[Photo Dave Laurisden, from The Telegraph, circa 2008]
It’s all John Lydon’s fault that I married my ex. If it hadn’t been so hard tracking down the first version of his autobiography, No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, and if I hadn’t been so skint at the time, then when the tall Scottish man I’d spent the day (and, ahem, night) with asked to borrow it, I wouldn’t have felt it necessary to write my address on the inside cover and admonish him: “Please mail this book back to me when you’re finished.”
Oh okay, maybe I wouldn’t have loaned it at all if I didn’t want to hear from him again. Maybe. But I did feel, as book and man walked out the door, that it was unlikely I’d see either again. I pined more for the book. If only I’d understood I was having a premonition.
But if I bear a grudge, it’s certainly not against Lydon. Though I’ve not been the most loyal of fans – I LOVE Never Mind the Bollocks, but there are no PiL cds in my collection – I’ve remained a fan. I’m glad he exists, in the way that I’m glad Dolly Parton exists, because he’s good value. (Even if I did take the mick out of him for appearing in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – you can’t read the actual 2004 column, thanks to the non-wonder that is the Scotsman.com website, but my words were quoted in USA Today: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2004-01-19-rotten-reality_x.htm and in The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3601873/Big-beast.html.)
Now Lydon’s returned with Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored (Simon & Schuster, £20 hardcover http://crv.li/sk4qyf), and anyone who giggled when he shrieked, “I’m fat, forty, and baaaaaack” all those years ago will thrill to the news that it’s a whacking brick of a book, weighing in at 536 pages, with three picture sections.
It reads just as I’m sure it was created, as Lydon talking – and talking, and talking – to his ghostwriter/collaborator, Andrew Perry. Lydon is well read and articulate, and most assuredly knows the rules of good grammar and usage, but they are deliberately overlooked here in order to give the book that feeling of authenticity. Reading it does, sometimes, feel like you’ve been cornered in the pub by its most opinionated regular.
But there’s a central core of sweetness to Lydon’s personality and it really shines, notably when speaking of his long-term partner Nora, but also in passages about the late Sid Vicious – who was truly his friend – and Chrissie Hynde, whom he deems “a very important person in the world.” Hear, hear! Lydon values people and is not shy about expressing those emotions.
He’s nippy about his enemies (many of them frenemies) though – surprise, surprise – not unreservedly vitriolic. He seems to understand why people behave the way they do, even as he condemns that behaviour. That, to me, is a sign of enlightenment. Still, I had to giggle (and tweet) when I read this about Malcolm McLaren: “He didn’t really want to move mountains at all, he wanted to rearrange piles of glitter.”
Lydon’s appreciation of music may come as a revelation to some, especially anyone who bought the whole “Punk is a reaction to the shit that is rock and roll” nonsense. It wasn’t that, and he has extremely eclectic taste.
There’s a lot of band data here: who was in which incarnation of what band and what tracks they played on and which gigs they performed. Frankly not to my tastes, but at least it’s there on the record now. Or shall I say John Lydon’s version of the record. I don’t think he’d disagree with the assessment that this is his version of events as he recalls them (or wishes them to be recalled) and that other perspectives are available. He’d like us to believe that he started, or spearheaded, pretty much everything (including a spike in butter sales), but much as I love him, I wonder how true that is. Often he’ll say something that resonates as highly profound, until you think about it a minute and realise it’s just common sense, not the word of the prophet.
None of this means the book isn’t worth your time. It is. He is. That hasn’t changed.
My favourite bit of trivia is that he wanted Justin Timberlake to play him in a proposed film of No Irish.
You’ll also learn a great deal about Lydon’s health: give this book to any child reluctant to brush his or her teeth, and it’ll soon reform them. He explains why he did the butter adverts, and how he spent the profits, and sounds properly joyful describing making his nature documentaries.
This portrait of the artist from young boy to man-nearly-eligible-for-a-bus-pass depicts a pacifist with strong links to family and tribe – his tribe, of his making. A man who reveres Gandhi and steps up to the plate when there’s work to be done. An uxorious husband who guards his private life zealously. A boat captain and a reluctant skier (“For years I put it off, then finally one weekend we just drove up to Squaw Valley in Nevada, and I loved it! I learned to fall down a mountain at various different speeds.”).
The world is a more interesting place for containing John Lydon.