The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: John Lydon and PiL, at large in NYC
With the Public Image Ltd. catalog newly reissued, what better time to revisit this telling New York Rocker portrait of the former Pistol and his postpunk comrades, at large and loose-mouthed in Gotham. As originally published in May 1980——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
It is two o'clock in the afternoon, and John Lydon has just popped his third or fourth Heineken of the day.
In the plush front room of his Warwick Hotel suite, the colour TV plays one of those colonialist adventure films in which Ronald Coleman or Cary Grant, as a French foreign legionnaire or British sergeant-major, singlehandedly defends the outposts of Empire against faceless hordes of opium-crazed Arabs or Chinese or Pakistanis. But here in the '80s, other barbarians are storming other barricades. Public Image Ltd. are in New York.
Well, half of them at least. Guitarist Keith Levene is asleep in another room, but Jah Wobble and drummer Martin Atkins are back in Albion. So John Lydon will meet the press and the record company people. He's only been here a day or two, but he's already pissed off at Warner Bros. Records (distributors of Island, PiL's American label) for having nixed the original film-canister packaging of The Metal Box; it will appear here as a two-LP set in a standard doublefold sleeve (The Cardboard Box?).
Clearly, Lydon feels the album deserves as much popular attention and corporate promotion as, say, the next Doobie Brothers record, and in a couple of days he'll fly to Los Angeles to demand his due.
"We see the record company as purely a distributor. We're no losers: we don't go out of our way to sell millions of albums, or to lose money for the record company... I've heard the test pressings of the American album and the sound's all right...No, I won't tell you what the cover's gonna look like!"
John likes New York and would like to play here, "hopefully in March, hopefully at Roseland" — the legendary midtown dance palace where big bands and Latin orchestras still hold sway, and where no rock 'n' roll band (unless you count Donna Summer and the Trammps) has ever ventured. He's planning a shopping trip to Colony Records to supplement his steady diet of "disco, reggae, jazz, and soundtracks — Ben Hur, that's a great one!"
Speaking of albums, J.L., how about all the post-breakup Pistols product shoved out by Virgin? "Pretty pathetic, innit? Not the record company for putting them out, but the people for buying them. The idolatry of it — it's disgusting."