Nobody’s Lapdog: John Lydon, the ex Pistol

Dirck Van Baburen

Johnny Rotten was born Jan 31st 1956, was known by this name when he was in the Sex Pistols but the more you know about him the less that name seems to apply. He rubbished the name Rotten as soon as he quit the Sex Pistols as he said that McClaren was stealing his soul somehow by claiming ownership. So he wrenched himself free and has used Lydon ever since.

Rotten in the Sex Pistols
Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones, in the Sex Pistols

Lydon has a way with words, let’s say, and it tends towards the corrosive and witty. It’s never a dull moment around him as he actively unsettles people and then plays around in that domain like a kid in a sandpit.  He is an Aquarian Sun,  Virgo Moon with Scorpio rising- one fixed and two mutable. And with Mercury in Aquarius too, opposing Uranus that elevated him into being the big mouth of his generation. When he spouted off, people listened. While he is a genuine maverick, he has had many cringe-like moments too, where people thought he should disappear forever off the horizon. The advert for Country Life butter, even if it was British, is an example, and when he sang a Country music spoof, or when he played the stage villain on Judge Judy, but somehow he pulls through any PR disaster and surprises everyone one more time.

He doesn’t hold back and people need to beware- it’s a bit like witnessing an instant demolition job if the interviewer ask the wrong question.

Here are a few of his statements:

           “Don’t Accept the Old Order. Get rid of it’

          “I’m no one’s lapdog. You can’t put me on a leash”. 

These statements reveal the astrology- an Uranian ruled Sun sign- but the ruler of the chart is Pluto so there’s a dark and transformative element in there as well.

      ‘It’s a repressive society where you can’t be horrible, I’m not horrible they just made me horrible. I’m just honest’.

      “Everything in life is inter-related. Unpredictability is the story of my life. I make things safe for other people to follow in my wake. I am the elephant in the room.”

Naturally, he mentions unpredictability: his sun Sign is ruled by Saturn – the old ruler- in Sagittarius and Uranus- the new ruler- which in Cancer. Uranus – the higher octave- is placed opposite his Mercury- the lower octave-just out of sign in Aquarius. So there is some inspiration there at his beck and call.  His Mercury is Retrograde and the Uranus is also at that wobbly 29th degree whereas Mercury has already moved a few degrees into Aquarius. The 29th degree is notoriously troublesome and merely adds to his trickster style of delivery: is he joking or is he serious? Tricksters give you choices; they are masters of the crossroads;  and you have to decide one way or the other which way to take what they say. He could be wrong, he could be right. He clearly does not give a damn how his words land so good luck with that.

Uranus, the Promethean

Lydon has the Uranian bee in his bonnet very strong and this dark side of the trickster comes across in so many ways in his work and in his personality. On the one hand it shocks people and possibly even hurts them, but on the other hand, he could rightly be claimed as a punk poet.  What stands out to me is that asteroid Orpheus is conjunct his Sun at 10° Aquarius. Orpheus  was the great poet/musician who could seduce people with his music, pied-piper style, for good or ill, but he was eventually torn limb from limb by a bunch of crazed maenads. This has a very rock-god ecstasy of adoration feel, with Rotten playing the arch miscreant, but all Dionysian revelry can lead to deconstruction and disaster. The press certainly tore him apart.

He said that punk was really just being honest and should never descend into a uniform so once Punk rock became token musical gestures or just bondage trousers as commodities, it was no longer truly Punk. In 1978 the Sex Pistols imploded and the era of Punk died a quick death as he was largely seen as the leader of the gang. Seems constant chaos was too much and they needed a bit of Saturn to stabilise and ground.

Dirck Van Baburen
Prometheus Chained by Vulcan by DIrck van Baburen (1623)

Uranus was in Scorpio from 1974 to1981 so it was roughly at its midpoint around 1977- deep into the darkness. This is significant as it added to the intensity, the inventive modes of expression, the chaos, the probing nature into sexuality, unconventional in the area of intimacy and sharing probably, into personal transformations and being radicals, getting to the root of things. This whole period too the time when Chaos Magick came to prominence. It dispelled ideas that you ever needed a fixed set of beliefs, you could just experiment and see what happened like many who just took up a guitar for the first time and played.  Some even believe Uranus is exalted in Scorpio or in the 8th House as invention and transformation go well together. This placement gave Punk Rock a penetration that it might not have had. They were inspired and were masters of the unexpected.  It is well remembered as a powerful movement away from the old rock style. Mars, the traditional ruler of Scorpio, was the host of the visiting planet Uranus there so it gave punk a razor sharp edge and Uranus gave its speed and lightning flash impact.  Lydon’s Uranus was in Cancer so more emotionally rooted than Scorpio but still the experimenter in musical sounds.  Uranus has also often been linked to the story of Prometheus who defied the gods to steal fire for humans. Uranians tend to do this, and John Lydon’s story is a case in point; anyone who steals fire is vilified for their alleged crime.

As Joseph Campbell said:

If the hero, like Prometheus, simply darted to his goal (by violence, quick device or luck) and plucked the boon for the world he intended, then the powers that he has unbalanced may react so sharply that he will be blasted from within and without – crucified, like Prometheus, on the rock of his violated unconscious (1949).

In Lydon’s definition Punk is an attitude not a set of clothes with studs and razor blades. It is creative chaos, constant change, never following anyone’s rules, staying one step ahead and Lydon has done that. He has survived the worst that life could throw at him and seems inured to suffering. In his early years he had a savage bout of meningitis which left him with a poor memory, a slight stoop of the spine and accounts for his jitteriness. This highlights his Sun conjunct Chiron which can never be easy for anyone.

rare edition
rare edition of Anarchy in the UK (1977)

He was the ultimate scapegoat for a good deal of unprocessed rage from the gutter press. He triggered the fault lines of the English class system by mocking the royals and the establishment, taunting them to react.  Chiron too is crucified like Prometheus. But the visible playing out of the Sex Pistols debacle was healing for others to witness as it burst the boil of all the frustrations and resentments that had been fulminating underneath the surface over many years. Life in the UK was not as good as they said – injustices were many and life was hard. This was especially true for the working classes, the underdogs of the system. In 1977, the church and called punk rockers ‘demon possessed’ and thought that exorcisms were needed such was the magnitude of anti-punk hysteria. But it was a kind of uprising, a rebellion.

That all this was explosive in the newspapers and it caused violent attacks on Rotten as a person even from rival gangs of street kids. He was literally beaten up on the streets of London. This is underscored by the fact that Pholus is conjunct the Chiron. That’s double trouble and anguish. Pholus represents the energy of ‘the lid comes off’ linked to scandals and outrages.  In the story of Pholus there was a frenzy when Pholus was hit by an arrow in a fight that all started when a bunch of rowdy centaurs let loose fighting over a bottle of wine. Similarly, the Sex Pistols and McClaren were all arrested when they launched ‘God Save the Queen’ on a boat on the Thames. They were all given alcohol and encouraged to act loutish and rude in the early hours outside Buckingham Palace on March 10th when they signed the contract with A&M Records. Within a week they were dumped as A&M were ill equipped to deal with the chaotic energy of the Pistols.

Johnny Lydon was also a kind of largely unacknowledged whistleblower. He revealed early on what was going on with people like Jimmy Saville. He went to kinky sex parties at the House of Commons and saw the corruption. While not giving away all that he saw, he pointed fingers when no one else did.  The Pistols  were seen as a ‘boy’ band, a product, just as manufactured in their way as the Bay City Rollers. They were young and street wise. Glen Matlock wanted it to be more like the Rollers not the Pistols. He wanted the band to sound more like Eddie Cochran. Rotten ever the outsider sums the whole experience of being attacked in the press. He says “The sex Pistols was a comedy act really, not to be taken quite so viciously. The mind set that used to work against us was brutal, dark, violent and evil. But it just made us stronger.”

“Life is ultimately death” Lydon said once and there we have Saturn- often shown in depictions with a scythe. Saturn is on his Ascendant which takes a stern view of life and comes across as hard task master. He could be severe as well as shocking.

John Lydon ChartWith a 29° Ascendant in Scorpio too we might be on guard for an irascible type, who is the ultimate wild card-  anything can happen in this limbo land of the anaretic degree. To watch Lydon in any interview is to watch this unpredictability from the edge of your seat and that is not always comfortable. He stirs the cauldron deliberately for effect. Ideas associated with the 29th degree include loneliness, vulnerability, the unexpected, being a catalyst for change, or profiting through crisis- all of which are also associated with Chiron. Lydon has proved to be a survivor against the odds. Yet he has been never easy and definitely not the music industry’s pet star. His staying power perhaps comes from the fixity of Aquarius. The Sabian symbol for this Ascendant degree is a curious indicator too: “Children in Halloween Costumes indulging in various pranks.”

Often called intense he has Pluto opposite Mercury square to Neptune-  Mercury Neptune square alone is a signature of artists and writers but to have Pluto there too would be.  He had a transformative effect on people’s lives. Pluto as the ruler of the chart means he was used to trauma and skilled at the art of change. Yet as an Aquarian Sun he has been the true Uranian, brilliant, shocking, illuminating his life with sudden clarity and taking the time to write books. Like many Aquarians, he can be a tad controversial- he does not buy into the illusion of the Right-Left paradigm in politics and claims anyone who does not change their opinion is overly rigid, that there is a need for constant change and reevaluation as people grow and adjust to new circumstances. So while he’s been a resident of the USA, living in Santa Monica, he has been a commentator of US politics. He liked Obama, but said he turned bland and achieved nothing, thinks Trump brought something fresh, and that Biden is the ultimate ‘senile delinquent’.

A Human Contrarian

JOhnny rotten

Yet there’s another side to him not often seen in public. John Lydon is a complex man who has loved his wife, Nora Foster, a Scorpio,  for 45 years, and is now an expert carer for people with Alzheimers. He taught himself how to do it with songs and Old Ealing Comedies which bring sufferers to life again. He speaks  about how he looks after that is very human. This smacks of his Venus in Pisces placement as believing in pure romance and undying spiritual love- love that demands sacrifice, humanness and daily care, even until death.

When asked if he was a contrarian – and Uranus is godfather to all contrarians- he said the word sounds like something from the Chelsea Flower show. He prefers the description that he is ‘a thinker.’ He does not accept any other label. Said like a true contrarian- it would be a mistake to think that they would ever agree with anyone.

The rebellious, questioning Irish kids who didn’t quite fit in to England were perhaps looking for someone who spoke for them, so Rotten became the mascot of the movement – they were still the ‘outsiders’ living within the beast.  There was a lot of prejudice against the Irish in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and Lydon wrote a book with the title No Irish- No Blacks- No Dogs (2003). This level of estrangement from the majority is very personal to me as I was among those working class Irish kids who in 1977 became punks. Being a punk was not restricted to boys – the girls loved it too. A rebel has no gender- there were female leaders of Punk like Siouxsie Sioux of the Banshees, Ari Up of the Slits ( Lydon’s step-daughter), and Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex. When Punk came along, you didn’t have to fit into the cultural mainstream or the gender norms. 1977 was the year Venus was retrograde in Aries, and November 1st, Chiron was discovered. That makes 1977 particular to Chiron as it was the year it entered the collective consciousness, – very close to the release date of ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’  just four days before Chiron was discovered in Pasadena.  It took a while however for the full depth of the meaning of Chiron to emerge into what we know now.

The Gig that Changed the World

It’s difficult to pick a key moment to contrast to Lydon’s natal chart as there are so many to choose from that could have been trigger points for the Pistols They were thrust dramatically into the limelight and portrayed as demons incarnate in the press: the first gig of the Sex Pistols at Central St Martins in 1976,  the debacle of the ITV interview with Bill Grundy that exploded their notoriety, or their gig on Tony Wilson’s So It Goes, Manchester, the arrival of Sid Vicious in the band, or the final release of ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’. The very first gig they did in Manchester seems to have gone done in rock legend as the gig that changed the world. This was at the Lesser Free Trade Hall June 4th 1976. The buzz about them was already there in embryo but still formulating.

biwheelTaking a time of 9pm, roughly, Pluto was on the MC and the Sun/Venus in Gemini directly opposed Neptune on the Ascendant in Sagittarius. Neptune trined Mars.  It was not because the gig was good musically -the Pistols were still learning their instruments and sounded discordant, but because it galvanised those 40 or so who claimed to be there into action. They recognised the DIY chutzpah of punk, attitude which was that anyone could do it, maybe even better than the Pistols. This gig  was said to spawn practically the whole Madchester music scene including Buzzcocks, Magazine, Joy Division, the Fall, and eventually the Smiths as a young Morrissey was also there.

The Neptune Ascendant was directly conjunct Lydon’s Ascendant/Saturn/Mars, so no doubt it was electrifying for him as it was for those present. He was propelled forward to improve his style and be known as that pimpled face of the uprising against the old order of rock. Lydon’s Uranus at 29° Cancer was triggered by transiting Saturn and the Vertex. Added to that, transiting Uranus at 3° of Scorpio was triggering Lydon’s natal Neptune in Scorpio. This shows plenty of points of inspiration and being aligned with the zeitgeist on that day.

Graphic Art Jamie ReidJamie Reid the graphic designer who came up with the cut and paste style said of the Sex Pistols’ one and only album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ that “it was an absolutely sensational album brilliant, succinct, sharp, full of satire, pathos, great lyrics, very direct, no messing.” And even now it has a wallop unmatched by other records.  It is meant to be played at full volume and meant to scare the bejeezus out of anyone not ready to hear that Uranian clarion call to rebel. ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ was a phrase that came from two blokes on a hot dog stand in Piccadilly“ and its force still has an impact.

Anger is an EnergyRemember that Lydon is still doing gigs and is touring the UK in 2022. He was the one that told us the Queen “ain’t no human being” and the youth of Britain have “no future”, that Berlin is “the New Belsen”, and that in Ireland they tell you you’re English, but in England they say you’re Irish- so he was shot by both sides.  And he also recognises something important- how to deal with anger. In Rise by his second band Public Image Limited, he came more into his own form of expression. From anger he created songs and inspired him to write these boisterous lyrics that are still memorable. It is thanks to John Lydon – Mr. Rotten -that the word anarchist rhymed with antichrist in a way that had never been uttered before. He twisted it to fit so typical of a maverick so outside of the box it barely mattered that there was a box. He never shied away from controversy but I feel he never invited it, but he just fought back. That makes him an original, a way-shower not that we should be just like him, but be more like authentic selves no matter how contradictory that may appear to others.

It’s good to end with more words from Lydon himself as his expressions are colourful and sharp. The Sun is now in Aquarius so this is the time for your Mercury in Aquarius to speak out as his did. Regarding the word ‘Bollocks’ when Virgin Records was taken to court over shop displays with this word emblazoned on them it was seen as obscene. So  Lydon said “It’s an Anglo Saxon word. That’s part of our history and people are denying our right to use it. How can you ban Language? Words? How are words offensive?  And why should I have to tolerate your interpretation? I’m the one using the word. Ask me how I’m using it –  Don’t tell me! And if you don’t like the way I’m using it. So what? It’s my right. And it’s my freedom of Expression.  Without that, we are nothing but slaves.”

© Kieron Devlin, Proteus Astrology, January 31st,  2022, All rights reserved.   

 

Unless otherwise stated, image credits are in the Public Domain via WC 

 

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Kieron is a London-based and trained astrologer at Proteus Astrology on Facebook and my home page:

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Published by Kieron Devlin

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