Johnny Rotten’s Massive New Songbook Started as a Lyric Clearance to Tour China

March 24th, 2017: As seen on Archive (PDF)


Johnny ‘Rotten’ Lydon imitating his drawing of himself for the cover of his new songbook on Conan; Photo: Conan

Punk’s favorite rabble-rouser of Sex Pistols/Public Image Ltd.infamy,  Johnny “Rotten” Lydon is about to drop a massive new tome, Mr. Rotten’s Songbook, chock full of all 127 lyrics he’s ever written aside all sorts of rad drawings — his new passion — and annotations on March 31.

Limited to 1000 copies — and already sold out — all signed by Lydon, he’s been working the press circuit hard promoting it, making fun of his cartoonish selfon Conan to sounding off on socio-political projects past, i.e. his 1984 collab with Afrika Bambaataa, “World Destruction,” that birthed rap-rock.

Not that Lydon ever had difficulty running his mouth, especially in promotion of his work, but peppered in interviews, we get a pretty funny tidbit of what the 61-year-old spitfire told Billboard back in January of this year, that China, known for its dystopian clearance system applied to Westerners playing on their soil, required Lydon send diplomats every single lyric he’s ever written before getting approval to play a couple gigs with PiL in 2013.

Lydon actually revealed this to NME in 2013, quipping the vetting may be a ruse to get him in jail shortly before getting clearance to China, but the quote in Billboardis better. Upon getting asked of the inception for his book, Lydon said:

“China allowed us to do a couple gigs in their very strange and wonderful country. They have an incredible vetting system where they analyze every lyric you’ve ever written. It was the putting of that together, really, and then their approving it, that tweaked an interest in my own head. I felt, my god, have I become acceptable? What’s happened here?”

Quickly followed by his sneering dry wit upon getting asked if he read cartoons when he was younger:

“I’ve always done the artwork for PiL; had a lot to do with the Pistols as well. This is a field I’m not trained in, but I have an aptitude. There’s my gallery — it’s called an album cover.”

Anyway, Lydon played his gigs, China didn’t put him in jail, and 1000 people who have come to terms with Sex Pistols credit cards and Johnny Rotten British Butter Council Ads get a physical copy of his outspoken punk’s-not-dead legacy, all because of an authoritarian country trying to put Johnny under its thumb.

For everyone else, here’s a special message from Lydon that unveils the curtain behind his oddly wonderful cartoon and lyric brain, followed by the greatest PiL song ever: