John Lydon: Soundtrack of my Life

The Sex Pistol and PiL star on a run-in with Steeleye Span and why Green Day are rip-offs
John Lydon in Los Angeles
John Lydon in Los Angeles, 16 October 2009. Photograph: Barry J Holmes Photograph: Barry J Holmes

Discovering music...


Somebody's elder brother had it, I remember it was on Pye Records, and my God, that insane guitar started it all for me. But I have to be careful about sharing my tastes in music because it comes back to haunt you. I said once that I liked Van der Graaf Generator andbefore I knew it I was accused of ripping them off. Perhaps it's safer to state that I like Steeleye Span. Mind you, I shared an Irish coffee with them in Vienna once and left them with the bill, so maybe not.

Prior to the Pistols...


I get what Bryan Ferry is trying to do – experimenting in a bizarre world and then couching what he finds in the style and language of the hunting set. It's an exotic, intriguing concept and he's the only one doing it. This song [about a love affair with a blow-up doll] reveals a corner of your psyche that not many people would like to admit exists: that the mind wanders into dark places and the body follows. It's a romantic delusion and it's fascinating material for a song.

During the punk years...


I cared deeply about what we were doing with the Pistols and it was hurtful to be put in a "punk" package alongside lesser mortals. But the Raincoats offered a completely different way of doing things, as did X-Ray Spex and all the books about punk have failed to realise that these women were involved for no other reason than that they were good and original. It's a million miles away from the blancmange that is Green Day, where you have a Johnny Rotten first verse, a Billy Idol chorus and a Sham 69 second verse. Preposterous!

When PiL re-formed...


I always wanted to get back to what we did with PiL, but I got caught up in other things. The Sex Pistols were back on the road and no regrets: those people are my mates. Then it was all the TV work, which I loved. I discovered that nature is not something to be scared of, and best of all, that animals seem to like me! They don't want to put me on the menu. But hearing this absolutely brilliant record, in particular Halleluhwah, which lasts an entire side, reminds me of what we were trying to do with PiL. Can is its own thing and so is PiL. The only way to file these records is alphabetically.

At home in LA...


It's very hard for me to prepare for something like this because I collect non-stop, discover new things every day, and take music very seriously. I hate the technological rip-offs that pass for music formats these days, and go back to vinyl to hear a good record because the sound is always so much fuller. I don't even like listening to music in the car. But iIt would be ridiculous not to mention Kate Bush as someone who creates a powerful dreamscape and a great mood, but I also love Traffic, the pop textures of Marc Bolan, and all kinds of techno.

My current inspiration...


People who make their own aural tapestries have always intrigued me. Talvin Singh took his classical training into new places, and that's no bad thing. But my musical tastes are down to happenstance: I'll go into the library and discover something I may have had for years and never got round to listening to, which is what happened the other day with Talvin Singh.

Thirty years after the release of their influential Metal Box, PiL tour the UK in December.

Listen to this playlist on Spotify


Will Hodgkinson

The GuardianTramp

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