Inside Billie Joe Armstrong's Feud With Johnny Rotten

Much like rock music itself, punk rock has seemingly died out on several occasions, only to be reborn anew to successive generations. The revered British band, Sex Pistols — led by John Lydon, who performed at that time as Johnny Rotten — are a storied progenitor of U.K. punk rock from the '70s. Meanwhile, Green Day, a trio from California with Billie Joe Armstrong as their singer, helped revive the punk rock sound in the late '80s and early '90s.

One might assume that Armstrong and Green Day, a younger punk band, would look up to the Pistols, who paved the way for their music. Speaking with Rolling Stone in advance of the 2022 Hulu Sex Pistols biopic "Pistol," Armstrong did give the Sex Pistols their due. It was a different story back when the Pistols reunited in 1996 for the "Filthy Lucre Live" tour, however — as evidenced by Armstrong's view on the seminal English punk band's decisions. At that time, he made certain comments about the Pistols reunion, and that's also when the feud between the two singers got started.

'Nevermind the Bollocks' introduced Armstrong to punk rock

In that 2022 Rolling Stone chat, Green Day singer Billie Armstrong mentioned that the one-and-only Sex Pistols studio album "Nevermind the Bollocks," released in 1977, was one of his earliest exposures to punk rock music, and accordingly, he loved the loud guitars and Johnny Rotten's iconic style of singing. "[The Pistols debut] just had a huge impact,' Armstrong said. "Everything about it, from the lyrics to the guitar sounds to the songs, I thought was just perfect."

A bit like Green Day, whom some say ruined punk rock's credibility with mainstream success, the Pistols have been similarly criticized (via Phoenix New Times). Of the punk influence the Sex Pistols had, who broke up the first time shortly after "Bollocks" was released, Armstrong added: "The Sex Pistols killed punk before it had the opportunity to go mainstream back then. What they had proved is that punk rock was not meant for the masses." It was the 1996 Pistol's "Filthy Lucre" reunion, though, that Armstrong thought was a crash grab.

Armstrong turned Sex Pistols lyrics into a criticism

In 1996, Green Day was among the biggest success stories of the time, credited with reviving punk rock for '90s kids. In response to what he considered a commercial decision, Billie Joe Armstrong adopted lyrics from the Pistols classic "Anarchy in the U.K." when he said in the press: "I am the anti-Christ/Please buy our merchandise" (via Far Out Magazine). In response, Johnny Rotten — who by then went by John Lydon — said if it weren't for the Sex Pistols, Green Day would have never existed. Green Day is nothing more than Pistols imitators, Lydon said.

In response, Armstrong shot back in Spin Magazine in a 1997 interview, commenting he'd heard Lydon had criticized his group in the media. "It's funny," Armstrong said, "because if it wasn't for the Sex Pistols there may not have been Green Day, but if it wasn't for Green Day, the Sex Pistols wouldn't have done their big reunion tour. To each his own." Lydon kept the spar going. In 2011, the singer told the Los Angeles Times he hates Green Day, as he continued to call them Pistols copycats. In 2018, Lydon told The New York Times, Green Day plays a "turgid version of something that doesn't actually belong to them (via Far Out Magazine).