The songs are the same as they were 26 years ago – the raucous “God Save the Queen,” the belligerent “Anarchy in the UK,” the defiant “Holidays in the Sun,” along with the playful “No Feelings” and the catchy “Pretty Vacant.” The band is the same as well – drummer Paul Cook on drums, guitarist Steve Jones, original bassist Glen Matlock (who was the bassist before the late Sid Vicious) and, of course, singer Johnny Rotten, who is as caustic and swaggering today as he was in 1977 London.
Yes, The Sex Pistols are essentially the same, as the British punk legends launch only their third-ever American tour. It’s the world that has changed. And Rotten (known these days as John Lydon) is none too happy about it.
“Something’s gone wrong with the world,” said Lydon, calling from his Los Angeles home. “The art of the individual is dead. People are afraid of anything done with genuine honesty, anything too old or too difficult. I want to change that.”
The idea that punk has been turned into a marketing concept infuriates him, especially faux punks such as Avril Lavigne. However, he is angrier at the machine than the actual artists.
“I look at those punks on MTV’s Top 30 or whatever and I feel sad for them,” he said. “They look ridiculous. They are trying to turn a safety pin into an art form, when the reality is that when you don’t know how to sew, how else are you going to keep a sleeve on? I can’t hardly wipe my own bum, I’m hardly something to look up to, so I see these people trying to look like me and I think, ‘You’re nothing but a coat hanger.’ It’s all image to them. You have to earn your wings first.”
Lydon said the last time the Sex Pistols toured America, during the “Filthy Lucre” tour in 1996, it was flashier, “filled with pomp and glory.” This time, it will be different: “This time, it will be down and dirty,” he said. “It’s going to be mean and rough. Johnny’s in a bad mood. We wanted to offer a low-priced ticket, but we couldn’t get a sponsor. We don’t even have a record company, but we’re doing it anyway. We wanted to bring out the genuine article, but we’re doing it cheaply. There will be no quality drop, except there won’t be elaborate lighting – so bring a torch.”
Lydon said he’s looking forward to the challenge. “It will be harder, which is the way we like it,” he said. “I know there’s people doubting that we’ll even turn up, but we will. I am Johnny Commitment on that.”
Another thing Lydon is “Johnny Commitment” on is putting on a Sex Pistols concert in Baghdad, despite a growing number of roadblocks. “We want to do it for the people of Iraq,” Lydon said. “You can’t bring peace to people with guns. It has to come from self-motivation. There can’t be a shyness of opinion, we won’t have a free world without getting people to say what they want. If you keep people from speaking their minds, it gets even more dangerous – you will get people coming out of Iraq that are like me.”