And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

Beef Of The Week #424: John Lydon v Green Day

By | Published on Friday 5 October 2018

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So, here’s a thing. The other day I saw a headline informing me that John Lydon thinks that Green Day are “turgid” and not real punks. Funny, I thought to myself, I read the interview where Lydon said that a couple of weeks ago, why is this suddenly news again now?

Of course, it’s not uncommon for slightly old quotes to suddenly reappear for a second time in your social feeds and even on the more formal news agenda, and normally I’d have just moved on to the next thing. But on this occasion my curiosity got the better of me and I clicked the link. It turned out that this wasn’t referencing the interview I’d read before, but a new feature in the New York Times.

Wondering whether he was just repeating here what he’d said two weeks ago, I revisited that September interview I’d read. Where, it turned out, his newsworthy comments were, in fact, about Donald Trump. There was no mention of Green Day. I’d entirely misremembered that. Which was a bit weird. Until I remembered why this all seemed rather familiar. It wasn’t that I’d read about Lydon’s distaste for Green Day a couple of weeks prior. I suddenly recalled an interview from the 1990s where he’d also laid into them.

So I was right. Lydon’s distaste for Green Day isn’t a new thing. He has longstanding beef going back at least two decades. And, while searching for that particular 1990s diss that I remembered, I discovered a plethora of other Green Day jibes from Lydon, which is presumably why those new remarks seem so especially familiar.

In fact so many jibes have there been, I’ve become slightly obsessed with the task of documenting them all. Though that would be a major task indeed, because Green Day really do bug him.

It wasn’t always this way, though. The earliest occasion of Lydon talking about Green Day that I could find was an interview from 1996, shortly after the Sex Pistols reunited for the first time. In an interview with Guitar World, Lydon and guitarist Steve Jones referenced a comment made by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong.

Asked what he thought about the Sex Pistols getting back together, Armstrong had commented that it seemed like a bit of a cash-in, not entirely in-keeping with the band’s values. He then reworked Lydon’s most famous lyrics and said “I am the anti-Christ/Please buy our merchandise”. Of course the Pistols themselves had called the reunion the ‘Filthy Lucre Tour’, so they were also kind of acknowledging the cash-in.

“That Green Day Billie Joe guy is kind of funny”, says Jones in the 1996 piece. “I just saw an interview with him last week on MTV”.

Lydon replies: “Ah, he’s got a good sense of humour. I’ll give him that. The t-shirt concessions joke he made about us… I put a fax through to him and said, ‘Fine, you can sell t-shirts at our gigs'”.

Then asked to rate Green Day musically, neither has much to say. “They’re poppy”, says Jones. Lydon simply adds: “Tra la la la la”.

Soon after those happy remarks, however, something snapped. Possibly because Lydon tired of being repeatedly asked what he thought of Green Day, the biggest punk band of the time, while promoting his reunion tour.

In a particularly antagonistic interview with MTV the same year, Lydon was asked what he felt he could “offer a sixteen year old Green Day fan that Green Day can’t?” The answer? “A big willie”, said Lydon, who at this point had already called interviewer Toby Amies “queer”.

While his bandmates rather more diplomatically said that they felt The Sex Pistols offered something ‘real’, something newer bands couldn’t replicate, Lydon chipped back in to counter Amies’s claim that he felt he’d already had the genuine punk experience by watching these newer bands play.

“No, you’ve seen imitators, that’s what you’ve seen”, spat Lydon. “And you settled for that, and you think that that’s what it’s all about, Alfie. Well it ain’t. It’s a little bit more. It’s called content, which is something none of those wanky third-rate outfits have”.

“There ain’t no trashy little love songs in this outfit”, he went on. “Every single lyric is a killing nail in the coffin of what you call the establishment. Like what you work for – MTV? Bye bye. I think I’ve said my piece. Now fuck off!”

On the other side of this beef, Armstrong was asked in an interview with Spin the following year about his view on the longevity of punk. The interviewer noted that the genre had lived long enough for the Sex Pistols to get back together again eighteen years after splitting up.

“I heard that Johnny Rotten was running around telling people that we’d ripped him off”, said Armstrong. “It’s funny, because if it wasn’t for the Sex Pistols there may not have been Green Day, but if it wasn’t for Green Day, the Sex Pistols wouldn’t have done their big reunion tour. To each his own”.

I don’t know how fair an assessment that is. Although it is quite possible that the keen interest in punk that Green Day built among a more mainstream audience in the mid-90s did help with that particular Sex Pistols revival.

Of course Green Day’s output and popularity waned a little in the next few years, though in 2004 they had a big resurgence with ‘American Idiot’. By attacking the politics of the day, specifically calling out then American president George W Bush, they were heralded by many as keeping the spirit of punk alive.

John Lydon did not agree. In 2006, he appeared on Steve Jones’s radio show where they once again chatted about Green Day. Discussing the importance – or lack of it – of getting your music into the charts, Lydon ranted: “It’s hokey little silly sods like Green Day that come in and think by sucking up to that system that you’re somehow, ‘beating the system’. You’re not. You’ve become part of it”.

This is the Sex Pistols whose second single, ‘God Save The Queen’, famously went to number two in the UK singles chart, sparking a conspiracy that the chart had been rigged to stop them going to number one during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. You could, just possibly, argue that releasing that single in that specific week – knowing the controversy it would cause and the records that would shift – was also “sucking up to that system” in a way, while thinking they were “somehow ‘beating the system'”.

Lydon went on to describe Green Day as “sticky tape on a duck’s ass”, while both him and Jones then discussed how the younger band would never have made it in the London scene of 1977.

“They would have been laughed at”, said Jones. Lydon countered that they wouldn’t have been able to take being beaten up. “The hammerins and hidins were a bit severe, weren’t they?” To be fair, they were. Lydon was beaten pretty badly on at least two occasions in 1977, thanks to penning the lyrics to ‘God Save The Queen’.

Still, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing that writing ‘American Idiot’ didn’t get Billie Joe Armstrong physically attacked. But the fact that he wasn’t means he can’t claim to be a punk, reckoned Lydon. “We made it easy for em to come in and nick our things off us – which is alright, it’s nice, but they’re silly, rich fat kids”.

That 1990s comment from Armstrong about merchandise then came up again, with neither of them remembering how funny they found it first time round. Jones even says he’s “not sure if they were taking the mick”, while Lydon counters that they shouldn’t have said it and that there’s “no need to fib”.

He goes on: “I’ve had problems with them about that and a few other things. You know, we never liked the term ‘punk’ originally either, did we? It was this Caroline Coon brought it up in a Melody Maker article, ‘King Of Punk’. King? Me? No. You know, here I am, putting down the monarchy. Irony, or what? And there I was, ‘punk’, Mr Big’s toy boy and now, we have Green Day … happily running to be Mr Big’s toy boy”.

That same year, the Sex Pistols were inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, although the group did not attend the ceremony. Instead, Lydon posted a message on the band’s website, saying: “Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that Hall Of Fame is a piss stain. We’re not your monkeys, we’re not coming. You’re not paying attention”.

It’s a shame really, because the rumour was that Green Day had been asked to do the formal induction at the big event. Something Lydon later sort of confirmed in an interview, saying: “Green Day were asked by the Hall Of Fame, would they award us this thing”.

He then descended into conspiracy theory: “They were asked this before we were asked if we would even accept it. Right? So we weren’t even involved in who was going to award us. But it allowed Green Day the chance to go, ‘Oh no we turn our noses up at that. Oh no, won’t have nothing to do with that. The Sex Pistols aren’t punk. We’re real punk’. So those fat little kids that turn up three years in a row with the same ‘American Idiot’ album on the Grammys have the nerve to be pompous about us”.

Now, I’m not saying Green Day never said that about the Hall Of Fame event, though in my rigorous research for this beef write up, I haven’t come across anything that includes those remarks. Although in the same, Lydon claims: “I just read an appraisal of the Sex Pistols by [Armstrong] this morning. It’s a press blurb that they put out. It’s on the internet. It’s hilarious”.

Well, at least he’s back to recognising Armstrong’s sense of humour. I’d say that’s progress. Except it’s not, really. Because Lydon’s got a bit bogged down in his beef with Green Day ever since then. Discussing the work of newer band Fall From Grace with Wired in 2007, he noted that “they aren’t the best players, but by god, unlike Green Day, this band actually really enjoy what they are doing”.

Then in 2009, in a Guardian article discussing his favourite albums, he said that The Raincoats’ 1979 debut album was “a million miles away from the blancmange that is Green Day, where you have a Johnny Rotten first verse, a Billy Idol chorus and a Sham 69 second verse. Preposterous!”

Meanwhile in 2010, he told Q that the Arctic Monkeys were “a mockery … very much like that awful band Green Day”.

By 2011 he’d stopped crowbarring Green Day into discussions about other bands and had just gone back to hating them directly. It helped that by this point ‘American Idiot’ had been turned into a Broadway show, which, to be fair, didn’t seem very punk.

“Many of the punk bands are cop-outs and imitators and have made it easy for the likes of Green Peace – Green Day, who I hate”, he told the LA Times.

“I really I can’t stand them”, he continued. “To me, they’re like coat hangers, and haven’t earned the right, they haven’t earned the wings, to be wearing the mantle of punk. They haven’t had to go through the violence, and the hate, and the animosity that us chaps way back when had to put up with. We had to fight for every single footstep. I don’t think I’ve done anything good if it ends up with Green Day on Broadway”.

By 2013, the inevitable had happened and Lydon had actually run into the band he most liked to diss. Apparently they had a little chat when they met and – for some reason – those Green Day boys were a little spiky.

“Green Day have to be the worst karaoke band around”, he told Crack. “You know I met them in Russia? They were bitter and twisted. And they were amazingly ignorant, not only about the history of punk, but the history of music period, or history in any shape or form! When the record company got hold of them, they must have really known they’d found some dummies, that they could lead them in any direction they wanted. And they’re more than willing”.

In part, this all started because Green Day were a modern reference point when the Sex Pistols were trying to promote a reunion tour. But more than 20 years later, Lydon was still banging on about them, long after anyone had thought to ask.

Reflecting last year on punk’s 40th anniversary and what it all meant, he told Newsweek: “I don’t know, but it ended up with Green Day running around in studded leather jackets. There’s no personal animosity there with members of bands, but it’s like, don’t use the term punk, because you’re not. Why don’t you use your own terminology, your own expressions. To me, they were karaoke”.

No animosity! None at all. He just hates them and everything they stand for. Which is nothing, because they’re just pretending to be something.

Anyway, that brings us up to the present day and this New York Times interview. Asked what he thinks of punk bands today, he says: “It is embarrassing, really. How many bands are out there like Green Day now? I look at them, and I just have to laugh. They’re coathangers, you know? A turgid version of something that doesn’t actually belong to them”.

At this stage, Green Day are now as old a reference to the new bands of today as the Sex Pistols were to Green Day when Lydon started this beef all the way back in 1996. Yet the beefing continues, even though there are certainly younger punk bands who would be just as worthy of Lydon’s wrath. In fact, I’d say this has gone beyond mere beef and become some sort of artform. I hope it never ends.