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John Lydon interview: “I’d trade it all to have had kids”

John Lydon, aged 58, on joining the Sex Pistols, being discussed in Parliament – and why he feels sorry for the Royal Family

My main concern at 16 was septic spots. Teenage acne – a living nightmare. I always felt unattractive. I thought no one would ever speak to me again. It’s amazing at 16 how self-involved you are in an incredibly negative way – you eat yourself up with worries that aren’t really important at all.

I was kicked out of school at 15. I was seen as a problem child because
 I would continually ask questions and I had a way of forming a sentence that sounded like an incredible insult. 
I learned the art of implication and disguised aggression. But really, I just wanted to know things. The day I got expelled I turned up late on my bicycle, in my long leather coat, as
I often did, and the teacher refused to let me into the class. I refused to leave because it was an English literature class, which I loved, and we were studying Shakespeare. I was accused of being a Hells Angel – yeah, I was pretty damn tough on that bicycle. So then I had to go to some day school care centre for problem children.

I didn’t speak much with my father around that time, he never much understood me. But after school
 I wanted to continue my education at college, so to raise the money I asked my dad to get me a job on the building sites where he worked. We were kind of alright after that because I was a hard worker and he liked that. But he couldn’t understand me saving money to go off and read books, that made no sense to him.

If I could go back now I’d be kinder to my parents. They went through an awful lot for me. I had some serious childhood illnesses and one left me in a coma, then I lost my memory – the years from about seven to 11 were spent trying to remember a lot of things, including who they were. They put up with all of that. I made life very difficult for them. By the time I was 17 I was running around with the Pistols. Those poor things! What a disadvantage they had! I wasn’t a thief or a liar but they didn’t know where my mind and my imagination would take me next and I suppose that scared them.

I had problems adapting to the Sex Pistols. I didn’t find too many like- minded souls. They didn’t understand my concept of what a song was, or the topics I would pick. I mean, I raised a few eyebrows there. They had their little friendships, they all knew each other really well, Sid and Paul, Malcolm and Glen. They picked me up when they saw me on Kings Road in an ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt – Malcolm found that intriguing but the others didn’t understand.

I was accused of being a Hells Angel – yeah, I was pretty damn tough on that bicycle

I had Irish parents, grew up in England – I was naturally anti-establishment.
 I was always aware of that right-wing thing creeping around us, especially as I lived in this real melting pot of cultures and races in Finsbury Park. The place I was brought up in was freer, far less hateful, far more open-minded than any other part of the country I could imagine. The Pistols all came from this trendy, arty part of west London – they were very narrow-minded in comparison. They were obsessed with impressing, wearing the right clothes, knowing the right people. Load of nonsense.

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I wrote the songs, none of the others had know-how with the written word. I took to it really well. That’s why
I’ll always appreciate them chaps because they gave me the chance to become a songwriter. I’ve always felt attached to the disenfranchised, being one myself, so when I wrote I put myself in the role of defending people with no defence strategy of their own. Any institution that expects you to be cannon fodder on their behalf is naturally my enemy. I had no personal animosity towards the Royal family themselves, I felt sorry for them. They’re born into an institution they can hardly understand. But there’s a simple way out – just denounce the title.

The songs I wrote led to me being openly discussed in parliament under the traitors and treasons act. At that time it carried a death penalty. I was making enemies in all the right places. I loved all that – but I’ve got to say my manager [Malcolm McLaren] didn’t. So he tried, through various acts of skulduggery, to create various silly scandals… forming red herrings in another direction. But I wanted the political slam of it. Being well adjusted mentally, I felt I could handle a freeform debate on that. I don’t think I’ve ever written a song that was wrong. I believe that freedom of expression is a most excellent thing.

I was making enemies in all the right places. I loved all that

With PiL I got to pick the members, unlike the Pistols. It was more rewarding in an artistic and humanistic way. Rather than attacking social issues, which I thought I’d done quite well in one album, I thought I’d analyse my own internal thought processes and try to come to grips with myself. In a weird way the Pistols robbed me of the tail-end of my childhood. You can’t sort yourself out under that stress, and the alleged managers and adults that were supposedly trying to help us really weren’t. So in PiL I went into self-analysis.

You can’t always be the angry youth, and why would you want to be? You grow up. I’m looking forward to 100. I’d love to be an old bugger in an old people’s home driving them crazy – my nappy’s wet! Where are my incontinence pants?! Why not – them old folk that shout all the time, they’re letting you know they’re alive and you should rally around them for that, not reject them. They’re trying to tell you something.

It’s a shame, I think of everything I’ve done – I’d trade it all to have brought a new life into the world. That’s the most amazing, wonderful thing. I would have loved to have been a dad but Nora and I couldn’t have kids. I’m kinda well known wherever
 I live for running good parties for kids – Hallowe’en, Guy Fawkes… I love doing it. I’m always up for looking after things. If I take a walk in the country I find five or six things I want to take home and look after. It’s just the way I am – I can find a bird with a broken wing under a bush like no one’s business.

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