A book review by Dawoud Kringle
Virgin Records asked Lydon to go to Jamaica and assist with the reggae bands they were working with. This, like the American tour, proved an eye opening experience for Lydon. It exposed him to cultures that he’d never experienced or imagined, and expanded his perception of music, and humanity. From this, and his closing the chapter of the Sex Pistols in his life, Public Image Limited was born.
Public Image Limited (PiL) was an important step for Lydon. It afforded him the opportunity for an expanded rage of artistic and conceptions / lyrical expression. It also paved the way for Lydon’s adamant and inflexible refusal to be pigeonholed, labeled, and classified as an artist and a man. His songwriting expanded into the use of a variety of interesting concepts (a few examples: on “Poptones,” Lydon placed himself in the mind of a then highly publicized rape victim. On “Careering” he attacked both sides of the conflicts in North Ireland for allowing violence to escalate out of control over religious differences). Musically, Lydon and company were daring to experiment artistically and push the envelope well beyond the limits of the punk genre he was credited with founding.
PiL’s evolution weathered the stormy seas of drugs, personality clashes, and other horrors of the cesspool that is the music business. There were stories of police harassment, which Lydon weathered stoically. Out of this, however, the group’s musical creativity grew like flowers out of manure.
It becomes clear that Lydon always approached the business end of music from a position of unimpeachable integrity. He is passionately concerned with making sure that the musicians who play with him are paid, and that he keeps his end of the deal. In fact, the book is, in its way, a model for advocacy and professionalism.
The remainder of the book covers his music projects, his dabbling in acting and reality TV, his thoughts on people, on the meaning of life, and his personal and family life (One interesting story came from when Lydon and his wife Nora Foster adopted the twin sons of her daughter, the late Ari Up of the Slits. Lydon resolved help them out of their antisocial behavior by providing boundaries and teaching them respect for others).
Lydon’s narrative throughout the book eloquently translates his intimate dialogue and the experience of his personal interaction with the reader into literary form. Reading the book, you hear his voice and accent, and see the look on his face while he’s telling you what happens, and what he thinks. It’s rather like sitting in a bar listening to the guy next to you tell outrageous stories about himself.
It’s interesting how Lydon evolved as an artist, and more specifically, as a public persona, and a man who helped shape the public zeitgeist. He began by defining and embodying the punk ethic, and ended up vehemently resisting what it had devolved into. The standardized, and I dare say sterilized regimentation of what punk became was the antithesis of what Lydon had in mind. His intent upon progress and evolution is a driving force in his artistry.
One of the most telling elements of Lydon is how, at the end of the day, he defies his own stereotype. There is a famous story of a recent Sex Pistols reunion concert, wherein Lydon berated the audience for having wasted their time and money coming to a reunion concert!
Lydon’s personality defects are brought into raw, sharp relief in the book. His tendency to be self absorbed, overly defensive, holding grudges for decades, and his shaky capacity for engagement with the world is thrown around for all to see. He doesn’t care that you see his faults. It is clear from the outset that Lydon developed an ingenious balance between an extreme individualism, and a passionate sense of community. He takes great delight in the uniqueness and individuality in those around him; even among people he dislikes. This fearless adherence to principle became a cornerstone of who he is.
One fact stands clear; there are no lies or hypocrisy in who and what he is; and he tolerates none from others. Like him or hate him, Lydon is a man of unimpeachable integrity. And his contribution to modern music is as indisputable as it is indispensable.