5 Artistic Geniuses Who Only Became Great After Selling Out

#2. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols

Wait, the Sex Pistols? When the hell did they sell out? They're the goddamned Sex Pistols!

Wasn't that the title of one of their albums?

True, the Sex Pistols are revered for changing the way music is made by spitting in the face of pretentious rock operas and 20-minute guitar solos, thus proving you don't have to be extremely talented to make it as a rock star.

Or talented at all!

But band leader Johnny Rotten didn't sell out in the way that you're thinking. He didn't start as a rebellious kid and tone it down so he could cash in. No, Rotten did the exact opposite -- his punk rebelliousness was selling out.

Rotten had little to no musical ability before the band and no interest in being a musician. And he definitely wasn't interested in defining an entire movement. He was just some rude kid named John Lydon who hung around SEX, the local fetish fashion boutique, which was owned by some guy called Malcolm McLaren.

Not a big fan of subliminal advertising.

McLaren was the one who came up with the idea for the Sex Pistols, not Johnny Rotten. He went along with it only because he had nothing better to do than trolling people in sex shops, apparently. McLaren liked Lydon aka Rotten for all the reasons most of us would want to punch him: He was an obnoxious asshole who spat on people, could barely sing and didn't give a shit if everyone knew it. The perfect front man.

Or at least he was perfect for what McLaren wanted, which was pissing people off. McLaren, by his own admission, created the Pistols with the specific purpose of causing controversy. Music was always secondary. He intentionally booked them to play redneck bars and appear on conservative talk shows, knowing they would create a media outrage, incite near-riots and garner massive amounts of attention.

And if he sold a few extra dildos because of it, all the better.

So the whole rebellious act was carefully manufactured, just like a punk Justin Bieber. Rotten thus grew to hate McLaren, whom he called "the most evil person on Earth." He knew his band was a manufactured fraud, and he knew he had sold out by joining it. Two years after they started, Rotten split the band and started doing what he really wanted: long, weird experimental music.

"Fuck Pink Floyd! But here's a nine-minute song."

Lydon still plays with his less-known and less-successful band, periodically returning to punk and reuniting the Pistols whenever he's strapped for cash.

#1. Francis Ford Coppola

As the director of the Godfather trilogy, Coppola redefined not only gangster cinema but the gangster world itself. Part I was an artistic achievement like few others, Part II proved that sometimes sequels can surpass the original and there is a Part III. And it all happened because Francis Ford Coppola needed money, and he needed it bad.

And we all know what happens when movie producers don't pay off their debts.

Basically, it was all George Lucas' fault.

Coppola was the producer of Lucas' first movie, a trippy sci-fi brain fart by the catchy name of THX 1138. Warner Bros. hated the film and forced Coppola to return the $300,000 it had given him to finance it, but the problem was, he had already spent all of it making the movie. That, coupled with the film somehow bombing at the box office, left Coppola severely in debt and running out of options. Desperate, he turned to crime.

Adapting it onscreen, we mean.

That's right: Coppola's masterpiece, and two of the greatest films ever made, were the result of his taking on a project for cash.

Coppola originally wanted nothing to do with The Godfather. When they offered him the movie, he rejected it, saying he didn't want to be associated with a film that glorified sex and gang violence. He even attempted to read the book but couldn't make it past Page 50 without wanting to throw up; he dismissed it as a "pretty cheap" piece of disposable pulp, something beneath him and not worth his time. You see, Coppola wanted to do small, artistic films and felt that a conventional gangster flick like The Godfather would be a step back for his career.

"Where did I go wrong?"

But despite THX having flopped, the studio still wanted Coppola for The Godfather. Why, you ask? Because he was Italian. Robert Evans, head producer at Paramount, wanted as many authentic Italians in this film as possible; as he put it, he wanted the audience to "smell the spaghetti" when watching the movie.

Which is pretty much the level of subtlety you'd expect from a living cartoon.

Then Lucas, in one of his rare moments of lucidity, reminded Coppola of his crippling debt and that "survival is the key thing here." Coppola eventually caved in and took the money. After that, he was finally able to do the "small, artistic movies" he always wanted, including two sequels to The Godfather and, oh yeah, a $30 million war epic called Apocalypse Now.

All of Jason's writings can be found on his Tumblr. Friend him at Facebook and since he occasionally remembers he has a Twitter, follow him there too.

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