Never mind the bullshit. Here is former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten who wants to take on the establishment again.
But not with the outraged, spiky-haired cry of his youth. Almost half a century after putting punk rock on the map, the British-born singer is looking to represent Ireland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
It feels like the ultimate piss of a sometimes excruciating event – albeit one that Ireland cherishes and excelled in. But it’s not: John Lydon, Rotten’s real name, enters a painfully poignant ballad for his wife, Nora, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
With its bewitching refrain “Remember me, I Remember you”, “Hawaii” is post-punk poetry, far from the schlock-pop and schmaltz usually offered.
Lydon and his group Public Image Ltd will face five other hopefuls on Irish broadcaster RTÉ on February 3, when a studio jury, an international jury and the calling public choose the country’s nominee.
Born in London to Irish parents, Lydon speaks with a cockney accent, has an Irish passport and is well aware of the incongruity of his foray.
He told RTÉ he had never watched Eurovision because “it’s absolutely awful. . . I’m a songwriter, I play and these shows, they feel so terribly wrong to me. But listen, here we are, giving it a chance to break out of that mold.
Ireland have taken risks before: in 2008, they entered a TV puppet show called Dustin the Turkey with a song lamenting that Ireland, who had by then won a record seven Eurovisions, had lost their Midas touch. He bombed.
But the “real backstory” of “Hawaii” makes it compelling, according to David Blake Knox, head of entertainment at RTÉ from 1990 to 1994 and author of Ireland and Eurovision: winners, losers and Turkey.
Ukraine won last year’s contest after an outpouring of public sympathy from voters over the phone. Traditionally, the country would host this year’s contest, but due to Russia’s invasion, the UK is hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest on its behalf from May 9-13 in Liverpool.
“Eurovision songs can range from painfully heartfelt acts to novelty acts, most of which are excruciating,” says Blake Knox. “It’s very difficult to talk about something like [Alzheimer’s] but ‘Hawaii’ is sweet, believable and compelling.
It has lilting melodies and endearing lyrics such as “hello there” and “you are loved”. Simplicity may prove an advantage of Eurovision: Spanish artist Massiel beat Briton Cliff Richard to win in 1968 with a song featuring the word ‘la’ 138 times.
Ireland has been addicted to Eurovision since it first entered in 1965 as the small rural economy opened up. Eight years from joining what would become the EU, Eurovision made him feel modern.
“It’s a bit like becoming an official member of the club,” recalls Dana, who won Ireland’s first title with ‘All Kinds of Everything’ in 1970.
Ireland won six more times in the 1980s and 1990s and stunned audiences in 1994 with the jaw-dropping spectacle of Riverdance in the meantime. But then came pride. “We started to think we had the right to win,” says Blake Knox.
He welcomes Lydon’s entry from “an Irish diaspora which has never been fully represented – the English-Irish, or the ‘Plastic Paddies'”.
Lydon, who admits he hummed “Hawaii” at his Los Angeles home while vacuuming, cares for Nora full-time with an attitude he’s called “No. Self. Please.” After childhood meningitis put him in a coma for months and left him unable to remember or speak, he knows firsthand the feeling of being lost in his own life. ‘Hawaii’ was inspired by a favorite holiday and Lydon said Nora would ‘melt’ when she saw the performance on TV.
Despite being the enfant terrible from the music scene with a rendition of “God Save the Queen” that was censored by the BBC, Lydon, 67, has always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his wife of nearly five decades, who he calls “the ultimate woman”.
He approaches Eurovision with a refreshing sense of humor, a good dose of irony and unconscious emotion. But then, as he writes in one of his autobiographies, anger is energy: “My idea of punk is humanity.”