Famous Quotes: December 2019

Which heroes of funk, punk and rock ‘n’ roll said what

Art by Ron Hart

It’s second edition of Famous Quotes: A little quiz where the basic question is, Who said this?

It’s a deep dive into my archives of published and non-published quotes, culled from 40+ years of yakking with rock ‘n’ rollers of all stripes – on the phone, in bar, backstage. 


1. We’d met years before, backstage after a show and he pretty much passed out while we were talking. In 2014, the blues-rocker was nearing the end of the line, but ruminating. The singer-pianist had written a memoir and was on tour, but saving his voice for singing so we did this via email. 

He’d had a well-known history of alcoholism and drug addiction. I asked: Was it blind luck, good genes, some common sense that kicked in when you least expected it?

“All those times I’d go into rehab,” he said, “and then I’d end up using again. It was frustrating, man, but something deep inside told me not to quit, and I finally got clean, and stayed clean. Same thing goes for my career; the early-’80s were just awful for me, man. I played terrible gigs in the middle of nowhere for no one, and for no money, but I didn’t quit – I wouldn’t quit, because music means everything to me.”  


2. The flamboyant hard rock singer was on the phone from Montreal in 1980, chatting up his band’s latest tour. “Yeah, we have an orchestra now,” he said. “We’re building up actually to what is going to be titled The Disco-Punk-Flamenco Concept.’ We composed the music, and this is going to be something that we’re going to try to compete with Kansas and Styx and the rest of the techno rockers. It’s going to be religiously oriented, and there are going to be 15 volumes of accompanying text and pictures. This is something we’re going to do to make a lot of money – we’re giving up on the honesty trip.

“None of the original members of the band are in the concert anymore. It’s just the orchestra. We’re saving up to send [the drummer] to finishing school and [the bassist] and [the guitarist] are going to go off with the Hare Krishnas and I’ve just been saving up for a motorcycle anyways.”


3. Certain artists have certain themes, core topics or issues. Here, we’re talking canines. Which funk-rocker, who wrote more than a few songs with dogs in them, answered the question about our four-legged friends this way, when I asked him about those who go woof over the phone in 1999?

“Because we basically are animals ourselves, and we tend to think that [being human] separates us from that. Dogs are supposed to be our best friends, but we also use them as the epitome of what you wanna do to somebody when you don’t like ’em — you dog ’em out. It’s a weird relationship we have with dogs. Some people love ’em to death, spend a fortune on ’em to keep ’em alive, and bury them richly. Some people eat ’em, a weird thing to do with man’s best friend. When I saw people use them as drug dogs, after they’re done using them. . .. they’re so strung out from their habits. They have dogs in laboratories where they test chemicals.”   


4. We’re in a posh Boston bar, over cocktails, mid-afternoon. It’s 1979 and the famous guitarist has left his successful band to go off on a solo venture. He’s got huge name recognition, but about to play a tiny Cambridge, Mass. club known for folk music. I asked him about his current position in the rock marketplace. 

He said: “To quote Victor Hugo: ‘Nothing has the strength of an idea whose time has come.’ In terms of all the different aspects of what I do, I personally have no difficulty in integrating them for a number of reasons. If you can have a Zen in the art of archery or motorcycle maintenance, you can have a Zen in the art of marketing and music. My compromise is not in making the record; the compromise is in selling it.”


5. This is a recollection from a time when I was hanging with a singer-guitarist who’d had achieved a measure of underground fame with his Velvet Underground-inspired quartet.

“I seem to remember hanging out with you one night at the [Boston punk club] Rat when I played one of my first ever solo acoustic shows.  You offered me a ride to where I was staying—I think it was at [Rat booker/future Epic Records PR maven] Julie Farman’s place.  She offered a ride as well. I chose to keep drinking as I did in those days and found myself with no ride home and not a penny in my pocket.  But I had an acoustic guitar so I went up to Kenmore Square at 2 A.M. and busked—a handful of Stones and Beatles songs and I had enough for cab fare.

“That’s a good memory. I saw a lot of bands, played a lot of shows, drank a lot, did drugs, got to meet band talk late into the evening with both [the J. Geils Band’s] Magic Dick and [the Lyres] Mono Man. I made a lot of friends, had an unrequited crush, became a huge fan of the Neats—just a great year all around.  I’d say that period for me culminated with a gig opening for R.E.M. at the Orpheum—It felt like everything built up to that moment.”


6. This famous singer-songwriter was not above writing “happy” songs, but you know him best for his gritty tales of street life and the demi-monde. He wrote a lot about New York City and in 1980, our first interview of maybe six, we were on the phone and he was talking about where his city was at. 

“If you sat down and seriously thought about things, you’d drive yourself nuts. You’ve got to remember; this is New York where a few weeks ago a guy got shot with a bow and arrow and there’s a guy running around with a meat clever down on the subway. What can you say about that?”

I wasn’t sure, but my interviewee paused and said, “I think it at least shows some innovation on physical assaults on the citizenry – going back to more primitive weapons. Now, I would find it perhaps scary if they found out that somebody were laser-beaming people to death in the subway. A guy like that would be hard to catch. Just little ashes, little bags through the subway, like 14 people in a little pooper scooper. Think about it. People say, you ought to put that on tape’ and I say I do. I make records.’ “


Answers: 1) Gregg Allman, 2) Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, 3) George Clinton, 4) Robert Fripp, 5) The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn, 6) Lou Reed


VIDEO: David Lee Roth “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody”


Jim Sullivan
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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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