There’s a surprising amount of overlap between Neil Young and John Lydon, given that the Sex Pistols frontman once inspired Young’s cherished song ‘My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)’. On one occasion, however, their relationship was tainted forever when the punk poster boy attempted to pull a prank on the Canadian, which failed miserably.
Despite the sonic differences between the two artists – and Lydon having a reputation for being one of the most irate figures that music has ever produced – astonishingly, he has nothing but adoration for the work of Neil Young. However, on a personal level, they weren’t exactly on the same wavelength and, when the two icons of popular culture ended up sharing the same hotel, Lydon tried – and failed – to impress ‘Shakey’.
During a past conversation with Rolling Stone, Lydon discussed the aforementioned: “Well, I’ve always loved Neil Young’s music so you know, like, wow,” he commented. “One of my all-time favourite albums was [1975’s] Zuma. It’s so close to collapsing [laughs]. I really loved the mood and tones he puts into songs and, uh, so there that comes along.”
The interviewer then circled the conversation back to the song, which namechecks Rotten directly, and focuses on the lyrics. Remarkably, the Sex Pistols singer never did the maths, failing to realise that he directly inspired the material despite the countless times he’d heard the track.
“Oh, hilarious! I wanted to know what it was about,” he said, after suddenly realising that he had inspired the great Neil Young. “The king is gone but not forgotten? King? [Laughs] Gone? [Laughs] Well, it helped lurch him back into a career there somewhat.”
Lydon will always have that to cling onto, as his personal encounter with Young would make most people wince in embarrassment in what was a stunt that failed to impress. In fact, the actions Lydon failed to amuse Young to such a degree that he refused to appear on the short-lived programme, Rotten TV, in 2000.
“It was a lot to do with a meeting years earlier in a hotel,” Lydon recalled to Uncut. “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were having a meeting at the same hotel. They had a cake. I came down barefoot from my room, I had a suit jacket on with a tie but no shirt, and not a lot else.”
He continued, “I jumped on his cake barefoot, and went, ‘Hello!’ But I meant it well. I thought they’d burst out laughing and go, ‘this is our birthday gift, Johnny Rotten’. Like exploding out of the cake? No, it doesn’t work like that, rock people or not. They completely lack spontaneous humour.”
While Lydon points the finger at Young for failing to see the funny side in his unashamedly childish prank, it’s easy to understand how it went down like a lead balloon considering that Young was in the middle of an important meeting with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which is hardly a calming environment.
Although there appears to be mutual music respect, there’s little chance of the pair inviting one another to a soiree anytime soon. In fact, if Young caught sight of Lydon backstage at a festival, in all likelihood, the singer would rather lock himself into a toilet rather than conversate.