Speaking candidly on BBC1’s The One Show, John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, denounced the press for pegging him a racist following his backstage beatdown of Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke at the Summercase fest in Barcelona:
"There’s been a hell of a lot of ‘freedom of the press’, shall we say, where they’ve run wild, absolutely atrocious, really hurtful stories."
"My grandchildren are Jamaican," he added. "It’s an absolute offence to them and me when I read stories like that, that are allowed to go to print absolutely unfounded."
He explained: "And [the newspapers] have the liberty to take liberties with a man like me and call me racist when my entire life has proved exactly the opposite."
It should be noted that Lydon is right to point out his liberal record. He was one of the leading figures in the Rock against Racism movement at the same time that David Bowie and Eric Clapton were going far to the right with their anti-immigration policies. Of course, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t become a racist in his old age, but keep in mind the only time issue of race that was brought to the fight was when Lydon said he has a "black attitude."
The attack was certainly tasteless and spiteful. But was it racist? And when was Lydon ever not tasteless and spiteful? It also should be noted that Okereke has a long history of playing the race card. Something tells me that if The Fall had released Hex Enduction Hour today, Mark E. Smith would be branded a racist rather than a punk hero for his opening line, "Where are all the obligatory niggers?/ Hey there fuck face, hey there, fuck face."