Saturday, April 7, 2007
When John Lydon walked into a studio and erased Keith Levene's guitar parts on THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, THIS IS WHAT YOU GET he did much more than just break up an important partnership. That button erased not only Levene but Lydon himself who would quickly decline into a sad and at times embarrassing self parody; a man seemingly hell bent on destroying his own obvious importance. There would be moments of greatness after for Lydon, such as the majestically angry RISE, but one of rock's most underrated visionaries never fully recovered from a decision he perhaps had to make.
In the early 90's I met one time PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED drummer Martin Atkins at a Pigface gig. He told me an interesting short story about Lydon in which he partially blamed Lydon's dissolve on a move in the early 80's from New York to Los Angeles. He told me that in New York Lydon had become self sufficient and walked everywhere but soon after arriving in the sprawling L.A. he hired a driver. I always remembered this seemingly unimportant little tid-bit the intense Atkins told me.
The partnership of of John Lydon and Keith Levene created three of the most remarkable albums in rock history. Three albums that would, among just a handful of other artist's work, push the medium as far as it has ever gone. I would in fact say that FIRST ISSUE, METAL BOX (SECOND EDITION) and FLOWERS OF ROMANCE are better than even the fabled Sex Pistols album. Along with the sporadic help of powerful bass player Jah Wobble, filmmaker and muse Jeanette Lee and of course the savage Atkins PiL were one of the great bands in history.
It all fell apart in 1982 though with the dual release of Levene's COMMERCIAL ZONE and PiL's THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT. Two sides of the same coin with Levene's coming out on top in every way but both paling in comparison to their previous output.
Lydon and Atkins would continue on their own for awhile with the disheartening LIVE IN TOKYO album before they would have their own fall out and Lydon would form an even more unrecognizable PiL. Levene would become one of rock's great unseen visionaries and the eighties and nineties would be built by guitar players who copied his style but couldn't hold a candle to him.
I am bitter when it comes to John Lydon because when I listen to the first three Public Image Ltd. albums (and the live collection from Paris) I am never less than amazed. Lyrically, vocally and musically they own their own planet which few have ever been able to travel to and Lydon's dissolve is still a hard pill for me to swallow.
Lydon broke my heart the way few other artists ever have when he re-formed the Sex Pistols in the mid 90s, it seemed to be the final, ultimate self betrayal and I have all but given up on him ever returning to his former glorious self. He seems frozen now as Johnny Rotten but for a brief few years he was just John Lydon and he was bloody beautiful.
The first three Public Image Limited albums are all still available on cd as well as the live essential and startling PARIS IN THE SPRING album. A box set, PLASTIC BOX, is harder to find but contains some indispensable live METAL BOX material (as well as a later PiL disc that makes great use as a coaster). Levene has never really disappeared and an internet search on him brings up some wonderful shadows and recordings.
COMMERCIAL ZONE is still officially unavailable but with a simple google search one can turn up some of its strange and at times remarkable sounds.
The first step for anyone new to PiL is the remarkable www.fodderstompf.com/