For more than 40 years now -- since before he joined the Sex Pistols, before he was Johnny Rotten -- John Lydon has been provoking some and irritating others simply by questioning the status quo. Now that he's 56, don't expect the founder and lead singer of Public Image Ltd. to change.
"For me, you're only as old as you want to behave, and you're as young as you fancy," Lydon says during a phone interview. "It's something I remember from when I was young, and it used to really annoy me when adults used to say that phrase 'Act your age.' It's even more annoying when you've achieved some years in your life. Because you should never act anything. I find that really ridiculous."
Lydon won't be acting his age Thursday night when PiL performs at Dallas' Granada Theater. In the spring, the group released This Is PiL, its first studio album in 20 years. Lydon's confrontational, braying lead vocals remain intact, but there's also a sense of vulnerability in songs such as Human, the album's second track.
By now, Lydon has been fronting PiL since 1978, through numerous lineup changes, battles with record labels and a lengthy hiatus that began in 1992 so that Lydon could concentrate on writing Rotten: An Unauthorized Autobiography and doing some solo work. But he's still so identified with the Pistols, a group that changed the British rock scene in the '70s but lasted less than three years and only put out one studio album, that he still draws Pistols-obsessed, T-shirt wearing fans to PiL shows. Those fans have taken some slagging on PiL message boards, but Rotten says he doesn't mind.
"People do what they do in life," he says. "As long as they're not interfering with the performance and ruining other people's pleasure, you should be allowed to wear whatever you like. And frankly, I am Mr. Rotten. It's a nickname I fully earned. I'm rather proud of it. I can't live in a world where we lay down rules for others."
This will be Lydon's first appearance in Dallas since 1997, on a solo tour. A reunited Sex Pistols (including original bassist Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious in 1977) played North Texas in 1996. Dallas was one of the few stops on the Pistols' ill-fated early 1978 tour that ended with their breakup; in Rotten, he wrote -- somewhat dubiously -- that some people came to the show on horseback.
"There were a lot of guns on display outside in the car park," Lydon insists. "[But] it was all very favorable. Very different, very nutty, very interesting, and culturally, for me, very intriguing. I love the South. All of it. In fact, I love all of America. I love all of the differences between all the states. You are really a bunch of different internationals, and it's thrilling to me."
Although Rotten wasn't the first rock memoir, it was one of the earliest ones, and with the flood of rock memoirs out right now -- Rotten and the Pistols come up in Pete Townshend's Who I Am as potential challengers to the Who's throne in the mid-'70s -- it's easy to wonder why Lydon hasn't come up with a sequel to the book, which was published in 1993. After all, a lot has happened since then -- the Pistols reunion, the group's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an appearance on the British version of the reality series I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! and his own short-lived (and ahead of its time) Rotten Television.
"The word 'memoir' almost sounds like a death knell," he says. "But there's a bigger story still to be told, yes. But at this point in time I don't have enough hours in the day. We're running a record label all day long, and we're performing live all night. Three or four hours sleep in a week would be the regular, but that's how it is. I've no complaints about hard work, but there's not much time, really, to be sticking a memoir in there. Because the story is so ongoing and so detailed, that's gonna be some memoir."
Lydon started his own label, PiL Official, because he has had battles with labels and managers almost from the beginning of his professional career. He says that his previous record-label contract kept him in an almost constant state of bankruptcy. But although he gets asked about his past a lot, this is someone who is looking to the future.
"It took me years, two decades, to crawl out from underneath that dilemma," he says. "But there we have it. I'm still here. And I don't need self-pity or pity from anybody. I'm strong enough. I view myself as only 56 years young. I've got at least another 56 years to get this on track."