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Metal Box: Stories from John Lydon’s Public Image Limited

By Phil Strongman

Metal Box features riots, axe attacks, addiction, sonic terrorism, all-out confrontation and the artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten.

John ‘Rotten’ Lydon – Jubilee ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ – quit the Sex Pistols at the height of their fame and formed Public Image Limited, the ultimate cult band, as anarchic as the Pistols but with truly groundbreaking music that lived up to punk’s Year Zero rhetoric. From the druggy haze of Lydon’s Gunter Grove flat, amid endless police raids, PiL harnessed their disparate personnel to somehow produce three albums – First Edition, Metal Box and Flowers of Romance – as original as any ever issued.

The group’s corporate styling and innovatory sound were unique: dub-sonic bass overlaid with haunting guitars and Lydon’s banshee-wailing, combining elements of punk, reggae and dance. Lydon’s attitude led to riots at gigs and more tabloid outrage, as well as hits, multiple albums and some remarkably durable music. Drawing on new interviews with PiL boys Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Martin Atkins and Jim Walker, as well as pivotal figures Don Letts and Dennis Morris, Metal Box is the first time the insiders have told the true and torrid tale of Lydon’s long, strange trip.

Phil Strongman is a film-maker and the acclaimed author of books Cocaine, a novel, John Lennon: Life,Times and Assassination and Pretty Vacant: A Punk History.

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