The Disagreeable World of John Lydon

I’ve been catching up on my reading, and happened to be browsing through the Silver Jubilee special edition of Punch

(- ah, those eminently civilised and agreeable humourists of yesteryear – Basil Boothroyd! Sheridan Morley! Christopher Booker! – not to mention my dear old chum and quaffing partner Wallace Arnold) when I came across this –

Now, to my rheumy old eyes, this looked very much like an advertisement for that innovative recording Metal Box by Public Image Limited and, indeed, the (dread word!) logo does look very similar.

But how can this be?” – quoth I – “surely the Sex Pistols were still in full flower in Jubilee Year, and have I not just – a few pages earlier – been reading some good-natured chaff on that very subject by dear old Kenneth Robinson?”.  Closer inspection (with my reading glasses on) revealed that it was an advertisement for Metal Box Limited, the well-known manufacturers of … metal boxes.

Now there is nothing wrong with a little creative reappropriation, or as our chums sur le continong say détournement* (though who would have guessed that the young Lydon was a subscriber to Punch?)

But imagine my surprise when – coming a little more up-to-date – I read this in the latest edition of Mojo magazine –

The duo [i.e. Wobble and Levene] booked four early February dates … billed as “Metal Box in Dub” to air instrumental improv takes on PIL’s classic album from 1979.  Wobble, however, contacted MOJO to say that … he received a letter from John Lydon’s lawyers threatening legal action, and that … Lydon sought to copyright “Metal Box” in his name alone …” 

A fine kettle of worms, methinks.

(*A détournement is a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International and consist in “turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.” as Wikipedia puts it).

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