Since 2009, John Lydon’s musical focus has been the resurrected Public Image Ltd.
Lydon launched Public Image Ltd. in 1978, shortly after he quit The Sex Pistols, the pioneering British punk band that introduced him to the world in the snarling guise of Johnny Rotten.
Public Image Ltd. is a marquee attraction at this weekend’s Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in New Orleans. The band will haunt the festival’s Carnival Stage at 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
“Am I supposed to wear something appropriate?” Lydon asked last week from England.
The genre-defying and exploratory Public Image Ltd. (PiL for short) centers on Lydon’s incisively observant lyrics and defiant wail. He said his sense of musicianship came from his Irish background.
“For want of a better term, I would say traditional Irish folk musician is what I am,” the London-born son of Irish immigrants matter-of-factly said. “Be it with a pop sensibility and a true-born rebelliousness.”
Lydon, whose performance history in Louisiana includes The Sex Pistols’ 1978 show in Baton Rouge, expects PiL’s first New Orleans gig since its 1989 Tulane University show to be fun. He’s not pleased, however, with the way Voodoo Experience and most major festivals are organized.
“It’s all about different stages,” he said, his speaking voice showing the wear of PiL’s just completed U.K. and European tour. “But me, I’m old-fashioned. I believe in one stage and all the bands play on it. No headline, no bottom. But the modern way, everything ends with a disco.”
Lydon also regrets that PiL is playing the Carnival Stage at the same time that Jane’s Addiction is on the Altar Stage.
“No audience should be denied a full show of everything,” he said. “At least none of us are on the same time as Ozzy Osbourne. I don’t want to be arguing with someone eating cuckoos’ heads. Or was it pigeons? That’s another lie they told about the poor old sod. I love Ozzy, by the way. He’s working class.”
In September, Public Image Ltd., released its 10th album, “What the World Needs Now …” It’s PiL in full flight — a variety show of pop accessibility, experimentation, searing rock and the voice that launched thousands of punk-rock bands, all of whom Lydon loathes.
“It’s disgusting for me to see the way punk turned into this negative, hateful world of contempt for everything outside of the three-chord barriers,” he said. “That’s never anything I wanted to create.”
“What the World Needs Now …” is PiL’s second album since the band’s 2009 return to turning. The band’s resurgence followed Lydon’s 17-year exile from PiL projects. Record company deals signed way back in The Sex Pistols days kept him from recording, performing and even rehearsing with Pil.
“It ended up a noose ’round my neck,” he said. “I couldn’t make music at all, because they kept claiming I owed them this, that or the other. So rather than bow down to that, I sat back and tried to wait it out.”
For nearly two decades, Lydon, one of music’s most influential and recognized figures, supported himself by doing non-musical work: TV commercials for Britain’s Country Life butter; TV nature series about sharks, insects and apes; and an episode of “Judge Judy” in which he emerged victorious.
“Slowly but surely, I clawed my way back,” he said.
Since Public Image Ltd.’s regrouped, its membership has been constant. Lydon stalks the stage alongside two PiL veterans, guitarist Lu Edmonds and drummer Bruce Smith, plus 2009 addition Scott Firth, bass and keyboards.
“I’m quite proud of what we’ve achieved now as PiL,” he said. “No liars in our group. Everybody treats each other with true and proper respect. I don’t see any other way, really, for a band ever working.”
Approaching his 60th birthday in January, the King of Punks believes age is a lie.
“That famous line from my friend, Pete Townshend, ‘Hope I die before I get old.’ What? Are you crazy? I hope I get old before I die!”
His desire to make music and communicate with audiences, preferably in smallish venues, burns still, Lydon said.
“You’re given the opportunity in life to do something really, really good. You mustn’t turn your nose up at that and just do it for the money. You gotta do it for the love.
“People like me are irrepressible. Natural-born rebel. Sorry. That’s the way it is. My dad was like that. My mom was like that. My grandparents were like that. And I see that true essence in every human being. I do. We all have it.”