John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon was born on January 31, 1956, in London, England. After being expelled from a Catholic Secondary School, he attended Hackney & Stoke Newington College, where he met Sidney “Sid Vicious” Eudy. Lydon had no prior musical attention when he caught Malcolm McLauren, who would later become the Sex Pistols manager. Six months after auditioning, Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious took the stage took the stage alongside Paul Cook and Steve Jones for the group’s first concert at St. Martins College of Art on November 6, 1975. Two and a half years later, on January 14, 1978, the band imploded after a series of horrible events. Lydon was done with the Sex Pistols and wanted nothing to do with the group from that moment on. According to John Lydon, he immediately moved on and started performing with Public Image Limited. However, he was unable to use the name Johnny Rotten because McLauren was holding onto the rights. A drawn-out legal battle ensued that eventually culminated in Lydon regaining the use of the name Rotten and the group members recovering rights to their work, with each member having an equal say in distribution rights. Currently, the tables are turned; Lydon is being sued because he refuses to allow the music to be used in an upcoming production.
On January 11, 2021, BBC reported Danny Boyle is directing an upcoming series based on Steve’s Jones memoir about his time with the Sex Pistols. Although many people discounted the group’s work and the short time the group was together, Boyle was excited to take on the project. Additionally, Jones and Cook wanted the story to be told and maintain that since the rights to the Sex Pistols’ work were restored, its majority rules and Lydon’s opinion should not prevent the music from being used in the show. Lydon adamantly disagrees and feels that the licenses for the music need to take into account each member’s opinions. Much of the surrounding controversy seems to be on the music and how he is portrayed. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, there are additional statements from both lawyers that illuminate the interpersonal disagreements between the band’s surviving members. Jones and Cook’s lawyer Edward Cullen had stated that when the band signed the agreement in 1998, if the majority of the band members wanted to move forward with a project, it was legally allowed. However, Lydon’s attorney has stated that his client feels he’s poorly portrayed. Cullen has countered with a statement that his client’s relationship with Lydon has been tenuous at best.
Rotten says it’s rotten
Another thing that seems to be fueling this legal battle is John Lydon’s feelings on the production. According to Yahoo News, when Lydon appeared in court, he called the show “the most disrespectful s*** I’ve ever had to endure.” He added that what they decided with BMA in 1998 has never been used, and each time something like this has occurred, the group has always made decisions amicably. Moreover, he feels that Jones and Cook are not taking his feelings into account since he is vehemently against the production. Cullen countered Lydon’s comments by saying that he was giving false testimony, which was immediately rebuffed. Yet even Lydon admitted that he didn’t understand what he signed in the BMA and that he never understood legal documents to begin with. Currently, Lydon is the only person who is fighting the production. Glen Matlock, who replaced Sid Vicious after his overdose in 1979, has also signed onto the project.
Is it irony?
Despite the ongoing legal headache, this type of contentiousness was one of the driving forces for the Sex Pistols when they first started. It was also the levels of apathy towards the law that saddled them with the moniker punk, which Lydon despised. However, the groups’ anti-establishment mentality drove their success and etched their name into rock and roll history. Now music song rights in an upcoming show have many of those same earmarks, but instead of the group against the world, it’s not the three band members against one. Lydon has been against the project since the beginning. According to Metro, when Lydon was giving testimony, he felt that the other group members were entrapping him with the legal jargon in the contract. He didn’t’ feel like he even needed to be in court because the other three members had already made their decisions, and he didn’t see any way around it. He added that it all seems like slave labor since he hasn’t been allowed access to the documentary. Additionally, a lot of his pride has been hurt in the process, evidenced when he said, “I don’t understand how Steve and Paul think they have the right to insist that I do something that I so morally heart and soul disagree.” After his testimony, Jones and Cook’s attorney turned tables back on him, pointing out that his references to slave labor sounded like he was just trying to find a loophole out of the contract. The court case is still ongoing, and the only thing that has halted production for the documentary is COVID.
As only Johnny Rotten could say, “sorry you think you can do this like walk all over me-it isn’t going to happen. Not without a huge, enormous f**cking fight, I’m Johnny, you know, and when you interfere with my business, you’re going to see the bitter end of my business as a result.” His impassioned rant sounds like the lyrics to one of the Sex Pistols songs. Yet, it’s simply another angry moment from a court case that will undoubtedly prove the last time the Sex Pistols will ever be seen together in the same room. Unfortunately, one of the last things fans may see from the group is bitter divisiveness that could be better used for another album or perhaps a documentary that each band member agrees.