Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon

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Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon

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Category: Entertainment
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: What do you make of John Lydon, alias 'Johnny Rotten' of the Sex Pistols, the man who if some of the tabloids were to be believed was about to destroy western civilization almost single-handed? This memoir of the chaotic heyday of punk rock is entertaining in a strange kind of way, even if his continual mouthing off at everyone and everything can become a little wearisome. This isn't a comfortable read, but he would probably feel insulted if I suggested that it was.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Plexus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0859653411

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Picking up this book immediately makes you wonder what exactly you make of John Lydon, the man who became notorious in the late 1970s as 'Johnny Rotten' of the Sex Pistols. Was he the iconoclast who if some of the tabloids were to be believed was about to destroy western civilization almost single-handed? Had he really come to destroy, or merely to use the showbusiness system and end up becoming part of what he had set out to fight, or both – or what?

This memoir, which includes contributions from various friends and associates including Chrissie Hynde and Billy Idol, is an interesting if sometimes rather disjointed affair. He writes in some detail of his upbringing and family life, of the meningitis at an early age which left him with poor vision and that sometimes unnerving gaze, of his claustrophobia, epilepsy, and aversion to certain kinds of lighting, and gives us a bird's-eye-view of the music scene of which he became a part when the group first formed at the end of 1975. The impression is that his original colleagues – guitarist Steve Jones, bass guitarist Glen Matlock and drummer Paul Cook – were all quite accomplished musicians, and that he and possibly their manager Malcolm McLaren, the man who was tone deaf and 'hadn't a clue about music', came in with the mission of changing 'just another group' into harbingers of chaos. But John seems to have hated them all with a vengeance at some time or other, although he did work with them all up to a point. It's easy to see, though, why they never stayed long enough to record a second album. The cohesion that somehow held them together seems to have been torn when Glen got the push and was replaced by the talentless walking disaster known to history as Sid Vicious. It seems obvious from the outset that the latter was set to self-destruct before long, as he did.

This whole saga is related, alongside such events as the notorious ITV interview with Bill Grundy which catapulted them on to the front page of the tabloids, the business of being dropped by two record companies in quick succession and walking away with a healthy sum of money, and releasing 'God Save The Queen' just in time for the silver jubilee in 1977. Behind it all is the background of living in squats, fighting, wearing ripped T-shirts, drugs and the like. There are also observations on the British class system and how Brits 'love wallowing in their misery' (so that's why he moved to Los Angeles, then), and on why he hates men in suits, David Bowie and Mick Jagger but reckons that Elton John is 'all right' and 'utterly harmless'. Richard Branson, then head of Virgin Records, gets a pat on the back for being chaotic, prepared to take chances, and 'wacky enough to enjoy it all'.

Sometimes it's entertaining in a strange kind of way, at others his continual mouthing off at everyone and everything can become a little wearisome. The humour comes through, albeit in a barbed kind of way. Having seen him interviewed on occasion, it's evident that he can be quite endearing and very funny on a good day, although he certainly speaks his mind. You just need to catch him at the right time.

This book isn't a comfortable read, but John would probably feel grossly insulted if I suggested that it was. To use one of his most famous phrases, 'we're into chaos'. It is that kind of book. His arguments may not always be totally persuasive and he might come across as a loudmouth, but a loudmouth with heart.

Interested readers will also find much of interest in a book about Lydon's main rival Joe Strummer and his group, Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling by Marcus Gray, and on another book about the contemporary music scene, Mr Manchester and the Factory Girl: The Story of Tony and Lindsay Wilson by Lindsay Reade.

Buy Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon at Amazon.com.

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