People of certain sensibilities may suggest that an article about the founder of one of the primordial punk rock bands with a name so salacious I will refrain from using it in this article, has no place in an official archdiocesan media outlet.
I probably would agree with them if not for learning of the personal journey the leader of this band has been on for several years.
His journey is 45 years in the making. That is how long John Joseph Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has been married to his wife. The punk rock band Johnny Rotten became famous in was forged the year I graduated high school. This could have been my Beatles. It was not because, due to so many older siblings, the Beatles were already my Beatles. But Johnny’s band did capture the imagination of many of my friends.
I tried listening to the music but found it difficult. I like beginnings, middles, and ends to the movies I watch, and I like some association with melody and logic to the music I listen to. Johnny’s band was all about violent rejection of the status quo, especially as it related to the class system of the band’s homeland of the United Kingdom.
It was more primal screaming than musicality, and even my more avant-garde friends eventually moved away from it. I have not given much thought to the band or to Lydon until reading about his marriage and the disease that has invaded it.
He doesn’t look like the skeletal shirtless maniac with orange hair of his Johnny Rotten days, when he and his band wielded hegemony over the music world. He is old and fat, and when you see photos of him on TMZ coming out of a grocery store in Malibu, he looks very much like a fat old guy coming out of a grocery store in Malibu, and not some immortal god of punk rock.
What makes Johnny Rotten so compelling now is how he is loving his wife of more than four decades. Last month it was disclosed he would be going on a book tour, and it would be the first time he would travel without his wife, in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. He has been her sole caretaker, and as he told the people in the news story, he would not have it any other way.
When my dad got cancer, I became closer to him than I ever had been before. I was just on the outside of 20. I was living at home and since all my other brothers and sisters were married, or a priest, with lots of responsibilities, it fell to me to get my dad to doctor visits and hospital stays. As bad a time as it was, I got to know my father in a way I never would have if not for that disease. I have always thought of it as both a terrible time and a blessing.
Years later, married and with little ones of my own underfoot, my mom got Alzheimer’s. That devious disease left her physically robust but incapable of forming words or even a sentence when it became advanced. If my dad’s cancer was a blessing, Alzheimer’s was a curse.
My sister took our mom into her home until she became a danger to herself and to my sister’s family, like turning the stove top burners on with pizza boxes on top of them, a similar issue Johnny Rotten mentions in the article about his own struggles with his ailing wife.
When our mom became completely nonverbal, we were blessed to find a place for her at Santa Teresita, a slice of heaven where Carmelite nuns take care of the elderly.
I know that it was the right thing to do, and our mom was in an advanced stage of dementia when she moved into Santa Teresita. But that doesn’t mean I did not feel guilty about it and did not think there was more I could have done. I still do.
The crude and profane Johnny Rotten puts me to shame. It might be presumptuous on my part, but I would hazard a guess Johnny is not coming to his devotion from a religious perspective.
So, we should all say a prayer for Johnny Rotten and all caregivers. Trust me, they need more prayers than the poor souls they are caring for.
And if a guy who became rich and famous screaming about everything under the sun can embody Christian sacrificial love, we need to look in the mirror and ask, what’s our excuse?