Alternately musical bomb-thrower and contemplator Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, looks back on a long life of pot-stirring and piss-taking.
This latest installment is of a piece with the author’s earlier Rotten (1994), though some of the caustic anger has given way to a kind of studied resignation. Which is not to say that Lydon isn’t irritated; hence the title and the subtitle, which owes to his suspicion that there’s always someone who aims to enact some kind of censorship: “It’s the kind of ordinance that comes down from people that don’t like to think very hard and aren’t prepared to analyze themselves, just judge others, and are scared of the future.” Some of Lydon’s well-aired hatreds have given way, too, even to a kind of—shudder—toleration: Malcolm McLaren, the entrepreneur behind the Sex Pistols, is no longer the Antichrist but instead just another schmo with an idea: “He really didn’t want to move mountains at all, he wanted to rearrange piles of glitter.” As for Sid Vicious, “dumb as a fucking brush,” well, if there was a punk through and through, it might have been him—though he was a victim of fashion and drugs alike. Lydon delivers a few surprises, not just with his newfound ability to accept the flaws of lesser mortals, but also with his allowance of unexpected likes. Confessing a fondness for Status Quo, Arthur Brown and Can might have pegged one as (gasp!) a hippie. It is clear that, though fond of zingers (he once called Ozzy Osbourne a “senile delinquent”) and political put-downs, Lydon is also a serious and thoughtful artist, bookish and unafraid of hard work, and thus serving as a model citizen in a more ideal republic than ours. Besides, he’s a philosopher: We’re capable of horrible evil, he writes, but “because we are also capable of analyzing that, that is exactly why we’re better.”
A lucid, literate pleasure.