Famous Quotes Vol. 32: June 2022
Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 32nd edition of Famous Quotes, a little quiz where the basic question remains: Who said this?
It’s a deep dive into my published and non-published archives, quotes culled from 40+ years of yakking with rock ‘n’ rollers of all stripes – on the phone, in a bar, at a restaurant, backstage.
I give you the situation and the quotes; you guess who spoke those words back when. As with last month, some alive, some dead.
1. It was 1973 and this singer-guitarist was a 22-year-old rock fan living in Hollywood. He and some friends were in a van, driving from Huntington Beach to see Iggy and the Stooges at the Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip.
“On Sunset Boulevard, down by Hollywood High, there was Iggy Pop walking down the street,” he tells me, on the phone. “We pull over and say, ‘Hey, man, you need a ride? We’re going to the Whisky, too.’ And he jumps in the van, smokes pot with us and tries to hit on the girls. We get to the gig and he let us in through the back door.”
That was rock ‘n’ roll heaven. The man says he got the same kind of vibe from the New York Dolls as he did the Stooges when the Dolls played the Whisky. “They hung out with us. They weren’t isolated, they were part of it. And I think that’s why I can’t stand elitism in rock ‘n’ roll. I really feel it is a people’s music.”
This man has been a full-time rocker for more than four decades – first in a great west coast punk band, then in one of the progenitors of what was called cow-punk. He’s been a solo artist since 1992, with at least 15 studio albums to his name. (There are a couple other family members who share his surname who’ve made marks in the music world, too.)
He writes serious songs, ascribing to Lou Reed’s theory of making rock ‘n’ roll for adults. If younger kids dig it, fine, but, he says, “I would have a very difficult time pretending I’m any younger than I am. I find the things I speak [in song] about have always been true. The people I love were people like David Bowie, who was constantly challenging himself and the audience by all the transformations he went through.”
2. “People have been grumbling about us for our entire existence. I wouldn’t even call it a career,” the singer-guitarist for this Texas band told me in 1996 as their up-from-the-underground popularity was hitting a peak.
During the ’80s, they were acid kings of the hardcore underground. Their history, just the gigs I saw in Boston, includes gigs featuring films of penis reconstruction surgery; a diffident, nude female dancer; cymbals doused with lighter fluid and set ablaze; onstage dust-ups with bouncers; and various illegalities indulged in backstage. The singer used to fire off shotgun blanks over the heads of crowds.
So, yes, he did tend to create a stir of some sort. “Without conflict, there would be no progress,” he philosophized. Not long before we talked, his band grabbed headlines at a Corpus Christi, Texas, gig when the band, tired of dodging thrown objects, stalked offstage and made noises about having already taken the money from the crowd. Shades of Johnny Rotten at Winterland in 1978.
Said the singer: “We got baseball-size blocks of ice, whiskey bottles, jawbreakers, plastic army men, a wristwatch without a band on it – like a flat rock which hit the back of my hand, on my metacarpals. So, I got raged . . . and left the stage.”
The crowd yelled obscenities at the band. “I’m sure that’s a great show to go to, as a kid,” he reasoned. “A cool show. They got most of the set… but there’s not enough of anything in the world to get me to stand in front of that. Any moment you could be blinded, wounded or even killed.”
VIDEO: Camelot Music commercial
3. The first sound on this English band’s 1999 album starts with the sound of dripping water. Then a deep rumbling bass note is plucked. Strings enter, creating this crazy counterpoint. The journey is about to begin, but it could be anybody – the Verve, the Orb. But it isn’t. Horns enter. Hmmm. The melody begins to take shape and a familiar, high-pitched voice comes in. It is then that a feeling of warmth rushes in and washes over you and – nearly a quarter-century after this band’s long trip started, many years since their last album of new material. We know this: We’re back in this band’s Happy Place. Which is to say, everything might be a little off-center, but it all sounds very much all right.
I was speaking with the group’s singer-songwriter that year. “So you still think it’s got our fingerprints?” he asked me.
“It’s true,” he concurred. “However you arrange it, it’s still there. It’s still Jell-O, if it’s Jell-O you want.”
Which, I posed, is not, necessarily, a bad thing.
“No, I don’t think so,” he responded. “I mean my personality has changed a drop of sand a day and my art is going to come out a certain way.”
And then we took a trip back to their formative years, and their first hit in 1979. The band was a more raucous outfit than current unit. There was, said the singer, “a very charming naïve energy to it [with people saying] ‘They really don’t know what the hell they are doing, but they are doing their darnedest.’ It was like naive painting — the perspective’s all wrong, color choices are maybe not great, but they are trying to finish off as nicely as they can. It’s charming, it’s folk art.”
4. He had hits, big hits. But not everyone loved this guy. Some critics used him as a punching bag. Some thought he was doing schtick, a Springsteen parody, and others thought him a human cartoon. But then, he told me in 1999, a friend pointed out: “You are a cartoon character. Look at your videos. Look at what you do on stage. That’s what people love about you, you’re larger than life.”
So, he, reasoned, “instead of rejecting the cartoon, I would embrace him. I came to the realization that, like Popeye, `I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.’ “
He loved the stage. He loved to sweat, to emote. He told me he and his band had a repertoire of 116 songs and “we can play 36 of them at the drop of a hat, and after that it is going to be interesting. We have a cheat book with 80 songs with chord changes in one and lyrics in the other. We will have to figure out the right keys.”
He went up against punk rockers who thought he was too grandiose, too artificial. His was adamant that a rock ‘n’ roll concert – any rock ‘n’ roll concert – was closer to theater than many rock fans want to admit.
“We have been accused of a lot of our shows being over the top and melodramatic,” he said, “and I just say: `Wait a second. Most people, if they go onstage – I don’t care who they are, even the alternative stuff where you are not [supposed to be] interested – you are still bigger on that stage than when you are in the shower. And don’t try to convince me otherwise, because you are just lying to yourself.’ I’ve seen Patti Smith onstage and I have been around her offstage and there are two different people there. It has to be bigger than life, it has to be over the top because my whole life is over the top.”
Answers: 1) Alejandro Escovedo, formerly of the Nuns and Rank & File, 2) Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, 3) Andy Partridge of XTC, 4) Meat Loaf
AUDIO: The Nuns “Do You Want Me On My Knees?”
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