ART VS ART – Heroes and Villains – Celine’ vs. Johnny Rotten

by Tony Shea on June 3, 2013



Memorial Day this year coincided with two milestone dates of interest, the birth of famed French novelist Celine, and the 36th year anniversary of the Sex Pistols release of their magnum album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols were, of course, fronted by Johnny Rotten setting up this edition of ART vs. ART — heroes and villains.

Both Celine and Rotten have a number of things in common, not the least of which is their anger, outrage, and outright contempt for a world they felt was inundated with idiocy and hypocrisy, a world run by bloated politicians asking you to die for god and country in the name of freedom and the common good –a lot of good it would do you, blown to smithereens, or worked to death in some factory making boots. Rotten was an angry young man. Celine was an an angry old man, but both were certainly angry, and both men enjoyed playing the villain, selecting their Guy Fawkes’s masks, so to speak, changing their names to suit their personas, as they pursued their satiric vendettas against the system. They were brave is their overt disgust, and neither of them gave two shits about what you had to say about it.

Born Louis Ferdinand Auguste Destouches, outside Paris in 1894, Celine, as he would come to be known, fought as an infantryman during World War 1, seeing first hand the madness of war, the bodies used as grist for the mill, and was severely wounded in the arm, before finally being discharged.

Among Celine’s positive attributes, he worked for the newly formed League of Nations shortly after the war’s conclusion, an organization that sought word peace. And he was also a doctor who concluded his career donating his time to free clinics, trying to stop the spread of tuberculosis.

Among Celine’s detriments, his pamphlets “Trifles for a Massacre,” “A Fine Mess,” and “The School of Corpses” were characterized by profound antisemitism, racism, and bigotry, leading eventually to Celine’s banishment from France for being a national disgrace. He was later pardoned and allowed to return, and since then some have argued that Celine was not so much precisely antisemitic or racist but that he was simply an equal opportunity hater of all mankind, a misanthrope who was disgusted in every direction he looked, whether he was in Africa, or Europe or the United States.

Celine is roundly considered one of the most important novelists of the 20th century, inspiring a number of great writers around the world including: Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Becket, Ken Kesey, Charles Bukowski and William Vollman, who contributed the Afterward to the 50th anniversary edition of Celine’s masterwork, Journey to the End of the Night.

Born John Robert Lydon to a working class family of Irish immigrants, in London in 1954, Johnny Rotten selected his moniker because of his teeth, noted by Pistols axman Steve Jones, who declared them absolutely rotten.

An enfant terrible’ and agent provocateur, Johnny Rotten specialized in cheesing off the system, making constant mockery of the monarchy, penning the lyrics to the Pistols manifesto, Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, a record that blazes with anthems for the working class like the sneering “God Save the Queen,” a fairly special feat considering he was all of 19 years old.

Like Celine who was wounded in war, Rotten also suffered from physical ailments that magnified his anger towards an unjust world. Contracting spinal meningitis when he was seven years old, Rotten spent an entire year in the hospital having fluid drained from his spine with a six inch needle. This lead to his spine being permanently curved, as if Rotten was some kind of anti-Richard III.

Rotten would declare himself an antichrist who preached a message not of turn the other cheek,” but of “turn the other cheek too often and you get a razor through it”. The Pistols were one of the last bands that still had the power to be scary.

On the side of detriments, the Pistols sound and brand of class revolution was co-opted through the years by a group of Aryan hardcore bands (owing most likely to Pistols’s bassist Sid Vicious’s shock theatrics of wearing a shirt emblazoned with a Nazi Swastika) and Rotten, himself, has faced several accusations of sexual harassment, assault and battery, lawsuits which he has settled out of court.

We at Art vs. Art make no claim about either man’s general goodness as a human being, but we acknowledge that each has produced powerful work worthy of discussion.

Who’s better? You decide. Vote below.

book album together

It didn’t take long. In that despondent changeless heat the entire human content of the ship congealed into a massive drunkenness. People moved flabbily about like squid in a tank of tepid smelly water. From that moment on we saw, rising to the surface, the terrifying nature of white men, exasperated, freed from constraint, absolutely unbuttoned, their true nature, same as in the war. That tropical steam bath called forth the instincts as August breeds toads and snakes on the fissured walls of prisons. In the European cold, under gray, puritanical northern skies, we seldom get to see our brothers’ festering cruelty except in times of carnage, but when roused by the foul fevers of the tropics, their rottenness rises to the surface. That’s when the frantic unbuttoning sets in, when filth triumphs and covers us entirely. It’s a biological confession. Once work and cold weather cease to constrain us, once they relax their grip, the white man shows you the same spectacle as a beautiful beach when the tide goes out: the truth, fetid pools, crabs, carrion, and turds.

How imperious the homicidal madness must have become if they’re willing to pardon—no, forget!—the theft of a can of meat! True, we have got into the habit of admiring colossal bandits, whose opulence is revered by the entire world, yet whose existence, once we stop to examine it, proves to be one long crime repeated ad infinitum, but those same bandits are heaped with glory, honors, and power, their crimes are hallowed by the law of the land, whereas, as far back in history as the eye can see—and history, as you know is my business—everything conspires to show that a venial theft, especially of inglorious foodstuffs, such as bread crusts, ham, or cheese, unfailingly subjects its perpetrator to irreparable opprobrium, the categoric condemnation of the community, major punishment, automatic dishonor, and inexpiable shame,

The religion of the flag promptly replaced the cult of heaven, an old cloud which had already been deflated by the Reformation and reduced to a network of episcopal money boxes. In olden times the fanatical fashion was: ‘Long live Jesus! Burn the heretics!’ . . . But heretics, after all, were few and voluntary… Whereas today vast hordes of men are fired with aim and purpose by cries of ‘Hang the limp turnips! The juiceless lemons! The innocent readers! By the millions, eyes right!’ If anybody doesn’t want to fight or murder, grab ‘em, tear ‘em to pieces! Kill them in thirteen juicy ways. For a starter, to teach them how to live, rip their guts out of their bodies, their eyes out of their sockets, and the years out of their filthy slobbering lives!


















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Tony Shea ( Editor-in-Chief, New York)

Tony Shea is based in New York, having recently moved from Los Angeles after more than a decade on the sunny coast. His short films have won numerous awards and screened at major festivals around the world including Comic-Con. As a musician, he is the lead singer for Los Angeles rock n’ roll band Candygram For Mongo (C4M) who has been a featured artist on Clear Channel Radio’s Discover New Music Program and whose songs have been heard on Battlestar Gallactica (Syfy Channel) and Unhitched (Fox) among other shows and films.

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