Johnny Rotten (Lydon) Q&A: The hangup, the call back

Written by Scott Mervis on .

LydonblogWhat can I say?

Johnny Rotten (Lydon) just likes to hang up on me.

He did it five years ago, at the end of a 20-minute conversation, and he just did it again last week in a phone interview to talk about the new Public Image Ltd. album, "What the World Needs Now…," and the tour coming Altar Bar Nov. 12.

I take it a little personally, but not TOO personally, because this is just something that Lydon does. In this case, I was able to get him back on the phone a week later, without him knowing (at least I think) that we had talked the week before.

The full story ran in the Post-Gazette on Nov. 12. Here is the raw Q&A:

Hello, John, how are you?

Alright, but you’re going to have to talk louder!

Is this better?

OK. Yeah, yeah. I can hear you now. Otherwise, I’d just be screaming into a vacuum.

Good to talk to you.


I wanted to ask you about the record. I really like the new album. Much of it sounds like it could be an early PiL record. Do you take that as a good thing?

I disagree with you entirely, and of course that’s not a good thing. Hmmph.

I mean in the sense of it sounding young, hungry, crossing the line between punk and post-punk.

If you mean it’s high energy, yes, that’s exactly right. The way I run my life, I don’t take the easy way out. With me, it’s always one hundred percent commitment. Even going to sleep requires a hundred percent commitment.

Maybe what I hear is certain chord progressions and guitar and bass sounds that were prevalent in that era.

God. I think you wasted your time and forgot to actually listen to what it is you’re supposed to be paying attention to. What is this: Are you trying to give me a music lesson or something? You’re way f---ing off the mark, fella. You’re talking daft sh*te to me. Chord progressions...what?!

Would you say you’re more confident now as a singer than you’ve ever been?

Is there any point to me answering questions like that? I mean, you’ve predetermined what your assumptions are. Really, do you want me to just back you up or something? Really, fucking O. What a nice time this is as an interview. You’re not going anywhere with me here, are you? You might be the problem with the music business as it is today. These predetermined nonsenses and assumptions, I can’t be f--ed with ya.

Let me ask you this then ...

No, I know you’re wasting my time and I certainly don’t want to waste yours. You’re just down a dead end there. Dull as dishwater … click


Hello, how are things in Florida?

Uh, the same as usual.

Do you ever step out on the beach?


How are the shows going on this tour?

Very responsive and a very varied audience. It’s what PiL has always attracted but it seems to be now even more diverse than even I could have hoped for. And for me that seems to be the ultimate sign of success when your audience is so varied, from different backgrounds, different classes, different sexes, different sexual beliefs, different race, creeds and colors. It’s quite an achievement to see that combination of human possibility all in one hole and not hating each other.

The one thing you didn’t say is different ages.

Well, I’m not an ageist, am I?

Are you doing a lot of the new album on this trip and how does it fit with the older material?

Yeah, yeah, sometimes we do four, five, six songs, and it’s all PiL so it’s all very different from each other and all jolly good fun. Some songs are sadder than others, but they’re all poignant and relative to human experience. That might be the difference. We don’t just write songs for songs’ sake. They’re part of my life. I can only write from what I experience and that I try to do as accurately as possible. And I think the audience knows that and respects that. Certainly, many of them know every single word. Sometimes better than I do.

They can help you out if you forget the words.

It’s always great when someone raises their finger and goes, ‘Haha, you forgot the words.’ It’s always done with the greatest sense of fun. It lets you know your audience is attentive. It’s what my family and friends do, really. They let you know when you make an error. And I like that. I like to be kept up to the mark.

Is anger still a driving force for you, musically?

It always was, emotionally, and it was the very substance I needed to use to regain my memories when I came out of a coma when I was young. It’s all in the last book, for anyone who’s interested. It took me four years to recover my memories fully but anger is what the hospital recommended my parents use to not make my life spoiled or comfortable, but to keep me on a constant edge so things would return, so yeah,anger’s always there, but it’s a positive force. I never used it in violence or hate. I don’t have violence or hate in me.

You may have seen that in the crowds below you though.

No. Certainly not. Violence and hate is always left outside the building when we’re playing.

So, when you’re writing songs you can tap into those feelings from back then?

Well, I would hope so. When your memories have been stolen from you for such a long time, when they come back you’re never going to exaggerate them, change them, shape-shift them. You’re going to maintain them as accurately as when they first returned. It was a both a reward and a terrible pain that your personality could be stolen off you and for it to happen at such an early age. And then me keeping that a secret for most of my adult life.

Do you think it’s almost necessary for punk rock singers to overcome obstacles like that?

I don’t care what punk rock singers want. I care for my life and doing things as accurately and as best as I possibly can. Why on earth would I give a damn about an idiocy like a genre when I’ve spent my whole life avoiding categories?

Well, I guess people put that on you then.

Don’t blame me for the rest of them terrible sobs! It wa’nt me that did that, your honor!

What made you write a song about Bettie Page?

Because she is something of a hero. She stood up against an enormous amount of, uh, shall we call it religious moralizing and, of course, the mafias running the nightclubs. And she endured, and I think her legacy is rather excellent. She brought forth that the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, and that’s quite some time before we know it today when the way most people treat their bodies they’ve got a lot to be ashamed of.

Are you having to explain to people who she is?

No. She’s there in the heartbeat and pulse of America, really. Since I’ve become an American citizen now, this is what I’m doing, I’m exploring being an American and what it means. And it’s wonderful. There’s some good stuff here.

“Double Trouble” stands out as an thrashy rocker. Do those types of songs come to you often, or is it mostly the slower and more midtempo ones?

“Double Trouble” is about an argument I had with my wife over the repair of a toilet. Quite literally, and I translated it into a song. It was quite a full-on argument at the time and now my wife and I, when we listen to that song, we both burst out with laughter. What a knife’s edge a relationship can be and if we take it too far, you can insult each other to the point of no return. That is what the song is trying to deal with: double trouble. You take it so far but you must be able to recover from the brink, and Nora and I are very much like that, we’re very volatile. [laughs] There is always a resolve and there’s is always a possibility which we both love of being able to laugh at ourselves and realize that it’s not worth being so serious over something so silly. And I should have just have just repaired the toilet in the first place, because, as you know, a woman is always right.

How did “Shoom” take shape. Were you improvising in the studio over the riff?

The drum machine was broken and it was making that peculiar shoom noise. And just one thing led to another and we just experimented with that one sound. We’ve done something of a documentary on it which will explain it better when it comes out on YouTube. Basically, you take any opportunity and you fill it with enthusiasm and it will lead to something wonderful, and in this case, it led to what I call a requiem for my deceased father because that was very much his working-class approach to social behavior. Very witty, very up front and allegedly full of foul language. But no one in my family understands what anyone could mean by foul language. Every word ever achieved by a human being is worthy of adoration just by the creativity of it, which is what separates us from the animals.

Deep Purple and Yes were just nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You went into the Hall of Fame, reluctantly ...

I didn’t go, at all! In my case this is a record industry that created nothing but problems for me, from my first band onwards. And even as Public Image, I had to spend nearly two decades out there struggling to raise enough money to buy myself off those record labels. How on earth am I gonna go cap in hand and say thanks to you, for anything? And it’s all so corrupt. It’s a secret ballot and it doesn’t do anything for anybody in any way other than stroke their ego. And then they ask you to pay for the privilege! You have to buy your own ticket to get in. What kind of craziness is that? That’s an insult!

Do you think it’s gotten any better with record labels, for you or for young bands?

No. There was so much good that came about of the large labels, initially, when people who owned them and ran them were very enthusiastic music lovers. Then, after the ‘70s, into the ‘80s, accounting started to take over, and they handed everything over to the accounts dept. and creativity just ceased to exist. From there on in, it was just a cold indifference and a lack of investment in the future, so we ended up with very bland bands and anyone who had any creative idea was pushed to the side and passed off as too expensive or difficult to work with. And these were the monikers that applied to people like me. And I contributed highly to the record industry. I certainly saved a couple labels over the years, but no appreciation came, so when things like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are waved at you, I didn’t see it as a carrot, I saw it as an insult. I don’t know they are. No one does. It’s a mystery. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a mystery novel I don’t want to be in.

As an aside from that, were you ever a Deep Purple fan?


Deep Purple?

What on earth has that to do with anything? I know Sid liked ‘Fire on the Water’ or whatever that song was. That’s about as far as it goes. That was before he became Vicious. Ha ha.

I was curious about whether you were rebelling against those ‘70s bands.

Uh, no. A lot of those bands were coming from a rhythm and blues background and there was a bit of ethnic forgery going on in all them and us, we did not like that too much. We formed our own sense of rhythm and tune and based it basically on English working class music, rather than these progressive rock bands that were really fiddling around with Bo Diddley and the like and disguising it with volume. So we were seeing them as fake. That’s what a punk was, initially, a refreshing retake of our own culture and not trying to rip off something from the Deltas or the Mississippis.

No Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis in there?

Oh, I loved Little Richard, only because he was a nutter. So, I would never sit down and say, ‘Oh, that’s how I want to sound.’ Have never done that with anything in my whole life. I never wanted to look like anyone else or sound like anyone else. That had a lot to do with finding my own identity after losing my memories when I was young, and once I found my true identity, nothing’s going to alter it, least of all the influence of another human being.

Did you ever get to meet Little Richard because I bet the two of you guys together would be something.

I have no idea. No, I don’t really get to meet too many people in bands, but the few I have seem to be all right.

Oh, well, thanks so much for talking to me …

Please, may the road rise … and let’s get as many people to come along and experience something truly good in music as opposed to all the hatred and bias and nonsense that seems to be very prevalent these days, as indeed they were way, way back in my early past.


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2016 Strip District Music Festival announces lineup

Written by Scott Mervis on .

The 2016 Strip District Music Festival, a huge success in its inaugural year (thanks in part to that January cabin fever), returns on Jan. 16 with more than 100 bands.

Among the artists sure to pack the Strip clubs are Donora, Meeting of Important People, Bastard Bearded Irishmen, Gene the Werewolf, Grand Piano, Paul Luc, Dethlehem and Mia Z.

Festival-goers can contribute to their favorite bands via the Artist Donation Presale, which begins Saturday at



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The Taylors: Wiz and T-Swift hook up for 'See You Again'

Written by Scott Mervis on .

WizAndTaylorToday's Wiz Khalifa news is much better than him being tackled by police for riding a hoverboard.

Last night, the leader of the Taylor Gang finally hooked up with pop's biggest Taylor for a smashing duet in Houston.

Taylor Swift, who has been featuring surprise guests on her 1989 World Tour (Little Big Town here), brought the rapper up to perform his chart-topping hit "See You Again," and the chemistry between the two was undeniable.

Arms were waving, bracelets were glowing and it ended with a very long hug.

Wiz sidekick DJ Bonics posted a video of the duet, which has since been taken down for copyright issues.

She tweeted out a piece of video, saying, "Sparks flying during #SeeYouAgain:


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What I did on my summer vacation: An LA experience with cameos by Ed O'Neill, X, Dwight Yoakam, Jimmer Podrasky and Donnie Iris (sort of)

Written by Scott Mervis on .




Let’s face it. When you’re in LA for six days, you hope to come back with some celebrity story, however small it is.

 Here’s my brush with fame. With a great Pittsburgh angle.


EdONeillI was in Il Forno, an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica with my family on Sunday (Aug. 9). It wasn’t my idea to eat Italian in LA, but that’s a whole other story. We shared the room with a lively square-shaped table for 25. A guy with his back to me, wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans, was a captivating storyteller who was holding court for a good part of the dinner. Everyone else shut up when he talked.


After a few minutes we realized it was Ed O’Neill from “Married...with Children,” “Modern Family” and a ton of movies. He was talking a lot about music, and one thing that jumped out was him mentioning that there was a guy in Ohio who could sing as well as Al Green. After a quick Wiki search, we revealed that he was originally from Youngstown (and was also drafted by the Steelers in 1969 and cut during training camp).


What really jumped out was when I heard him make a loud and clear reference to Donnie Iris.iris


What are the chances you're going to be sitting in LA and hearing a TV star name-drop Dahnie! Classic!


After dinner we crossed paths in the parking lot and I go, "Hey Ed, excuse me, I overheard your conversation. I know Donnie Iris." We talked about him being from Ellwood City and Ed knowing his sister. He said something like, “What a voice that guy has!” I told him I just saw Donnie a couple months ago and he can still bring it just like he always did.


Oh, the name of that Ohio singer: Carl Severino.





While I was in LA, I was determined to make it a vacation away from music (other than seeing the legendary Harry Perry skating and jamming on Venice Beach).


harryThat lasted about two days.


On Saturday (Aug. 8), I couldn’t help but check the listings on the BandsinTown app and my eyes popped out when I saw a bill that night of X and Dwight Yoakam -- for free! X is in my top 5 punk bands, Dwight is one of my favorite country singers, and this was a definitive LA bill.


It was part of the KCRW Sound in Focus series outside the Annenberg Space for Photography in gleaming Century Park in Century City. It was the third in the series that already included TV on the Radio (July 25) and De La Soul (Aug. 1).



Ah, but you needed to RSVP on the site to hold tickets. No way that was happening on the day of the show, right? Wrong. How were there not more than 5,000 people in a metropolitan area of 13 million who wanted to see this for free?!



The setting was gorgeous, a verdant, terraced plaza with the stage set between the twin Century Plaza Towers. I always love concerts in Point State Park, but this was like sci-fi otherworldly.


XX was amazing, even without Billy Zoom, who is undergoing treatment for bladder cancer. No one can replace the magnetic Zoom, but you can’t do much better than Jesse Dayton, a guitarist from Austin who has played with the likes of Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and Rob Zombie (yeah, weird).


Dayton handled the licks perfectly, and the rest of the band (John Doe, Exene Cervenka, D.J. Bonebrake), have barely lost a step since their early ‘80s heyday (I know that going in having seen them at Altar Bar last year). At one point, they blasted through “I’m Coming Over,” after which Doe said, “We were just discussing if we could play that faster or not.” And then they did at hardcore speed.


Doe drew a big ovation at one point, saying, “This is a song for Billy, who is going to get well real soon.”Jesse


Yoakam, another Ohio product (from Columbus), gave Nashville a shot early in his career but broke out of the LA clubs in the ‘80s as part of the New Country movement.


Although he’s never been the most flamboyant entertainer, his voice is golden (Johnny Cash once said he was his favorite country singer), the songs are great and so is his band.


Making the night all the more magical was watching part of his set with one of my favorite Pittsburgh exports: Jimmer Podrasky, of the Rave-Ups. He’s working on the follow-up to last year’s excellent “The Would-Be Plans,” his comeback album after 24 years. He can't wait to come back to Pittsburgh and play another show.

sky-danielsWhen I told him I couldn’t find a station I liked in LA, Jimmer turned me on to KCSN 88.5 FM, an indie station out of Cal State run by Sky Daniels who -- get this! -- worked in Pittsburgh at the great WYDD back in the '70s. Daniels is the program director and also does the afternoon mix from 3 to 7 p.m. Pacific. For the rest of my trip, I did not stray from KCSN -- which has the same free-form approach as YDD. If you want a taste of Sky and of LA, you can stream it at


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Springsteen, Houserockers hook up on Jersey Shore

Written by Scott Mervis on .

bruceBruce Springsteen with Danny Gochnour (from Gochnour's FB page, with credit to Jamie Kirkavitch)If you were following Twitter over the weekend, you may have heard about the surprise Springsteen gig.

He showed up to play with his buddies Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers at the Wonder Bar in New Jersey. According to AP, he appeared about 20 minutes into the set and played for two hours, doing the kind of show we get at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.

Houserockers guitarist Danny Gochnour posted on Facebook: "I've played w Bruce many times: the Starland Ballroom, the Paramount Theater and Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall. Last night was my first 'bar' gig with him and definitely one of my favorites. Nothing beats a hot summer night by the beach in a crowded jam packed bar with no AC playing all out rock n roll with the Boss. There were twice as many people listening from the streets and sidewalks of Asbury Park as there were packed inside. Bruce acknowledged the fans outside many times during the set."

He thanked Jamie Kirkavitch for the photos. 

Here's what they played:

1. Never Be Enough Time

2. Adam Raise A Cain

3. Darkness on the Edge of Town

4. Racing in the Street (1978 version)

5. Chain Smoking

6. Talking To The King

7. Save My Love

8. Frankie Fell In Love

9. Atlantic City 

10. Pumping Iron

11. Code Of Silence

12. Because The Night ("This is for all the ladies in the house tonight," Bruce said).

13. The Promised Land


14. Pink Cadillac

15. Light of Day

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