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BOOK REVIEW – Anger Is An Energy by John Lydon with Andrew Perry

| 16 January 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW – Anger Is An Energy by John Lydon with Andrew Perry
Simon & Schuster
October 2014, rrp $39.99
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Anger is an Energy by John Lydon book cover

There’s nothing you could possibly want from John Lydon’s ‘life uncensored’ (as the subtag reads) that he doesn’t deliver in these 535 pages.

With a minimum of self-mythologising (there is some, but we shouldn’t expect an influential innovator who possesses a sharp wit and an eager mouth to be artificially modest), Lydon – the one-time Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, in case you’re unfamiliar – tunes in his his sardonic sense of humour – often mistaken for rude- or bluntness – and opens the floodgates on his always-fascinating life-less-ordinary, and rants incessantly about the mundane, hypocrisy, liars – reserving the most vehement bile for former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

His Pistols days may have been brief, but they cast a shadow over his entire career and the epithet ‘former Pistols singer’ is never far from him even now, almost forty years on. It rapidly becomes obvious that despite the almost default way he became the singer of the Sex Pistols, he was a born artist and provocateur and was never going to settle with rehashing the same work over and over again – “I could have… just done Johnny Rottenisms and no doubt that would have worked, but I wasn’t interested in it. Sorry, but I’m a big risk-taker, me.”

Punk – the gobbing fans and the derivative bands that followed the Pistols cop a decent serve too: “I’d opened up an entire new different genre and way of viewing music, and what happened when the door was opened? In walked all the flotsam and jetsam, who were very proud of being stupid,” and the next step for him was Public Image Limited.

He’s an angry man: angry at a lot of things. But he’s also got many good reasons to be angry… and as he sings in the PiL song Rise – Anger Is An Energy! An energy he embraces – and harnesses – wholeheartedly, referring to his love with long-time partner Nora (mother of The Slits Ari Up, incidentally) as “the rows are beautiful but the making up is more so.” The love he has for Nora shines through these pages in a beautiful way, which may surprise many people who think him the leader of the ragtag punk army all these years later, an anarchist and a nihilist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The media loves to distill a character down to one dimension – the lowest common denominator usually. Out of this box, the real John Lydon proves full of intelligence and awareness, heaping praise upon those he feels deserving of it – even forgiveness sometimes. It’s what he refers to as the “cartoon image of yourself. The narrow insular selfish little git that people wanted to believe Johnny Rotten was. Mr Annoying Man. My songs were echoes of rebellion and empathy for people, and certainly not the work of some sneery, selfish little turd.”

Unlike more and more rock bios, he isn’t content with just giving the broad brushstrokes about his biggest hits or most famed moments. Lydon gives us detail – what many of his songs (Pistols, PiL & solo) were about, how the bands came to be, detail about the people involved. It puts many books by many bigger stars to shame.

Along the way we read about his squalid, poor upbringing in multicultural surrounds, leading to a evangelistic need for honesty and equality in his personal life; his life-threatening dose of meningitis as a child which literally left his memory wiped clean; his love of original, interesting music, fuelled by early forays seeing concerts by Pink Floyd, Queen, Judas Priest and many more; hatred of drug dealers – implying that they killed Nancy Spungen rather than Sid Vicious (although he makes no bones about his own speed use over the years, and admits he loves a drink); his friends over the years, including Poly Styrene of The X-Ray Specs, who gifted him the line “just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get ya”; and his own feelings and foibles. When told he doesn’t know when to stop, he agrees. “It’s true. All of us need our friends to be watchdogs.” Prophetic, almost.

Anger Is An Energy is almost a free-for-all at times, jumping forwards and backwards in time, which he gleefully explains away with “I know I’m swinging left, right, and all over the place, but it’s all roots to dig into, and that’s the correct procedure, ultimately. I can’t do this ALL chronologically.”

Through all that anger is the bright light of intelligence and positivity to get involved. See the truth. Don’t accept their bullshit. Most importantly, “don’t give up: there’s nothing to give up for.” They’re words to live by – not for an easy or comfortable life, but for one with integrity, and that’s the kind of life John Lydon opens up in this excellent, enthralling read.

Category: Book Reviews

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