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Friday, October 17, 2014

The wonderful heart and soul of John Lydon: book review

John Lydon
I have a confession to make. When I read the autobiography of various celebrities, I usually fast forward through the early years as soon as I see the phrase "my dad was a cobbler and my mother Gwen came from Cardiff."

And this is exactly what happened when I started reading John Cleese's tome, "So. Anyway...."

Chapter after chapter recounts his dreary reminiscences of school life at St Peter's Preparatory, where we learn he was OK at Latin but frightened by scripture. By chapter four, we're starting the Clifton College years and giving up the will to live. Cue frantic page turning as I attempt to find the interesting stuff: Monty Python, Connie Booth, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda. Unfortunately the book ends in 1969, and it's not described as autobiography volume 1 so who knows if we'll ever hear the rest. My suspicion is that Cleese will make it as turgid as his early years.He writes in the style of Sven Goran Erickson, whose numerous encounters with women were described as "very nice."

Cleese is an intellectual snob who derides his mother's lack of general knowledge, telling her untruths that she is gullible enough to believe. And her lack of general knowledge, he cries, was symptomanic of how self-centred she was. Segue to the usual celebrity moans "my life was ruined because of my parents."  He has spent most of his adult life "in therapy" and is forever name dropping psychologists.

I can imagine all this therapy angst would be given short shrift by John Lydon who has also just published his autobiography, "Anger is an Energy: My life Uncensored."

I haven't even finished it yet but I must tell you about it. It is one of the best books I've read for a long time.

Back in 1977, Lydon, or Johnny Rotten as he was known then, and his group The Sex Pistols certainly had my parents and everyone else's spluttering, what with "God Save The Queen" and an expletive filled interview with someone called Bill Grundy on some sort of regional TV show.

The Lydon in this book is fascinating, laugh outloud funny, uncensorious, joyful and brilliantly clever. He could read and write before he started school, but don't think he had a pampered upbringing like Cleese. The Lydons were squeezed together in a block of flats with an outside toilet. Six of them, parents and four children, shared one bedroom.  But he doesn't recount all this in a "poor me" misery memoir kind of way. It was economic deprivation, he tells us. At eight years old Lydon suffered meningitis and was in hospital for a year. When he eventually went back to school, the nuns called him Dummy Dumb Dumb.

He was far from dumb though. His schools lack the scholastic reputation of those attended by Cleese but he got seven O Levels and 3 A Levels, and his writing sparkles with insight and humour. Who would have thought that John Lydon would love Kool and the Gang? "I loved them!" he declares. He is fascinated by all forms of music and the different tribes music inspires.

His parents, poor and Irish, are described warmly. "I vividly remember my mum and dad dancing to "Welcome to my World" by Jim Reeves on the Dansette in the front room - her with her bouffant and pink Crimplene outfit, and my dad in his suit and tie. It was a very romantic song, but also kind of political, that the world could be a better place - just hopeful, positive. A wonderful song."

Living in a squat with Sid Vicious and sporting green hair "like a Brussel sprout", Lydon did any job going. In a vegetarian restaurant, a new thing at the time, he and Sid were cleaners but there wasn't much to do, just sweeping up the odd peanut.

Poignantly, he got a job looking after kids aged between seven to ten. But the people who ran the day centre didn't like him near the children. "In a world of Jimmy Savile! That's the bitter irony of it, because I'd be the last person to bugger about with children, yet you're so readily and easily labelled, and so wrongly too. People can't see through to a man's heart and soul, their character."

I haven't even got to the Sex Pistols yet because I haven't been fast forwarding. I'm relishing every page. I've even overlooked his devotion to Arsenal. Reader, discover the heart and soul of John Lydon. You won't regret it.

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