Thursday, 4 February 2010

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

Title: Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs

Author: John Lydon

Year: 1995

Rating: 5/5

Review written for: Me

Summary: John Lydon, lead singer of Sex Pisols and Public Image Limited, traces his poverty-stricken, working-class beginnings to the height of his stardom as 'Johnny Rotten', frontman of one of Britain's most controversial and influential groups of all time.

Review: I'm going to attempt to write this review without any bias but, as a hardcore Sex Pistols and Pil fan, it might prove hard to remain objective through this one.

Rotten is divided up into 'segments', not chapters, chattering the passage of time in John Lydon's life. His narration is brutal and honest, completely true to himself, and he never stops to worry about whether he should be exposing certain bits and pieces about his past and career. He just wants the fabrications of the Pistols to come to an end and present an honest account.

While the book is carried by Lydon's narration, its pages are also interjected with passages from contributors including Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Billy Idol, childhood friends, family members, Warner executives, music journalists, and Sex Pistol roadies. As a result, at times there appears to be some conflicting accounts of the Pistols' time in the music industry. Lydon acknowledges this, and doesn't care.

The truth is that these extra contributors help convey the idea of what '70s Britain looked like and how the punk movement affected all people from every class. Many people are quick to point at the Ramones as the starters of punk. Lydon and his contributors barely mention them, citing the New York music scene at the time with having no relevance to what was going on in Britain.

The Pistols wanted to break through all the middle-class bullshit about what music should be and create a scene where artistic freedom ran lose and the 'rules' of what makes a good song was forgotten. Lydon has never been out to impress anyone; He just wanted to write and sing about life for the late teen-early twentysomethings who were given no ambition or motivation or free will (surpressed by teachers, parents, or 'the system' that tells us what the natural route in life is).

The punk movement of the '70s helped to bring together these feelings of confusion and longing to express themselves, whether the youngsters were from working-class areas, middle-class, or even upper-class, rebelling against mummy and daddy.

With every paragraph that Lydon describes his time in the Sex Pistols, we begin to understand more about the state of the world 'back then' and how they caused a massive affect on music, TV, politics, and life. All conservative rules about what was allowed to be heard, to be seen, to be shown, to be worn, was thrown out the window.

Lydon even touches on the court cases that followed the demise of the Sex Pistols between himself and his manager, Malcolm McLaren, that was fought for years to hand any royalties back to the members of the band rather than the negligent McLaren.

'Punk' has since become a real commercialised word. In fact, hearing that this new band or that new band is 'punk' will be the quickest way to turn me off. What's punk about them? What are they saying and how are they communicating the way the Sex Pistols did? Pffft.

Any Sex Pistols or Pil fan should have already gone out and bought this. That goes without saying.

However, any person who calls themself a music fan ought to read this too. The punk movement was something like nothing else. How many bands like the Sex Pistols come around and change the way we think about everything? Bands that really do influence the way we think about life and allow us to open our eyes and have some rational thought?

Lydon's honesty and openness about what he believes in - whether you think it's right or not - is brilliantly gripping and a real lesson about music, life, and self-expression.  


serendipity_viv said...

John Lydon is such a character.I remember him more now than I do during the Sex Pistols days. I remember the 70's vaguely, the main things that stick out are The Bay City Rollers and flares.

Ceri said...

Hehe, yeah, Viv. I don't care if he sells butter now - he still kicks serious ass in my eyes.

The Bookworm said...

This sounds interesting, especially if youre a Sex Pistols fan.
Great review!