What becomes a legend most? It depends on how accurate the legend is in relation to the person.
In the case of John Lydon, you might start with his auto-bio, Rotten: No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish -- discounting of course, the myth that's always created whenever we attempt to write about ourselves. Still, it's an interesting story, and it sheds light on his individuality and goes a long way in loosening up the dogma that Punk as a music became, and reminds us of the funkier, disaffected angels that inform whatever Punk as a philosophy was, and hopefully, continues to become.
So when you consider Lydon the person and realize that he was more a catalyst than a dogmatist, the idea of him judging a talent show isn't really so anomalous, although talent contests by definition would instantly seem counter-intuitive to Punk's attempted destruction of the rock-star deity and the bloated corporate label.
Of course, Punk never completely accomplished this, maybe because once one person does something new, everybody copies it to the point of redux, worshipping the originator (itself a relative term) to an unreasonable point or conformity. Coincidentally, while working on this I received an email from a publicist about a contemporary band that the late Mr. Tony Wilson said made him feel the same excitement he'd felt at the Sex Pistols' first show, which I ask Lydon about. And of course, Lydon initially declines the offer, and rightly so, before sharing very lucid thoughts about Punk as philosophy -- and then tearing into (and subsequently praising) Green Day, whose platinum record adorns the room we find ourselves in.
At one point in this interview another platinum record on the wall haloes him and he seems a saint of rock and roll. At another camera angle, the shiny circle looks like a saw blade slicing into his head. Lydon certainly suffered both fates and lived to not tell about it if he doesn't want to, but he shares a lot in this conversation.
In the past few weeks, I've taped interviews and/or performances from several different legends, including Rock Steady Crew's Crazy Legs; Siouxsie-Sioux and Mr. Rotten himself, and it's interesting to see the extent to which some are, and others aren't, wiling to discuss the time when they made their first mark. And they each have a right to share as little or as much from their past as they choose.
But of course, this video interview is about more than the past, or talent contests; it's about what it should be about when the fates throw you in the green room with Johnny Rotten. Yes, he explains the seemingly contradictory act of judging music in his classic, anarcho-individualistic terms. But he also looks at Richard Branson and the late Tony Wilson, while throwing in an appreciation for Stephen Colbert, and a love of vinyl records, and whatever else he feels like contemplating.
As for his own career, he's done a lot of narration for nature programming, and he also doesn't rule out the possibility of touring again with PIL or The Sex Pistols. I think he should do both, and soon.
Michael Vazquez, New York City, 09/08/07
Post-script, 02/27/12: At my Youtube page this interview has drawn about three oil-tankers' worth of hate-orade, drawn from the vitriolic well-springs of humanity, as Green Day and 'Pistols fans douse each other... all of which remind me of the very tired and sad fact that music, a potentially universal empathic platform and thus the ultimate weapon against a certain kind of finger-pointing, has instead become (and always was, really) a kind of at-times tyrannical conferrer of cool; people brag far too much about hearing music first, and genre wars -- even in the age of open-minded shuffle listening -- remind me that because so few individuals are exposed to simple opportunities for self-expression (and because so many individuals have had the courage to be unique beaten out of them) their appreciation of music, which is amongst the most accessible pop art forms and thus often the first (and sometimes only) liberating life-element for individuals -- has in some cases become as dogmatic as religion, in its potential to be used as a platform for intolerance -- which is really about as discouraging as it gets...
By way of a final note, on the idea that it's all been done: if you consider the infinitesimally small number of individuals who, throughout human history have decided, or rather, been given the opportunity to self-express (even in the age of "digital democratization") it is a statistical impossibility that it's all been done -- in fact, we've barely started to scratch the surface. Aesthetic lethargy is not reflective of the thorough covering of a terrain by endless innovators, but rather, the constant emulation by unimaginative minds, accelerating the creative half-life of once-original ideas toward a degenerative race to the bottom.