Why I Didn’t Interview Johnny Rotten

Towards the end of 2014, I had a dilemma. The folks at Off The Shelf literature festival in Sheffield had invited me to interview John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, in front of a live audience.

John was appearing there as part of a UK speaking tour to promoting his latest book, Anger Is An Energy, and I had to weigh up my options.

I live in Spain, so it would have entailed a trip to the UK. But that’s okay, I do those all the time. My health wasn’t great, so I had to take that into account. I’d never interviewed anyone in public before. I’ve barely even witnessed this type of event, so I was facing the prospect of learning the entire trade from scratch.

Then there’s the nature of the subject. John Lydon is a known curmudgeon, a churlish character who is liable to turn obnoxious at any moment. A loose cannon for sure, and maybe one of the world’s most difficult interviewees.

Yet I wanted to do it. The challenge called to me, and I felt that a sincere and gentle approach, coming from the heart, might just work. Not trying to score points and get the better of him, just looking at him on the level – approaching gently like you might a nervous animal, and then staying steady with him. I don’t know if I was right – but I felt it just might work.

I was in no way sure about achieving that level of balance in front of a few hundred people however, and then there were my own unsteady nerves to consider. But I still wanted to do it.

In the end there was one thing that stopped me.

I was working on Mark Burgess’s book, View From A Hill. Originally an unwieldy tome, co-editor Jaz Long and I had been working on it for months, trimming and perfecting this huge network of incredible stories, post-punk, personal and political – and I was determined we would get it out by the end of the year.

It was our second publication on Mittens On Publishing, and I guess I just believed in it more. View From A Hill is the story of a Mancunian boy discovering pop culture, punk, his own voice, and the whole world. I believe in that book more than I do Anger Is An Energy (which actually would have benefitted from a thorough editing itself). That’s why I decided not to interview Johnny Rotten.

One of my friends declared in disappointment that I had missed out on a “once in a lifetime experience”. It’s true that none of us know how long we will be alive for; I might meet Lydon another time, or maybe not. But meeting a punk icon who is emotionally frozen in place is not one of my ambitions. Getting View From A Hill out to its loving readership was.

It was hard work. My health got a lot worse afterwards – I have to learn to work more gently – but we did it. View From A Hill is now in the world, working its magic. And now I can look into the wide-open future and determine what wonderful thing we will do next.

View From A Hill - Mark Burgess

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