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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Malcolm McLaren, Johnny Rotten and me

So the news today that Malcolm McLaren had died caught me a bit by surprise, though I guess it shouldn't have. I'm at the age where the key pop figures from youth start keeling over from natural causes (in this case, apparently, cancer).

As word of McLaren's death grew, I tossed on the Sex Pistols' "Never Mind the Bollocks" and filled the house with jarring guitar and Johnny Rotten's petulant sneer -- much to the annoyance of my 16-year-old son. He wasn't complaining that it was too-tame oldies music, but that it was too annoying (he's a jazz and blues guy). You have to love the irony of the teen telling the parent to turn that noise down, but there it was.

And it reminded me of the time I interviewed John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, in 1994, when I was working at The Detroit News (one of my "mini-beats" was covering punk and alternative rock). It was by phone, tied to an upcoming Public Image Limited tour. He was a bit stunned when I asked him about the then-looming 20th anniversary of the Sex Pistols -- until then, he said, it hadn't registered on him that it had been that long. I also asked him the innocuous, evergreen question about what music he was listening to, and whether any current punk bands stood out.

That set him off on a riff about the state of pop music, which he thought was poor, and at the end he compared the then-new bands as "just so many cows farting." I laughed out loud, then asked if he had ever heard cows farting. "No," he said, "but I have heard Pink Floyd."

Ah, Johnny Rotten, why are you being so rotten?*

*go to the 1:17:40 mark, near the end, at Punk Rock, The Movie, linked above.
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