Insta post distancing him from the show states that baldly:

 ‘Despite his face and likeness being used throughout John has no control over this at the moment and it seems quality control is being ignored. The rest of the band and their management are constantly outvoting him on their monopoly.’ 

A monopoly. Apparently the Pistols today are a sort of democracy and Jones, Matlock, and Cook have different ideas than him. And so, voting 3-1 makes it a ‘monopoly.’ I read these posts and I think, ‘Dude, chill.’ The comments on these posts range from fanboyism to castigating Lydon for his attitude. Both miss the point. Lydon is upset because he doesn’t have control, and that means that Pistol and the merchandising arising therefrom from the actual Sex Pistols, is all happening without his participation. Sure, he could chill and co-operate, but that wouldn’t be very John(ny) Lydon/Rotten, now, would it?

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