John Lydon is one of the most iconic figures in music. Regardless of what you think about some of his opinions, you cannot doubt that his input to music has been nothing short of colossal. The angry – and sometimes belligerent – frontman of the Sex Pistols, Lydon became the spokesperson of a generation. Almost overnight, he confirmed himself as the de facto voice for the jaded and dejected.
1970s Britain was an incredibly bleak time to be a young person, but the advent of Sex Pistols in 1976 provided somewhat of an antidote. The young people had found their voice, and it came in the guise of a slender, redheaded and slightly rodent-looking young man.
This young rapscallion, who had made his name by frequenting the King’s Road in West London wearing an ‘I hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt, was the perfect man for the job. The established rock acts did not know what had hit them when Sex Pistols released their debut single ‘Anarchy in the UK’ in November 1976. John Lydon was no more. This was the era of Johnny Rotten, and he has going for the jugular of classic rock.
Afterwards, Rotten would quickly become the most notorious figure in British music, and after the band’s ill-fated appearance on Today with Bill Grundy in December 1976, he and the band had cemented themselves as the most polarising band in the UK. The younger audiences loved them, and their parents and grandparents loathed them.
After Sex Pistols imploded in 1978, Rotten would go on to find creative enlightenment in the aptly named post-punk outfit, Public Image Ltd. Over the course of the rest of the 1970s and the ’80s, the band affirmed themselves as one of the most refreshing rock outfits out there. Their 1986 anthem ‘Rise‘, an anti-apartheid protest song, remains one of the most enduring of the era.
Over the years, one thing that never ceased to keep us on our toes was Rotten’s personality, and in many ways, you could argue that he only got more out there as time wore on. One figure who confirms this is legendary drummer Ginger Baker, formerly of psychedelic rock heroes Cream, who played on ‘Rise’.
Speaking of the song in an interview with Classic Rock in 2019, he recalled his odd first encounter with Johnny Rotten, confirming that the ex-Pistols man hadn’t lost any of his weirdness.
Baker said: “Yeah, I played drums on his track’ Rise’ in 1986. And it’s incorrect to say I didn’t meet him. I met him on several occasions. He was a bit of an odd guy, to say the least. The first time I met him, he was sitting in a room cutting his fingernails with a razor blade”.
Cutting your fingernails with a razor blade has to be one of the most punk things we’ve ever heard. Regardless, it’s still utterly bizarre. Why not get a pair of nail clippers like the rest of us? Even the word iconoclast doesn’t account for this strange behaviour.