John Harris

Journalist & Author

Anger Is an Energy review John Lydon’s ‘life uncensored’

The ‘only truly terrifying singer rock’n'roll has ever known’ keeps it honest and defies his own stereotype

In Lipstick Traces, the brilliant "secret history of the 20th century" in which Greil Marcus placed punk rock at the end of a long tradition of subversion and sedition, the Sex Pistols were hailed as immeasurably more than just a four-piece rock group. "It doesn’t seem like a mistake to confuse their moment with a major event in history," Marcus wrote, and he identified one quality in particular that allowed them to acquire such significance. There was, he said, a "black hole" at the heart of their music, "a wilful lust for the destruction of values that no one could be comfortable with, and that was why, from the start, Johnny Rotten was perhaps the only truly terrifying singer rock’n'roll has ever known".

A quarter-century after those words were written, they seem rather quaint. In recent(ish) years, Rotten who has long since reverted to calling himself John Lydon has appeared in that ironically titled celebration of faded fame I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, starred in an ad for Country Life butter, and hosted such examples of TV anarchy as John Lydon’s Megabugs and John Lydon’s Shark Attack. The Sex Pistols were last seen playing Las Vegas, and lending their name to a brand of unisex perfume ("fighting conformity and disregarding aromatic conventions, it leaves a fresh, restless bite of lemon, sharpened and intensified by a defiant black pepper"). And now comes Lydon’s second memoir, following 1994’s Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs: a slightly straighter example of the great seasonal genre-cum-publishing ritual that is celebrity autobiography, which this year sees Lydon pitched against John Cleese, Stephen Fry and Westlife’s Shane Filan.

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