John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, tells the captivating story of his life in a brand-new memoir, Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored. The book’s title, taken from his post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Limited’s memorable 1986 song “Rise,” aptly describes the punk pioneer’s attitude toward his creative endeavors.
The 59-year-old rocker tells ABC Radio that his goal in writing the book was, in part, to “explain what it is that went into the making of Johnny Rotten,” and to discuss the source of the anger that fueled his music and defined his persona. Lydon, who grew up extremely poor in London, says a major factor was the effects of the meningitis he contracted at age seven, which left him in coma for a couple of months.
“When I [came] out of the coma, I had no memory or recollection of who or what I was,” he reveals. “I couldn’t control my own body and I couldn’t talk. I did not recognize my own mom and dad. I did not know I had a name. I did not know I belonged to anybody or anything. I was completely and utterly alone.”
Lydon says that to aid his recovery, doctors suggested that his parents keep him in a state of anger or discomfort, “because that would help promote the memories and get the brain back. And so, hence, ‘anger is an energy.'”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer says it took him about four years to regain his memory. He points out that, contrary to his antisocial punk image, the effects of trying to overcome the isolation and fear he felt as he recovered led to a desire to connect with other people. That, in turn, led to a passion for reading that eventually blossomed into a love of all kinds of art.
“I spent the rest of my life, right up to this current day, loving human beings, loving being around humans and loving what humans do,” he explains to ABC Radio. “And, hence, my absolute love of music, books, TV, films, anything — everything.”
Meanwhile, Lydon also notes that some of the oppressive experiences he had as a student in Catholic school helped him develop a strong aversion for organized religion and the hypocrisy of certain established institutions.
Lydon says these various experiences, along with his voracious appetite for books, served him well when he was given the opportunity to front The Sex Pistols, as well as the band that has become his main musical focus, Public Image Limited.
“It was a beautiful place for me to write songs I really, really, really wanted to, that dealt with all the institutions and attitudes that had suppressed me,” he declares. “It was a wonderful boot camp, a training ground that set me really well up for the future, which I didn’t know at the time would be Public Image Limited, where I could really delve into the emotional side of not only myself but my fellow human beings.”