Sometimes something is so totally off the wall, so absolutely unexpected that it transcends the vehicle of sound it is carried within. The Velvets pulled off this magic act, so did The Sex Pistols. I was not expecting the old punk to come out of semi-retirement and come up with something so insanely beautiful, so absolutely bonkers yet so very heartfelt. The Eurovision Song contest is a bit of a joke. It is kitsch, it is uncool and it is more than a little crazy at times. I would never have thought of it being the perfect stage for an aging Johnny Rotten, but to be frank, there could be no better place for him to float this perfect little gem of a song.
Sid Vicious gets all the smoke for his tuneful rendition of My Way. His punk crooning became absolutely iconic. It was another batshit idea which should never have worked, and yet Vicious pulled off the impossible and made the song his own. I would rather listen to Sid’s impassioned defense of doing things his own smacky upside-down way, than Ole Frankie-baby any day. Only the terminally psychopathic or the over 80s (or Dylan) would rather listen to Frank fucking Sinatra. To be frank I never expected Johnny Rotten to top Sid-er-knee’s off key, on-pointe crooning, but here we are with Hawaii. The fact this song was not chosen to represent Ireland is a travesty. Now, without the benefit of google I cannot think for the life of me why Lydon would be representing Ireland. He sounds like yer typical London lad, a snivelling wretch from the mean streets of ye olde England, but I will let it go. Maybe the English didn’t want him. Perhaps Nora, his beloved wife would have wanted it that way. Talking about Nora, Lydon’s better half, his lovely wife provided the inspiration for Hawaii.
Nora has Alzheimer’s disease. It robs her of her ability to remember. John and Nora are like peas in a pod. Somehow she loved him and he let her love him and rewarded that love with love back of his own. Hawaii is a part two to the Pistol’s Holiday In The Sun, but instead of ‘holidays in other people’s misery’, this grown up nostalgic offering revolves around a holiday in Lydon’s own bliss. As Lydon sings ‘I remember you. Remember me’ and his voice cracks and the emotion flickers across his face, he is both beyond punk, and as punk as he has ever been. Fuck being in tune. Fuck the disease. Fuck the harsh reality of the here and now. Fuck it all: Lydon remembers Nora…and longs for her to remember him too. After all punk was about emotion. Punk meant something, it was about something. This song is about the revolution of the sun, about time passing and a disease robbing him of his happiness. Punk’s speed and smack driven beats and words focused in with pin-point accuracy on the need to numb down the pain of living and injustice and social harms with noise. Lydon is braver than he has ever been – looking at that pain full in the eyes and exorcising it not with dissonance, but with a flawed beauty. The diamond is more beautiful for the flaw within. How can you know love if you have not known ‘pretty vacant’? How can you miss what you never had.
John’s dulcet tones, wavering between keys, never sways away from devotion. His band PIL, are playing soft and gentle as a Hawaiian breeze for once, a miracle in itself, while Johnny Rotten provides the pain, just like he always has done.
This is a beautiful song, a stunning tribute to his wife and to the love we all wish we had, and to a place and time where everything was perfect. It is a wonderful coda to his PIL and Sex Pistols oeuvre. Anarchy is overrated: love is where it is at, that is the real revolutionary act: to love and be loved and to withstand the loss of love when sickness and death and fucking memory robbing diseases try to part us.
Bravo, John! Love is the law: Love under will!
Listen to Hawaii. Prove that we have better taste than the voting panel who just didn’t get it. Pearls before swine….pearls before swine.
(John was born of working class Irish immigrants in Holloway, London. Always the anarchist…bit of a stretch representing Ireland but it was close enough Rotten….close enough…you did good buddy.)