There was a period when he was public enemy number one, because those that command are seldom favourable of those that don't follow.
And they are even less tolerant of those that question authority. And this fella questions things. Constantly.
That he was also responsible for fronting punk's most famous players The Sex Pistols made him quite the irritation.
And yet these days, John Lydon is something approaching a national treasure.
He's in L.A when we phone him though: “Because of the workload we put on ourselves we are in a constant state of travel and if I get time off, it's two months and I like to spend them here – it's warmer. I got fed up getting ill over November, December, January in Blighty.
"I am very prone to upper respiratory illnesses and I can't take that risk.”
As a teenager, John contracted meningitis, spent time in a coma, was hospitalised for almost a year, and suffered major memory loss.
“It is almost like a disability...” he says, although he has explained in depth the illness, and his recovery in his autobiography Anger is an Energy.
It is a remarkable insight into a hard working mind that seems to soak in all the more detail since recovering from that illness.
“Yes it does. It's overwhelming. But it also comes with a terrible sense of guilt, that you could somehow forget your own parents, let alone your own name.
“And body motor skills – I couldn't really walk, talk or hold a fork. And at the same time inside, while everyone was telling me I was talking gibberish, I thought I was communicating fluently.
“That loneliness and isolated 'I belong to no-one' feeling stays with you forever and becomes a very important part of your personality – which is why I love company, probably.
“I think because I was so young it was easier to deal with. I think if it happened when I was older that might have been a real problem then.”
His parents were advised to keep the recovering John angry, “...which they did, for nearly four years,” he says.
The reason being?
“That it would spur the memories on, that I would have to search inside and the rage of that would find solutions. That's why anger is an energy to me. It's a very important engine.”
Anger isn't about putting fists into use, though. He's too smart for that.
“Through experience I learned that violence would not solve anything,” he explains.
“Through my love of studying history, I could read between the lines a little bit and see that we just need to start being a little bit more truthful with each other.
“Then we'll get better results.
“One of the great characters I discovered in my youth was Gandhi, the idea of passive resistance completely fascinates me.
“I think there is some great skill in that.”
It's all in the book of course, which is a chunky page-turner. And it could have been even bigger.
“The biggest problem was editing it down to what fundamentally needed to be said, because the book easily could have been twice as big, and probably three times.
“Once I really started to dig into my memory banks it was where to stop... It's a complicated process, the human mind, and it doesn't always think logically. “But for me, the best way to sort that out was to think honestly, so that's what I focused on - not fantasising, not over praising myself, or under-achieving, just telling it how it is.
“And in that, I made my Mum and Dad proud of me. Even though they are deceased, they still live in my head. That's how that is.”
'Clawing his way back to his own personality' following his sickness is John's biggest achievement.
“I never openly declared that from the beginning of my alleged music career, because I didn't want the self-pity button to be pressed, you know?
“I had to stand up and be counted on a level playing field with everyone else, and my attitude is 'We've all got problems in our life,' no-one's are especially better than anybody else's and so here I am – at 60 – declaring it.
“I think I can do that now with a sense of relief, it's important to share it.
“It's there for you if you want it, and it's not if you don't. And those that carry on believing I'm the sauciest ba**ard that ever roamed the planet? There's some truth in that too...!” he says with a laugh.
Was it the illness that pushed you on in life?
“Yeah, definitely,” he agrees, “I don't know if I would have been capable of enduring an operation like the Sex Pistols without that childhood stuff.
“That absolutely set me up lovely for it and so that's how I look at it – an illness, a disease that almost took my life away - and took my memory for some time - was actually the best thing that could have happened.
“So, oddly, I am really grateful for what I had to go through. It prepared me well for the next step.
"That's how I look at life. I don't ever look at anything as 'woe is me.'
"It's like 'How can I turn this into something good.' It's how I survive.
"I know that can come across in interviews sometimes as being slightly brittle on my part, but it's how I am.
“I stand up and defend what I know is right.”
He was doing that back in 1978, when he spoke out about Jimmy Saville on a BBC interview.
The comments were aired, but not until 2015.
At the same time The Sex Pistols were held in contempt by some, Jimmy Savile was a family favourite.
He thought he was untouchable and despite Lydon – and others – speaking out, he was allowed to go unchecked for decades.
“Isn't irony a strange substance?” he asks and states.
“It is substantive in the mind and the way you think. But this is how it goes, and basically what I had to be arguing against was the liars, the frauds and the cheats that were running the country and having the audacity to look down their noses at me.
“If anything, it fuels me to be even more ferocious and deliberate.
“I will say that people like Jimmy Savile were institution backed. The system was supporting that and condoning that kind of behaviour.
"I'd endured that nonsense too, from the Priests and the Nuns at Catholic school, so I was well aware of it. Just needed to stand up and say so. And here we are today.”
And it's a very different era to the one that first introduced us to Lydon & Co.
“People today can openly debate the monarchy, for instance. I don't think you could have ever done that unless I put the first steps into it.
“And its important, because you are paying tax money on an institution that you don't understand, yet demands blind obedience. That to me is ludicrous.
“I am in no way resentful to them as human beings. In many ways I sympathise with them because they were born into a gilded cage not over their own making.
“But that doesn't mean I am going to support the system that is basically a parasite...”
And he laughs as he recalls that 90 second blast of Pretty Vacant that accompanied the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics – played before an audience of millions, including those from Buck House.
“...and fair play to them, I was really quite proud that they sat through it...” he chuckles.
They weren't dancing, mind you.
“No, but then again have you seen Royals dance?” he laughs some more.
Feet might have been tapping, though.
“Probably were with some of them.”
In Anger is an Energy, Lydon speak of 70's Bowie shows, which he says were a 'glorious celebration of individuality.'
“There were many people in music that were doing that, but they were all in different areas, and I never saw them as being separate issues.
“And now he has kicked the bucket, and look at the way he handled his death. He didn't want big pomp and ceremony and I think that's amazingly genius of him. Beautiful. What an excellent way to say goodbye,” John says.
“How very lovely. That's what cheers me up inside my heart. It shows he was a class act, rather than say, a Malcolm McLaren funeral in Camden Town, which Bob Geldof told me ended with everyone fighting for what they thought was theirs.
“Bowie didn't play the self-pity button. Wonderful, so empowering.
“Fundamentally, this man was not flawed...”
He's an engaging, lively, interesting interview, is Mr Lydon. Fodder free, totally honest and real.
And while we are chatting, everyone is going bonkers for the Brit Awards.
One can't quite imagine a time when the likes of Lydon will be sat quaffing at a table.
“You can take it for granted I'll be excluded, but in a weird way I find it complimentary being excluded from that binge drinking session.
“It's ego stroking and the same old faces. The Grammy's are even worse for that, here.
“You can take it for granted Taylor Swift is going to win, doesn't matter what.
“I know what that's about. I walked away from all that years and years ago.
“If people don't understand me for that, it's too bad.
"You are not going to absorb me into that sickening sponge of dirty water.
"It's contaminated. It's just about money and business heads.”
But Lydon is still music making too, thankfully.
Public Image Limited, or PiL, released their 10th long-player What the World Needs Now, in September. It starts off with a rant about a busted toilet, and is flush with fabulousness.
It's the sound of a band on the boil.
The recording process was relished.
“We ran in, quite literally ran in, and went 'What shall we do now?'” John recalled.
“All fresh material, we were just eager to get in and record new songs because we had toured for almost two years continually, and were biting at the bit.
“It's worthy of note that this is the first time in my career that I've been able to keep the band together for two albums.”
He says it's easier to get the job done now he is free of record label aches.
“The pressure they put on you breaks bands up. They don't mean it I suppose, but they can niggle their way in and cause rifts and create situations of jealousy and spite and resentment, which shouldn't be there.
“Now we have none of that, and we don't have complete strangers turning up from the accounts department, telling us what we should and shouldn't do, and it's the better for it.”
PiL will be live in the UK in June as part of a European tour. PiL poppers here will be pleased to see the Northampton Roadmender gets a visit on June 18
“Back by popular demand!” he says.
“I really love playing these small venues, I really do. I love bringing people back into that live performance thing without which there would be no future in music.
“Up close and personal – it's a church without the religious bit.
“You need to see eyeball to eyeball, and I don't write these lyrics mindlessly, they are all about real things. If I can see that the experience is being understood and shared by the people in the audience, that is my achievement...”
And your fans are a loyal breed.
“Intensely loyal,” he agrees. “ They know I won't let them down.
"I am a man of my word and that's that. I have a set of values...”
> To book tickets to see PiL at Northampton Roadmender visit www.theroadmender.com
> 'Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored' is out now through Simon & Schuster