If you were looking forward to an apologetic confessional from John Lydon/Johnny Rotten in his second book, then you clearly have never seen or read a Lydon interview. In “Anger is an Energy,” a companion piece of sorts to 1994’s “Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs,” his first memoir, Lydon is just as abrasive and self-congratulatory as he was as frontman of The Sex Pistols. But deep into the 500-plus page memoir, toward the end, the mask is lowered just a bit as Lydon talks about the decades-long love of his life, Nora Foster (mother to the late Slits singer Ari Up). Every mention and description of Foster is treated with such unadulterated tenderness – completely out of character for the singer who seems to revel in spewing vitriol that you can’t help but reassess every notion you have about the man.
The book, far more thorough than “Rotten,” covers his childhood, time with the Sex Pistols and their legendary implosion; his founding of Public Image Ltd.; the half-assed Pistols reunion; and his much-talked about time as a reality TV cast member. There are few revelations here that haven’t been covered elsewhere, including Lydon’s belief that longtime friend Sid Vicious’ girlfriend Nancy Spungen was killed by the mob over a drug debt, and not by the bass player. He takes plenty of jabs at his former bandmates, describing a heavier Steve Jones on the band’s 2002 reunion as “a mountain of butter wedged on two cowboy boots,” and despite claiming to like the members of The Clash before they got famous, spends most of the book criticizing Joe Strummer and his band’s faux Socialism.
But Lydon’s harshest words are saved for former band manager Malcolm McLaren and McLaren’s one-time partner, designer Vivian Westwood. Lydon does, however, have surprisingly kind words for some of British rock’s old guard – the same groups many assumed bands like the Pistols were trying to tear down – in particular Robert Plant, Pete Townsend and Ginger Baker.
Anger is an energy, and Lydon still has plenty of it coursing through his veins, but as he shows in small snatches throughout, he also carries around plenty of love for those closest to him.