Rocky Horror Show

An open letter to John Lydon, by Miles Hunt

1 August 06 words: Miles Hunt
"You are the one male that has affected my life, outside of family members, more than any other"

Dear John,

I’ve been meaning to talk to you about what follows upon this page for years. Only we’ve never actually met. There’s been a coupla opportunities… there was that time that we both played at Reading Festival back in 1992. Then there was that other time I couldn’t cope with.

I was seeing a lovely girl called Jaki out in California in 1995 and her friend Sean had been working with you. I think you’d taken a seat in the producer’s chair for a band that he was helping at the time. It’s funny… to me at least. Sean had not really been aware of the things you had done prior to meeting you in the mid nineties. He knew that ‘punk rock’ had featured somewhere in your life and he thought you’d been something of a ‘player’ in that field. But he’d grown up in Missouri and I don’t suppose that The Roxy in London, along with a bunch of other dives you must’ve set alight in 1977, had played a big part in his life at that time.

I’d flown to LA to spend an undetermined amount of time with Jaki at her home in Hollywood. She was an actress and comedienne at the time, and hopefully still is because she was bloody good at both. Being fully acquainted with my arrival time at LAX she turned up late to collect me and I was left sitting on my bag outside the arrivals terminal. During what felt like at least two hours, but in reality I suppose was only a half hour (me convincing myself that her enthusiastic invite to come spend some time with her in California was now considered an error on her part… oh Lord when will my insecurities desist?) she arrived in her great big 4x4. The cursory hug and kiss, followed by “let me help you with yer bags, you must be exhausted… how was the flight?” dealt with, I took the shotgun position inside the confines of her ample vehicle. Within seconds she was apologising for her tardy timekeeping, citing a last minute casting as the reason for her late arrival. She quickly shifted the conversation onto what at first sounded like an alarming itinerary.

“Okay Milo, we gotta get you back to my place, get you showered and changed ‘cos we gotta meet Sean in a half hour to go over to that guy’s house he’s been telling you about”. “Who’s that then..?” I lazily enquired. “Is it John? I think his wife’s name is Nora. We’re going over to their place tonight with Sean to have drinks. Sean’s arranged it all, he said you know him?”

“Who the fuck-shit are you on about Jaki?”

“It’s that punk rock guy he’s been in the studio with…” came the reply.

“Hang on a fuckin’ minute…” I interrupted “...the only ‘John and Nora’ I’ve ever heard of is Mr and Mrs John and Nora Lydon. Given your ‘punk rock guy’ association I can only assume that the ‘John’ involved in this coupling is John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, formerly of the Sex Pistols and to no lesser extent, latterly of the genii that are Public ImageLimited!? Is this sounding familiar, please tell me that it isn’t!”

I was now in a state of fear and panic.

“Yeah… that’s the guy… is there a problem?”

“Too fuckin’ right there’s problem!!! What the fuck do you mean, ‘Is there a problem?’? It’s a major fuckin’ problem for Chrissakes! Do you have any idea who this man is? Don’t answer, ‘cos it’s as plain as day that it would appear not! My God… it’s only the singer I hold most dear in the world!”

“So what’s the ‘fuckin’ problem,’” she mimicked back at me.

“We ain’t going!” I came back with. Not so much a demand as a plea.

There was no way on earth I could have come to your house, having just exited a  transatlantic flight or not. There was just no way. No fuckin’ way! Just being a few short paces away from you as you prepared to go on stage at Reading Festival in ‘92 was almost more than I could bear. There was one other band between mine and yours’ that evening, we were headlining and that felt bad enough to me at the time. How dare our agent accept the offer of a billing for our puny effort of a band over the mighty PiL!? There was no way I could’ve summoned the courage to speak to you that day, even if we’d been opening the show for you. But given the perverse circumstance of us lot headlining over you… it was absolutely not going to happen.

These feelings I have of absolute fear, when it comes to making your personal  acquaintance, are not anything to do with your ‘press’ image. I ‘get’ that shit, I’ve played a similar game, to a lesser extent myself. But y’know, I have no trouble at all admitting that it is simply because you are the one male that has affected my life, outside of family members, more than any other.

I was ten years old when God Save The Queen was released. Completing my last year at Marston Green Primary School on the outskirts of Birmingham. Thankfully my Mom gave birth to my only brother, Russ, three and a half years ahead of me. That blessed me with a musical education ahead of my years. Russ possessed (and still does to this day) an absurd appetite for music. Not only that, but we were blessed with a father that eagerly encouraged us both to have an awareness of popular music’s finer moments. For example, on Christmas day of the same year, 1977, Mom and Dad presented me with Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols for my Christmas gift, and Dad said “This is the Bob Dylan of your generation, listen to him, he’s actually saying something you should be aware of.”

You will of course remember that your debut album was released in the November of ‘77, a full month before I got my hands on my very own copy. To this day, a full twenty nine years later, it’s the only album in my collection that resides in a protective vinyl cover. I had heard the album though. My best friend, Billy (a couple of years later the spelling of this childhood nickname was adjusted to BiL), had access to a copy that belonged to his elder brother, our local style guru, the formidable Strangler Pearlman.

Strangler’s real name was Steve and he had yet another year on my own brother, making him almost sixteen years old and easily the coolest person any of us had ever  encountered in the year “The Bollocks Album” was released. Problem was, Steve didn’t like BiL and his underlings going anywhere his prized record collection. This was a  collection that would eventually boast a white vinyl 12” of Dillinger’s Cocaine In My Brain, an original pressing of The Adverts’ One Chord Wonders and Steel Pulse's Nyah Love, among too many other perfect examples of the human endeavour to mention. They were pressed so lovingly onto sweet-smelling vinyl that we would steal precious moments with the records in his absence.

It was left to BiL to not only find an evening that Strangler and his mother and father were all out of the house, but locate the well hidden treasure that was Never Mind The Bollocks… somewhere within their three bedroomed domicile. But find it he did, along with the family home’s otherwise vacant evening upon the calendar. Other disciples were in attendance, Hammond was definitely there, maybe even Delmonte, but essentially as small and carefully chosen an audience as BiL could put together to hear, for the very first time, the soon to become lifelong companion that has been Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

But John, forgive me, I move too quickly. This was not the first time that I experienced one of your many gifts. During my primary school’s summer fayre of 1977 my Dad won a prize on the Tombola. It was a £2.50 record token for Virgin Records and bless that man if he didn’t immediately hand it over to Russ and I. The following Saturday the two of us took the train up to Birmingham and hit Virgin Records on Bull Street. This was long before the Megastore days and Virgin was like Aladdin’s Cave to us.

The shop was all black carpeted walls and the singles department was the prize of the store. Behind the counter the back wall of the shop had a vast selection of glowing 7” sleeves carefully pinned to it. As memory serves I spent what I now would estimate as at least 70% of my teen years gazing up at those record sleeves wondering what I should spend my £1.50 a week pocket money on. But this particular Saturday we had almost double that, which would buy you three 7”’s back in those day.

Russ, without hesitation, plumped for God Save The Queen. I hadn’t heard the Sex Pistols at this point, but agreed, that was a sleeve that every self-respecting would-be junior punk simply had to own. Radio One were playing Peaches by the Stranglers at the time, albeit the horribly compromised clean version and we again agreed that we needed it, for not only might we get to hear the vulgarities that NME had informed Russ about, but that was one hell of a bassline!

Now this is the bit that I am shamed to admit. As I said, £2.50 would get you three 7” singles in ‘77 and the third and final choice, pop pickers, was mine. Now let me remind you, I was ten, okay…? So here it is, my shameful confession to you… oh gawd! I can rewrite history here…and I’m more than tempted to do so. Fuck it, here I go (and promise me you’ll read this really fast and should we ever meet, no more will be said on the matter). The third record was Van McCoy’s The Shuffle. Phew… there, I said it.

Those three records were absolute treasure to Russ and I (yes, even The Shuffle). We both had record players in our rooms, Russ had a stereo by now and I had inherited his mono player, one with the lift up top. The day soon came that I could have Peaches in my room, for that was a shared purchase. But it took for some careful timing before I could sample, what I was imagining to be the ‘delights’ of, God Save The Queen as that most definitely belonged to Russ.

Having watched him leave the house, sneaked a peek between the trees by the Village Hall, another 50 yards up the street, to make sure he was gone for real, I waited a few more minutes before I went and swiped your second single from behind the door of the absolute no-go area that was his bedroom. If the opening instrumental bars of the record weren’t traumatic enough for my young ears, on hearing your voice for the first time I truly believed that the gates of hell itself had opened directly into my bedroom and a demon had been let loose with one simple purpose, to terrorize me. I was pinned to the wall, all I wanted for it was to be over.

This experience was the first genuinely terrifying episode of my life, I swear that my blood ran cold. And you know what? I enjoyed it every second of it.

So when news arrived, a few months later, that one of our village’s inhabitants, in the shape of BiL’s brother Steve, had more of this good stuff I could barely contain my eagerness to relive that moment of revelation all over again. The album opener, Holidays in the Sun, was familiar to us all by now, it having been a single, but when Bodies kicked in I got my fix again, that demon was again let loose upon me and it felt just as exquisitely harrowing as it had the first time.

I still maintain that The Bollocks is the most perfect rock record of all time, there’s not a wasteful second on it. The production has done nothing to date itself in almost three decades now and I honestly don’t ever imagine it will be bettered or equalled. During the mid nineties, while I was signed to Polydor Records, I thought I’d been played like a fiddle when the Managing Director asked me what, in my opinion, was the greatest rock album ever made? I wasn’t gonna fall for that! So I asked him what he thought it was before I would offer my own opinion. Of course he said Never Mind The Bollocks, having read in countless interviews that this was my own true love. But then he went on to qualify why he had chosen your debut album and he hit every nail dead centre.

Christmas 1979 saw Mom and Dad gifting me yet more of your work, this time in the shape of PiL’s Metal Box - and yeah, I got the metal box edition. I was by now thirteen years old and I have a wonderful document of my hand writing carefully conserved within the safety of that metal box. A full page advert that Virgin Records ran in one of the inkies for Metal Box was simply all of the lyrics to the album, printed in a neat hand written type. Was that your penmanship I wonder? Anyway I diligently copied out the whole thing. One song to a page, blue biro for the titles and lyrics and red biro to underline titles, then stapled all together like a theatre program for me to hold every time I immersed myself in that stunning album. Around this time I had also found myself a white with black type PiL logo t-shirt to cover my skinny little frame. Sadly after merely one over enthusiastic wash it shrank and the circular logo was for evermore egg-shaped.

I could go on and on about the events I have filed away within my memory that the two of us have somehow shared, only without you knowing. But that wasn’t the purpose of me writing you this letter, I’ve no need to blow smoke up your arse over every single one of your commercial releases. So I’ll fast forward to 1996 and a summer’s day spent in North London’s Finsbury Park. They shut the streets for you that night, my friend… and I cried tears of joy.

You, Jones, Cook and Matlock had just played in front of 25,000-30,000 people, but as far as I was concerned had played solely to and for me and once again. I was ten years old, transported back to the moment of being pinned against my bedroom wall as God Save The Queen engulfed each and every one of my senses. As I left the park in search of a cab I saw that Seven Sisters Road had been closed to allow your crowd to leave safely and I wanted to come and find you, to hold you and to tell you that you had finally won. Whatever pains you had endured over the years, with your ideals for punk rock being hijacked by marketing managers, that night my brother, you won.

I finally understood what English football fans must’ve felt like when England won the World Cup in ’66, only this was much bigger. You came home to the part of London that had been your childhood stomping ground and they shut the fuckin’ streets in your name! I don’t know if you knew about the Seven Sisters Road being closed that night. I also don’t really care what your thoughts are on the matter, but it meant the world to me and it was simply beautiful to be there.

So… back to that visit to LA I made in ’95. The long and short of it is that I now so wish I could’ve summoned up the courage to have taken Sean up on his idea of coming over to meet you. Why? John, I promise you, all I have for you is words of thanks. Your voice, your lyrics, your attitude have been to me as child, a teenager, a young man and now a fully developed adult male (physically at least) the reason behind what I have pursued, to the detriment of all other aspects of my life. All I have is thanks. It’s been an amazing ride.

So, other than that Friday night at Reading Festival in 1992, some curious incarnation of PiL I saw at Birmingham Odeon in 1983 (was that really a honky-tonk piano part I remember hearing during a bizarre version of Anarchy In The UK that you played that night? Maybe you were taking this piss?) and the Sex Pistols reform at Finsbury Park in 1996, that’s as close as we’ve ever got. But the point of this letter hasn’t been to bring you closer to me. Just, in it’s simplest form, to let you know that I appreciate it all, the whole shebang, the full kit and caboodle, the lot. No, appreciate doesn’t say enough. I love you Mr. Lydon, that’s what I meant to say.

May the Gods always smile upon you and yours.

Miles Hunt

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