I'm always the last to figure these things out. I must be a born apologist, humanist, or any other one of those titles that means you delude yourself into thinking people are better than they really are.
If you read Michael Azerrad's amazing Our Band Could Be Your Life, you'll find out John Lydon/Johnny Rotten has been disillusioning his admirers since the early 80s at the latest, basically by being his arrogant, self-serving, sellout self. I don't own any records Lydon has been associated with since Public Image Ltd.'s The Flowers of Romance, but for some reason I never really wrote Lydon off. Sure, he's an asshole who hasn't made any worthwhile music since the beginning of the 1980's - and basically no music at all since the '90s, and he's been on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! and has contradicted nearly every one of his supposedly iconoclastic principles just as soon as he established them, even working as a Los Angeles real estate agent, but something kept me hoping. For what? That maybe he'd wake up, stop becoming this despicable caricature of himself and return to being the insatiable music fan that made worthwhile music in turn, not trading in vacuous "fuck-you" statements for words of substance.
This year I learned this would never happen. Lydon first hit the tabloids when the lead singer from the admittedly talentless Bloc Party claimed members from the Johnny Rotten entourage roughed him up with a healthy dollop of racism after he had the "temerity" to ask about a PiL reunion. Reading the news, I was torn between feeling like it really had very little to do with Lydon's own beliefs (and considering his long history of befriending black figures on the music scene, including Jamaican legends, Afrika Bambatta and Don Letts, it seems fairly impossible) and doubt over the minute amount of integrity he seemed to cling to. And cling he did, threatening lawsuits if anyone dared call him a racist.
Not too long after, charges were filed for him roughing up a female assistant for booking the wrong hotel room. This time, there was no vehement denial, no press statements and no defense, so one can only assume the claim is true.
Then the above commercial, in which Mr. Lydon officially sold his Public Image off to his favourite brand of butter. It speaks for itself.
John Lydon, Johnny Rotten, That Cunt or whatever else you could call him is not some revolutionary genius or daring iconoclast. His statement was made over thirty years ago and was refuted soon afterwards with his embrace of false celebrity. Like most frontmen, his best work was made with people he needed just as much as they needed him (Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Martin Atkins), without whom he has suffered greatly. Without solid music to back him up, Lydon has been on a downward spiral since his last decent album (The Laswell-produced Album), becoming more well known for mouthing off in the press and mounting needless Sex Pistols reunions than actually making music. This year, he became a tabloid fixture, one who makes "clever" butter commercials (only because he likes the brand, of course, of course), keeps racist pals and hits women. May he never regain his credibility.
I'll always treasure Never Mind the Bollocks, First Issue, Metal Box, Paris au Printemps, and The Flowers of Romance, but from now on I'll prefer to think of the piercing, whining tenor that graces those records as belonging to someone long gone to the ever after. Perhaps, the biggest tragedy in all this is how Lydon bought into the "public image" he so sardonically satirized in the 1978 single of the same name to become the marginalized cartoon he is today: the angry, egotistical, spiky-haired little asshole with a big mouth saying absolutely nothing.
He was never that great of a guitar player or a producer, and he wasn't ever doing anything new with music. Hell, even 60s pastiche had been done time and again by the time Jack White & the briefly enigmatic White Stripes stepped on the scene. So he wasn't even the first to be a copycat.
The White Stripes succeeded because they wrote some catchy songs and performed them with well-measured chutzpah in a style that wasn't typical of bands in the early part of this decade: slash-and-burn, lo-fi, kinda punky and Stonesish at the same time. They never actually made an album that was great from start to finish. But that was never quite the point with the Stripes: they were about being hit and run rock band that acted on impulse and could be brilliant, silly, rocking or just kind of dumb depending on what came out of the grab bag.
How sad it was, then, when Jack White started a really boring "normal" rock band, The Raconteurs, forgot how to write worthwhile songs, and then spread the mediocrity over to his flagship band with the abysmal Icky Thump. He broke the hearts of all the people that believed him when he said he objected to selling out (present company included) and made a Coke commercial. And now, he's jumped the rock-and-roll shark by making one of the worst Bond themes I've ever heard (though, to be fair I don't think I've heard many past 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies.")
Yes, the tired old institution of the Bond theme could use some fresh blood. But really, most of the Bond themes of the last twenty years have been performed by artists on the cusp of a dramatic fall from relevance: A-ha (who performed the last one really worth hearing, "The Living Daylights"), Tina Turner, Shanhia Twain, Gladys Knight & the Pips. And it seems here, Mr. White will follow suit. Even Peter Travers went out of his way to say it "sucks." The bomb fuse is set once Alicia Keys was invited on the track, a Grammy-hounding agent of mediocrity if there ever was one, whose only great moment was Bob Dylan hornily namechecking her at the beginning of Modern Times. Then once the song begins we get Jack's now cliche "overdriven" guitar tone, an appropriately evil-sounding piano riff and big thunderin' hip-hop drums. Then the vocals - is he rapping again on this shit? Wasn't this guy supposed to be the alternative to white rappers in the first place? The one-note chorus is even sloppier (and far stupider) writing than anything on Get Behind Me Satan, which he practically made up as he went along. It would win "most annoying song on local so-called rock stations" this year if it hadn't been for the Cold War Kids trying to pretend to be Jack White and sounding even worse.
Fucker always sounded like a bad McCartney impersonator anyway. Good riddance.
Do I really need to say anything? This probably doesn't require any comment from this author. Is he really that big an insecure asshole or is it all some clever act to weed out the "real fans"? While those who give a shit sort it out, let's just stop paying attention to Mr. Corgan altogether - positive or negative, he wants it too badly. Maybe in the next 20 years.
Up next: more positive sentiments regarding 2008.