Johnny Rotten
Photos by Alex de Brabant

Johnny Rotten: “I love chemical imbalances”

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Short Profile

Name: John Joseph Lydon
DOB: 31 January 1956
Place of Birth: London, England, UK
Occupation: Musician

Mr. Rotten, how often do you brush your teeth?

I thought that if I replaced them I’d never have to use a toothbrush ever again! (Laughs)

I am not sure it works like that. There is one missing quite prominently.

I paid a lot of money to have my teeth fixed because they were making me seriously ill. I found out that a great deal of the amount of time I spent ill was because of my teeth. So I had to do something really serious, and it cost me a lot of money. Within a week of having all these put it, they’re all false, I broke this on a cherry stone. I thought, “Fuck that, I’m not going back and having all that operation on my gum ever again.”

Do you fear illness?

Fear? Well I had meningitis that put me in a coma for three months and when I came out of that I had no memory of anything. I didn’t know my parents, didn’t know my own name, and I never want to wake up and feel that pain ever again. That’s a constant problem to me. Getting to sleep at night it’s always there: “What will that be like if that ever happens again.” That never goes away, that feeling.

You are known for your terrible behavior. Was there something special in your childhood that caused you to act out like that?

I refused to go on holiday with my parents from a very early age, you know 13 or 14, because I used to be terrifically embarrassed towards my dad’s proclivity towards taking his clothes off and running around naked. He’d do it for a laugh, but it used to really, really annoy and upset me.

Anything else?

I remember catching my mom and dad having sex and it ruined me for about a year. You know? It does, it affects you badly. It’s something that should be kept private, that side of it, because a child’s mind can’t cope with what that is. I remember my mom going, “Oh, no, oh, no,” and I thought my dad was killing her.

Some would say you might have embarrassed your parents in public. You certainly provoked a lot of people…

Yeah, sometimes deliberately in real life and sometimes not. Sometimes when I mean nothing but good things, it seems to really, really infuriate a lot of people. I’ve had the rare privilege in life of offending everyone all at the same time. Joyous moments! Only Johnny Rotten can do that.

The older you get, do you see yourself more as John Lydon or Johnny Rotten?

It’s the same thing. Sometimes there’s a devil in me that just wants to be a down and dirty, nasty bastard.

And that never went away?

No! You know that old expression where there’s a devil on your shoulder telling you to do this and there’s an angel on the other. I think we all have this in our own heads, all of the time. And there’s a Johnny Rotten in all of you! There really is and you know it.

Is there anybody you can think of in the current music industry that resembles punk rock, even just a little bit?

I suppose the joy of Lady Gaga. Her audience likes to dress up and enjoys the pantomime of it. The songs stink, the music stinks, but the lyrics are kind of sharp and witty. I like that. You see, Lady Gaga is quite an ugly person, but she’s made herself beautiful by going to the furthest extreme. And that’s what punk did, you know?

“Sometimes there’s a devil in me that just wants to be a down and dirty, nasty bastard.”

When you look at the people topping the charts these days, does what has happened to the music industry make you upset?

No, I’m not pissed off. I mean, if that’s what people want to do with their lives, fine. I find it kind of amusing, really. But I don’t find any hope in the tedium of what’s in the charts at the moment. The only rebellion left in the young people that seem to be records that sell these days is sex scandals and gossip about each other. Or desperately trying to be drug addicts – and failing even at that! You know? It’s such an old, tired, worn-out pattern to be emulating. Sorry Pete Doherty! But, you know, you’re a mug. (Laughs)

Have you taken a step back from the excessive lifestyle?

I haven’t! I’m no Puritan, not by any stretch. I’m quite comfortable doing what I do and I see no need to cease anything. I’m not habitual. I could never be addicted to a substance, because I get bored with doing the same thing over and over. It amazes me when I hear of drug addicts. Don’t they get bored? What next? Done that.

Taking a wide variety of drugs isn’t necessarily healthier than just doing the same drug all the time…

I love chemical imbalances.

Looking back at the outrage your behavior often created, is there anything where you think you might have taken it too far?

To be quite frank I haven’t stopped being a saucy bastard – and I don’t intend to. I’m still getting in trouble and I still act like a silly kid. I don’t want to grow up. I like being childish, I do, because I don’t like what adults do to this world. I like what kids come up with, I don’t like what adults create.

When was the last time you got into trouble?

I can’t tell you other than it involved international travel. (Laughs) But I’m accused all the time of, I don’t know, acts of nonsense and they’re all lies.

Mick Jagger said that dwelling on the past for longer than twenty minutes is just boring. Do you remember your past with fondness?

I don’t view anything as my past, because my life is continuing, but what I’ve done then and what I’m doing now and what I will do in the future are all part of the same thing. I do not separate and categorize. Poor old Mick if he goes, “That’s my past.” That’s a bit sad of him, really, isn’t it? He should be saying, “That’s me, all of it. That’s me continuing to develop as a human being.” I don’t have any downward strokes on any part of my existence. It’s all been a wonderful ride so far and I’m only 54 years young.

Aren't you 55?

(Laughs) So even on that I’m fibbing. I don’t even know my own age! But I think I’ve got another half century to live. I view it that way. I’ve only really just started out in life.

In his suicide letter, Hunter S. Thompson wrote that life became unbearable past the age of 50.

That’s ridiculous. The only thing you have in life is life. To eliminate that from yourself is, I think, the ultimate stupidity. I don’t care if both legs fall off and there’s only one eyeball left and I’m on a stomach pump and a colostomy bag, I want life!