Today, I'd like to wish a happy 60th birthday to John Lydon, who has been quite the gadfly since the mid-70s, when he fronted the Sex Pistols, using the nom de guerre Johnny Rotten. It's been a while since I've posted about the 'Pistols or Mr Lydon, but I certainly consider Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols an essential part of my record collection, as well as being an essential document of late 20th century Western malaise. Johnny Rotten was the quintessential intelligent teenager faced with poor economic prospects and the resultant righteous rage... he used his keen wit to slash through the pretensions of a staid, stagnant culture with such sonic onslaughts as God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the UK. While the song Submission is perhaps my favorite 'Pistols song, my favorite political song of theirs is the album opener, Holidays in the Sun, which seems to be the pessimistic counterpart of David Bowie's "Heroes":
I still get a bit of gooseflesh when I hear John Lydon growl that opening line... "A cheap holiday in other people's misery!"
Mr Lydon's pinnacle of bird-flipping, his Johnny Rottenest moment, was his final question to the audience at the 'Pistols' last concert, at San Francisco's Winterland:
That's a question that could be asked by just about every denizen of the planet.
After his stint with the Sex Pistols, Mr Lydon formed the band Public Image Limited, with their first single, Public Image, being a kiss-off to the 'Pistols:
My favorite post-Pistols song by Mr Lydon was his collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa, 1984's World Destruction:
Mr Lydon continues on as a gadfly, even though he flogged butter for money a few years back:
To anyone who would accuse Mr Lydon of selling out, I'd have to point out that the Sex Pistols were originally founded to sell clothing, even though John Lydon was too smart and too independent to be anybody's mere pitchman.
The essential account of the Sex Pistols and the milieu in which they were formed is Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, a fascinating read with an indispensable discography in the appendices. I'm not a big 'rawk and/or roll' history reader, but this book was something quite greater than mere hagiography.
Happy birthday, Mr John Lydon. May you have another six decades of troublemaking ahead of you.