With their one and only album in 1977, the Sex Pistols gave music back to the people who had been forgotten in an era of tax exiles on Main Street, disco dorks and epic rock. Never Mind the Bollocks was not the craftwork of Gang of Four's Entertainment, Wire's Chairs Missing or Ultravox's Ha! Ha! Ha!, but, with the possible exception of Velvet Underground & Nico, it stands as the most significant debut album of all time.
Last year's film 24 Hour Party People and remarks from the Beastie Boys, Marilyn Manson, Nirvana, Sir Cliff Richard and Tupac Shakur attest to the fact that the Sex Pistols inspired millions to do it themselves.
"We did change the world, for better or for not," frontman Johnny "Rotten" Lydon tells CityBeat during a break from the band's first tour in seven years. "Our existence benefited all these young punk bands. Without the Sex Pistols, there would be none of it. We copy no one-we have never copied and we will never copy."
This is not to suggest the Sex Pistols were the greatest band ever, nor did they single-handedly launch the punk movement of 1976-77. Bands like Black Flag, Crass, The Dead Kennedys and The Clash were just as committed to overthrowing the music industry, economic disparity and social duplicity-sentiments that seem lost on modern so-called "punks" like blink-182 and, uh, Avril Lavigne. What politician ever called for blink's death the way some called for the Sex Pistols'?
"There are two very despondent statements permeating punk music these days," Lydon explains. "[One,] "Why bother doing anything at all, it's all been done before.' And two, "Anyone can be a punk; just don't deal with wrong ones like Johnny Rotten.' So instead you get Kelly Osbourne rebelling against her delirious dad. She shouldn't be calling her music "punk,' the spoiled brat punk flunky."
For Lydon, this current "thank you letter to our fans" tour is as relevant today as it was when his band arrived on these shores 25 years ago. The music industry controlled the sounds then, and he suggests it is even more so now.
"For some weird reason, punk and rap have been incorporated, and that's been done by ignoring the driving forces, which are honesty and integrity. Instead we get mannerisms, fashion and blatant, blatant imitations," he explains. "Spiked hairdos and safety pins are clichés. I spit because I have a serious illness, it's not a stage act. Sorry, I'm ill. Maybe I am mentally ill, possibly not. You can be yourself. Why would anyone want to out-Rotten Rotten? It's my car with my own license plate on it and I don't drive [laughs]."
As part of keeping the integrity intact, there is "no sponsorship, no backing" for the tour, Lydon explains, adding a leisurely dismissal: "Who needs it."
But one may wonder if the tour is not some trip down nostalgia lane for a band whose oeuvre relies on one album and about a half-dozen singles.
"The sheer enthusiasm has not been expected. I don't suppose it's a surprise-we seriously have no competition in terms of honesty and integrity," Lydon says before quoting his own legendary battle call from "God Save the Queen":
"We mean it, MAN!"
Lydon, like KISS before him, claims this will be the band's final tour. They just have one, or two, more missions to complete.
"We are so desperate to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame," he says, before spitting yet again. "After this, no more. I don't want to tour with this band... until next year. The amount of business hatred from record companies against us is sickening."
The powers that be nearly foiled opening day of the tour in Boston when the INS detained drummer Paul Cook until three hours before the show.
"We had no rehearsals prior to the tour," says Lydon, who has lived in Los Angeles for the past 20 years. "If the Boston airport wasn't right next to the venue, I would have been one furious bloke. Of course, we would have played without our drummer if need be. We aren't letting our fans down."
Lydon has no idea why his British band mate would be detained.
"It's no way to treat your allies," he says, referring to the U.S.-Britain lead invasion of Iraq.
Typically enough, the Sex Pistols want to go to Iraq after their American tour.
"No one is considering the Iraqi people's need for entertainment, as well as food," Lydon snarls. "We would be the only band the Iraqis would not want to blow up."
The Sex Pistols will be touring with the Dropkick Murphys and Reverend Horton Heat. "Other punk bands wouldn't tour with us unless they were paid lots," he snarls again. "Those genre-swaggering, cheesy fucking fruitcakes."
But will it be any better than the much-maligned "Filthy Lucre" tour of 1996?
"I don't give what a shit what anyone said," Lydon snarls one last time. "If you didn't see the concerts, then you lost. Don't be a fool and blame it on those people who said otherwise, and you would be a fool to miss this tour."
The Sex Pistols will play at San Diego Street Scene on Sept. 7. $40. 619-220-8497.