To the editors:

Why did you waste an entire page of last week’s paper on Ted Cox’s “New Order” article [August 4]. Cox would have done better had he traced the “gross, self-aggrandizing performance of Johnny Rotten and Public Image, Ltd.” to its origins. After all when Rotten gets onstage with a heavy suntan and bleach blonde hair and then sticks the microphone up his ass, he’s not just turning the show into a farce–he’s also doing what he set out to do from the beginning: to destroy pop music. He absolutely forces the audience to ask themselves what they’ve gotten themselves into and what they want from their heroes. He’s the only wealthy performer I can think of who sings about what he’s done–“Big business is very wise–I’m crossing over into free enterprise.” Sure Rotten is gross: he hates big business, he benefits from it, he benefits from his hatred of it (in notoriety). He wants to mock it and turn the concert into a game and at the same time he struggles to make the music good. He ends up begging for a louder applause after every song. Rotten is a regular mess, a bundle of contradictions, a psychologist’s field day, but the contradictions are precisely why his show is still relevant. He continues to raise questions about a pop musician’s role in society–important questions considering how much money changes hands in the music business. Anyone who believes Rotten is entirely finished should sit at a PiL concert and listen to the shower of “fuck you”s that rain on him as he takes the stage in fluorescent garb: the kids still want the Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistol years. And as Rotten proceeds to make a senseless clown of himself, backed up by mostly mediocre songs, you too find yourself wishing he sang again with some kind of purpose. But when you stop to think about it, he’s no longer singing in makeshift clubs for the frustrated kids of a depressed England; he’s doing stadiums for the middle class princes and princesses of affluent America. Rotten’s spectacle, gloriously selfish and lazy, begins to make a little more sense. By then you’re questioning your expectations of wealthy performers in the age of MTV. Rotten doesn’t have the answers–he never claimed to–just the questions. But that’s far more than whiners like New Order will ever have to offer. Better luck next time, Mr. Cox.

David Hapgood