Legs McNeil Reviews Johnny Rotten’s New Book at Daily Beast

Johnny Rotten’s Memoir Seethes With Anger—And Charm

by Legs McNeil
anger-jrottenThe former Sex Pistol’s memoir ‘Anger Is an Energy’ proves that he still knows how to howl and rant, but who knew he was such a beguiling storyteller?(Original at Daily Beast)

We all know, or think we know, what Johnny Rotten hates.

He’s the anti-Christ, right?

He hates everything!

Which to me, after the initial explosion of the Sex Pistols, always made Rotten kind of boring.

“Yeah, yeah, everything sucks; the world is full of liars and cheats, you grew up in some shitty London flat, everyone was on the dole, no one understands you—and enough already! Jeez-Louise, we all know anger is a great inspiration for creativity, but isn’t there anything worthwhile out there?

I knew Johnny was much funnier, talented and intelligent than the way he presented himself for most of his career, and I’ve been waiting for him to show his true colors. Well, the wait is over, because in Anger Is An Energy, his new autobiography, Johnny Rotten finally lets us inside his grimy world in this fascinating, intelligent, funny, and well-written memoir full of glorious slang.

It’s truly a delicious read.

Even if I don’t always understand the slang or references, Rotten still hits the bull’s-eye making his points. Try this one on for size:

“So I decided to have my hair cropped short and dyed green. Krazy colour was genius. It’s a shame it’s not of the same thickness and durability today as it was then. They’ve somehow watered it down, and the colours aren’t as vibrant. It’s pretty damn near next to useless unless you want to look like a faded newspaper. You know the cartoon segment that used to be in colour in rancid old newspapers? Them kind of colours—that’s all you get out of it now. Or maybe people don’t know how to bleach properly. Back then, the colours were really zingy and thrilling.”


“My dad seriously didn’t approve, though, and it was the final straw that got me thrown out of home. Dad’s famous quote was, ‘Get out the house, you look like a Brussels sprout!’ I never forgot him saying that. I just laughed. Even in the painful separation of child and parent, there was humour. I loved him for it, because it was witty. Up to that point, I hadn’t realized it, but it was true—I did look like a Brussels sprout.”

The writing is so immediate and wonderfully zingy and thrilling that it’s hard not to fall in love with Johnny Rotten all over again. (Or for the first time, if you missed the glorious train-wreck that was the Sex Pistols.) About time, right?

Rotten is such a great landscape and portrait painter with words that it’s fun to follow him as a grimy, broke kid who sleeps with his family in one room—even when he’s infected with meningitis and suffering a six-month coma (when he finally recovers, he can’t remember anything—even who his parents are!).

I mean, come on, this is the stuff of heartbreaking and hysterically funny reading, the two main ingredients for any great memoir. It’s as cold and bleak as Dickens, but as funny and alive as Sedaris. In fact, this book would serve as an excellent primer for any society that celebrated original thinkers, too bad none exists, but Anger Is An Energy may prove to be the textbook on how to celebrate everything shitty in one’s life that we all feel, but never before articulated—and have a bit of fun in the process, and make some valid, new understanding. I mean, after all, isn’t that a pretty good definition of what’s art?

What’s so tasty about the book is that Johnny Rotten—for the first time—tells us what he loves about his life and art. Check this out:

“By the time I was fifteen, sixteen, glam rock had taken over. T. Rex’s Electric Warrior was a stunning album. Again, I loved the cover—the gold, and the power amp—phwoar, it was the dog’s bollocks! And there he was wisping away over those beautiful underplayed guitar parts—more than a nod and a wink to Bo Diddley, but God, look what he’d done with it!”


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