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The Gandhi of Punk: Sex Pistols Singer Opens the Icelandic Punk Museum

The Gandhi of Punk: Sex Pistols Singer Opens the Icelandic Punk Museum

Published November 7, 2016

Johnny Rotten is having a smoke outside Lækjarbrekka, traditionally one of Iceland’s fancier restaurants. It is somehow as I always imagined it. He is here to attend the opening of Iceland’s Punk Museum, located in the Núllið public toilets where generations of Icelanders went to buy condoms, mix their landi and cola, vomit, and yes, even to pee.

A little late and a little drunk, Johnny steps out to address the rainsoaked crowd of dozens gathered outside the famed toilet. Next to him stands his manager Rambo, dressed in colourful tweed. Johnny asks for questions. None emerge. People are sober and Nordic and withdrawn, and perhaps a little intimidated by the man with the glaring eyes.
“I never told a lie, and I always stand up to the rich,” he says, by way of introduction.

A week before, the Pirate Party had tried to form a left-wing coalition at this very place and bungled the elections. Johnny is feeling political, so he asks how many here voted for the Pirates. Four people, myself included, raise their hands. Johnny, perhaps inevitably, launches into a tirade against anarchism, saying they are not the solution to anything. I try to ask him if he ever voted for anything in his life, but he doesn’t hear. Instead, a rather louder Australian asks him what his influences are. Johnny responds by talking about his admiration of folk music, and sings a verse in Gaelic.

“That’s what I got, what have you got,” he asks. A group of girls at the back start singing the old standard “Krummi svaf í Klettagjá” in phrygian mode rather beautifully, but this is not heard by the man with the microphone. Instead, he wants to know if there are any Arsenal fans out there. Icelanders are traditionally divided between Liverpool and Manchester United, and no one raises their hand.

Johnny now remembers something he knows about Iceland. ”Iceland beat England, hallelujah, hallelujah,” he chimes with Rambo singing backup. Some people join in. I am expecting a round of Viking clap, but this does not emerge.

Someone asks a technical question about staying outside the music biz and self-financing. This is a theme Johnny warms to. He goes on about how he was so deep in debt after the Sex Pistols and Pil that he couldn’t afford underwear for decades. He then makes a picturesque description of contents of said underwear. Very small, due to the rain. Who knew there would be rain in Iceland, just like in England?

He had to do reality TV shows to pay for his singing career, he goes on, but thanks to an endorsement from English Butter, he can now finally afford a band. Such is the price of independence. Someone mentions Taylor Swift and Johnny says he would like her on his lap, sounding more like Bill Grundy than a Sex Pistol.

A man at the back rather sensibly shouts out loud if Punk Rock needs a good kick in the teeth. This brings on a soliloquy about the virtues of nonviolence and a deep admiration of Gandhi.

“End it on a high note,” whispers Rambo. Johnny sings an Arsenal fan song, something about smashing other supporters’ heads in.
“Is this what you wanted?” he asks rather shyly. “I am not sure about the set up here.”

Yes, Johnny. It was as what we expected.


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