Monday, April 26, 2010

"Bloody Hell, Glen Matlock Doesn't Understand Fundamentally What Johnny Rotten Did"

Posted By on 04.26.10 at 01:43 PM

My conversation with Jackie Leven was a long and fruitful one. Here are some fragments about his life at the margins of the London punk scene in the 70s and 80s:

"I was about ten years older than most people on the scene and had absorbed a lot of influences that put me quite a bit aside from it, but I also really admired a lot of the punk singers and the rawness they brought to it, and even the cunningness with which some of the very good singers in punk disguised how good they really were. Even people like Johnny Rotten, in his own way—I just thought what he did to the Pistols songs was really interesting. I worked in a band with [original Pistols bassist and songwriter] Glen Matlock called Concrete Bulletproof Invisible, and one day in our travels he said to me [puts on Cockney accent], 'The thing about Johnny was, he really destroyed those songs I wrote for the band.'

"And I said, 'What do you mean, Glen?'

"Now, Glen Matlock is basically a big fan of [60s English pop idol] Tommy Steele. And he said, 'When I wrote those songs, like "God Save the Queen," they had proper melodies, and Johnny just abandoned them.' So I said, 'Could you give me an example of that?' So he went, 'Well yeah, I mean, uh, "God Save the Queen," it had a melody that went [singing in cheerful and naive pop mode] "God save the Queen / She ain't no human bein' / There is no future / In England's dreamin'." And when he did this, I thought, 'Fucking hell, he's written it as a Tommy Steele song!' And then he said, 'And fucking Johnny, he just goes [mimicking Rotten] "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!"' And I thought, bloody hell, Glen Matlock doesn't understand fundamentally what Johnny Rotten did!"

Playing off the Tommy Steele reference, I asked Leven about the well-traveled legend that Matlock was sacked from the Sex Pistols for not hating the Beatles.

"I think that's a neat and simplistic explanation. I think it's more that Glen is a pretty forthright character and very intelligent, and he began to give the Pistols' manager, Malcolm McLaren, an awful lot of sarcasm, which Malcolm couldn't take. Glen also told me a great story about that Pistols song "Submission." He said, 'Malcom wanted us to write a song about S&M, so I wrote "Submission," but actually it's about a submarine, and if you listen to the track we even put in these bloop-bloop-bloop underwater sounds.' So I would have thought, knowing Malcolm as I do, that Malcolm found this hard to take, but saw a wonderful nihilistic future in getting Sid Vicious into the band, who I also knew because we lived in the same area of London."

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