Thursday, September 15, 2022

"God save the Queen. We mean it, man."


I don't mean to put words in Johnny Rotten's mouth, but I never believed that his classic punk anthem "God Save the Queen" was actually railing against her, personally, even when he said "she ain't a human being". Yes, he literally said that, but the song was about a government and society that was seemingly indifferent to the struggles and suffering of its citizens. It was a song about the loss of hope, a sense of utter futility. Much of the punk catalogue is of/by/for the recognition of that very bleak perspective. Here is a quote from the video interview I've linked at the bottom of the page:

"That is a song of question. It is not an assault on any human being."

England of the 1970s was bleak in many ways. The UK was still recovering from WWII, with the food rationing that went on well into the 50s. Elizabeth II was a handy countenance at which to lob the petard that calls out an indifferent government that purports to represent all her citizens. I get where he was coming from when he wrote that song, even if I disagree with that oversimplification of the situation. 

Then again, I wasn't there, so who am I to tell anyone there what they lived through? I respect his right to express this in a way that he saw fit. 

On his website, John Lydon posted the following statement regarding other former members of his band The Sex Pistols who are reissuing merchandise and music related to their anthem "God Save The Queen" in an attempt to cash in on the death of Queen Elizabeth II. 

John Lydon wishes to distance himself from any Sex Pistols activity which aims to cash in on Queen Elizabeth II’s death. The musicians in the band and their management have approved a number of requests against John’s wishes on the basis of the majority court-ruling agreement.

In John’s view, the timing for endorsing any Sex Pistols requests for commercial gain in connection with ‘God Save The Queen’ in particular is tasteless and disrespectful to the Queen and her family at this moment in time.

John wrote the lyrics to this historical song, and while he has never supported the monarchy, he feels that the family deserves some respect in this difficult time, as would be expected for any other person or family when someone close to them has died.

However I may disagree with him on this or that point, I think better of him for disavowing an attempt to make money at the moment when so many people are mourning the death of a beloved sovereign. 

There have been many times he defiantly called out people in the public sphere who were horrid and exploitative, such as when he accused British tv presenter Jimmy Savile of abusing the young fans who came to his pop music TV shows. Lydon was met with shocked silence and was shunned for many years afterwards. After Savile died in 2012, many people came forward to say they'd been abused by him. It's ironic that Lydon was the lone voice who dared to speak out against the popular personality. He is a man of strong character in a world of changeable folk who simply run with the tide. 

Here's a video from a decade ago in which he talks about his career.

As for exploiting the idea of the old Sex Pistols classic, I've seen him perform as P.i.L. (Public Image, Limited) many times, and I have never once heard him perform any of the tracks from the Sex Pistols. I think he's far more intelligent than most people recognize. He has a strong moral code, is plain-spoken and unapologetic. This looks like strong character to me.

I respected him before for his integrity. I'm not calling him a saint, but I think he'd be mortified at that accusation, too.  I'm not saying that I agree with everything he's ever done. What I'm saying is that in this moment, I admire him a little bit more. And he is so good-natured. "Anger is an energy," but it matters how we use that energy. John Lydon sets a great example.


Old NFO said...

Interesting take on it, and honestly surprised he chose to make that stand!

phlegmfatale said...

He's a remarkable artist, and incredibly reflective. He became an American citizen some years back, and took a shockingly public stance in support of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. He speaks his mind with no care or fear for what his critics think of him. I'm glad I could acquaint you with a little bit about the man beyond the hype. :)