John Lydon: Off The Shelf

‘John Lydon: Sold Out’ said the sign. Hopefully this was a reference to the lack of tickets, and not a comment on John recent excursions into the jungle or adverts for Country Life butter. Johnny Rotten as was, took to the stage tonight to a huge roar of approval, the kind I’m sure he gets wherever he goes just for simply showing his face, and we settled back into an Q&A session.
The night was chaired by Paulette Edwards, but the majority was given over to questions from the audience. Note to the organiser; put the mikes on a stand and let people queue up to ask questions. Passing around two radio microphones just led to endless looks of ‘who’s asking that?’ from the stage. He had some very interesting and often revealing things to say to an audience who seemed mainly to be around his age. He became an unlikely and often reluctant figure-head for his generation, first with the Sex Pistols, and then with Public Image Ltd, in the late seventies and early eighties.

One thing I discovered was that in his early childhood he contracted meningitis, and spent weeks in a coma. When he emerged he had forgotten everything, even how to talk. He no longer recognised his family, to the point of not knowing who the strange people were who took him home and looked after him. The doctor told his parents the best way to help him recover was to ‘keep him angry’. In other words, not to cosset him with love and sympathy, but to let him feel the frustration at his situation, as this would force him to recover more quickly. It’s not a difficult leap to imagine that this informed the rest of his life, as even now, as a more mellow 58 year-old, he doesn’t suffer fools, as he demonstrated when someone in the audience asked a question he wasn’t happy with. He revealed how responsible he felt when his friend Sid Vicious died, and that he feels he should have done more to help him avoid what was almost inevitable given the pressures he was under, and his drug addiction.

Picture by Steve Pyke (1983)

Picture by Steve Pyke (1983)

As the session approached the end, there was a trickle, then a rush of fans who, whilst not wishing to miss what he had to say, also wanted to get in the queue for a signed book, and to have a word with the undeniable legend that is John Lydon.

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