Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (Amazon.com)
Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (Amazon.co.uk)
Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (Powell’s Books – new or secondhand)
This is John Lydon’s autobiography, although only from his childhood to the end of the Sex Pistols/punk era. It also includes contributions from Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Don Letts, Steve Severin, Julien Temple and many others, some quite famous, as well as Lydon’s friends, his wife and his father. This creates both a subjective and objective picture of the times.
The book’s title comes from Lydon’s moniker during his time as singer in the Sex Pistols, i.e. Johnny Rotten and the subtitle comes from the signs common at one time in the windows of English hotels and places for rent. The reference is to *outsiders* within British culture – Lydon’s parents were Irish immigrants.
Those interested in the specifics of the Sex Pistols’ rise to fame will be interested in Lydon’s insistence that it was an expression of working class discontent, rather than a piece of Situationism. “The Paris riots and the Situationist movement of the sixties – it was all nonsense for arty French students. There’s no master conspiracy in anything, not even in governments. Everything is just some kind of vaguely organized chaos” (page 3).
His is a perspective that will be of interest to musicians. “I didn’t want to be forced into this ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll theory. I think the music you make should reflect your real personality, your real self. Unfortunately, before the Pistols came along, that generally wasn’t the case, was it? It was a lot of people living up to what they thought they had to do. That ultimately destroys musicians, which is why a lot of them end up heroin addicts. They can’t cope with the lie of it all” (page 158)
And although Western culture is now quite removed from a time from when popular music could change society’s perceptions, this story remains relevant: there is food for thought here for all artists. “We knew the Pistols’ time had come and gone, and that was it. You give it a rest, approach it differently, and go on to something else. The last sixteen years in between have been years of deep confusion, but I think it’s important, too. There’s no answers because there’s no real questions. There’s no center or focus. You can’t pinpoint. There’s no one big baddie and one real goodie. These days we have a seesaw effect on a completely level playing field. I prefer the yin and the yang of a more rugged terrain. You have to have the choice and the variety, otherwise you get blandness” (page 318).