John Lydon Used the Money From a Butter Commercial to Fund Public Image Ltd.
There's a cartoonish irony to punk patriarch John Lydon funding the reunion of his band Public Image Ltd. with money he made portraying a gentrified exaggeration of himself in TV commercials for Country Life butter. Quipped one YouTube uploader of the humorous U.K. spots, which aired in 2008: "All comments that don't call him a sell-out will be removed."
Yet the shock-haired ex-Sex Pistols frontman -- formerly Johnny Rotten, and an Angeleno since the late 1980s -- is unapologetically pragmatic about it all.
"The money got us out of no end of troubles, [and] they were the best people I've ever worked with," says Lydon, 56, adding that he funneled his Country Life cash into the Public Image Ltd. (PiL) rehearsals that ended the band's 17-year hiatus in 2009. The ensuing tours funded the recording of a new album, This Is PiL, and its release today.
Today the designer-garbed, sun-kissed Lydon lounges poolside at the Marina del Rey Ritz-Carlton. The scene feels far removed from his working-class London roots, his three years squawking anti-establishment anthems like "Anarchy in the U.K." with the Pistols and a careerlong reputation for noncooperation (he allegedly assaulted a TV producer at this very hotel in 2007, a case settled out of court three years later).
Lydon formed PiL upon the Pistols' 1978 demise. Fourteen years and dozens of members later (Lydon is the band's sole constant), PiL had eight studio albums and hits such as 1983's "This Is Not a Love Song." But, frustrated by lack of record-label support, Lydon froze PiL in 1992, a break prolonged by record companies keeping him contractually bound and "financially destroyed," he says.