john lydon’s public image, ltd., is neither public, nor an image, nor limited.
Listening to a recent, and quite incongruous, guest disc jockey appearance by John Lydon on NPR’s All Songs Considered, what stuck out the most was that Lydon is so often misinterpreted as a deeply-manipulative artist, as someone who continually toys with the facades of pop culture and celebrity culture.
But maybe it’s the exact opposite. Lydon is just totally himself. There is no public image to him, there’s just him. And this blatant honesty and lack of self-consciousness is quite disconcerting for interviewers and listeners. It’s so disconcerting that it gets misinterpreted as manipulation when it is in fact the exact opposite: pure, unadulterated honesty.
The lack of a filter, the purity of intent, the lack of a screen between his private persona and his public one, is what makes Lydon so scarily wonderful to watch and hear. There is simply no artifice, just sheer expression, which paradoxically makes us defensively long to take cover in the belief that everything is deceptively rotten with Lydon.