Sex Pistols' John Lydon on Turning Down the Olympics
Sex Pistols' John Lydon on Turning Down the Olympics

"If you censor the words of any one song, you're killing the honesty and I couldn't tolerate that"

The Summer Olympics Games organizers in London weren't about to allow the Sex Pistols any anarchy in the U.K., so the famed punk band, unsurprisingly, chose not to play along.

"They came after us for that, but their approach was wrong," frontman John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten and now leading the latest incarnation of Public Image Ltd., tells Billboard.com. "Censorship mattered more than the content of the Pistols. If you're going to be celebrating what is great about Britain, the honesty of the Sex Pistols is one of those things. If you censor the words of any one song, you're killing the honesty and I couldn't tolerate that. From my point of view we said we didn't want nothing to do with them. Such is the world we live in."

Lydon wouldn't say exactly when the Olympics organizers wanted the Sex Pistols to play or what they wanted to censor; "There's no point, really, to it. There's no joy in that," he explains. But Lydon did lament that, "I think the world has become more conservative now than it was back" when the group formed during the mid-70s.

"All the things we fought so hard against are slowly creeping back in," he notes. "If you're going to put a negative on a word, then you're denying the human race the very thing we're most proud of. Our greatest sense of achievement as a species is our language. Through language we can communicate abstract thoughts. So you cannot limit anyone's vocabulary. Of course you can laugh at someone using a word incorrectly, but you can't resent them for it."

Lydon, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook have played with original bassist Glen Matlock for various Sex Pistols reunions since 1986. The group last toured in 2008 in Europe. It also released a live DVD, "There'll Always Be An England," that year and is expected to release a 35th anniversary edition of their landmark album, "Never Mind the Bollocks," later this year.

Lydon still has plenty to say, of course, and he will on "This is Pil," Public Image Ltd.'s first new album in 20 years. The 12-song set -- which was preceded by the Record Store Day EP "One Drop" -- comes out May 28, and the group begins a European tour on July 21 in Milan, Italy. Lydon says he hopes to bring the group -- which includes longtime members Lu Edmonds and guitar and Bruce Smith on drums, and Scott Firth, who joined for the 2009 reactivation, on bass -- to North America later in the year.