Saturday, November 04, 2023

What The World Needs Now Is More Rotten

©2023 article by Kevin Wasden

If I’m wrong, I’m highly capable of correcting that. I’ve done that many times and I’ve had to. That’s why I love debate and conversation, because you learn from it. Don’t become entrenched in one opinion and get stuck there forever.” 

-John Lydon, interview with The Guardian, October 11, 2020

I am a long-time fan of John Lydon. I greatly admire his creativity, his unwavering commitment to his wife, and his uncanny ability to cut through the crap.

Lydon's tenure as the cantankerous frontman of the Sex Pistols, under the moniker Johnny Rotten, from 1975 to 1978, marked a watershed moment in the annals of punk rock. Subsequently, he has served as the driving force behind the experimental post-punk outfit Public Image Ltd. From the beginning, Lydon has left no stone unturned in his mission to disrupt the status quo.

Lydon's words are sharp as a sword, and he wields them like a seasoned warrior. He does not shy away from controversy and has managed to rub everyone wrong from his bandmates to Her Majesty the Queen. In Lydon's world, words are weapons, and he takes great care to aim them precisely.

“It’s to spur a conversation,” he told the Guardian in 2020. “Have people talking like sensible human beings, rather than shouting at each other. I’m an individual – I think for myself – I think quite a lot of us are.”
I was five years old in 1976 when Johnny Rotten took the stage with the Pistols in Manchester, England. It was a performance said to have “changed the world.” While the Pistol’s impact rippled across the British Isles, my small world was limited to family, friends, and my cocker spaniel. But things would change. A decade later, I was coping with my parents' divorce, deep feelings of displacement, and a growing recognition of my family’s economic struggles. In spite of the distance and time between its creation and my discovery of it, I connected to the punk and post-punk music of the early 80s. I was never brave enough for a full mohawk and safety pins, but I did shave the sides of my head, rather badly, and, like many, I found some sense of identity in groups like the Pistols, the Damned, the Ramones, PiL, New Order/Joy Division, and the Cure.

In my fifties, I still love the punk movement--especially the authentic punk voices that emerged from an irascible moment in the mid- to late-70s. I try to understand the forces that drove the music of the era. I believe, more than ever, that punk’s attitude and voice are still needed. I’m not calling for anarchy or violence, but for brave voices that challenge the status quo. 

As I watch the hustle of American politics, I see a system dominated by two political parties, each trying to demonize and silence the other. I hear cries for “unity” but see refusal to compromise. In a recent debate, one prominent political leader went as far as to say that “consensus is the opposite of leadership.” Each party seems to think that “unity” means we all must agree to the terms of the dominant faction. Each party desires complete control of government and freedom to move their agendas forward without challenge.

But every great idea should be challenged. Assessment, feedback, and revision are what keeps us from becoming “entrenched in one opinion” forever. To eliminate challenges is unhealthy and unwise. Yet those who desire to attain and hold power don’t want to work for it. Power unchecked is tyranny. Punk music, like many musical genres, can serve as a check. It can inspire us to think and to not blindly accept the philosophies of people and factions without first considering what is true.


That brings me back to John Lydon. His desire to challenge norms and seek truth while not becoming entrenched in popular ideologies is a powerful example for all of us, especially at such divisive times. It is healthy and good to question and reflect on the precepts and behaviors that we take for granted. Eliminating the opposition has never led to greater understanding or strength. We should welcome resistance. There is a place for punk rock in our world. Principles purified by critique and revision bring us one step closer to truth.
Your comments and feedback are welcome.

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