Saturday, May 24, 2008

Uncle Anacher's Punk Rock Tales: Johnny Rotten, Part 1

Public Image Ltd.'s signature song "Public Image."

The first time I interviewed Johnny Rotten was an experience to remember. It was **shudder** just over twenty-two years ago. Solely by virtue of his reputation, Johnny cuts an imposing figure. And I was in NYC for the first time as an adult. I was nervous as hell. For my own personal consumption, I had brought a modest quantity of high-powered herb. It was going to have to be enough. For unlike most people, pot calmed me down and helped me focus.

When we first met at his record co.'s HQ, Johnny was positively resplendent in what was without a doubt the loudest, custom-tailored no less, red plaid suit I have ever seen. I mean it was screaming. As far as this suit was concerned, Dicky Barrett and the rest of The Bosstones had nothing on Johnny. (An aside: I almost came to blows once with Dicky's older brother, Billy, over the music selection at one of our many high school graduation parties. That's a story for another time perhaps.)

Anyway, at about 11:00 AM, Johnny was drinking Beck's. We gave each other the once-over, glanced around the big stupid corporate conference room. I complimented him on his togs. I put down my tiny professional cassette recorder. We both chuckled at the absurdity of this scene.

There was, at least for me, a bit of weirdness in that Johnny was in the middle of his "I'm-not-Johnny-Rotten-
I'm-John-Lydon" phase. Still, the interview went surprisingly well. I was well-versed on all the outstanding musicians with whom he had collaborated. Johnny warmed to me. By the time we wrapped up, I had the distinct feeling that this was one his better chats of this particular press junket.

To put a capper this day, Johnny's wife Nora burst in. Looking for all the world like a twisted version of the St. Pauli Girl (right down to the long braids), she was a sight to behold. It wasn't until I returned from NYC that I realized Nora is Ari Up's mom. Oh yeah, she's also the heiress to the Beck's Beer fortune hence Johnny's brew of choice.

I took Amtrak home later that afternoon. I had barely enough of my stash left to enjoy a quick bowl on the New Haven platform whilst the electric locomotive was swapped for diesel. I arrived home both exhausted and exhilarated. I wish I still had that interview tape. It's long, long gone.

Recounting this story seals it. My next audio adventure is to digitize my Metal Box vinyl. They can master it for CD nine ways to Sunday and it will never sound as good as it does on wax. The occasional bit o' scratchiness just lends it more character.