John Lydon Book Cover


A book review by Dawoud Kringle

If ever there was a man who looked the whole world in the eye and said FUCK YOU!!!, it’s John Lydon. From the first few pages of the introduction, it was obvious that Lydon’s story, told in his own words, was going to be an intensely interesting read.

Lydon’s humble beginnings in North London (which he described as a “dustbin,” and “piss poor”) hard wired an attitude of rebellion into his psyche. He pointed out that he came from a rare point in British history where unquestioned subservience to national authority was not a given. This is not to say that the British had no civil disorder, but after WW2 much of this was swept under the carpet. People of Lydon’s intelligence, conviction, and imagination inevitably dragged this out of its hiding places.

Lydon’s childhood was fraught with all manner of difficulties: poverty, illness (including a debilitating struggle with meningitis which caused memory loss), an oppressive educational system that uses brutality and psychological (and sometimes physical) pain to mold students into “model citizens,” and the kind of casual violence that always accompanies poor and disenfranchised subcultures. There were shocking accounts of the depths of his situation. One that stands out concerned his mother, who had suffered several miscarriages: “It’s quite a thing to carry a bucket of miscarriage – and you can see the little fingers and things in it – and have to flush it all down the outdoor toilet.”

The “inside eyewitness” account of the formation of the now legendary Sex Pistols was a real eye opener. The band was assembled, more or less, by clothing designer, boutique owner, and artist Malcolm McLaren. Lydon had very little good to say about McLaren, and their professional relationship was stormy, to say the least. The differences of opinion and personalities within the Sex Pistols’ original lineup was a source of tension that was, despite McLaren’s poor management, channeled effectively into their music.

Longtime friend of Lydon’s Sid Vicious (John Ritchie) joined the Sex Pistols after original bassist Glen Matlock left. This was a turning point for the group. Unfortunately, Vicious had no musical talent. Lydon, described him as being tone deaf and possessing no sense of rhythm. Many times, Vicious’ bass wasn’t even plugged into an amplifier during performances, and his bass playing rarely appeared on any recording. His extreme punk ethic and outrageous stage persona was his only real contribution; augmenting the already confrontational and controversial nature and music of the group. This proved sufficient: the artistic statement the Sex Pistols made had more to do with relentlessly rubbing the public’s face in the filth and rot of the society that that society created and allowed to exist than it had to do with music. It was political performance art.

Early on, Vicious become enamored with drug addiction. His mother was a “hippie” who was a registered drug addict in England. According to Lydon’s view, Vicious was attracted to the mystique of drug addiction. This was further augmented by his stormy relationship with Nancy Spungen (whom Vicious was later accused of murdering, shortly before Vicious died of a heroin overdose).

The Sex Pistols attracted controversy wherever they went. The stories of the violence and chaos that clung to the group are now legendary. Lydon faced this without a trace of fear.

His lyrics were an unapologetic, brutal, obscene, and unrelenting assault on the failings and hypocrisy of society and human nature. They were also eloquent, effective, and deceptively nuanced. Lydon had always been a very literate person, and understands quite well the power of the spoken and written word. And he always wielded it as a weapon in an artistic performance, or as an argument in an impassioned dialogue with a street fighter’s commitment.

However, owing to internal differences, personality conflicts, and mismanagement that Lydon accused McLaren of incompetently (or deliberately) committing, the Sex Pistols dissolved after their controversial American tour. Lydon, took this with a grain of salt, and used it to his ultimate advantage.


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