Monday, March 14, 2016

ANGER IS AN ENERGY! John Lydon tells it like it is.





Anger is an Energy – John Lydon, w/ Andrew Perry (2014)

            John Lydon, known by many as “Johnny Rotten,” was involved in two bands that helped set the stage and shape many of the forms of music that I grew up listening to.  His first band The Sex Pistols were like a bomb exploding in the world of music.  The effect is long-lasting, even though the band itself was very short-lived.  One official album recorded, a few years of existence, and it all went up in flames, perhaps for the best as their “manager” Malcolm McLaren was an incompetent business person with delusions of being accepted into the world of ass-sucking sycophants that is High Art.  The Sex Pistols inspired countless thousands of disaffected people worldwide, and still do to this day.  Lydon’s next band, Public Image Limited (PiL), was more experimental, more of an attempt at an actual band, and through their 30+ years of existence in some form or other helped influence many of the underground acts that eventually were lumped together into “alternative” music.  Whether it was the Pistols or PiL, John Lydon was always at the front, in full attack mode, ready to slay the stupidities of the world with caustic wit.
            I have always been a huge fan of people that tell it like it is, or at least how they see things to be.  I respect that.  I may not agree with them always, but I would much rather listen to someone espouse a deeply personal idea that they have thought about and arrived at and to which I disagree than to listen to someone so concerned about what offense people may take that they choose to play it safe always.  Nothing is more irritating than that!  Many of the most outspoken people I admired are dead now, (Lemmy Kilmister, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S, Thompson, George Carlin) and many more are smack dab into old age (Don Rickles, David Letterman).  There are not many people left out there in the entertainment world willing to really say what they feel. (Thank Mario for Steve Albini, still taking cares biznass)
            While I am not a big autobiography reader, I did want to get into this book because I like hearing things from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  I had read or heard countless tales about John Lydon, and most were very unfavorable in a manner that made me think, “It is not him but those he angers that are actually unbearable.”  Reading about his childhood and growing up in dirt-poor England was very emotional, even though Lydon does not get sentimental at all.  It was emotional for me because so many people forget the truth about punk music, and they imagine it to be just another charade put on by record companies with no real bearing on actual living and dying.  Punk music was and is about something other than a genre or a musical sound/style.  Punk music was about bypassing other people’s ideas as to what makes a song “good” and instead doing what you think is good, and sharing it as equally viable and valuable.  You want to write a song?  Go write a song!  There are no rules.  Reading about the early days of the Pistols and the aftermath really shed light on how difficult it was to NOT be co-opted by the music machine, always on the hunt for the next money making gimmick.
            The fake punks, the posers, the hacks, they live and die for the gimmick.  They see a very narrow idea of what punk music is and then seek to emulate it to the exclusion of anything else.  This happened very early on and Lydon describes his feelings as he saw the very same narrow-mindedness and bigotry against anything different that he railed against on stage grow and destroy punk music from within.  He was indeed very angry and when he began Public Image Limited it was to be a team effort, crafting music they felt strongly about, with no regard for maintaining the same sound from record to record.  The early PiL albums are varied and “difficult” to listen to at first (unless you are already familiar with the many abrasive bands that were influenced by PiL), but they are very rewarding upon further re-listens.  This is the sign of well-made music.  Anything new will sound alien to one’s ear, but if it is quality, if it is honest, then its charms will grow on you and expose themselves, and you end up loving the damn thing more than you could ever think possible.  This happens with all music, whether it is Schoenberg’s atonal symphonies, Coltrane’s wall-of-notes hard-bop solos, Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad’s harshly abrasive mixes, or the cacophony of the PiL album Flowers For Romance.  This difficult music is always my favorite music.  (Hence my all-time favorite musical act, Sonic Youth, who even at their most melodic and temperate still utilize squalls of feedback drenched skronk to tickle my inner ear.)
            The chapters in “Anger is an Energy” are of two sorts.  Some are strictly chronological descriptions of the events as they happened, and others are feel more like John Lydon is directly talking to you laying out his personal feelings and ideas about life, music, the world, and his place in it.  These are my favorite chapters.  John Lydon is a very, very funny man.  I agree with him on so many specific things, and yet we could not be more different.  That is the beauty of thought.  It does not matter what your physical situation is, or who you claim to be.  Your mind and your thoughts are yours and yours alone and a true individual guards that with his life!  There is nothing more important!  It is a fight for your mind/soul that you are engaged in, whether you realize it or not.  There will always be someone telling you to shut up, telling your ideas are shit, telling you that you need to “know your place” and behave.  FUCK THEM.  John Lydon has lived that life as honestly as anyone can, and I love him for it.  
Towards the end of the book he details how the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame “inducted” the Sex Pistols, and how they realized it was all a pathetic co-opting attempt to emasculate the most in-your-face band.  Instead of shelling out thousands to fly people over and over $25,000 for a table at which to sit and watch the proceedings, they sent in a letter written by Lydon himself, and approved by the remaining band members.  It was everything I expected, and I respect the Pistols and Lydon even more because of it.  The full letter can be read here.
To their defense, the RnR HoF actually read this letter aloud during the ceremony.

This book taught me a lot about John Lydon’s life, the Sex Pistols, the creation and maturation of Public Image Limited, and gave me a great window into a man who the media chooses to portray as a pure anger cartoon.  Lydon is quite complex and interesting and I would love to meet him someday and listen to records with him.

(To read a sample from Anger is an Energy click here:  https://sample-88bc6515b3c71886b139f3cc1d45dbca.read.overdrive.com/?p=anger-is-an-e86ce7 )

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