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Beef Of The Week #349: John Lydon v Everything You Thought You Knew

By | Published on Friday 31 March 2017

John Lydon

John Lydon’s a man who’s made a career out of making contentious statements, so it’s always something of a surprise when people get angry about him doing just that. Still, with the world currently flipped on its head, many have suddenly found themselves in opposition to someone they’d generally considered to be a cartoonish figurehead of their ideals.

It all started last week when Lydon said he’d miss the Queen when she’s gone. Then, in the space of a minute and a half on ‘Good Morning Britain’ on Monday, he apparently came out in favour of Brexit, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump – who he described as “a possible friend”. I still think the most overlooked problem with all of this is that John Lydon was on ‘Good Morning Britain’ at all, but that’s seemingly not what’s got everyone else riled.

He started by describing a recent encounter with Farage as “fantastic”, saying: “After that up the River Thames argument he had with Bob Geldof, I wanted to shake his hand. Cos it was silly beyond belief”.

Indeed it was, but while it was hard to side with Geldof on that one, Farage didn’t exactly come out of it looking like the bigger man either. As a result, I thought we’d all agreed that no hands were to be shaken after that particular incident.

“And where do I stand on Brexit?” continued Lydon without stopping for breath, apparently now interviewing himself. “Well, here it goes: the working class have spoke, and I’m one of them and I’m with them”.

At this point presenter Susanna Reid, while not questioning Lydon’s current status with the working class, pointed out that, as Lydon these days is a US citizen, he has other things to worry about.

“The Donald”, nodded the musician. “Well, there’s a complicated fella. As one journalist once said to me, is he the political Sex Pistol?”

No, he’s not. But that didn’t stop Lydon’s other interviewer, Piers Morgan, from claiming that Trump is an “absolutely archetypal anti-establishment character”. Again, no. I know I’m not the first person to point this out, but true anti-establishment figures tend not to be billionaire businessmen who like to play golf at the weekend. You could argue that Trump is anti-establishment if you wanted, but archetypal less so.

Anyway, old Trumpy’s having a tough time of it at the moment, and Lydon reckons we should lay off him a bit. “What I dislike is the left wing media in America are trying to smear the bloke as a racist and that’s completely not true”, he said. “There’s many, many problems with him as a human being but he’s not that, and there just might be a chance that something good’ll come out of that situation because he terrifies politicians and this is joy to behold to me”.

Of course Trump doesn’t just terrify politicians, he also terrifies lots of other people too. Not least those people he’s been a bit, well, look, I know John said otherwise, but you could say, I mean, you could, it is possible, if you look at the evidence, you might conclude, just looking at all the evidence, but those people he’s been a bit racist towards.

Whatever, you just took all of that out of context anyway. And what Lydon meant to say was that – now the Trump is President – we should just let him get on with doing whatever it is he wants to do. Oh, and that he’s not racist.

“America now has a new President and whether you like him or not you have to support him or you will destroy the country”, said Lydon on Virgin Radio the next day. “You’ve got to make things work”.

You’d think John Lydon would have a better understanding of how democracy works, but perhaps the driving force behind punk was actually a desire to let Margaret Thatcher get on with what she was doing. Given that she came to power during that period and remained there long afterwards, maybe it was.

Anyway, what we should be doing is supporting Trump and stop calling him a racist, it seems. “The attitudes that are being pulled on him are stupid and wrong”, Lydon said, returning to the racism theme. “He’s got some serious money issues and business concerns that deeply fascinate all of us but to be smearing him as a racist, this isn’t right, there’s no evidence or proof to that and until there is, I’ll stand up and say that I think that’s wrong”.

He added: “There’s a terrible attitude in left-wing politics – they just feel they have the pomposity and right to just throw these accusations out without any evidence – well don’t because my world requires facts”.

Well sure, it may be hard to prove unequivocally what Donald Trump thinks inside his own head, but there is quite a lot of evidence that you might find a few racist thoughts in there, or – at least – a willingness to exploit other people’s racism. Like, you know, repeatedly accusing the former president of not being American and demanding to see his birth certificate just because he’s black. Or saying that a large proportion of Mexican immigrants to the US are criminals and rapists. Or, I don’t know, attempting to ban Muslims from entering the country.

It’s a sensitive subject for Lydon though, because he too has been accused of racism. “In my past I’ve had that accusation thrown at me willy nilly and it’s a damn hard one to have to listen to and endure – make sure it’s right”, Lydon added. “For the next week and a half the rag-and-bone trade that we call the media is going to be calling me a racist, that’s the tomfoolery of it all. That’s going to be damn upsetting all over again to my grandkids, isn’t it?”

With apologies to John Lydon’s grandchildren, I’ll now have to bring up what prompted that accusation of racism again. Back in 2008, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke said that he had been assaulted by Lydon’s entourage and told “your problem is your black attitude” at a festival in Spain. This was prompted – according to Okereke – by him asking Lydon if Public Image Ltd would ever get back together. Which they did, the following year, as it happens.

Lydon responded by saying that he felt “very sorry for a man who needs to lie about what was a perfect evening”, suggesting that Okereke had made the whole thing up because he was jealous that Lydon was talking to some Spanish bands.

Of course the allegations in that incident were actually against Lydon’s entourage, rather than the man himself. Though maybe that’s an accusation of racism by association. Because he didn’t distance himself from anything that entourage may have said. You know, a bit like when Donald Trump refused to denounce an endorsement from the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Anyway, all this talk of John Lydon makes me want to go and put some butter on some crusty bread. God save the queen.