Public Image Ltd (PiL) marks their 40-year anniversary with the release of a box set compilation of debut album ‘First Issue’ and documentary ‘The Public Image is Rotten’. Before their first national tour in three years, Damian Robinson caught up with PiL frontman John Lydon for his take on the band’s heritage, future and the importance of having passive anger.
40 years on from ‘First Issue’, has PiL achieved what it set out to achieve?
Yes. There were a lot of obstacles in the way but I think that since we fought back in the last ten years, and formed our own label, we’ve put out two excellent albums and are incredibly cohesive as a unit. We work hard and the money we make we put back into recording new material, which is all we ever really wanted. Now that we have nothing to do with major record labels good things are beginning to happen.
And presumably, this gives you more freedom?
We have the ability to tell it as it really is and really mean what we say. These are the values and principles I’ve had right from my first band.
The great thing for me about PiL is its exploration of so many different musical genres…
Yeah, I think what we’re really exploring our moods, emotions and what it really is to be a human being. It’s essential that we see that there are only little differences between us all, whilst at the same time not allowing institutions like politics and religion to think for us.
Is this why PiL has always championed individuality?
Absolutely. The band, and in fact all of the band members I’ve ever worked with, are all complete individuals and have had completely different understandings of things. Our differences are what makes us complete. The media will tell you that there’s an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ and I don’t agree with that, I believe there’s just ‘all of us’. This is our world and if there are any enemies, they’ll be governments and institutions. Not the football team that live down the road but wear different colours…those are your mates.
And those are the themes PiL always looked for in their work?
Yes. We need to focus on removing those who try to disenfranchise us and not allow us to play a part in the running of our own world. When we fail to do that we become the cannon fodder of every major incident of their making. I believe in Gandhi’s ideology of passive protesting…down your tools and those who try to govern you can’t function any longer.
Can you be angry and passively protest at the same time?
Absolutely. Anger was the way I found myself and regained my childhood memories. Anger was advised to me by the hospital and I found it as a way to rebuild my character.
Are you still angry, John?
When I see people disenfranchised, yes. I’m angry at many, many, things but it should never end in violence. Burning down a McDonalds is never going to change the world.
How did it feel to look back when working on the box set and documentary?
It was hard work to maintain these projects. It’s a damn good film; it’s hilarious, as all good things in life are. And the box set has reams of unreleased material and a vast history of PiL. We’ve always tried to do our best, be honest, and connect with people in our work and live shows. Connecting is vital if we are to care for one another.
PiL plays the O2 Academy, Newcastle on Tuesday 12th June. Information about the tour, box set and documentary can be found at pilofficial.com.