With only a small number of children there the adults in the Christmas morning service were turned to and asked what they got if they'd already opened their presents. As I answered I had a decision to make whether to give the correct title of the book I'd been given or use the name which some of the older members of the congregation might be familiar with. So it was I went with the latter and told them I got the Johnny Rotten autobiography. Thing is the book isn't that Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored is the autobiography of John Lydon and there is way more to that than the Sex Pistols and the Rotten persona.
The book is like the recent Morrissey Autobiography in that after a fairly in-depth discussion of his early years there is plenty of content relating to being let down by record companies and fellow band members but there is more to it than that, and Lydon's is far the better of the two.
There is a fair amount of discussion of the Pistols, and of course one would expect that. This is Lydon telling it as he experienced it but with a clear awareness that Malcolm McLaren is now dead. As you read the part focused around the mid-late 1970's it feels like he is saying this is my side of the story but can we move on from that and focus on PiL (Public Image Limited). The music of both and relationship with other members of the two bands is central to the book.
He slips in odd comments about his relationship with and/ or view on certain other groups and celebrities too along with the odd bit of social commentary. One interesting point he brings up on more than one occasion is how he believes the history of that era has been miswritten in a way which is largely misogynist. He had far more time for the punk bands which contained a female voice (e.g The Slits) than those which he regarded as too socialist and/ or following a formula (i.e. the Clash).
The book also clearly explains why he believes certain drugs, such as heroin, should be avoided. Whilst standing against censorship he is clearly not against boundaries or the importance of good education. The book itself provides a sensible discussion of drugs which should act as a warning about the dangers of them as well as the impact on creativity.
Another thread running through the book is the negative views which Lydon has on religion. He addresses both formal religion and new age spirituality and has no time for either. Whilst I disagree with his end conclusion I think he makes some important points which are worth consideration. He could be argued to be taking a fairly traditionally Marxist view regarding the manipulative nature of religion and the way it lets people down. Yet it is clear this negativity comes from observation and experience rather than an ideological analysis. Personally, I would agree with him that organised religion has often been manipulative and in some cases abusive yet that is not what I believe the bible actually teaches. I would argue what he doesn't allow for is the way in which whilst it might have been abused and corrupted by some it is that misuse which has been wrong rather than the teachings it is based upon and the religion itself.
Also sprinkled in are various comments which underline his commitment to inclusivity but also a desire to address some of the very real problems which the UK is currently facing. He very intentionally talks of the way he values the LGBT community, multi-culturalism and the white working class culture from which he comes. Towards the end of the book he then speaks out against health tourism and the surveillance culture. Yet he is clear and explicit that he does not agree with UKIP and their vision of the future.
Whilst I didn't agree with everything he wrote this book did make me think and question and that is and has always been the point about Lydon and his words, whether spoken, written or sung.
It also made me smile and laugh at times too and that is important. The biggest smile came as I read about the 2002 Chrystal Palace gig. He writes, "Still, we flooded the place with all the alleged villains and hardcore Sex Pistols fans Britain had to offer, and no trouble was had. We were friends amongst each other." (p425)
The last part of that sums up much of what I remember about that day. The Drop Kick Murphys were great and the crowd loved them. There was a serious pit that day and then it dissipated as the Libertines came on and I don't think I was alone in being seriously underwhelmed by them. Then came the Pistols and it was one massive sing a-long party before we all squashed onto the trains going back into London. Yes it was possibly pastiche and pantomime in places but in amongst the fun it was still bringing the weirdo's and the freaks together with their subversive view of the world.
Punk did get incorporated just as Hebdige claimed but within it all, as the book shows, Lydon has sought to maintain his own path.
So is it worth a read? Yes if you're a fan of Lydon in whatever guise or if you are generally interested in popular culture. Yes too if you want to be made to think quite deeply. Otherwise perhaps not. I've also read Paul O'Grady's Still Standing (the third volume of his autobiography) this Christmas and I have to say O'Grady was far the more entertaining read of the two.
Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored by John Lydon, (2014), Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4711-3719-8