If there was ever anyone in the thick of the punk revolution and its aftermath that needs to be heard from, it's Keith Levene. From his early days in the Clash to his groundbreaking work in Public Image Limited and his involvement with the important reggae/punk connection, he's covered an enviable amount of territory. Unlike his PiL partner, Levene was never in the thick of the press so that Mr. Lydon was wont to spout off at will while Levene's point of view seemed to be beside the point. Anyone listening objectively to the first three (and a half, if you count the This Is What You Want fiasco) PiL records that he was involved in will tell you we are still living in the aftermath of those innovations.
Interview by Jason Gross
Part 1 of 4 (February 2001)
With that in mind, I made it a long-time mission to track down Levene and get him to speak for himself. Since his history has involved continually getting screwed over by people who were his associates, he was understandably reluctant to speak at first. Eventually, he did agree once we had an understanding that unlike his former associates, I would get to go over everything with him in detail beforehand. Also, I happened to pick a good time to speak to him as he is now preparing new material after a long hiatus: Murder Global, which he sees as an extension of what he had been doing in PiL.
So, after beginning this process in early 2000 and starting the interview last April, here are the first fruits of this. This is part one of a four-part interview, going over Keith's early years including his time with the Clash and the early London punk scene.
PSF: What kind of music were you listening to before you started playing yourself?
My mom took me to the doctor when I was three years old because I used to sit and watch the old vinyl records go round. I was listening to the records too though. It would be records like "Please Please Me" and "Can't Buy Me Love." The doctor said "I think you'll be a great conductor of an orchestra one day- don't worry about it."
I've always been into music. When I was eight, I was into ska, rock-steady and skin-heads. When I nine or ten, I was into 'The White Album,' the beginnings of heavy metal and Led Zeppelin and all that kind of stuff as it was coming hot off the press. This culminated in my absolute god-head band, Yes. I did all sorts of naughty things like not going to school. I used to work in a factory but I shouldn't have had a job- it was sort of illegal. They would take the piss out of me, joshing me 'cause I was the youngest. So I would argue with people there that were into Humble Pie and I'd be telling them "Yes is it! Steve Howe was the greatest fucking guitarist in the world." I was so into the band, the music- I didn't really care for Jon Anderson. I wasn't like I was into Emerson Lake and Palmer and every classico-rock band you could get. I was into Yes!
I was into Steve and also Rick Wakeman because he did The Six Wives of Henry the VIII. All my friends were so into music and so was I. By the time I was about 13, I was quite good at playing guitar. I got a couple of my sister's boyfriends to teach me a few things. I learned in one day- one morning I couldn't play and by that evening, I could play a tune like a fucking guitarist. I made one of the guys leave his acoustic guitar with me.
Then I took a rest from it. I was into music but I was just working, being a kid. I went to these five Yes gigs in a row at the Rainbow (London) around '72. It was the English Tales From the Topographic Ocean tour- one of their worst albums. It was the best Yes band- Alan White, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Jon Anderson. It was just fucking heaven at these gigs.
I wouldn't go at the end- I'd just hanging around at the Rainbow and gradually crept up to the stage and starting helping. Then I discovered that the head boy from my old prep school was working for them. He hated me but I asked them if they needed help on the tour. They told me I could work with this guy Nunu, who was Alan's drum roadie. My job was to clean the cymbals and change the snare. I would sit behind Alan and watch him drum. He had every possible analog/acoustic percussion instrument you could imagine, including a moog drum (you'd plug it into a mini-moog and you didn't know what noise it was going to make). It was just INCREDIBLE, just watching your favorite band that got voted best band in the world, that you've been arguing about with people.
So I was going around with them as a roadie. I was trying to get on the Rick Wakeman "Journey To the Center of the Earth" tour. I saw the gig and I liked it. I was joking around with Rick and he said "Keith, you don't want to do this. While you were working, all you'd do is ask me about synthesizers. All you did was play our fucking instruments- you didn't set them up." So I went home and had a thought about this with my little SG copy (guitar) in my bedroom. I thought "Yeah, I'm gonna get a real Gibson." For me, it was such an audacious thought that I was going to get a GIBSON LES PAUL.
So I got the new guitar and meet this American guy where I was working as a gopher. His deal with his dad was, as long as he played guitar eight hours a day and was nice to the family, he was allowed to concentrate on music for two years. I really dug this. The concept of playing guitar eight hours a day hadn't even occurred to me. That made me think "I'm going to do this." I used to come over and we'd play at least eight hours a day. We wouldn't even talk, we'd just PRACTICE and PRACTICE. By the time we were 17, we were the best guitarists in the neighborhood.
PSF: How did this background lead up to the Clash? What was the musical climate then?
You have to remember that this was the middle of the '70's. Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and Steely Dan were big on the charts. It was getting to a time for me where I was thinking "something's gonna happen."
One day, I just remember that I went out to West London. We met this guy named Mick Jones, known as "Rock and Roll Mick" at the time. We really became instant fast friends. He said "Keith, what do you want to do." I said "All I know is I want to form a band." I told him that I was fucking great on guitar- I had no qualms about saying it.
PSF: You'd never been in a band before?
No. I was just 16. I played with some local friends. There were about 12 guitarists in South Gate where I lived and I was the best one. I had different combinations of playing with different people. There were these guys that were older than me that could play all this Hendrix stuff, which I never bothered to learn.
PSF: What kind of stuff were you playing then?
Ever heard a PiL record? That kind of stuff. Even back then. I was playing with the Allman Brothers (records) and I was playing with Yes records. You do that to get good. Then you play with one another to jam and be good. What happened to me was once I got good enough to know the rules, I didn't want to be like any other guitarist. I didn't go out of my way to be different. I just had an ear for what was wrong. So if I did something that was wrong, i.e. made a mistake or did something that wasn't in key, I was open-minded enough to listen to it again. I call it the James 'Blood' Ulmer Effect. Aside from Steve Howe, he is God. He is everything that I'll end up being as a guitarist. I'm not there yet.
PSF: What is it about Ulmer's work that appeals to you?
One thing is that he went and saw PiL and said "You're one of the only bands that goes beyond the music." When Roger Trilling was managing him, about fifteen years ago, he was going beyond the music (too). He doesn't need a band. He is the guitar. The guitar doesn't begin and he doesn't end. He just IS the guitar so he can express anything through it. He's my kind of guy. (laughs)
PSF: He is really amazing. Going back, when you first met up with Mick, what made you think there was a real bond there?
We just really liked each other. Everyone was a couple of years old than me- when you're 16, that's a big gap when someone's a few years older. What was going on in West London, which I didn't know about then, was this whole scene with Tony James, Mick Jones and the 101'ers were around.
PSF: So Mick and Tony were doing London SS then?
Yeah, they were. It wasn't really working. I went around to Barry Jones' place where they had a studio the size of a cupboard where they jammed. Mick thought I was a bass player so that's what I played- they already had him and someone else playing guitar. What we did was good. We went down to Barry's room and I picked up an acoustic (guitar) and started playing and Mick went "Fucking hell- I never heard a bass player play guitar like that!" I said "No, I'm a guitarist." He said "Come back down to the room." So we went there and started playing. He told me to try one of his tunes and I learned it instantly, playing it better than him and he was really digging it. He said "Do you write?" I told him "No, I don't but I guess that's the next thing." I had gotten like that on guitar and I made things up but I still didn't write in a straightforward form ("I just wrote a song!").
I'm really making a big effort to do that now actually. It turns out that's a very handy thing to do. I only find out what a tune is like after I record it and then I learn it. But that's me.
So anyway, what happened was that he really dug me and we became really fast friends. He thought I was fucking great on guitar. The next week, he invited me down to Portobello Road and he introduced me to this guy called Paul (Simonon). He told me "This guy comes across as a bit thick but he's a really great artist. I think he could be the bass player but he can't play." I was cool with that. At the same time, we were looking for something. We didn't know what it was. We were just looking to be different.
The word "punk" didn't really exist then but we had a bit of a manifesto. We were trying to tear things down. The Who's Farewell Tour Part III, Led Zeppelin, the likes of Yes, the likes of these bands that were so fucking incredibly musically talented. But the only reason we were doing that was that it was based on... I know the Sex Pistols get a lot of credit for this "no future" thing but that's the way Jaime (Reid) put it, that's the way it was packaged. But we all knew we were fucked. There were no jobs. We just knew that a lot of things were fucked. Or you could just go out there and be this STRAIGHT stiff. When you're going to be in a band, you're either prepared to read music and be in an orchestra or you're in a BAND. If you're in the Stone Temple Fucking Pilots, you're not expecting to get a 9 to 5, are you? So it was the same thing for us. Any band I was going to be in was going to be bad.
So we were getting the Clash together and I was feeling a bit embarrassed about these guys. We had this singer who was this real Mick Jagger-imitation. Me and Bernard (Rhodes) went off to a 101ers gig one night and talked Joe (Strummer) into coming over to my squat in Sheppard's Bush. I was playing guitar with him and playing some 101ers tunes. He went "Hey man, I just LOVE you and I love the way you play guitar." So I said "Will you do it?" He said yeah and we got him in the Clash.
PSF: Why did you pick Joe for the group?
He had so much fucking energy and he was so cool. When he was in the 101ers (which was named after his address), he wore this Zoot suit and looked late '50's. The band would play this acceptable clangy Telecaster-type rock but they'd be quite good. I had their drummer away in PiL for a bit (Richard Dudanski). Joe was just fucking mad. He was REALLY, REALLY a great mover! Couldn't sing to save his life but gave off all this energy and always ended up in a total sweat. He was like the turn-on singer. The only other guy was John Lydon but he was in the Pistols.
So the Clash were doing gigs and the Pistols were doing gigs together- these try-out gigs outside of London.
PSF: The Pistols were already around then though, right?
Yeah. This is exactly what happened. Mick knew Bernard Rhodes. Bernard and Malcolm McLaren were partners in a shop called Let It Rock. It had become Sex and Jaime was doing their artwork with the fist-fuck T-shirts and the "Destroy" T-shirts, not the bondage stuff. Malcolm went away for two weeks and had Bernard look after the Pistols. Bernard done this thing where he'd spoken to John and questioned his motives and questioned Steve Jones. The band really improved a lot in these two weeks which Malcolm was away. This REALLY pissed Malcolm off. (laughs) They had this real falling out.
So Bernard wanted his own band and he was working with Mick Jones. I was their absolute brightest find since they'd been together. Bernard was saying to me "I know you're young and you should be in school but you seem to know about things." He was just saying "You're the one making this work now." That's when we were with this first singer that we were trying to get rid of. That's why we went down and got Joe. Me and Bernard used to talk all the time, arguing about everything in a positive way to make the band better.
It's always said "Keith got thrown out of the Clash 'cause of drugs!" That's bollocks! The reason I left the Clash was because I too depressed being in the band. They were embarrassing. They were just too lame for me. I'd start turning up at rehearsals and I was really being a miserable git. I wasn't saying anything, just playing the numbers fine. Things would happen when Mick wasn't there where we'd work out something of mine. Then the next rehearsal, we'd get there and it would be a completely different version. That different version could have been another song. We could have kept the idea I worked on, kept what they worked on and called it something else. There seemed to be a my-way/your-way of doing things.
At the same time, they suddenly came up with this idea for "White Riot." I said "I'm not fucking singing 'White Riot'- you're joking!" That "no Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones" in "1977" was bad enough for me. We were just about to make the first record. By the way, I wrote on all the tunes, not just one-third of one tune ("What's My Name") like it says on the disk. But anyway, there's a rehearsal where they're in one room and I'm sitting on my own in another room. I wasn't on any drugs or anything- I was being real miserable, giving off a bad vibe. They'd say "what's the matter with you?" I'd say "nothing." Then they'd push me and say "WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH YOU?" I said "If you really fucking want to know, it's as simple as this- this band is either Mick's band or my band. You either do it my way or Mick's way. I think I've got to leave this band 'cause you're already doing it Mick's way and that's fine. The band's really getting me down."
When it came to drugs, yeah, we were doing a bit of speed. I could handle my come-downs but Joe used to have terrible come-downs. But it wasn't about drugs. It was about... I found the Clash to be a lame punk-rock band. They weren't the band I wanted them to be. I didn't like the clothes they wore! I didn't like the fucking outfits. I liked Bernard. I didn't like the tunes. I didn't like any of the fucking tunes on the first album, even the one I wrote ("What's My Name"). It wasn't hard enough.
So we had this little vote very quickly. Mick said "I want him out." Joe said "I want him in." Paul just went with the flow of the band. So I was out. Terry Chimes, for some reason, didn't get a vote. (laughs) And that was it. I was out, I was gone.
PSF: I wanted to backtrack and talk about a few things you brought up. You were saying that your sensibility was different from Mick's. How did you see that?
I could put it very simply. I though Mick was lame, I thought I was hard. Look at the way Mick plays guitar and look at the way I play guitar. You must have seen him at gigs- it really speaks for itself, doesn't it? (laughs) The difference between me and him is the difference between the Clash and PiL. That's it.
Already, we had done gigs with the Pistols at a place called the Black Swan. It was exactly the same scenario as the Pistols. I remember John sitting miles away from the rest of the band members, looking miserable. There's me sitting in another corner, away from all my band members, looking miserable. So I walk over to Lydon and talk to him. We know each other but we don't KNOW each other because we're the rival bands. We knew we were both in the same scene but we knew we were the best bands on the scene at the time? I said "I'm out of here after this gig" (it turned out I was out a few gigs later after the Roundhouse show). "Do you want to get a band together if the Pistols ever end though it doesn't look like it at the moment. Looks like you could be the next Beatles. But if it ever changes... And there's no way I'm going to be in a band with Steve Jones. It's going to be a different band or it's going to be the Sex Pistols with me."
In the end, I formed a band with Sid (Vicious) called Flowers of Romance. Malcolm kicked Glen (Matlock) out and got Sid in. Sid destroyed the Pistols and we formed PiL. (laughs)
PSF: What did you think of the Sex Pistols as a band?
Oh, they were the best fucking thing I'd seen in years. I'd come off this Yes tour and about two years later, the bands that were hot were the Stranglers (yuck!), Eddie and the Hot Rods and this band called the Sex Pistols. I walked into this pub in West London and I saw my first Pistols gig. It was one of the best, maddest things I'd ever seen. That's when I totally knew that I was in the right place at the right time. It was one of the highest points of my life.
PSF: But you were saying that there was no way you could be in a band with Steve (Jones)?
The way I was it was "If you work with me, John, the Pistols is one thing..." Didn't you tell me before that PiL sucked after I left?
PSF: Yep, that's the truth.
So the difference between PiL and the Sex Pistols is the difference between what I had in mind and what the Sex Pistols did. The Pistols were a fucking great band. For the Pistols, the only guitarist is Steve Jones and is only bass player is Sid or Glen. That's why I didn't want to join the Sex Pistols. That wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to do Public Image Limited. I'm doing it with Missing Channel now. I'm still doing PiL! (laughs)
At least it's changed from PiL to G-Force to all these multi-media groups to Missing Channel. I can't keep calling it PiL! (laughs)
PSF: For the first Clash record, you were saying that you didn't get a lot of credit for the work you did there. What did you do exactly?
Mick had the main body, the foundation of the songs. The one tune that I totally wrote on my own was "What's My Name." That's when I mastered how to write a song. "Oh, that's how you do it? It's so easy!" The credits they gave me on the album... I didn't play at all on the album but they credited me for some reason for "What's My Name" as a third credit. And they didn't credit me on anything else. And I wrote a lot of that other stuff. I contributed to it. Those songs wouldn't sound they way they did if I hadn't contributed to them. I didn't contribute that much to "1977" and "White Riot" 'cause those are the things we literally split up over. But all the other stuff I did. I should have at least gotten a third credit on the other tunes and full credit on "What's My Name." And they've never paid me for it either. On the that new live album they put out (Here to Eternity), they've got that ("What's My Name") on it but it just says (credited to) Strummer-Jones. For the amount of albums they've sold, we could be talking about a million quid.
PSF: Can you listen to that first album objectively at all then?
Yes, I can. It's a bit lame.
(This is a brief break in the action and then Keith continues with a train of thought)
You were asking me before about what bands I was into. It's really important (to say that) I really, really loved David Bowie so much as well. The way he sung, the way he looked, the way he changed all the time, his music. I was made more aware of him with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and then I got into Hunky Dory and all the albums after at. I listen to them all the time. I didn't like his Tin Machine phase but I totally understood it, what he was doing. I want to work with him.
PSF: Before, you were saying that when you were starting up the Clash, all of you were against...
No, I wasn't against anything. Let me put it this way. Growing up, you had the Beatles, the Stones, the '60's hippies in England where there's no Vietnam. And it's fucking great. I'm loving every second of it. I had two older sisters, two sets of friends with them and I'm really getting a lot of influence from them. They day Sgt Pepper came out, the Monkeys' Head came out as well and I took the day off from school to get it. How many fucking eight-year-olds do you know who'd do that? It's new. I used to LISTEN to records 'cause my dad wouldn't let me listen to records- if you listen closely while it's playing, you can hear the vinyl. I used to listen to it like that! (laughs) I was into Tchaikovsky and Prokeliov too.
PSF: But you were saying that with the Clash, you were against all of those older bands.
I wasn't against anything. I call it being positively negative. My thing was I know what not to do a lot more than I know what to do. When people were talking about this nihilist thing and "no future," my thing was "know future." That was my take on it. But I knew it was really important to stop the Who (from) doing fucking tours and make Pete Townshend having a fucking solo career for real. I knew it was important for the music to stop being so complicated. It seemed like that was the only thing on the planet that mattered at the time. That's what everyone was interested in. I know life isn't like that now but that was my youngster's perspective.
When you deal with kids that are 22 or 23... I've got a young kid I work with. He's a great kid to work with but to me, he comes across like... I was doing more things when I was 15 than he's done yet. I knew more people, I had more experiences. I'm just saying it was a certain time. It could have only happened at that time. The Beatles happened because of the time as well as everything else.
What was the important was putting across the message. Getting the band off the stage and the audience on the stage. Going out there and being an anti-star. Going out there and saying "You can do what the fuck you want! So therefore, it's no holds barred. What's constricting you is what turned into fuckin' arena rock." These are things like tornados, things just end up a certain way. Heavy metal went arena rock and the industry expanded. But at the time, there was just one chart and everyone knew what was on it. Pink Floyd were still big and Yes were big too. There weren't any bands that were like the Who or the Beatles or the Hollies when they first came out. This wasn't the '60's, this was just coming up to the '80's.
The only thing that happened since the Beatles was the punk thing. I was doing a photo shoot in London and I wound up in a place that was selling all this stuff from Sex (McLaren's shop). They were going on about the prices they get for it and the guy there said "Oh well, punk was the last thing that happened." He didn't even know who I was. It was so interesting from a subjective point of view, the way he said it. But this guy was too old to be doing what he was doing- he should have been doing that WHEN punk was happening, not now! (laughs) Now, he should be making something else happen, not going on about how great punk was. It would be like me forming the Bootleg Beatles. I LOVE the Beatles but I'm not gonna form a tribute band. (laughs)
PSF: What did you think of the other punk bands at the time and the whole scene then?
They really annoyed me because you had situations like... you had people who could play that pretended they couldn't. You had bands that were REALLY surfing on the efforts of, dare I say, the Clash, PiL and the Pistols. By the time PiL was around, it had happened. But PiL was together in '78 (so) it hadn't really happened. Bands like Duran Duran were really good but they were a different animal. There was a whole vestige of expansion and shit that happened that's got quite corporate and big now because of punk and because of the bands. Because the bands weren't there for these people to have a focus and bounce off and deflect off. You wouldn't have Rough Trade records, you wouldn't have the Cartel, you wouldn't have that independent distribution system, you wouldn't have indie charts, you wouldn't have all these things.
But of course, from another point of view, you would. Because as life goes on, new things come about. But at the time, we were the hippest fucking thing there was. The only time that happened before was being on the Beatles scene. Right now, there isn't a hipper scene in London. What's the hippest scene in London? There isn't. There's culture, club culture. And there's lots of stereotypes. There's people that look like punks. But there's nothing HAPPENING. I mean, punk was HAPPENING. Because it was happening, it was a fantastic energy.
I don't expect to achieve that again with Missing Channel or anything. Because of my experience in life and my difference in age, it would be foolish to have that outlook because otherwise, I'd probably be a frustrated guy that never made it in a band. I remember saying in PiL "we're not having any illusions about being pop stars or believing our own hype." I saw my best friend fall for that and I'm amazed how much I fell for that as well.
PSF: But what about the bands from that time? Were there any others that caught you thought were good?
(laughs) Let me think of a band that actually WAS good. I didn't like them at the time but it turns out the Jam were really good. Elvis Costello was really fucking good. Prompt me!
PSF: X-Ray Spex?
Oh, a joke. Siouxsie and the Banshees, absolute joke. A Lydon-copier, fucking useless band. I saw them form at the Roxy Club by mistake. I can't believe that band carried on. But it happened.
PSF: That IS unfortunate. What about Wire?
Don't know. The Cure, a bit later on, definitely had something going on. Where we are is '76, '77, '78 so we're just into PiL here.
Fucking under-rated! Maybe they chose the wrong name or maybe my perception of them is wrong. I think they should have been bigger. I think Pete Shelley is fucking... I don't get it. All that buzz about the Manchester scene and everything. Look at Oasis. What did they ever do? Why can't the Buzzcocks be as big as Oasis? What is it about them? I used to copy the Beatles totally apart from everyone else.
PSF: I agree. Oasis can suck puke.
Well, I like some of the Oasis tunes but that's because I like the Beatles. I like the way Oasis gets across. They're great pop stars! (laughs) I despise them as people- I know what kind of people they are. They're nasty. The Buzzcocks got the same deal I got! (laughs)
PSF: Well, you know they reformed and they're still playing.
That's the mistake- reforming.
PSF: What about the Damned?
The Damned were so bad, good-bad. What they did... in the fantastic punk tradition, the Damned were a band that played what I call straight-forward rock. They were the beginning of hard-core in reality. Chris Miller, Rat Scabies, I love him. We did a gig at the Rainbow together after I left the Clash with Richard Sohl from the Patti Smith Band. We did one rehearsal for it- it was Bernard's idea. We went on before the Clash. It was quite funny.
PSF: What about the American punk scene? What kind of impact did that have in England?
The American scene had a big impact at first. Before the Pistols were around, what made this happen a lot... I don't know what was happening at Max's Kansas City or CBGB's. I was too young but I knew about it. Before the Clash were being formed and while the Pistols were being formed, you had Patti Smith and that was really fueling things. You had the Heartbreakers after the New York Dolls. If anyone should have the finger pointed at them for fucking being junkies... If anyone came and completely brought a plague to London, those fuckers did. Fuck that anyway, 'cause they're dead except for Walter and Billy. Strange guys. Thunders had an amazing charisma. Jerry was a great drummer but he was a caricature thing out of Fritz the Cat.
The Ramones especially, more than they ever realized, had it down. They were punk rock IN-FUCKING-CARNATE before the London thing happened. They had it before the Pistols were doing it. They came from New York and I lived there for ten years and I know a lot about it. I remember the East Side before apartments were three-grand a month. I had a really good appreciate of it.
When those guys came over, I'd only been to New York once. So I understand those guys more in retrospect. On the beginning of punk, they had, if anything, the musical influence. It's like when the Beatles took over from the rock and rollers, when they were listening to Buddy Holly on import and started coming up with stuff, that was "Can't Buy Me Love." The point is that they did that to us again from America. They were our Buddy Holly's and what have you. The punk thing was happening. They were all much older, those guys. What we really had going for us, and we really rubbed everyone's faces in it, was that we were so fucking young. I'm realizing that in retrospect now- that was a lot of our strength. It gave us a certain tunnel-vision naivete to get on with the fucking job we thought needs to be done.
I do think England had a much bigger effect once they got a hold of the punk thing. They actually defined it. The punk scene I'm talking about is the punk scene from the inside. Not the punk scene of Melrose in L.A. where you buy you're leather jeans. All the social manifestations of it. So do I think New York had an effect? Fuck yeah!
And they were right in on it because as they all piled over and stuck around, that's when the Pistols were really happening. All the other bands were forming like Generation X, another completely fucking duff band. That's London SS, Tony James. Who would have thought Billy Idol... You know what he is now. Billy was a wimp. He used to turn up at the Roxy wearing these V-Neck sweaters. It was just so funny. While Tony was walking in with this leather jacket. And then, they did that Sigue Sigue Sputnik thing were they went totally... all the things that were absolute no-no's in punk rock like wearing flares and having long hair and platforms. They were really trying to pull a PiL-hype thing.
PiL were really good at hype but we were FUCKING good at music. But right now, my focus is the music.
PSF: Before, you were talking about the Clash debut and how you didn't like it. What was wrong with it do you think?
I don't know the record really. I haven't listened to it enough times to go into it in detail but I know I played all the tunes on it live and made them up. One of the reasons I left the band was because of those tunes. I have heard it enough. (laughs) It's just not good enough- that's why I left the band exactly 'cause of that music. When you went to see a Clash gig, they always played miles too long. It was like a boxing match going the distance when they could have gotten a K.O. in the first round. Joe would just stomp back on stage and start doing another fucking tune and another. It would on and on. It was like watching a really painful boxing match.
I went and checked out three of those five gigs at Bonds (Casino, New Jersey, 1980). I was in PiL and I was hanging out with Robert DeNiro of all things. I'm watching them thinking "this is the band I should have been in?" I'm just thinking "Oh god, Joe is such an awful singer and Mick's guitar sounds so terrible." I would never stand for that. If it was my band that was playing, I'd say "let's change the sound on Joe's guitar and get someone who can SING. Joe can stay in the band, we'll just get another singer."
When I was in PiL, I thought Lydon was the bee's-knees, absolute killer fucking most deadly vocalist there was. I found out afterwards that this guy was just a whining git. Some of the things he did were really good. He did "Religion" and a few tunes were fucking good. But overall, and especially with Commercial Zone, when the band broke down, aw fuck, man... He was just so fucking useless! He's got that Irish way with words. I didn't realize that he was taking it all... seriously with the press and all. I don't know what the fuck happened either.
PSF: I'm sure he doesn't either.
He's on TV.
PSF: Yeah, that VH-1 show (ED NOTE: now cancelled).
I heard that it was actually quite cool, some of the things he doing on it.
PSF: He did dress up like Neil Young and whine that line from "Rust Never Sleeps" about himself. That was pretty funny.
Yeah, I heard that he was blowing up memorabilia. "This stuff you think is so precious." It sounded like John! I never thought I'd hear something like that about him again. When he reformed the Pistols and did those gigs, he broke every promise he had ever made and created the within punk rock legend when he did that.
PSF: He wanted to cash in.
Yeah, obviously. We're back at the Who's Third Final Tour. He went on that circle.
PSF: What were you doing after the Clash and before PiL?
I was working with Ken Lockie (Cowboys International). We were just kids, totally broke. I was a hip little character on the scene. He was a pretty honest guy from up north and hooked up with other hip punks 'cause of me. He got to make his own little world. So we got along and even recorded this record but I didn't like it very much.
Then this guy Paul... who was John's minder found me and said "John's looking for you everywhere. What about that thing 'what if the Pistols broke up, we're going to put a band together'." At the time, I was hanging out in Mill Hill with my original school friends who were players. I was going around my old haunts and working with Ken. That was what was keeping me around the scene.
Paul found me and I went around to John's one night and that was it. "Are we doing it?" "Yeah." "Are we going to call it Public Image?" I said "Limited." So we had it. Three days later, he said "Wobble's coming over" and he was in the band. John Grey, John's best friend, said "Don't you think we should call him Jah Wobble? Ha-ha?" We thought that was very cool. He couldn't play bass but he knew about reggae and music in general. But we particularly loved dub at the time.
Part Two: Keith tells the Ballad of PiL
Also see info on Levene's London 1976 project
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